Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In lockstep

In a comment on my last post, Heather the Mama Duk raised the point that the sociopolitical term conservative is locally defined, really—so polls saying that most Mormons in the United States self-identify as conservative might well not be parsable. Of course, this won’t kill the narrative that Mormons are a lockstep-type people. So:

Why is the idea that Mormons are a monolithic block (socially, politically, religiously, and so on) so pervasive? I mean, anybody who’s talked about caffeine (or Mitt Romney, or traveling on Sunday, or cooking with a wine reduction, or…) with a cross-section of Mormons has disproved that claim by their own experience, so what’s up with the continued vector of this particular pop-culture meme?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Whence conservatism?

So Mormons are of great interest to political reporters here in the United States right now, what with a Mormon locked in a tight race for a major-party presidential nomination and all. One thing that’s frequently been reported is the result of an opinion poll that (supported the conventional wisdom and) found that a majority of Mormons self-describe* as conservative, and only a tiny sliver as liberal.** This leads to a bunch of assumptions about Mormons and their political leanings—but i’m wondering if this isn’t getting the causality precisely backwards.

I mean, a whole bunch of Mormons are from the central Rocky Mountain region, and that’s a pretty conservative region—even states there where Mormons don’t hold a majority (as they do in Utah) are pretty intensely conservative.† So is it that Mormons are generally conservative, or is it that people from the central Rocky Mountain region are generally conservative, and the Mormons from there†† are just along for the ride?

I’m thinking the latter, myself.

* It’s rarely clear whether these surveys mean to measure political, social, economic, or whatever attitudes, and that bugs me.

** That is, “liberal” in the United States sense, not the rest-of-the-English-speaking-world sense.

† In fact, i’d argue that Utah has only the third-most conservative electorate in the region, following Idaho and Wyoming.

†† And very specifically from there, not just living there—i’d expect Mormons from, say, Pocatello, Idaho to be likely to lean right, even if they happened to be living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Comparison shopping

Heard a lesson on The Plan of Salvation (very definitely pronounced with the capitalization) this past Sunday. One of the things that was vectored was the widespread Mormon meme that Satan’s plan, in opposition to God the Father’s plan, was to involve forcing everyone on earth to behave correctly, thus getting everyone back to the presence of the Father sinless and ready to be saved.

Every time i hear this, i think: And this appealed so strongly to one-third of everybody?

There are lots of other possibilities that sound like they’d be more appealing, at least to me (e.g., making sure nobody ever received the laws of God, therefore meaning that everybody would be judged as having not lived under the law, and therefore be ready to be saved), and we certainly don’t know any of the details of Satan’s plan—so why is the one i mentioned in the first paragraph so widely repeated, as if we knew for certain that that’s what it was?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Praying to our families?

From a correspondent, lightly edited for style:

So Sunday in sharing time* they were doing some sort of game and they were presenting scenarios and the kids had to choose the right. They were things like “You are invited on a cruise that goes over Sunday, what should you do?” (Of course, the “correct” answer was don’t go; [my daughter] said that would be stupid, of course she’d go.)** One of the scenarios was that you are in bed trying to go to sleep and your parents call you down for family prayer. [My daughter] was utterly confused. She said she sat there with a strange look on her face trying to figure out what in the world “family prayer” is. She’d never heard of it. She was sure our family had never done it. She couldn’t figure it out. She laughed and laughed when I told her that family prayer is simply a prayer you do with your family. She was like “Then why didn’t they just say that?”

It reminds me a bit of my own experience with the term “family home evening”.

* For those who don’t know, this is a part of primary, the church’s organization for three- to eleven-year olds.

** My thought on this: Who’s inviting our kids on cruises, anyway?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A room full of men

Church disciplinary councils,* by their nature as something involving deliberations by a bishopric or stake presidency and high council,** consistently result in decisions pondered upon and delivered by men. It leads me to wonder: Is it just an accident of history that we exclude women from such decisions, or is there something else going on?

* I totally get why they’re not called church courts any more, but church disciplinary councils really does lack any punch, you know?

** Yes, i know there are other possible configurations—these are just the most widespread. My larger point remains valid for all possibilities, though.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Are Mormons weird?

So as many of you know, a Mormon, Mitt Romney, currently has the inside track for his party’s nomination for president of the United States. Some months ago there was a bit of a flare-up when some people close to Barack Obama, the incumbent president and his party’s presumptive nominee, called Mitt Romney “weird”. A number of people—including a lot of Mormons—objected to this characterization, saying that weird was being used as a code word for Mormon, and that calling Mitt Romney such things was merely a case of religious bigotry.

Folks? Mitt Romney has done things like taking his family on holiday with his dog strapped to the top of the car. Now, this sort of thing doesn’t really have much direct bearing on someone’s ability to act as president of a country, but it certainly is weird.

Really, Mormons, let’s not be quite that paranoid. It is quite possible for a Mormon to be weird without that weirdness being the result of being Mormon, after all.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Marking devotion

As some of you know, a part of my scholarly research deals with the relationship between religious affiliation and devotion on the one hand, and language use on the other. Right now i’m at the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, and in discussing this topic with other researchers, an interesting couple of questions about ways Mormons mark themselves as devout or not came up, and i didn’t know the answer—so i’m crowdsourcing it.

We all know that devout Mormons don’t drink coffee or tea (as in infusions made from tea leaves). Some Mormons mark themselves as extra devout by abstaining from all caffeine-containing foods, but with chocolate (in both liquid and solid forms) excepted. So, the questions:
  1. Are there any Mormons who mark themselves as hyper-devout by choosing to abstain from chocolate due to its caffeine content?
  2. How do fundamentalist (i.e., polygynous) Mormons mark themselves in terms of abstaining or not abstaining from any of these food and drink items?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Blessing gowns

Why, when babies are given a name and a blessing in font of the congregation, do we usually dress them in white? Yeah, church policy requires white clothing for baptisms and for temple weddings, but it’s not required for every ordinance, even for every saving ordinance (e.g., confirmations). So why do we dress babies in white for their blessings?