Mar 24, 2008

Theology vs. Culture

One thing that I've come to learn the older that I get, is that Mormon theology and Mormon culture are, although closely related and intertwined, two different subjects. Even for us "seasoned veterans" of Mormonism, it can, admittedly, sometimes be very difficult to differentiate between the two. We have our cultural quirks, such as green jell-o salads and our vocabulary of swear-word substitutes. But sometimes getting caught up in the culture can impact our lives in a much bigger way than what colour of jell-o we eat. The consequences aren't necessarily negative because Mormons are, in general, a happy people. But several times throughout my life, I've had to stop to ask myself whether I'm really doing God's will for me or just following the crowd and giving into Mormon "peer pressure."

I suppose that I have a love-hate relationship with Mormon culture. I love the "safe" feeling that I get whenever I see The Mormon Tabernacle Choir or a pair of Elders walking down the street. And yet I resent the pressure to follow the same path that all my Mormon peers took, however righteous it was, simply because it's what we're "supposed" to do.

Recently I was talking to a good non-member friend who has known me for many years. We've known each other since we were kids and we were talking about the paths we've taken, the circumstances of our lives now and how we couldn't have imagined all those years ago how things would have turned out the way they have. He made an interesting observation about me that I had perhaps never realized myself. "You have a need to be different, don't you?" he asked. My first thought was no, I don't. I hate being the centre of attention and I like to blend in just like everyone else. But he had a good point and that was perhaps when I started to wonder about my "dissident" qualities. When I am in the "Mormon Bubble," as I like to call it, when I am surrounded by other members or being active in Mormon cultural activities, as much as I love it, I'm mindful of the fact that I never want to blend in so well that I lose myself. I don't mean this as a put-down of my fellow Mormons because like I said, I love them! I'm just afraid of getting swallowed up in the narrow-mindedness and limited perspective on the world that I think many Mormons share, particularly those living in a Mormon-dominated society. The vast majority of them, I would say, are good people with good hearts just doing the best they can do and probably doing it a lot better than I will ever be able to. I just think personally, that there is a big, bad (and good) world out there that you can't really grasp by living in a bubble, where everything is not so black and white, and it fascinates me! And I'm sure I don't even know the half of it...

Going back to my need to be different, there is another side to this. Being a Mormon and actually living the religion is a challenge that I enjoy, though I may be living some aspects of it very poorly. When I'm among non-Mormons (which I am most of the time), I don't exactly like to broadcast the fact that I'm a Mormon. At the same time, I'm not ashamed to say that I am. When it does somehow come out, I feel a combination of nervousness because of the questions which they may ask (which I probably won't be able to answer to my or their satisfaction), but at the same time I relish in the fact that they are probably puzzled by the fact that I can seem to be a normal and rational person, and yet believe in this "nonsense" that many assume that it is. To me, blending in totally with the educated, enlightened, open-minded -- yet faithless -- members of society is taking the easy way out. There's just no challenge to it!!! I don't want to adopt all their philosophies because once again, I will lose myself. So, to answer my friend's question, I guess I do have a need to be different, in my own quiet little way because it gives me a strange sense of satisfaction of being true to my "authentic self," as Dr. Phil would say.

Any other "dissidents" out there who can relate?

1 comment:

C. L. Hanson said...

Regarding "the bubble" and being different: I think being different and "peculiar" is a big part of Mormon culture, as I explained here:

Ironically, growing up Mormon taught me to value non-conformity. This is ironic because Mormons are famed for lockstep conformity in action, dress, and thought.

But training Mormon kids to be like other Mormons necessarily requires training them to be unlike everyone else. And when you live in an area where Mormons are few and far between -- like Minnesota, where I grew up -- that means being unlike just about everybody.