Linguistic Curiosity and Mormon Culture

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A few years ago, I found myself enmeshed in a long afternoon conversation with a linguistics professor.  His area of expertise includes analyzing changes to English wrought by internet communications.  As he opined on the etymological drift of a verb’s transitive and intransitive forms during the last twenty years, I was fascinated by his approach to grammar and language.

“It must drive you crazy to be so precise with your usage,” I remarked, “and yet be surrounded by people who use words incorrectly all the time. Do you ever feel like Henry Higgins?”

Instead of agreeing, he challenged me.  “There is no such thing as incorrect word usage,” he responded. “Rather, when I hear others use a word in a non-standard way, I ask myself: what is the cultural context and experience in which they were raised that led them to that usage?  I’ve found asking that question leads to a wealth of productive research.”

I’d forgotten that professors are intellectually curious nerds.  I later learned his answer was emblematic of widespread academic dialogue on prescriptive vs. descriptive language.  His comments came to mind when I once spent hours pouring over dialect maps of the United States.  I was shocked by how much mild variations in language revealed about my upbringing.

When the New York Times reduced similar maps to a 25-question quiz, it accurately pinpointed my Midwestern cultural context based on whether I said “firefly” or “lightning bug”, “kitty-corner” or “catty-corner.”  I marked it on my results: I grew up outside Indianapolis.

CarolynTest

 

Take the quiz yourself!

Around the same time as my conversation with the linguistics professor, I had a conversation with a friend at church who was considering quitting Sunday attendance.  As we discussed why, his answer gave me a sense of deja vu:

“It drives me crazy to hear so many incorrect things taught at church.  I feel like not a week goes by without some guy in Elders Quorum masquerading Republican politics as doctrine. If I hear one more anti-climate-change comment at the same time as we’re praying for rain to end this drought, I’m going to lose it.”

I sympathized with his frustration, but I reminded him that lay comments are not doctrine.  He was free to respond with his counter-perspective.  He could have subversively born his testimony on the importance of being good stewards of God’s environmental creations.  Maybe he would open minds, or discover like-minded friends in the process.  That’s what building a ward community is all about.

But I later found myself asking: Is there even such a thing as an “incorrect” comment at Church?  Is it possible to create a cultural map of the variations within Mormonism, just like we create linguistic maps of variations within English?  Instead of rushing to correct or contradict a fellow saint, what if I started a dialogue instead?  What if I curiously asked “what is the cultural context and experience in which that person was raised, that led her to share that religious perspective?”

I started experimenting with that new approach, and my Sunday School and Relief Society experience dramatically changed.  Instead of retreating to a mental place of arrogant or exasperated condescension, instead of making wry whisper-commentary to my sardonic like-minded friends, I found myself practicing curiosity and empathy.  I heard the pain and the doubts and the life experiences lurking beneath the surfaces of others’ comments.  I admired their sincere efforts to align their lives with Christ, even if their choices were different than my own.  I noticed examples where teachings I chaffed against had led to their empowerment.  I started to see how others’  passionate devotions to missionary work, or family history, or emergency preparedness, or religious freedom, or mothers not working outside the home, aligned with the prevailing General Conference talks and cultural messages of their formative decades.

Active and curious listening has led me to a wealth of relationships with brothers and sisters I might otherwise have ignored or dismissed.

As lay people, our Church experiences and perspectives vary widely.  Like linguistic maps, our precise doctrinal beliefs may say more about our geographic and cultural upbringing than normative truths.  Berkeley and Cambridge wards are different from Mesa and Spanish Fork wards.  United States English-speaking wards are different than Brazilian Portuguese-speaking or Filipino Tagalog-speaking wards.  We know this.  We sometimes joke about the Church being “truer” in our preferred locale — but we also recognize that’s a pithy inaccuracy.  Culturally different wards are still part of the body of Christ.  We all still speak Mormon.

Church experiences vary by other cultural factors as well:  age, gender, race, education, wealth, family, missions, marriage, relationships, sickness, hardships, mobility, or length of time in the faith.  All of those perspectives matter.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known for our lack of systematic theology.  Yes, there are touchstones we believe in — The Book of Mormon, the Restoration of the Priesthood, the importance of Living Prophets — but our “doctrine” is remarkably non-prescriptivist.  By and large, we don’t have creeds.  We don’t have a catechism.  We don’t have a paid, trained, professional clergy.  Our Sacrament Meetings and our Sunday Schools are lay people trying to make sense of God by talking to other lay people.  I believe the reason we have lay people teaching other lay people is to learn empathy from our diversity.  We mess up, constantly, together — but in loving each other anyway, we’re working to build Zion and striving to live like Christ.

*Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. So when do we get to hear anecdotal experiences of some people wanting to quit church attendance because of progessive politics masquerading as church doctrine?

  2. I loved this thoughtful discussion of our differences

  3. With the church being headquartered in Utah and most church media being produced there it still feels like the “bubble” region exercises a certain cultural hegemony and views aligned with that culture carry more weight.

  4. Kristine Low says:

    I love your last line:
    “ I believe the reason we have lay people teaching other lay people is to learn empathy from our diversity. We mess up, constantly, together — but in loving each other anyway, we’re working to build Zion and striving to live like Christ.”
    It’s been very culturally interesting for us to experience having lived in a military ward, “wealthy” wards, and one extremely rural branch. We were around so many different sub groups of people but had shared Christ-centered goals. It’s amazing how much unity there is to be felt in a church that is growing among the young, the old, the rich, the poor, and from all over the world.

  5. MIchael H says:

    jader3rd: Sometimes the Deseret News comments read like that!

  6. Wonderful analogy, comparing linguistic differences with variations in philosophy, priorities, and even values in the Church. And yet, everyone speaks the same “gospel language” everywhere in the world, regardless of the prevailing culture and language.

  7. “We mess up, constantly, together — but in loving each other anyway, we’re working to build Zion and striving to live like Christ.” I couldn’t help think this kind of thinking is what keeps families together and united as well. Nice thoughts Carolyn.

  8. Thank you. This was timely, as I’m just coming off my first EQ meeting in a long time in which I left almost angry because of what I considered to be narrow and prejudiced perspectives being presented as spiritual insight. I’ve recently moved back into the ward I grew up in (I know, but it was the best option by far), and I’ve been very concerned that I wasn’t going to fit well. I’ve changed a lot in the 15 or so years I’ve been away. I love a lot of the people here, but as I’ve grown in my knowledge of Christ, I’ve had to work hard to root out ideas that were probably planted in my by some of these same people.

    Until today, things were going well enough. Today that changed, and our instructor was endorsing things that I not only disagreed with, but occasionally thought were downright anti-christian, and blatant misrepresentations of scripture.

    I made a comment from my own perspective, but didn’t take it further, just left feeling frustrated. After reading this, I have a more charitable approach to take: one that will hopefully allow me to avoid judging these people I have many reasons to love.

    Also, your last couple of sentences were beautiful. Thanks again.

  9. What a valuable perspective for building up others and the kingdom. I hope people keep this in mind when responding to those who feel to some degree betrayed or deceived by church leaders, teachings, or policies. I would much prefer “that wasn’t my experience, and I would like to understand the context and experiences that contributed to your feeling that way.” than the responses I sometimes see along the lines of “your original understanding was clearly incorrect and unwarranted, you are responsible for that incorrect understanding, and hence any feelings of injury you have are self-inflicted.” Thanks, Carolyn!

  10. Intriguing analogy. I would like to add to it. There are variations in the English languages, in its grammar, its word usage, its pronunciations. Some group of variations are small enough that English-speakers in other regions recognize what is spoken as still English (i.e., Southern English, I recognize that y’all is English even though I don’t use that word). Yet some group of variations are large enough (i.e. Scots English) that they are not understood by other English-speakers and can be arguably considered to be a different language altogether. And such it is with Mormonism. The way Mormons practice in Nigeria may be quite different and may integrate a number of local cultural elements that aren’t seen as particularly valid in white Utah Mormonism, but are still recognized as Mormonism nonetheless. Yet Snufferism (the interpretation of Mormonism by Denver Snuffer and his handful of followers), on the other hand, is probably a completely different religion that while bearing many similarities with mainstream Mormonism just isn’t the same and contains too many elements that aren’t recognized as Mormonism by mainstream Mormons.

    One difference between languages and Mormonism is that languages do not have a central authority has the power to excommunicate. There are authorities that do determine what is proper English and proper grammar, but they are more disparate and do not gather in the same place nor do they claim to have authority of God to determine what is correct and incorrect grammar. Something is claimed to be correct English simply because of the dictates of the traditional speech and usage of the higher classes. In Mormonism it isn’t a group of self-designated experts determining what is correct doctrine based on perceptions of what the higher classes of Mormonism deem to be correct. It is, instead, an actual select group of men who regularly meet to publish manuals, teachings, and articles that regularly review, determine, and reiterate what is doctrinally correct.

    Lastly, I take issue with this oft-heard idea that Mormonism lacks as a systematic theology. Its central teachings may not be labeled a “theology” but that doesn’t mean that these central teachings don’t exist, are deeply rooted in tradition, and define what is or isn’t true Mormonism. For instance, suppose there were a group of Mormons in India who said that we reincarnate into different life forms after we die. I think we could agree that such a teaching simply isn’t Mormonism and that true Mormon belief about the afterlife is that our individual spirits continue to exist and will be eventually reunited with our physical bodies which will resurrect and that we don’t take on different personas and avatars through rebirth. Now such a position may seem uncontroversial, but there are other beliefs where I am likely to strike nerves. For instance, the historicity of the Book of Mormon. There are some Mormon bloggers who claim that the Book of Mormon is not historical yet is still true. I simply cannot recognize that belief as legitimate Mormonism. Such a belief simply does not square with the traditional dictates of Mormonism and what is regularly taught in church and over the pulpit by local and general leaders. Of course, you can consider yourself a Mormon and maintain a belief is a non-historical yet still true Book of Mormon, but the expression of such a belief is likely to be rejected as an un-Mormon idea by other self-identified Mormons, much like the word “ken” (meaning “to know” in Scots English) is likely to be unrecognized as correct English by most English-speakers and experts on the English language.

  11. Jeff Stewart says:

    Mistaking our culture for gospel Is our sloppiest habit as a people. If what we “just know” is wrong, our mistake can be dangerous.

    Thanks for the article. Your perspective will help me be more forgiving about common beliefs I do not hold. (I still find the unexamined commingling of culture and gospel to be worth our side eye.)

  12. John W – “we reincarnate into different life forms after we die”
    I’ve always thought of this to be a derivation of what we do believe. We believe that because of a choice in our previous life we were separated into two different life forms. We believe that after this life, we will be separated into different forms of life (Celestial, Terrestrial, Telestial, etc) based on how we did in this life. With the belief that progression to be like God is too far to be possible, it’s not a stretch to derive that we’ll loop this life til we make it.

    /tangent

    I love the idea of changing how we think of those with differing opinions in Church, but darned if I know how I could get myself there. Some of the opinions of other members flat make no sense to me (as the above may seem to others), and I’m not scholar enough to get myself from where they are to where I am. Best I can manage is speaking up on my own experience and understanding when the Spirit says it’s ok to do so. (sometimes the Spirit says to shut up)

  13. “Yes, there are touchstones we believe in — The Book of Mormon, the Restoration of the Priesthood, the importance of Living Prophets — but our ‘doctrine’ is remarkably non-prescriptivist.”

    Actually, the Book of Mormon is not the monolith we think it is. There are many opinions about what exactly the book is. The priesthood, according to our uniquely LDS definition, is also a linguistic anomaly. And our doctrine is something of a moving target. Almost every doctrine we espouse has shifted significantly over the years. Revelation has done very little to clarify the things we think we are certain about.

  14. Carolyn says:

    Wally: I’m not sure if you’re trying to contradict me, but I interpret your comment as reinforcing my core point. :)

  15. I was going to point out that you should’ve written “borne” and “chafed” (in reference to testimonies and to being rubbed the wrong way), not “born” and “chaffed,” but then I realized that would be prescriptivist of me, and there’s no such thing as incorrect usage.

    But then I thought, “Hey, who says prescriptivism is ‘wrong’ and descriptivism is ‘right’? If I’m a prescriptivist, it’s because of my life experiences and cultural context!”

    So, in order to affirm the validity of all perspectives, including my own, I am obliged to tell you that “born” is the past participle of “bear” only in sense of bearing offspring, and that “chaff” is refuse, particularly the husks of straw separated by threshing.

  16. Carolyn says:

    Travis: I’m perfectly willing to confess my typos. But now if I retro-edit them out, do our readers lose important cultural context? :p

  17. This is a wise and charitable approach to doctrinal disagreement, Carolyn. I like this post.

  18. Carolyn: Indeed they would. I’ll reciprocate the typo confessions by pointing out that my comment is missing a definite article (“…only in sense of…”).

  19. rcb1820 says:

    What a wonderful, insightful perspective that caused me to “ponderize” about language and church experiences. You’ve provided a key for developing greater empathy toward our Fellow Saints. You could apply the same perspective toward our Church leaders and how their life experiences, age, cultural context helped shape their teachings and pronouncements. Understanding Brigham’s negative encounters with a Black Saint explains (but not excuses) his racist views. Understanding the leaders’ angst over alcoholism explains their toughening stance on the Word of Wisdom. By studying President Nelson’s life experiences, we can almost predict new revelations that make the Church more inclusive and benevolent.

  20. it's a series of tubes says:

    This is great stuff. Lots to consider and apply.

  21. “Our Sacrament Meetings and our Sunday Schools are lay people trying to make sense of God by talking to other lay people.”

    This is profoundly true. It is also scripturally mandated, if we take seriously D&C 43:8 and 88:78, among others.

  22. MK Deyholos says:

    This is the most helpful thing I have read in months. Thank you!

  23. Taiwan Missionary says:

    About being frustrated at having to hear things in Church that one disagrees with, and that indeed can just be plain flat-out wrong: I once made a comment in Priesthood meeting that not everything that is uttered by a member of the 12 or the First Presidency is necessarily church doctrine or binding on Church members. Several men present took offense at my comment, and stated that we are blessed when we do WHATEVER a Church leader says. I replied, even when they contradict each other? And that rejoinder only added fuel to the fire! Several men insisted that Church leaders never have contradicted each other. I offered to provide several examples of contradiction. To my surprise, one of the most rigid and conservative members of the class backed me up, said I was right, and that it is only when Church leaders clearly flag their remarks as being doctrine, that we are under obligation. He cited as an example Ezra Taft Benson’s political comments in the 1970s that were promptly followed by Church statements that Benson was merely articulating his personal views.
    I offended several people that day, even though what I said was accurate. I have also taken exception to comments made in Church from the conservative side of things, and sometimes have been offended, myself.
    I am reminded of George Orwell’s comment that if freedom means anything at all, it is the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear. I hear things at Church quite often that I don’t want to hear, and I know that my comments also sometimes grate on others’ nerves.
    That is fine. I personally enjoy a healthy, respectful exchange of opinions with people I disagree with, more than being in an echo chamber with like-minded people. I like Joseph Smith’s statement that by proving contradictions, truth is made manifest.

  24. Curiosity leading to empathy is the Buddhist path to becoming a better _____ (whatever you are or want to be, including Mormon). If I’m curious, I’m less inclined to judge, and if I’m not judging, I don’t need to forgive. If I’m curious, I’m less likely to take things personally, and if I’m not taking things personally, I don’t need to heal hurt feelings. It preempts so much mess and hardship and suffering. If I’m curious, I’m more observant, I’m learning more, I’m making more cross-topic and inter-disciplinary connections; I’m growing.

    On the other hand, it’s important to balance compassion with healthy boundaries. If some kinds of lay commentary are so entrenched they become toxic, a person has a right and responsibility to not be a part of it.

    I adore your analogy. It’s elegant and relevant.

  25. Michelle says:

    I love this.

  26. Frank Pellett, no the idea of reincarnation is diametrically opposed to official church teachings and common Mormon belief about resurrection.

    Reincarnation = a soul transmigrates through death and rebirths into different bodies. A single soul can inhabit multiple bodies at different time periods.

    Resurrection (Mormon teachings) = we lived as souls without bodies in a pre-earth life, received a mortal body when we came to earth, separate from our mortal body at death, and then acquire a perfect body at resurrection. The soul who chose Jesus in the pre-existence will inhabit two different bodies, the imperfect during the earthlife, and the perfect after resurrection. The soul will not be reborn into a completely different mortal body until the achievement of some form of nirvana/moksha as is taught in some Eastern religions.

    A side note, I find it a bit irksome this idea that appears predominant among intellectual/liberal Mormons that there are no religious ideas that are diametrically opposed to/mutually exclusive with Mormon teachings and that Mormonism can somehow magically accommodate all different religious ideas. This is nonsense. There are ideas and beliefs that simply are not and cannot possibly be compatible with the prevailing Mormon belief, and the idea of reincarnation is most certainly one of them.

  27. John W – wow, went straight for the irksome liberals. Did you not understand the post?

    It’s -very- Mormon to “ascribe all truths into one great whole”, “to receive truth, let it come from whence it may”, and to believe that all beliefs started with Eden and that all wandered from the true path. We don’t have all the truth, nor a monopoly on it, even if we are afforded greater guidance in progressing toward it. We should be able to accept that we can’t say with a surety that “[t]here are ideas and beliefs that simply are not and cannot possibly be compatible with the prevailing Mormon belief”. Many have said this over the decades, and have fallen away when “prevailing Mormon belief” changed.

    I have some understanding of how people get there, as I grew up surrounded by it and did partake. I am not perfect in my understanding, by any means, in any way, but I do know that God loves and encourages us all to come to Them with what we have and a desire to become and know better.

  28. Frank, Mormons don’t believe in reincarnation. The idea of reincarnation, as commonly understood in religions and philosophies that subscribe to it, where the soul transmigrates to different bodies after death, is not compatible with the Mormon idea of resurrection, in the which the soul inhabits an imperfect body on earth and eventually a perfect body in the afterlife. Either you don’t fully understand the idea of reincarnation, or you’re being obtuse.

    As for the idea of “ascribing all truth into one great whole,” the key word is truth. Clearly such a statement does not convey accepting false and untrue ideas, right? The idea has long been expressed by Mormon leaders and followers that there are nuggets of truth in other religions but that no one of them has the fullness of truth and that Mormomism either has the fullness of truth or contains more truth than the other religions. Mormon leaders have also long pointed out the false teachings of other religions. The Joseph Smith History section of the Pearl of Great Price contains a verse where Joseph Smith reports God to consider the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches as an “abomination in his sight.” Joseph Smith instructed people at Ramus, Illinois in 1843 that “the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false” (D&C 130:3).

    “We should be able to accept that we can’t say with a surety that “[t]here are ideas and beliefs that simply are not and cannot possibly be compatible with the prevailing Mormon belief”.”

    Are you willing to say that the following beliefs promoted in other religions are compatible with Mormonism?:

    a) It is utmost blasphemy to believe that God has a Son (Islam)
    b) Same-sex marriage can be ordained of god (Episcopalianism)
    c) God is a one in substance (Trinitarian Christianity)
    d) God is a spirit without flesh and bones (Trinitarian Christianity)
    e) Christopher Nemelka is the reincarnation of Hyrum Smith and translated the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon (Nemelka movement)
    f) Baptism of infants is valid (Orthodox Christianity)
    g) Warren Jeffs is a prophet of god who rightly promotes and lives the true order of plural marriage (FLDS Church)
    h) We must live the United Order (Kingston Clan)

    Point is that Mormon belief is best understood as a spectrum of beliefs promoted by leaders and predominantly held by self-identifying Mormons. Some beliefs are central and have never changed (i.e., Jesus is our Savior, we will resurrect after we die, etc.). Some beliefs may be outliers, but can still be considered part of Mormon belief. Yet many beliefs are so far off the spectrum that they could not convincingly be called Mormon. Much as “yo no entiendo lo que hablas” cannot be understood to be English, even though Spanish is related to English in many ways, there are beliefs that simply cannot be understood to be Mormon. You have to acknowledge that. And you have to acknowledge that some religious beliefs are simply false and must be regarded as false by anyone who considers themselves Mormon. I couldn’t go about declaring that the Qur’an is correct in saying that it is condemnable blasphemy to consider Jesus the Son of God and consider that idea Mormon or compatible with Mormon belief.

  29. Do you really want me to list the number of truths that the Church has held as “central and have never changed” where it was declared incorrect by the Church? Or do you really think those were just “mistakes” and we’re so much more enlightened now that we have everything perfectly right?

    You remind me of the person who hears “all are God’s children and will be given opportunity to repent and progress to become like God” and rejoins with “even Hitler?”

    None of the beliefs you listed started in a vacuum. They all started with the truth and were corrupted over time. Mormonism has never been exempt from this corruption (see barring people of African heritage from the Temple and Priesthood), but it does have the benefit of Prophets who, when they are humble enough to take that direction, can direct us back toward the truth of all things.

    I never said we ascribe to the varied understandings of reincarnation ascribed to by a number of religions. I try to work out how it could have gotten to where it is now, knowing that it has changed and shifted over the centuries. We believe we are progressing through “incarnations” (incarnate: to be made flesh), being made incarnate in this life based on how we lived in the previous life and being given a new incarnation in the next based on this previous one, onward until we become like God. It’s not hard for that basic truth to become corrupted, thinking that becoming like God must take many lifetimes or that if there is progression there must be also digression into non-human forms.

    The Church will continue to grow and progress, even taking in beliefs that you believe “cannot possibly be compatible”. It could be women get the Priesthood (or Priestesshood). It could be we accept gay marriage as a candidate for eternity, just like any other marriage. It could be we canonize the Proclamation on the Family. Since we have accepted incorrect principles as “central” in the past and know we are not yet perfect now, we cannot say with a surety what the future will be. We can only try to keep humility enough to grow with (or around) what changes come and faith that God has the entirety of it in hand, despite our failings.

  30. Gilgamesh says:

    To venture into the reincarnation quagmire – I have wondered about insects’, animals’, etc… role in our eternal development. Yes, Joseph Smith spoke of animals having spirits, but would those spirits progress directly to celestial resurrection? My thought, though just a thought, is as follows. What if our training ground as eternal incarnated begins as lesser creatures until we graduate into our spiritual bodies and enter earth life as humans with the next stage being potential godhood? I find it hard to think of a cat kingdom with a cat god and a cockroach kingdom with a cockroach god. Maybe that is how it is, but I am not a closed to the idea of progressive reincarnation leading to spiritual birth as children of God then coming to earth for our final experience as humans. It would actually make it understandable why the evil spirits of the New Testament preferred the bodies of swine. They could have known how to inhabit a body and and hoped to at least get back into some form of life to remind them of those prior experiences.

    Official doctrine is limited and does not provide concrete answers of how we became spirit children of God from the intelligence stage or what happens between final judgment and becoming gods ourselves. All we currently have is speculation.

  31. Frank, some beliefs are simply not Mormon and the likelihood of them ever becoming Mormon is highly improbable.

    I take issue with this idea that Mormonism has no core doctrine. Of course it does. Joseph Smith is a prophet who received revelations from God, we need to make covenants you be saved, Jesus is God’s son who saves, the Book of Mormon is the word of God, etc. We could make quite a long list of these core teachings that have not changed since the beginning.

    Of course some Mormon teachings have changed over time. This does not mean that there are not core beliefs and teachings in Mormonism that are distinctly Mormon. Nor does it mean that there aren’t teachings in other religions that are mutually exclusive with Mormonism.

    Your points about reincarnation are obtuse. I have never heard any Mormon leader or member refer to resurrection as reincarnation. What is meant by reincarnation should be quite clear: the transmigration of a soul from one body to another as in “he believes he is the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln.” Resurrection is to inhabit the same body. The idea of reincarnation in all its widely understood meanings is not, has never been, and will likely never be compatible with Mormon teachings.

  32. Here is a perfect article on Mormonism and reincarnation written by BYU professor of world religions Spencer J. Palmer in 1989: https://www.lds.org/study/ensign/1989/08/i-have-a-question/what-exactly-is-reincarnation-is-it-contrary-to-the-teachings-of-the-gospel?lang=eng.

    Palmer analyzes similarities between reincarnation and Mormon belief and shows sympathy and understanding to those who believe in reincarnation. But ultimately concludes what makes sense for a believing Mormon to conclude: “But despite some similarities to LDS doctrine, reincarnation is contrary to revealed truth. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that reincarnation is a false doctrine.”

    I don’t know what it is nowadays, but so many folks on the Mormon blog sites go into a tizzy over the mere mention that a particular belief or idea is not and cannot be Mormon. There is a new culture of denial out there, and I can’t figure out exactly what is driving it. Is it because secularism is seen as the new great threat to Mormonism and that Mormons are now seeing other religions all as allies, and that it is therefore taboo to criticize other religious beliefs as wrong and false, even though by virtue of claiming to be a believing Mormon it is implicit that you view other religions as wrong and false? Is it because people now want Mormonism to change on a number of fronts (women holding the priesthood, acceptance of gay marriage) that people are pretending that Mormonism can just be anything they want? Is it because people now have more cognitive dissonance and doubt about historicity issues and the character of Joseph Smith that they make excuse after excuse and amid those excuses someway, somehow they embrace relativism and think that Mormonism can be true without having to explain what true even is or provide any evidence that would establish a particular truth claim as truth? It is truly maddening. That reincarnation is not a Mormon belief should be as clear as day, Frank. I swear, some crazy cog dis or something that is causing such denialism of plain fact on your part.

  33. I really like this post, Carolyn. Your comparison of variation in beliefs to variation in language use reminds me of a post my sister Lynnette wrote several years ago where she drew on the work of a particular theologian to also compare doctrine to grammar. If you’re interested, here’s the link:

    https://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2012/03/18/doctrine-as-grammar/

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