What’s in a Mormon identity?

I’m certain that this has been discussed over and over in numerous ways and in numerous formats on the internet…but…what do you think your identity is relating to Mormonism and what do you think that identity signifies?

For example, we each know that there’s Further Light and Knowledge (FLAK), and New Order Mormonism (NOM), and also Recovery from Mormonism (RfM). Furthermore, we know that there’s a different character to each of these sites, so even if we can’t put our finger on it and articulate, we can say, for example, that we feel more at home at FLAK than at NOM or RfM.

But what does this state about our identities with respect to Mormonism? I guess with NOM, it’s relatively easy — you are new order Mormon. Some of us would bristle…we’re definitely ex-Mormons, not just New order or liberal. But then some would note that although they are not active, they still are on the rolls…so technically, they are still members. Does that mean they must simply be inactive?

Not to mention…even in terms that should imply the same action (leaving the church), there are different shades of this. What’s the difference between an ex-mormon and a post-mormon, other than the fact that there’s an Exmormon Foundation (not to be confused with RfM, whose address is exmormon.org…) but there’s also postmormon.org? Would it be fair to say that the various titlings only fit for people who are principally part of the related community (that is, you can only be “post” Mormon if you go to postmormon.org? Does postmormon.org decide what it is to be postmormon as opposed to new order mormon, which is in its own domain?)?

I don’t think that’s quite right. I think, intuitively, that anyone can be postmormon — it’s not just for members of a site. Yet, perhaps postmormon does have a different “idea” behind exmormon. And even DAMU — disaffected Mormon underground — has another connotation…one that might not seem to fit.

To me, ex-mormon seems like an identity for someone who has formally separated from the church. So, even though I have broken my own informal rule plenty of times, it seems a bit…incorrect…to use ex-mormon in the context of someone who hasn’t resigned or been axed (er…ex’d).

Disaffected Mormon underground sounds like I’m still grieving/ranting/conspiring/downtrodden…it actually seems like my ‘impression’ of RfM…

Postmormon sounds great (a better “brand” than DAMU or ex-), but it also sounds a bit off. A postmormon seems to me to define someone who has moved past Mormonism in such a way that it doesn’t define him in any meaningful way except that, as a matter of record, the person once was a part of the LDS church.

So, while the term sounds nice, I don’t quite think I fit…after all, I admit Mormonism is still my culture. I simply recognize that this culture is not equivalent to the church institution.

Cultural Mormon sounds good, but I wonder if it stresses enough of nonbelief and nonpractice or not. For example, our favorite guy, John Dehlin, often emphasizes a motif in his works: despite flaws, troubling points, controversies, etc., Mormonism is his tribe or culture. He seems to fit the “cultural Mormon” label better, but he’s quite a bit more of a believer than I am (although, admittedly, not as much of a believer as the orthodox TBM.)

Not only this, but not only can identities mark where we are now…they can be aspirations to where we want to be. So, even if I’m not postmormon (based on the sound of the term, not the site), if I wanted my end goal to be separation from the entirety of Mormonism, then perhaps I could still justify the identity. My problem is that I don’t think that’s the path I want to go. It seems to be gutting a part of me to renounce Mormonism, even if it seems silly to others for me to cling to the word, seeing as I don’t believe in the church or its beliefs. So, my identity feels hodge-podge and intensely individualistic — not ex- enough to be ex-mormon, not disaffected enough to be DAMU, not post enough to be postmormon, but certainly not believing in any liberal/new order/true believing sense of the word.

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Andrew S

Andrew S grew up in a military family, but apparently, that didn't make much of an impression upon him because he has since forgotten all of his French and all of his Hangungmal (but he does mispronounce the past tense of "win" like the Korean currency and thinks that English needs to get it together!) Andrew is currently a student at Texas A&M who loves tax accounting, the social sciences, fencing (epee), typography, presentation design, and public speaking, smartphones, linux, and nonparallel structured lists.

25 thoughts on “What’s in a Mormon identity?

  1. Since this post is familiar to those of us who follow FLAK, I’m gonna shamelessly re-post my comment from over there:

    My sense is that any attempt to establish an identity vis–vis Mormonism should be entirely lighthearted. Categorizing seems less interesting than establishing bonhomie and camaraderie as we sort through the rubble (a task that is nothing like critical or imperative, and really only worth one’s time to the extent that it continues to enlighten, amuse or console).

    On a personal level, I do worry about these categories taking on a life of their own in the minds of readers, lurkers, believers and wannabe believers. I worry about the kinds of folks (including possibly, to my dismay, members of my own family) who might naively seek out the Mormon blogosphere (Bloggernacle, DAMU, RfM, whatever) for guidance in making life decisions.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but what troubles me is the prospect of folks who’ve begun to falter in their belief in the Gospel now finding themselves placing trust in whatever Margaret Young or John Dehlin or any of the rest of us have to contribute online.

    That way madness lies.

  2. This question poses a real challenge, especially when I’m inviting people to Outer Blogness. I can’t just say “It’s a blogroll for exmormons,” because that identity is more limited than the group I’d like to capture.

    Personally, I usually call myself either “cultural Mormon” or “exmo atheist” (depending on the context). But some other popular labels (DAMU, post-Mormon, etc.) fit reasonably well.

    For people who are trying to figure out what type they are, please see the handy guide to different types of Mormons! 😀

  3. Postmormon sounds great (a better brand than DAMU or ex-), but it also sounds a bit off. A postmormon seems to me to define someone who has moved past Mormonism in such a way that it doesnt define him in any meaningful way except that, as a matter of record, the person once was a part of the LDS church.

    I can see the logic in that definition, but that’s not how the term “post” is used to mean in intellectual circles. Post-impressionism doesn’t mean that certain artists are simply people who received training in impressionism and then moved past it; instead, “Post-impressionists extended impressionism while rejecting its limitations.”

    Same with post-modernism; it began primarily as a literary and artistic term. And there’s all this thought about how we’re mired and stuck in modernity, but modernity is not adequate to describe our condition or meet our needs; hence we’re left with post-modernity, which is fractured, inadequate, ironic, and endlessly self-referential, yada yada yada.

    One dictionary definition of post-modernism is: “of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language.”

    Likewise, to me, post-Mormonism involves a radical reappraisal of religious assumptions about culture, identity, history or language.

    But I’m an academic in the humanities, and I realize not everyone would see it that way. Which is a very pomo, both in terms of post-mormonism and post-modernism, thing to do. And that’s one more reason I prefer the term post-mormonism: I like the abbreviation “pomo.”

  4. thought of what might be a better example of how “post” doesn’t mean “after, but no longer influenced by”: post-apocalyptic. I would question any use of that term to mean “a world in which an apocalypse once happened, but the world has moved past that apocalypse in such a way that it doesnt define the world in any meaningful way except that, as a matter of history, the entire world was once irrevocably changed and rendered almost uninhabitable, and most of its inhabitants killed.”

  5. I call myself, alternately, an ex-Mormon and a recovering Mormon.

    Ex-, even though my name is still “on the rolls”, because they don’t get to define me. I get to define me, and I define myself as not Mormon any more.

    There are a number of reasons why I’ve never submitted a letter asking to have my name removed from the church membership records. The biggest reason is that I do not recognize the church bureaucracy’s authority in the matter, meaning I do not accept their insistence that I must ask permission to leave.

    I left. That’s a fact, and they need to get over the idea that they still own me in some way just because my name is on a list. I can’t think of any other religious organization, at least any reputable religion, that makes their members ask to leave. I’m out whether they like that, or acknowledge it, or not.

    I also sometimes call myself a recovering Mormon because I’m not completely over the repercussions of being in that organization for the length of time I thought of myself as at least nominally Mormon. From baptism as a convert at age 16, until the time I finally realized that I could no longer assent to the claims of the church, about five years ago, that makes it about 30 years in the organization, in my mind if not always in physical attendance at meetings.

    No one gets over 30 years of experience quickly, and so I expect to be recovering for some time to come.

  6. I was gone today on a road trip…and when I get back, I have so many comments.

    I’ll just get to a couple.

    First, to Holly…the way you look at the word actually seems more intuitive to me (especially with bringing up the use of postapocalyptic). Now, I’m wondering where I got *my* idea of the meaning for post-…?

    Second, to Elaine…I actually agree with you, both on account that 1) the church doesn’t get to define me and 2) normally, I don’t care what the church’s official rules are (e.g., send in a letter to be an ex-member). So, I don’t see a point to sending a letter.

    However…what made me rethink it was a discussion in FLAK that asked the question from a legal perspective: if you are on the rolls, are you legally a member? There have been court cases that have ruled that if you resign, then they have to honor your resignation…but if you just leave, then what? Technically, the church could just consider you “inactive.” Sure, I don’t care what the church says…but if (hypothetically), this is what the law would agree with, then that gives me pause.

  7. It’s nice to have a name that serves as a handle for an identity but identities serve more important functions than giving us a name.

    Identities are about how people relate to their environment.

    Fortunately, I have other sources of identity. In fact, when I was an orthodox Mormon, I used to be quite suspicious of power, for example, but would make an exception for the brethren.

    I believed that Lord Acton was right that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Humans need to organize power accordingly so that it is possible to hold the powerful accountable.

    Of course, it is not possible to hold the brethren accountable for their abuses. With luck, they can hold each other accountable. But I tolerated that exception because I had faith into their commitment to the Lord.

    Now that I have realized that the brethren are just as human as anyone else, I hold a unified view of the world, at least as it relates to power.

    Therefore, the way I relate to the world, my identity, is now coherent. Logically it is stronger.

  8. Now, Im wondering where I got *my* idea of the meaning for post-?

    Probably from here. But there I was just reporting what some others had suggested (for discussion purposes), and upon reflection I think Holly’s idea makes more sense.

    Also note that the folks of RfM also didn’t like the idea that “post-Mormon” = “totally moved on to a new identity” (see here), so I think we can safely say that we’ve considered, discussed, and finally rejected that proposed definition of “post-Mormon”. 😉

  9. re 7:

    well, Hellmut, the thing that I realize is that…wherever I am…it most definitely affects how I interact with the environment…I know too much to be a “nonmormon,” so that is impossible…but I believe too little to be a faithful member (in any stripe, whether it be TBM, NOM, whatever).

    But I don’t think I’m raging against the machine or anything like that.

    so…I think it is definitely a peculiar identity.

    re 8:

    chanson, yep, that sounds MIGHTY familiar. Especially the response post to clear things up. i’m glad we’re all in consensus now.

    re wherever Seth is:

    D’awwww. If only everyone else would see it the same way, kinda how like Jewishness is cultural (in addition to religious).

  10. Especially the response post to clear things up. im glad were all in consensus now.

    Well, there’s another way in which I think the term “post-Mormon” applies to all of us here: we “post” a lot about Mormonism! :-)

    Dawwww. If only everyone else would see it the same way, kinda how like Jewishness is cultural (in addition to religious).

    It’s very hard to be a cultural Mormon and not have a serious case of Jewish envy, not only for the way Jewish identity can be recognized as not just religious, but cultural. I also envy the way Judaism accommodates doubt or outright disbelief in conjunction with a thorough commitment to membership in the community. I will never forget walking into the synagogue in Iowa City to ask for information, being told to wait in the library, and discovering that the synagogue had a subscription to “Atheism Today”!

  11. My atheism, scepticism, and naturalism define my world-view and view of religion far more than my orthodox Mormon upbringing does, and are far more significant to me than being Mormon ever was.

    It is also a fact that Mormonism (and especially the extreme orthodox version I was raised in and with which I had a very negative experience) shaped my view of religion and it’s entirely probable I’d not have arrived at atheism et al. (or at least not my current version) had I been raised Buddhist, or Shinto, or Hindu or even Moslem, Jewish or Catholic.

    I think because it’s so hard to be rid of Mormonism and its tendency to try to pull everyone back into the orthodoxy, I prefer to identify as atheist first, and only as Ex-Mormon if I have to explain what my relationship is and was with Mormonism.

  12. I completely agree with comments abut Jewish envy for the precise reason that secular/doubting/disbelieving Jews are included in the community, but even though we definitely have a friend with Seth R (and to be sure, others on the bloggernacle), it’s unlikely that there will be a majority appreciation of secular Mormons any time soon. Heck, even liberal Mormons and NOMs are denigrated.

    re 13:

    Craig, I agree with you in that as far as what I believe, how I reason or argue, etc., my skepticism, atheism, and naturalism most certainly impact my worldview more than orthodox Mormon views (even if I find myself agreeing with a Mormon position, I can guarantee it won’t be for Mormon reasons. It’ll be pretty coincidental, in fact.)

    But at the same time, when I think about it, I realize that things are different for me. I am not just any old atheist. I am an ex-Mormon atheist, if only because I know too much (having been on the inside) than an atheist who never was Mormon. So, I feel that if I just say atheist, I’m “hiding” the past xx years of my life, and I’m not sure I want to do that. In a way, I’m starting fresh (out of the church), but I’m not starting fresh (abandoning everything from the past).

  13. Like Craig, I would identify as atheist if someone asks me what is my religion or cosmology. That said, I find that in practice, I’m more likely to tell people that I was raised Mormon than I am to bring up atheism because the Mormonism thing is more amusing.

  14. I find that in practice, Im more likely to tell people that I was raised Mormon than I am to bring up atheism because the Mormonism thing is more amusing.

    Yeah. Seriously, that’s part of it. I don’t have a single amusing anecdote about being a skeptical agnostic who avoids certainty, is a tad put off by people who parade their devoutness, and doesn’t hang out with a spiritual community, but I have LOADS of funky stories about my life as a Mormon.

  15. Since I’ve started reading chanson (LFAB) and subsequently MSP, I’ve always been extremely confused by this preoccupation with delineation, especially with respect to the Church’s rolls.

    When I became an atheist, I stopped being a Lutheran. It was gradual, but nonetheless, I have no internal conflict whatsoever. Whether the LCMS calls me a Lutheran or not is of very little importance when it comes to my identity.

    What is it about that document in the Church’s records in particular that causes so much personal conflict?

    Just a question from an outsider.

  16. @24 Hi Skyler, your channel looks quite interesting. It’s nice to see the perspective of a typical believing Mormon on various topics. Not sure I have any requests. 😉

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