Monday, October 26, 2009

Are you a Mormon?

(Cross-posted at Main Street Plaza.)

At Main Street Plaza, we recently discussed the various names we use to refer to ourselves (liberal Mormon, NOM, post-Mormon, ex-Mormon, etc.) depending on how we each perceive our relationship with Mormonism. I’m interested in much more direct question, which I’m never quite sure how to answer. Are you a Mormon?

It seems like a straightforward question, but I find it surprisingly tricky because it’s not always clear what is meant by “Mormon”. If it means a member of the CoJCoLdS, then my answer should be yes, because I am still on the records as a member of that church. If it means someone who has ever had the experience of being a Mormon, then my answer is also yes. If it means a person who considers oneself a part of the Mormon culture or believes Mormon doctrine, then my answer should be no, because I am neither. For others, the situation may be reversed; you might not be a member of the church anymore, but still consider yourself part of the Mormon culture. So are you a Mormon?

In my own mind, I’ve pretty much moved on from Mormonism, but to answer either yes or no without further explanation seems strange. I tend to give a different answer depending on the context. If a stranger asks, I’ll usually just say no unless I’m interested in having a conversation about Mormonism. If I actually feel like talking about it and they seem interested, I might start with something like, “Technically I am a Mormon, but…” I’ve heard of others using the phrase “I was raised Mormon,” which I would love to use, except that I was an adult convert. Do the details really matter? Maybe the phrase “I used to be a Mormon” is an acceptable substitute.

However, there is one situation in which I always say yes: whenever I run into LDS missionaries. I’m not interested in arguing with them, and I’m not interested in their attempts to convert me, either. So I just say yes, I’m a Mormon; no, I don’t have any referrals; good luck, elders, and have a nice day.

When I sat down to consider this question, I was surprised to discover that my answer depends mostly on whether I feel like getting into a discussion. In a way, my approach feels a little shady, but I think I’m okay with it. How about you? How do you answer the question? Are you a Mormon?


John Moeller said...

First I'll answer your question: no, and I never have been.

A couple days ago, three missionaries (which was odd to me) rang my bell:

Approximately, the conversation went like this:
"How are you today?"
"A little busy, what can I do for you?"
"We'd like to [missionary pitch]."
"No thanks, I'm good being an atheist."
"Oh, ok, is there anything we can do for you?"
"No, but thanks."
"Alright, have a nice day!"
"You too!"

They left bemused, but that was the end of it.

Everything from my statements to my intention was completely honest. I was busy, and I really did want them to have a nice day.

Now, I'm not judging you for your strategy. My wife becomes a temporary Roman Catholic to avoid talking to missionaries, and I don't get on her case for it.

My point is that if you do feel a little shady about the strategy, honesty causes fewer problems than you might think (especially when tempered with politeness).

I have a counter-question to your intended line of inquiry, but I'll go ask that over at MSP; it's a better forum for what I want to ask.

Saganist said...

Thanks, John! And thanks for your comment at MSP too. You ask a very good question.

I admit the main reason for telling LDS missionaries "yes" is so I can exit the conversation quickly, and I appreciate you sharing your own experiences being upfront with them about your atheism. At times I would like to be more straightforward, but at the same time I don't feel I owe them an explanation either. Maybe they wouldn't expect one.

While I do feel a little shady about telling them "yes" without further explanation, I also think it might be the best answer not only for myself but for my wife. She attends the LDS church regularly with our kids (I attend a fair amount too). For the most part I try to fly under the radar for her sake, though I obviously don't hold back too much on my own blog. If I were to proclaim myself an atheist to the missionaries, I suspect our family would get a lot more unwanted attention from local LDS leadership. The most common place for me to encounter the missionaries is in my own neighborhood, which is why I think it might result in a problem locally.

In a hypothetical world where I live with my family somewhere far from Utah and Mormonism is more of a distant memory than a present reality, I think my approach to the missionaries might be different.

John Moeller said...

"If I were to proclaim myself an atheist to the missionaries, I suspect our family would get a lot more unwanted attention from local LDS leadership. The most common place for me to encounter the missionaries is in my own neighborhood, which is why I think it might result in a problem locally."

Good point, and that occurred to me after I had posted.

gharkness said...

I appreciate and respect both of your points of view. My thought is that, although truthfulness is a virtue, when someone asks me a question (the answer to which is none of their business) all bets are off as to what I might tell them.....with nary a twinge of conscience.

I'll admit it hadn't occurred to me to become a Mormon for the moment, but thanks for the idea! Typically my way of handling this is to point to my prominently-displayed "No Soliciting" sign and say "sorry, I don't have intellectual discussions with illiterates." That is, on the rare occasion when I actually answer the door.

Saganist said...

Thanks, gharkness! Use the temporary-Mormon strategy wisely. About a week ago when I encountered the missionaries in my driveway, I told them I was a Mormon but I don't think they believed me right away. They asked, "What ward is this?" I knew the answer and they left me alone. Not that it's a big deal if they catch you pretending, but it might be an awkward moment. Heck, maybe that would be a good thing. :-)

circleh said...

As for me, I've never had to deal with Mormons on my doorstep. Jehovah's Witnesses, however, I've seen on several occations. I always tell the Witnesses, "Sure, I'll take your literature, if you will take something from me." If they refuse, I just say nothing more and close the door. If they DO take my literature (I'm a Unitarian Universalist [UU]) I know that in most cases they will simply discard it, just as I quickly discard their crap.

I recently suggested, in a joking manner, that the Unitarian Universalist Association should arrange for hundreds of UU missionaries to travel to Utah to teach their religion to the Mormons living there. Maybe if that is done for a year or two, the number of UUs in Utah will skyrocket and then the Mormon leadership will take a hint and STOP SENDING THEIR MISSIONARIES TO HARASS OTHERS! Because what goes around comes around! Salt Lake City is mostly non-Mormon now, so clearly the Mormon Church's missionary work is failing.