On the internet, Identity is an obsession. I started a different post with this idea a couple of weeks ago, but the intervening time has only demonstrated its accuracy. Whether it be determining if good Latter-day Saints can enjoy the Book of Mormon musical, the appropriate terms for describing members of the church, or whether one of our Mormon presidential candidates is technically Mormon, we are all abuzz with the project of figuring out who we are.
I tend to think that the first shot in this skirmish was fired by the Church itself. The new Mormon.org campaign, focusing on Saints who don’t fit the “business suit and floral print” stereotypes that have become cliché, shook the world of our perception. There were people who fretted about what uncorrelated online testimony would mean. There were people who were upset that folks who didn’t meet our perceived religious ideals were being promoted as Mormon exemplars, arguing that it was deceptive, either because it wasn’t what we tended to hear over the pulpit or because it meant that folks who had contorted themselves to fit the assumed ideal had wasted time and life in an unnecessary pursuit.
It’s difficult. Whatever else self-proclaimed Mormons may believe about the Church, the Gospel, or the Plan, they think they is important. There’s simply no reason to bother with them otherwise. While members may be flattered by the attention, we are equally anxious in considering its intent. We are forever proclaiming that we are ready for our close up, but frequently recoiling from what we find in the mirror. Our ideal is too ideal. We can’t live up to it (It is Christ, after all). Is that a good or a bad thing?
I don’t know and can’t say. But I think I can say this: whatever the value of our labels (self-proclaimed, assigned by others), they only provide context for our acts. I’ve argued before that we use these labels to provide the conversational body-language context we are deprived of online. Certainly, we also use them in real life, but there we still use them to prevent or encourage conversation. Which is fine, of course. We’ve only so much time and attention; we can’t treat all potential relationships equally and deciding to countenance one and ignore another is as much a sanity maintenance process as it is an expression of interest. Of course, this can go too far. The internet is often turned into an echo chamber, where we all sit around and talk about how right we are. Perhaps it is no wonder that I see the Zoramites as the Book of Mormon group that most closely aligns with our era’s sins.
The Zoramites, as you know, did all they could to drive the unclean from amongst their midst. Their mode of worship appeared to focus on orthopraxy, saying the right prayer at the right time in the right place. The prayer thanks God that the Zoramites are held separate, receiving special knowledge and a special dispensation not available to others (especially some co-religionists). After accepting the donations of poor believers, they declared them insufficiently worthy to enter the synagogue, cutting off access to God. In this state, they turn to Alma, desperately searching for a way to restore access to God.
Of course, only the humble seek God. The proud believe they’ve already found him or that they don’t need him. And, perhaps most importantly, we are all proud some time, just as we will all be humbled. No label fits forever.