Sunday, July 11, 2010

Obscuring a distinction

For several years, the Mormon church has used the term ‘less active’ to refer to those who don’t attend church meetings. This has replaced the term ‘inactive’ to describe such people, and the terminology shift seems to have caught on among the general membership of the church, at least in places i’ve lived.

The problem i see, though, is that ‘less active’ and ‘inactive’ actually, at a literal level, describe two very different things. After all, among church members there’s (at least) a three-way distinction to be made in activity levels: Some Mormons are fully active in church activity, some are fully inactive, and some are in between. Why not use all three terms to describe these groups, where ‘active’ and ‘inactive’ mean exactly what they look like, and ‘less active’ refers to those who have some degree of activity in church, but aren’t really fully involved?

No, seriously—why not use the terms that way?


Heather the Mama Duk said...

I agree with you. It's silly to describe someone who never ever comes to church, hasn't in 10 years, and won't for at least the next 10 as less active. They are inactive. If someone attends church once per month they are considered active. Kinda cheapens the term really. I'd say they are less active. Active would be people who attend regularly and don't miss very often except for reasons like illness or vacation.

Cherry O'Really said...

Why label and categorise people. It only makes them feel uncomfortable to be referred to in such a manner should they decide to join in the Sunday festivities.

a) my VT was home caring for her poorly father for 10 years, was active in the gospel but home bound - she was distraught when she heard herself referred to as inactive. Broke her heart.

b) in my circumstance, I consider myself fully active in the gospel but less active with Church attendance (for very specific reasons). Why does an administrator in an office get to define my relationship with God?


David B said...

@Cherry: Well, people are going to be labeled and categorized ’cause that’s what humans do—that’s one of the things cognitive science keeps finding: the human brains is a categorizing machine.

More specifically to this case, though, i tend to think that such distinctions can be quite useful. Someone who’s coming to church frequently is likely to have different needs for support from the body of the church than someone who comes infrequently or not at all. (In fact, the crucial difference may be that those who come infrequently or never are a more disparate group than those who attend frequently. That’s just a guess on my part, though.) If labels are useful for such categories, i don’t see what the problem is, really.

Also, i don’t know that anybody except the uninformed would call someone who’s homebound “inactive” or even “less active”. There’s that whole would-do-it-but-can’t thing from the book of Doctrine and Covenants, after all.

Finally, i don’t get the “administrator in an office” line, but it sounds intriguing—could i get you to unpack that a bit?