Self-Identification, pluralism, and all that…
Okay. So, after writing this and unintentionally sparking a number of reactions including a pretty good number of dissenting comments (good natured cries of “ignorance” and “ignoramous!”), a follow-up post, a few other responses including some that agree and some that don’t, I sat down and talked the whole thing over with my wife.
Basically I had said:
While I do think it rightly applies to many in the politically active fundamentalist, evangelical movement, and certain factions within the Catholic Church, can it really be applied to Mormons? Mormons are not, by any definition of the word, Christian, so can they truly be labeled Christianists?
The line that raised such a hue and cry was the one emphasized above. Basically a lot of people think that there is at least some definition of the word that could be applied to Mormons. A good few others, including my wife, think people should have the right to self-identify, that this is one of the better aspects of living in America, this freedom to believe what we want and call it what we want and so forth.
Now, my wife grew up in a town of about 2,000 people in southern Utah, most of whom were Mormons,though she and her family were not. She faced a lot of religious descrimination there. If anyone has a background that might predispose them to antipathy toward the Mormon faith and people it’s her. So when she says I’m out of line saying this, I listen. And really what it comes down to for me is this: I personally find too many of the doctrines taught in Mormonism to be too far out to be classified as Christian. Godhood, levels of heaven, three separate Gods rather than a Trinity–all of this is simply not Christian to my mind. Baptists and Catholics have a vastly more similar scriptural commonality than either has with Mormons. But then again, when I look in the mirror at the end of the day, who am I to hold on to that definition or to lay it in stone for everybody? I can say what I think and believe, but I really don’t have the right to make such a bold, final call as to who can and who cannot call themselves Christians.
My theory is that Mormonism will drift further and further away from Christianity in the coming centuries, much like Christianity slowly drifted away from Judaism. But it’s really not my place to make these judgment calls. I can only speak to my own beliefs. Mormons can speak to theirs, and I certainly don’t have to agree with them – and don’t – and likewise they have no imperative to agree with me.
I’ve just never really been a huge fan of exclusivity, which is something I’ve always felt quite strongly directed at me when I’ve been in the company of Mormons (and I’ve lived my whole life in close proximity with Mormons and have had many Mormon friends and even some family) and perhaps this prejudices me, and perhaps I need to step back from that, to turn the proverbial cheek. Then too, raised quasi-Catholic I could never take communion at mass, and I didn’t much like that either. So there are many things in our lives that form how we view the world and each other, and it’s always a trick to know how to treat one situation to the next, one struggle after another.
I’m still uncertain as to the end value of self-identity vs the necessity and exclusivity of group identity. Nor does Mormonism fall within my understanding of Christian doctrine, or even close. I cannot say I’m a Catholic if I haven’t been baptized into Catholicism, but then again I’m not sure it’s right to exclude non-Catholics from receiving communion, either. This was a point of some anger and confusion for me as a child. We are a social species, and I think this sort of conflict will constantly be at play, between the individual, the outcast, the crowd. Basically my statement was too broad, too all-encompassing. I am not the arbiter of such lofty things.
What I do know for sure is that words have power, and that meaning is a tricky thing to pin down. Our language is quicksilver, and our beliefs are like flames. Better to end in warmth than in embers.
P.S. The other thing my wife said is that Sullivan was right in his initial post. If Mormons refer to themselves as Christians, and then some of them pull off this anti-gay, religion based fearmongering in order to keep down one small segment of the population, they should be labeled Christianists. That’s basically what they are whether or not I consider them Christians. Fair enough. Christianist it is…