Religion Without Culture: Self-Identifying as a Mormon

Since the results for the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Study (RLS) were released, there has been fairly little attention paid in the Bloggernacle to the outcomes as they pertain to LDS belief and policy–a few posts here and there, mostly reporting a particular outcome: As a Church, we are more effective at retaining life-long members than any other of the major religions included in the study. However, an eye single to this stat robs us of a more curious one: the LDS Church is the only major religion in the United States in which lifelong members exhibit higher degrees of religiosity than converts. Julie Smith at Times & Seasons provided a link to a summary article on this topic last October, and I recommend reading the comments in her thread, as they touch on the key purposes of this post.[1] The full paper can be found here and contains considerably more detail.[2]

To summarize, according to a study by researchers from the Pew Forum, converts to every Christian-tradition religion examined in the RLS reported higher levels of religiosity than lifelong members except for the LDS Church. While the differences in religiosity were generally small across the board, the directional difference for the LDS Church is still interesting. According to the data, we have the following relative difference between lifelong members and converts:

Religious Activity: Lifelong Member vs. Convert
Status Religion is Very Important Attends Religious Service Weekly Absolutely Certain of Belief in God Prays Daily Shares Faith/Views on God Weekly One True Faith N
Mormon Convert 79% 68% 86% 80% 38% 46% 164
Lifelong Member 84% 79% 92% 83% 19% 61% 417
Bold font denotes statistically a significant difference.

The first thought I had after viewing this data relates to how important callings and serving in the Church may be as a guarantor or protector of sustained activity.[3] While exceptions certainly abound, especially if the data were to be expanded into international areas, it seems like a reasonable assumption that, on average, lifelong members of the Church are more likely–because of increased probability of having served a mission, exposure to training, prior callings, and larger networks within the Church–to find themselves serving in leadership positions in the Church. Clearly, this holds much more for converts who join the Church at age 50 than those who join at age 14, but I don’t find the idea that a disproportionate number of the positions which “keep a person coming out to meetings weekly” in most of the wards in the U.S. would be filled by lifelong members particularly difficult to believe. Perhaps some of you can correct me here.

As seen in the data, the percentage of recent converts who frequently share their faith with others is the only statistic where converts dominate lifelong members. As several people in the comments at T&S pointed out, this may be simply a function of networks: converts in general have fewer LDS friends, and are therefore more likely to explain their (recently changed) beliefs to people around them. I also think this outcome is affected by two other possibilities: First, lifelong members and converts are not distributed evenly across geographic regions, and second, the frequency with which converts are called as ward missionaries or asked by full-time missionaries to help teach investigators.

Another, more interesting (to me, anyway) issue relates to self-reported data. Because the RLS data are self-reported, the relationship between the data and reality necessarily depends on the attitudes of respondents. A few questions are important here:

1. Are disaffected Mormons more or less likely to self-identify as Mormons than disaffected Protestants, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc… are to self-identify as members of their respective (former) religions? What elements of any religion–Mormon or otherwise–are likely to be infused permanently into individuals and retained as valuable cultural tradition, resulting in self-identification, even in the face of religious disaffiliation?

My anecdotal experience leads me to believe that disaffected Mormons are less likely to self-identify as Mormons than disaffected members of other religions. In my estimation, the primary reason for this is that, once the theological weight of the cultural characteristics which help Mormons identify as a group are discarded, there is surprisingly little left in the way of uniquely “Mormon” tradition. For example, as pointed out and illustrated by Steve Evans only wee hours ago, we essentially have no liturgical calendar.[4] Outside of Utah’s Pioneer Day celebrations, there are essentially no unique holidays, feasts, or other culturally “Mormon” events to which theologically disaffected Mormons may bind themselves to.

(Wouldn’t that just be the nerdiest thing ever if a huge crowd of disaffected Mormons gathered together once a year to celebrate their cultural Mormonism by partying without coffee, tea, and alcohol while consuming ridiculous quantities of Jello and funeral potatoes. They could call it a Linger-Less-Longer.)

2. Are disaffected lifelong Mormons more or less likely to self-identify as Mormons than disaffected convert Mormons?

Here, the water is a bit murkier, since I’ve already staked out a position that, after stripping away the theology of the Restoration and the weight of the counsel from LDS Church leaders, there is little left for cultural grazers to munch on. In that regard, I don’t really expect either of them to self-identify because I don’t believe either has much to hang on to. However, if forced to choose, I suspect that disaffected converts are less likely to self-identify as Mormons, because in my experience (very authoritative!) they are more likely to have continued searching for religion in other areas, whereas disaffected lifelong Mormons tend to go agnostic/atheist upon departure.[5] In other words, whereas “there is a vast ocean of cultural Catholics–who see themselves as Catholic even if they have no participation with the core institution…by and large, people who stop attending seem to stop identifying as Mormon at all and they would therefore seem less likely to be swayed by an appeal to nostalgia.”[6]

The idea that disaffected Mormon converts continue searching for religion is reasonable in my view simply because of the extremely low barriers to entry into the LDS Church. It’s only been in recent times that the requirement for baptism included attending Church meetings twice instead of just once. When compared to the more rigorous entry requirements of many other religions, it should not be surprising that, as an institution, we catch some converts “who are really still window-shopping.”

All in all, it seems likely to me that, the Pew Forum’s survey results likely overstate the retention rates of both lifelong and convert Mormons, with the retention of convert Mormons being the more overstated of the two. I’m certainly open to changing my opinion on this, and am also curious about what suggestions there are for policy changes–if any–going forward in light of these outcomes.

___________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Curse you, Julie Smith. I may be derivative, but at least I didn’t know I was derivative when I wrote the post. I had this entire post written and was just doing some poking around before publishing when I came across your thread.

[2] Authors of the paper are Allison Pond, Greg Smith, Neha Sahgal, and Scott F. Clement.

[3] That’s a lie, actually. The first thought I had was that, if we’re better at keeping lifelong members of the Church than we are at retaining converts, and if we’re interested in raising membership and activity rates, the path forward is simple: more sex (between married people, of course!) and fewer missionaries.

[4] Take a screenshot, kids. This may be your only chance to see Steve Evans use all-caps.

[5] This belief was confirmed by a few other (smarter) people I spoke with who have moved into and/or out of Mormonism from various directions and prior beliefs. One culturally Catholic, but religiously atheist, friend of mine responded thusly: “Purely anecdotally, I would say that Jews are most tightly bound to the non-religious aspects of their identification (nation, culture, persecution complex), followed by Catholics (family, guilt, lack of enterprise). Jews become atheist, Catholics become agnostic, Mormons become shell-shocked and bitter, and go into therapy to become professional ex-Mormons, and Evangelicals become either Catholic or self-dealing narcissists. Muslims can never leave Islam. Lutherans seem happy staying Lutheran.”

[6] Thanks to John Hamer for this quote, as well as to JNS, Hamer, Mike, and Dan Weston for letting me bounce ideas off of them.

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Comments

  1. Interesting analysis.

    This is something I touched on a few years ago, but less in depth.

    http://www.ourthoughts.ca/2005/12/08/mormon-culture/

  2. What is the correlation that you see between ward missionary work and convert status?

  3. John C.,
    In my life, I’ve seen virtually every recent convert be called as a ward missionary. Thus, the fact that converts report a really high “faith sharing” score could just be a function of their calling. Kind of like asking LDS members if they had held a pointless meeting recently, and noting that all Ward Sunday School Presidents responded affirmatively.

  4. I’m sure the church has skads of data on activity and demographics, and I’d love to see that. In its absence, I tend to project my family history of Mormon culture on the Church, though I don’t imagine that, for example, the 90% of young singles that are inactive don’t fit that at all.

  5. Thanks for the link, Kim.

    Stapley,
    Oh, to have unlimited access to the databank of 50 E North Temple…

  6. “the LDS Church is the only major religion in the United States in which lifelong members exhibit higher degrees of religiosity than converts.”

    Yes, certainly this is due in part to the fact that callings and positions of service create a sense of belonging and social responsibility. But it’s not just that. There is the sensibility taught in the Church that one should accept callings in the first place; that one should participate in the goal of perfecting the Saints; that one should strive for perfection, etc., etc. And so it becomes a self-reinforcing cycle of accepting callings, hearing repeated teachings emphasizing mutual improvement and involvement, becoming linked to other congregants, accepting callings, etc.

  7. Isn’t it kind of hard to infer any “why”s from these statistics (as with most statistics)?
    The first reason I thought of for why converts are more likely to share their religious views at least once a week is because of increased opportunity and interest from others. One may be more interested in hearing someone’s religious views who had made an apparent choice, rather than someone who is keeping with family religious tradition. And possibly geographic location, assuming (perhaps wrongly) that their are more lifelong members in places like Utah, where interaction with people unfamiliar with LDS views is more limited.

  8. Julie M. Smith says:

    “Curse you, Julie Smith.”

    /bows

  9. Isn’t it kind of hard to infer any “why”s from these statistics (as with most statistics)?

    No, not really. I do it for a living. ;)

  10. 2 comments:

    1) “lifelong members religiosity vs converts”
    This makes the most sense to me. There is quite a cultural expectation in lifelong members to at least keep up the appearance of being active. I’m sure there are many people who don’t necessarily “believe” but who still bring their family to Church and hold callings, etc.

    2) “one true faith”
    The most interesting finding to me is what percentage believe that this is the “one true Church”. Technically, this is a fundamental principle of the Church. In the First Vision that we teach in the first discussion, JS was specifically told that NONE of the other churches were acceptable. If we truly accept the JS story as a premise of a testimony, then this number should theoretically approach 100% for active members.

    The fact that nearly 80% of lifelong members attend church weekly, yet only 60% believe in the “one true Church” premise suggests that 25% of people don’t actually accept the basic premise of the JS story. And with less than 50% of the converts accepting this, what does this say about how well the first discussion goes across.

  11. Julie, after seeing your post, I have initiated formal Bloggernacle legislation:

    1. Posts of the form: “Hey, I saw this. What do you guys think about it?” shall be accepted in the Bloggernacle if and only if the author does two of these three:

    a) Conjectures a new theory
    b) States their own opinion
    c) Asks at least three (3) interesting questions,

    and does both of these:

    a) Speculates dangerously
    b) Quotes lots of statistics in an attempt to look authoritative.

    Therefore, your post is erased from the Book of the Bloggernacle.

  12. “No, not really. I do it for a living. ”

    Well, it’s hard for me. I was a music major.

  13. Mark Brown says:

    Scott, I think we need to pay more attention to your caveat about self-reported data.

    If I am reading the table correctly, LDS people attend weekly services at a rate of over 70%. I find that impossible to believe.

  14. Mark,
    That’s precisely what I’m getting at–there are scores and scores of inactive LDS folks who are counted on our rolls as Mormons, but who tell the survey taker that they’re not Mormons–thus, only “active” LDS people say they’re “Mormon” and we end up with a ridiculously high number.

  15. Kim Siever says:

    I find it interesting your table shows a substantial percentage of members believe in God, but a smaller percentage pray to him.

  16. I think it’s fascinating that attendance to only 2 church meetings is required for baptism. With so little emphasis placed on it, can we be surprised at regular church attendance numbers?

    Also, 600 is kind of a small sample, isn’t it?

  17. I find it interesting your table shows a substantial percentage of members believe in God, but a smaller percentage pray to him.

    I find that fairly predictable, actually. I would refer to it as the “I’m too tired to pray tonight” effect.

    Also, 600 is kind of a small sample, isn’t it?

    Not really. Obviously, more is preferred to less when collecting data, but as long as effective controls are used to ensure random sampling, 600 is decent. You can read more about the controls the Pew Forum used here.

  18. Kim Siever says:

    “I find that fairly predictable, actually. I would refer to it as the “I’m too tired to pray tonight” effect.”

    I’d be interested to see how often they DO pray.

  19. I have a question… how many of these “Mormons” are LDS? There are many in the world that are not. There are a ton of splinter groups that have come off of the LDS church and many of THEM self identify as “Mormon”. So how accurate can the data be if anyone who believes in the Book of Mormon considers themselves “Mormon”?

    I’m really unsure as to if this would effect the study or not.

  20. April,
    Good question. The answer is that a vast, vast majority of respondents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but not all of them.

    Specifically, the data are as follows:

    Mormon: 1.7% of respondents
    -Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 1.6%
    -Community of Christ: < 0.3%
    -Mormon, not further specified: <0.3%,
    where “0.3%” is the smallest available quantification.

    As such, it’s not likely that the CoC or other “Mormon” respondents had any significant impact on the results, unless every single “other Mormon” was actually a member of the CoC and that both cases of “<0.3%" were near the high end of "less than" in the data (i.e., both were actually 0.2999%). My guess is that it doesn't affect the data meaningfully, but if someone with better info wants to correct me, go for it.

  21. “Mormons become shell-shocked and bitter, and go into therapy to become professional ex-Mormons”

    Haha. So true.

  22. As an update, some quick checking on Wikipedia shows that the actual representation of CoC members as a proportion of the US population is about 0.04%, and the CoJCoLDS proportion is about 1.96%. Given that _all_ Mormons comprised only 1.7% of respondents, it is quite possible that the Pew Forum’s total number of “other Mormons” and CoC members was less than 10 or 15.

  23. Kk thanks :)

  24. #10: “The fact that nearly 80% of lifelong members attend church weekly, yet only 60% believe in the “one true Church” premise suggests that 25% of people don’t actually accept the basic premise of the JS story.”

    I do not take that to be the premise of the Joseph Smith story.

  25. Great post Scott. I really find this data very interesting.

    “Also, 600 is kind of a small sample, isn’t it?”

    Actually, if everything is done correct, as a rule of thumb, the error is on the order of 1/sqrt(600). This translates to error on the order of 4%. Not bad.

  26. continuing #25: You can also see this in the fact that the bold numbers in the data are the only ones that differ by more than on the order of 4% or so. The bold ones therefore are really the only ones where you can begin to make statements about.

    Interesting statements too.

  27. I do not take that to be the premise of the Joseph Smith story.

    I wouldn’t put it as the “premise” of the JS story, but I’d put it fairly high up there. I’d probably say that the “premise” of the JS story is that the Heavens are open.

    That said, I think that the question is a bit tricky, and I can easily see how I could potentially answer “yes” or “no” to the question of whether I believe this is the one true Church. For example, if the question is, “Do you believe that the CoJCoLDS is the only Church with authority from God to officiate in saving ordinances?” then my answer is “yes.” If you change the question and ask, “Do you believe that only members of the CoJCoLDS will be saved, and everyone else will go to Hell?” then my answer is certainly “no.”

  28. Interesting, this seems to run slightly counter to the engagement results I reported.

    Are self-selecting converts more engages and less believing?

  29. er engaged

  30. If the premise of our church is NOT that it is the “one true Church” than why do we spend so much time and effort on missionary work? Why do we try to convert other people who believe in God and Christ and the Bible to our way of thinking?

    There is an implicit assumption in the whole missionary program that whatever someone believes, ours is better, ours is more complete, etc. And if we truly believe that the LDS ordinances are essential to get to the highest level of heaven, and that only those ordinances are valid (ie. LDS baptism, etc), doesn’t that also imply that this is the “one true Church”?

  31. Premise of our Church =|= Premise of the JS story.

  32. Scott, Nicely done. I’d guess you’re right on both suppositions. Given your conjectures, can you speculate on what those percentages would look like if the sample included all those on Mormon membership rolls and not just self-identified?

    A related issue is that the notion of membership differs across denominations. Mormons have a very clear notion of membership as meaning having had LDS baptism (plus children of record under nine, though they wouldn’t be in the sample). The notion is less clear in other churches, where in some cases people may even attend for prolonged periods without claiming membership. I suspect that lifelong Mormons and Mormon converts are relatively similar notions of membership because it is well-defined in the LDS Church, but this might not be the case in some other churches. Unfortunately, this hinders cross-denomination comparisons.

  33. I think there is a difference between “one true church” and “one true faith leading to eternal life”. With the church’s open temple doctrine where our ancestors can have eternal life yet not be members of the church, I can understand why converts (like me) would score low here. I can also understand why lifers, who are more removed from their non-member ancestors and thus somewhat insular in their thinking, may interpret this question differently.

  34. Two questions:

    1) Why is this called Religion without Culture? Are you saying that only religious Mormons (as opposed to “cultural Mormons” – whatever that would be) are the responders? Meaning, that inactive or less-active who aren’t claiming Mormonism as a religion and therefore are responsible for the high lofe-long member percentages would claim to be Cultural Mormons but not Religious Mormons? Just curious.

    2) re: Matt W’s comment (#33) did something happen while I wasn’t paying attention? The whole point of baptism for the dead and the other vicarious ordinance works is that people ARE able to “join the church of Christ” by accepting the performed ordinances in the after life. Technically, as I’ve always heard the hairs split – we all have immortality (regardless of membership in Christ’s church) but we only have ETERNAL LIFE by accepting the church. Of course, my opinion is that it’s the Gospel we have to accept but I don’t think those active Mormons who are responding to the Pew survey (in your thinking above) think of the Gospel and the Church as two independent but mutually supportive things or of the Gospel as the somehow the thing we can focus on while ignoring the church in terms of gaining eternal life – they think of them as two side of the same coin. So I don’t think that lifelong Mormons think you can have eternal life yet not be members of the true church – that IS the point of all the work for the dead. (Plus I don’t think they would understand what Matt means by “open temple doctrine” – but that may just be me projecting because I have NO idea what that’s supposed to mean. :-)

  35. My anecdotal experience leads me to believe that disaffected Mormons are less likely to self-identify as Mormons than disaffected members of other religions.

    I think lifelong (yet no-longer-believing) Mormons — like those from other minority religions — are more likely to continue to be personally informed by their past religion than those who leave a majority religion (eg. Protestan Christianity).

    The thing is that (in the US), being a generic Christian is sort of the default assumption. Saying “I was raised Christian” doesn’t add much to people’s understanding of who you are. So there’s less reason to wear the label unless you’re saying you believe and practice that religion.

    Not so with minorities such as Mormons (and Jews, Amish, JWs, etc.) where your participation in that community marks your life in a unique way. My connection with Mormonism absolutely tells people something about me, and, frankly, it helps me understand myself.

    In my estimation, the primary reason for this is that, once the theological weight of the cultural characteristics which help Mormons identify as a group are discarded, there is surprisingly little left in the way of uniquely “Mormon” tradition.

    Yes and no. You’re right that Mormonism doesn’t have specific cultural practices that one is likely to maintain after leaving the fold. However, there is a culture built on Mormonism’s history and world-view.

    (And there are, indeed, cultural practices that disaffected members sometimes maintain such as journal-writing, genealogy, tee-totaling, etc.)

    I’ve explained my thoughts on this subject in detail (comparing/contrasting with Jews) in the post My Tribe.

  36. p.s. I just read the footnotes:

    Mormons become shell-shocked and bitter, and go into therapy to become professional ex-Mormons

    I assume this is tongue-in-cheek. However, miring yourself in insulting stereotypes is not conducive to doing any kind of serious analysis of what really happens to the disaffected.

  37. John Mansfield says:

    The difference in church attendence doesn’t look like much: 8 out of 10 lifelong self-identified Mormons attend weekly, but only 7 out of 10 converts do? With that little difference, what we need are theories why the difference isn’t greater.

    Regarding lifelong membership leading to callings leading to active church participation, that doesn’t match what I’ve seen. The converts serving in every calling in the wards and stakes I’ve lived in have been too numerous to be exceptions. Also, there are plenty of active members like myself who have been in the church since our youth, but haven’t been needed for any leadership more significant than counselor to the Sunday School president. I like to think that my years of experience have enhanced my teaching of the 13-year-olds in Sunday School, but it wouldn’t be the least odd for a member of a year or less to be given the same responsibilities; my home teacher, for example, baptized in 2009, has been the priests’ quorum advisor for months.

  38. John M., I don’t really think that’s right — there are some subtleties here, but a significant difference on the order of 10% is usually substantively large in a social-science context like this one.

    I agree with many commenters above that the overall level of self-reported church attendance is too high to be credible. This might be due to nonresponse error — maybe churchgoers are also the kind of people who like answering surveys. But at least equally plausible is that we have a social desirability bias here: Mormon people probably overreport church attendance, just like people in general overreport socially desirable things like having voted in the most recent election or possessing a library card.

    This raises a counter-hypothesis about why there’s a difference in activity rates between converts and lifelong members: perhaps lifelong members regard church attendance as more socially desirable than converts, and so overreport more. But it’s worth remembering in this regard that other churches see higher reported attendance among converts than lifelong members, which suggests either that patterns of social desirability are different in other faiths or that overreporting probably isn’t responsible for the observed lifelong member/convert differential among Mormons.

  39. chanson, I think you might have been right 20 or 30 years ago, when practices like journal-writing, genealogy, food storage, etc. were central components of the Mormon experience. But each of these has become dramatically less emphasized in the transition toward a streamlined global religion. It’s likely, I’d guess, that a majority of active Mormons doesn’t really do any of the three, and relatively rarely even hears a talk urging them to do so. The practices that are emphasized these days are much more theological and/or church-organization centered: temple attendance, tithing, home/visiting teaching. Someone who stops believing won’t do those, and there just isn’t much else left. Correlation has streamlined most of the distinctively Mormon culture away. Other than not drinking coffee or beer, there just isn’t that much cultural difference left between us and anybody else, in my experience.

  40. MikeInWeHo says:

    “Other than not drinking coffee or beer, there just isn’t that much cultural difference left between us and anybody else…”

    I think that might be taking it a little too far, J. While not exactly the Amish, Latter-day Saints clearly remain a very distinct subculture. Recently I was connecting through O’Hare and it was packed. A middle-age couple passed by me in the throng. The wife had on a bright floral skirt down to her ankles and was carrying a large blue hardcover book. They were both smiling and chatting brightly. I could just tell they were Mormons. I intentionally caught up with them to see what the book was: “The Work And The Glory” Bingo.

    I would never have been able to identify a Baptist in similar fashion.

  41. Mike, interesting. I can’t spot Mormons at a distance.

  42. MikeInWeHo says:

    I have great Mo-dar.

  43. Mark (34),
    For your first question, I refer you to JNS’s #39. He said it as succinctly as I could have.

    For your second question, only Matt W. can explain precisely what he meant, but I think the point is that we are somewhat theologically unique in that we believe many people will accept the gospel fully after this life and enter the Celestial Kingdom, regardless of whether they were members of the Mormon Church in this life. The question on the Pew Forum Survey was almost certainly interpreted by a good share of the sample as “Do I believe that only people who are baptized into my religion during mortality will be saved?” I think every Mormon should answer “no” quite emphatically to that question.

  44. MikeInWeHo,
    While I agree with you that Mormons are easily recognizable in public (JNS, please come visit me in SoCal and I shall take you to Disneyland, and you shall have your eyes opened.), I think that the very identifying characteristics you referred to–awful dresses, Gerald Lund novels, and such–disappear once activity in Church is shaved away. This seems reasonable to me–there is no longer any defense for a floor length, arms-covered kitschy dress when the modesty-monster is no longer chasing you; Gerald Lund novels will be replaced by…well, really anything, I guess. All that is left is the site of a couple–clearly under 30–with 4.7 kids in tow. That too, likely would diminish if social pressures are reduced.

  45. Scott (44),
    I’m going to have to side with JNS on this; while I admit that Mormons are easily recognizable at Disneyland in Disneyworld by bad dresses with longer sleeves than anyone else, I doubt you could recognize us in Chicago in the winter (Mike’s experience notwithstanding). In my ward, we certainly have those who look transplanted from the Mormon Corridor (at least on Sundays), but I doubt you’d peg most of our African and African-American members, Asian members, or bearded members as being members. And many here grew up in the Midwest or the East, and don’t have the same debilitating Mormon Corridor fashion and literature issues that may afflict areas as far away as Southern California.

    Which is to say, a certain brand of active Mormon is easy to spot. But I think you’re right that a lot of that goes away if one leaves the Church. But a lot of it also goes away if one leaves the Intermountain West and Southern California.

  46. Mike,

    For younger adult mormons you look for the following:

    1. Capris that cover the knee for women. Also shirts that are more modest. This is of course seasonal
    2. Longer shorts for men.
    3. Lots of little kids

  47. bbell,
    Again, that’s more likely regional than Mormon. In Manhattan, if you saw a woman with a long skirt, modest shirt, and a lot of young children, she was more likely to be an Orthodox Jew than a Mormon.

    And long shorts? Back when I was a teenager in SoCal, dress was skater chic, which included long shorts. I can’t say what teenage boys wear anymore but, given how rarely I shop for shorts (and universalizing my experience), I’d be unsurprised to find out that most of the men I went to high school with still wear long shorts.

  48. “The practices that are emphasized these days are much more theological and/or church-organization centered: temple attendance, tithing, home/visiting teaching. Someone who stops believing won’t do those, and there just isn’t much else left.”

    I hate that people have forgotten Peggy so soon after her too early death.

    This is NOT true. I’ve known folks who stopped believing and continued to be amazing visiting teachers, pay tithing, try to attend the temple.

  49. Naismith, my statement is meant as a generalization, not as a claim about every specific individual. Obviously, faithful nonbelievers are much more visible than the non-faithful majority of nonbelievers.

  50. Peggy?

  51. I think this is the Peggy in question. The thing about statistical generalizations is that there are always exceptions, but the exceptions don’t disprove the generalization.

  52. Sam,

    I am consistently picking out fellow Mormons in Texas suburbs this way. I confirm by either talking to them or spotting g lines.

    I used to do it in the Chicago suburbs as well. I think its more a suburb Mormon thing

  53. chanson, I think you might have been right 20 or 30 years ago, when practices like journal-writing, genealogy, food storage, etc. were central components of the Mormon experience. But each of these has become dramatically less emphasized in the transition toward a streamlined global religion.

    Possibly, but many of the people I’m talking about left about 20 or 30 years ago. ;)

    As for the current culture, you may be right…

  54. #43 Scott B

    I we truly don’t believe that it matters for the 99.9% of the world’s population if they are Mormon in this life, because they can always do it in the next, why do we spend so many resources on missionary work?

  55. “…., why do we spend so many resources on missionary work?”

    I think that missionary work mostly benefits those involved in the work, whether it is a regular member or a full-time missionary.

  56. Scott, you got me to read a post with a stats table. That’s saying something.

  57. Mike S., are you saying there’s no inherent value in living mortal life as an LDS?

  58. Shouldn’t all this discussion of “spotting” Mormons help us realize that identity is performed? Consider: when spouse and I tool around town–in nicer weather, of course–on our motorcycle, we probably look like college students. Until we take off our helmets. The we look like aging hipsters. When we ride home and put our platoon of children into our full-sized airport shuttle of a van, we probably look like a Catholic family because of the demographics of the state we live in.

    My point? When people stop performing the identity, the identity no longer exists.

  59. Mike S,
    I’m not sure I understand your comment in 54. Are you conjecturing that we don’t believe it matters for 99.9%, and then asking why we spend money on missionary work? Or are you using our expenditures on missionary work as a proof that it matters for 99.9% to be Mormons in this life?

  60. I think that for people who become invested in Mormonism (I guess lifelong member might be more likely to do this), then there would be more likelihood to be “cultural” Mormon.

    I think that all of these things about “jello” and “not drinking” and etc., are pretty shallow indicators of cultural identity. Rather, the investment is something more slippery to talk about. It’s about knowing that you are different, the beliefs of your “team” (whether you believe them or not) are seen as freakishly weird and cultish, you are on the defense because you will be challenged frequently (OK, so I’m describing non-Utah life too). To the extent of all this (and assuming that you don’t just collapse every time you are pressured — that’s why I said this stuff probably only happens for *invested* members) occurs, then regardless of your position with the church, you will *always* recognize that you can never be *non* Mormon. You can be ex/post/new order/former/alumni Mormon. But not “non-Mormon.”

  61. #51 J. Nelson-Seawright,

    I read through that Peggy link, and found myself subconsciously (ok, maybe a little consciously) replacing the word “Mormon” with “homosexual”. The piece was even more compelling thus rewritten.

    I dare say you might also not recognize the heterosexually non-orthodox yet orthopractic Mo’s sitting next to you in church (well, maybe MikeInWeHo can with his incredible Mo-dar).

    These are the latter-day Jacobs, wrestling with dislocated support against an unvanquishable force, and when faith does not work for them, they resign themselves to work for faith. They are the saints who abstain from the vanity of martyrdom and struggle instead in silence, testimony unsung.

    Now would be a good time for that angle to give his blessing.

  62. P.S. If your first reaction to the above is to want to correct the spelling of “angel” in the last sentence, then your empathy is more flawed than my spelling! :)

  63. “Obviously, faithful nonbelievers are much more visible than the non-faithful majority of nonbelievers.”

    Okay, I am struggling to follow this logic….

    You are defining “faithful” as people who *do* things: temple attendance, tithing, home/visiting teaching. This doesn’t make sense to me because I see “faith” as more of a mental thing, separate from such actions.

    Second, you are declaring that most folks who don’t believe are “non-faithful,” which again you seem to be defining as not doing those things. And in the absence of actual data or an X-ray into our neighbor’s hearts, how can we can say that?

    Peggy was an amazing writer who was able to put feelings into words that can be understood by others, but I have met many others who follow a similar path. For some, it was a temporary plateau in their spiritual growth, which resulted in a rebirth of their faith (which may not have happened had they not been honest about their feelings). For others, it seems to be how they are permanently.

    We should never forget that belief is a gift.

  64. #57, #59: Kathryn, Scott B

    There is a common theme to the questions, so I’l try to address them together. I believe that a vital part of earth life is to learn how to use our free agency. We should treat our fellowman with respect. We should be honest. Etc. I don’t need to delineate them all.

    I believe that these goals can be met many, many ways. In response to Kathryn, I certainly think that the LDS faith helps many people be better than they might be if they weren’t LDS. However, I think that the same can be said of almost any faith, followed truly and correctly. This includes essentially all Christian denominations, Islam, Buddhism, etc. All of these help people to be better people. People don’t always follow what they believe, but if we did, we would all be better.

    So, why should someone be “LDS”? Do we teach better morals than other religions? Do we make people better stewards of the earth or better towards their fellowman than other religions? I would argue no. Perhaps the true thing that might make someone “need” to be LDS is a belief in priesthood authority and ordinances.

    The reality, however, is that 99.9% of the world have not been and are NOT currently LDS. This leaves essentially 2 options:

    1) They are all cursed. The only people that will be saved are the 0.1% who become LDS, receive all the necessary ordinances in mortality, and endure to the end. I don’t like this idea personally, and I don’t know that we teach this.

    2) The 99.9% can receive any ordinances in the next life vicariously. In this case, it seems that the ordinances are “hoops” to be jumped through for some reason that I don’t understand, and it doesn’t really matter if they’re done while you’re alive. In this case, all that matters is that someone is a good person and that they learned the necessary lessons. If this is the case, why do we get so hung up on the “LDS-way”? If someone is a good Catholic, a good person, serving their fellowman, with a firm belief in God and Christ, why do they need to be LDS in mortality? If, at the end of the day, they can just receive baptism vicariously, why do we try to convert them?

    Sorry. This seems to be getting long. In essence, if we believed that mortality was your only chance to “get it right”, then there is a huge urgency to missionary work, but this would essentially damn the 99.9%. If it’s a continuum, and the main thing that is important in mortality is that you’re a good person, we would probably be better served with humanitarian missions to out and HELP our fellowman rather than trying to CONVERT our fellowman.

  65. yawn.

  66. Naismith, you referred to Peggy, so I’m letting her essay set the terms here. Faithful nonbelievers in Peggy’s account are people who have faith in the sense of the “power that motivates people to do what they think is right.” That is, faithfulness in this discussion is about action and behavior, definitely not belief, which Peggy describes as “the mental acceptance of certain ideas and stories.” So your discussion of faith as “a mental thing, separate from such actions” is directly contradictory with the terms of Peggy’s essay — which you invoked as a way of structuring the discussion.

    In other words, your objections to my comment are really just objections against Peggy’s thought.

    The broader point is this. We’re far more likely to know that we’ve met one or more faithful non-believing Mormons than we are to know that we’ve met one or more non-faithful non-believing Mormons, for the simple reason that the faithful ones (again, using Peggy’s terms) are defined as faithful specifically because they show up at church and stuff. So we know where to find them.

    Anyway, Peggy’s nifty for a lot of reasons, and I agree that a lot of people spend significant time as faithful non-believing Mormons. But most people who are baptized into the church, statistically speaking, leave and never come back, so the non-faithful (i.e., don’t go to church or do other Mormon practices) outnumber the faithful (believers or not).

  67. Half-@$$ed Apostate says:

    Although I no longer believe in about 75% of the doctrines of the Church, that 25% has a powerful effect. Somehow, even when you’re in the throes of passion (never can quite go all the way, though . . . no, that’s “special” and has to wait till your married or almost there, I’ve found, no matter WHAT sort of Mormon boy you’re dealing with), the LDS guilt kicks in. It also can have a lifelong effect on your views of God, how you dress, just . . . a general outlook on life. Even if you are breaking “the rules” with abandon. At least that’s what I’ve found . . . that for those raised in the Church, ‘Mormon” is almost as much who you are as opposed to what you do.

  68. 67.,
    I don’t in any way doubt the deep impact Mormon thought and culture have had on you, and continue to have on you; however, I maintain the opinion that your experience is still more the exception than the rule.

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