Third Culture Kids and our Disaffected Mormon Underground

A while back, there was a husband-wife couple of speakers who came to one of my classes to talk about their mission to Papua New Guinea for several years. I wrote about that on my blog a while back, highlighting one of the things they said about their children that particularly struck me.

These children grow up to be Third Culture Kids, and there is a phenomenon of these Third Culture Kids from a variety of upbringings. What these Third Culture Kids must realize is that they do not belong. And they never will. They must learn to accept that they cant be American, but they cant be Gapapaiwa. They have to be something in the middle. Many Third Culture Kids, in fact, end up marrying others, because even if the particulars of their situations vary, they understand the phenomenon and each other

This is a kinda loose paraphrase, but I’m pretty sure the mother said the exact words, “they do not belong. And they never will.” That struck me. I checked out the wikipedia page on Third Culture Kids here, and although I fit one of the traditional categories (army brat), what I felt was that as an ex-Mormon, I feel this way too.

I think that for people who have really become involved in the church (whether as converts or as lifelong members), it becomes a part of our identity. This identity already faces some challenge from a mainstream society that doesn’t understand (or at worst, dislikes) it (good ole Mormon persecution complex). But the strangest thing is…even when/if we leave the church or disassociate from it, we don’t become part of the mainstream. Rather, we never become non-Mormons, but ex/post/former/new order/alumni Mormons.

Does anyone else feel this way? I’d like to think this is a pretty common feeling here, but it could just be a me thing.

Anyway, I had a commenter who posted on my site who was the daughter of an international businessman, and as such lived all across the world before “coming home” to the states.

She has been trying to find out the cultural aspects of Mormonism for a while now…but she has unfortunately been asking the wrong people: (missionaries). I actually like how she puts the outcome (which most of us could have predicted): Sadly, I was never able to get much good information out of them, b/c it always devolved into a theological pitch-fest.

Anyway, she posted a request on her site seeking information about cultural Mormonism. ( here )

If any of you have time, could you put down some thoughts over at her blog?

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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.

11 thoughts on “Third Culture Kids and our Disaffected Mormon Underground

  1. I like the way you think. TCM. Of course, then it would be really close to Madam Curie and Third-Wave Mormon (but she’s a post-Mormon liberal Catholic, or PMLC, right?)

  2. Thanks for the invitation, Andrew. I will gladly post at her blog.

    The first thing to recognize is that there are multiple Mormon cultures. Mormon culture is different in Utah than it is on the East Coast. Converts tend to follow different patterns than legacy Mormons.

    Mormonism abroad is different from American Mormonism.

    For example, American Mormons are famous for their devotion to the GOP. Well, in Europe, it is more common to encounter Greens and other hippies than conservatives.

    If you are conservative, there are precious few reasons to join some obscure religion from America. (Lets leave aside the fact that there really are precious few philosophical conservatives in America generally and among Mormons particularly.)

    In Utah, open minded is a dirty word. If you are a Mormon in Britain or Germany, you probably wouldn’t be a Mormon if you were not open minded.

    To be sure, there are dogmatic Mormons in western Europe but those are people who tend to be socially isolated with all the usual attributes associated with that trait.

    Even on the bloggernacle and among posties, I find myself often isolated because other Mormons cannot relate to the convert experience.

  3. Epistemology is the biggest boundary in the Mormon mind. The eternal family is the biggest boundary in Mormon society.

    Since Mormons believe that feelings are the most reliable source of knowledge, Mormons and non-Mormons cannot reason with each other about religion and cosmogony. You cannot question another person’s feelings.

    But if knowledge instead of faith is the foundation of religion then everyone should agree with you about religion. If you disagree then you are either too stupid and too evil to get it.

    It’s a formidable obstacle that sustains boundaries powerfully.

  4. re 4:

    Hellmut, whenever I want to talk Mormon culture, I try to distinguish it from geographic culture. In my opinion, Mormon culture (that is, culture of Mormonism) isn’t that different from East Coast to Utah…because the church is correlated. It is certainly true that Utah culture is different than “mission field” culture, but this isn’t *Mormon* culture, which is the standardized product around which all the regional cultures are centered.

    I do not think, then, that American Mormon’s love affair with the GOP is the cultural aspect of Mormonism. On the other hand, I think that certain phrases we use, such as being “in the world but not of it,” a “peculiar people,” valuing the “burning in the bosom” AND being able to say “I know…” — these are aspects of Mormon culture for me (you addressed these parts a bit in your message in comment 5). So to are actions like adhering to the Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, etc., Even if someone breaks these, if they have grown up sufficiently involved in the church, then they should have — maybe if only for a couple of seconds — a hesitation where the WoW or LoC pops in. It might only pop up as, “Wow, this is what I believed xx years ago,” but that history is there.

    Does that make any sense?

  5. Mormon culture (that is, culture of Mormonism) isnt that different from East Coast to Utah…because the church is correlated.

    Oh, stop talking like a GA. =p The Church is interested in maintaining its structure everywhere for its own purposes, but unless you pick up a bunch of white people from Utah and plant them everywhere, or assimilate people 100%, the Church will manifest differently in different places. I am more interested in seeing the differences and seeing how the institution tries to force sameness, rather than seeing the sameness as a result of institutional forces. The “standardized product” is packaged by people; it itself doesn’t standardize people. Although I’m open to being convinced given that a “Law of Chasity,” for example, is straightforward. But it still takes people’s interpretations to maintain it. Look at homosexuality and the Bible.

  6. Alan, I think the nickname Morg is so popular because people realize that assimilation is complete. Resistance is futile.

    On the other hand, I guess that I can see where, outside of the big things (Law of Chastity), there are some big differences on the local/regional/”folk” level. Heck, even with “big” things like the Word of Wisdom, interpretation noticeably differs by area (how about that caffeinated soda?)

  7. The church begins its “sameness” campaign within the chapel. It starts with enforcing the dress code. Oddly enough, there is nothing anywhere to support a dress code, yet it is accepted as doctrine that women wear dresses that cover the garment areas (even little girls) and the men dress like and appear like missionaries.

    The church tells members to not read anything outside of church approved materials. This started as a theology point, but for some reason, it has spread to just about everything else in life. I now many devout mormons who believe they should only read Orson Scot Card, etc.

    The LDS has a choke hold on what is and is not permitted in a sacrament service. This includes music, instruments, talk topics, content of testimonies, and less formally, special language, body language.

    I know ward buildings have strict guidelines on artwork and where it is hung. This includes even flyes and posters to advertise upcoming events.

    Add to this that the apostles and area leaders are usually white men from Salt Lake (not in all cases anymore) who visit the buildings and get their reports from the local authorities. But the pattern of expected behavior is pretty clear.

    Even if a person were to disagree, you certainly dont openly admit it. I know many LDS who disagree with a lot of what is happening but keep it to themselves.

    These ideals make it into the lives and homes of the people. Makes for a striking homogenous culture, in spite of geography.

    ANYWHOOO: I came here becuase I have a question. Any one know of the disaffected children, grandchildren, etc of prophets and apostles? I heard many of Hinckleys kids have left but dont know if that is true.

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