Who are you, really?

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.


  1. im not sure they “turned to alma.” they slammed the door many times on him, according to the Living Scriptures videos.

  2. Echo chambers aren’t all bad all the time. There aren’t that many places on the internet where believing Mormons can gather and talk about belief and what grows from that belief without being drowned out by other, louder, uglier voices.

    I hope that doesn’t make me a Zoramite — I welcome the presence and participation of others, even though they didn’t make those donations and no matter how they’re dressed or what they track in on the carpet, as long as they don’t shout and spit and start beating up the children’s choir. That’s true whether the venue is Keepa or my ward meetings.

  3. “The internet is often turned into an echo chamber, where we all sit around and talk about how right we are.”

    My post attracted a lot of the very scum I was attacking. Somebody always ruins my echo chamber.

  4. sorry chris

  5. Andrew, not you.

  6. Thanks for this post, John C. The “Us vs. Them” impulse that’s so prevalent in the bloggernacle turns a lot of people off to it–myself included. I get to watch mormons sort themselves into tidy groups every sunday, why would I want to watch people do it online as well?

  7. Sigh. (then screams and walks away)

  8. Okay, I do not really give a crap who any of you are. I blog as part of finding out who I am. Sorry for ruining the bloggernacle. This reminds me of arguments for pretending that race is irrelevant.

  9. Chris, do you need a hug?

  10. I will get one from Mark Brown tomorrow. That will help. What a mess.

  11. Be careful. Mark tends to stick signs on backs at the end of hugs.

  12. Thanks for the tip.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    I’d be more wary of the ol’ Mark Brown reacharound if I were you.

  14. What are you guys talking about?!?

  15. Angie, such questions may require the use of labels.

  16. Okay – go for it. I can’t possibly be any more confused by this post and comments than I am right now.

  17. Sorry Chris, my comment wasn’t an attack on your post specifically…I hadn’t read it until just now.

  18. My bad. I am too sensitive. Thanks.

  19. Josh B. says:

    “I’ve got to fiiind out who I am!”

  20. There’s an easy answer:


  21. Stan Beale says:

    Eric Hoffer, the quinessisential working person’ s philosopher, once stated, “It is thus with most of us; we are what other people think we are. We know of ourselves chiefly by hearsay.” I could go on endlessly about the sociological, psychological and historical basis for this idea, but we would miss those of who are not a part of “most of us.”

    The 20th Century, I believe, was defined by three abberations of this search for who we are and what our perpose is: Political Fanaticism, Religious Fundamentalism and Existential Absurdism. We as members of the Church have had The Gospel and a Prophet to help us avoid those pitfalls.

    I am afraid, however, that political fanaticism and religious fundamentalism are beginning to raise their ugly heads amongst our sisters and brethren. We see it in the blogernacle by intolerance for for one another and our ideas as well as a use of labels, not as descriptors but as perjoritives.

    I wish everyone would read Hoffer’s The True Believer to gain a different perspective of who man is or is not. He can be an infuriating author to read. At some points you will want to say “he nailed it” and others remark “boy, is he wrong.” But he will cause you to think (or in church talk, ponder).

  22. Great post. I love the second to last paragraph on the Zoramites. As I look around in my own ward each Sunday I feel like this happens with increasing frequency (though perhaps I’m confirming some bias).

    I do think the bloggernacle is in many ways a microcosm of the same thing. The way John D. and anyone associated with him or any of his projects are treated is a good example. I’m not particularly surprised by this because I think this is the way groups operate. And even the self-defined bloggernacle is this way with some sites acting as gatekeepers for all things that pass the “not anti-Mormon” test (whatever that is).

    I wish I could find a way to be a part of a group like Mormonism, having all the benefits that a strong group provides, but leave behind the Zoramite mentality, allowing me to focus on real spiritual growth in a loving, compassionate context of support, being able to partake of all the group has to offer without subjecting myself to codified tests of belief and behavior. Seems like an impossibility in the real world.

  23. Scott,

    Mark’s flight got cancelled. Can I get a virtual hug after all?

  24. StillConfused says:

    I get asked all of the time who/what I am by people trying to fit me into a label. So my response now is “I am 50% Mormon, 50% Jewish and 50% Southern Baptist.” THe response is usually “that is more than 100%” and my response is “exactly”. I am happiest when I do not try to fit into a particular box or mold, but instead just be the way that I am.

    My husband and I actually just got into a little tiff over this because he feels like he should try to “explain” me to people who want me to act in a stereotypical way. In doing that, he uses Zoramite types of terms that makes it sound like something is wrong with me because I won’t behave in a lock-step pattern that is not true to my nature. In reality, the people that he is feeling the need to “explain” me to are the ones who have pretty severe problems interacting on a societal level.