Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Beginner’s Guide to Mormon Types

(Not to be taken entirely seriously)

When approaching an unfamiliar and new species, especially one that prides itself as being “peculiar” and “not of this world,” it can be confusing to the uninitiated. On the surface, Mormons, also known as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, appear to be a homogenous group of white-skinned drones who do not think for themselves, allowing their “prophet” to think for them. Not so. Spending time among this group will give you a sense of their organization and social pecking order.

For the merely curious, even one Sunday will reveal much about behavior or Mormons. However, the intrepid anthropologist will need years to learn the finer intricacies of Mormon social behavior. Whether one is seeking to join the Mormons, or just has the odd urge to comprehend these strange creatures from a distance, an important key to understanding Mormons is to know their basic types.

Although it was difficult, I have managed to spend years among them, living as one of them, learning their ways. For the most part, I was accepted, even married a native, but there were rocky times when I was nearly kicked out of the tribe. Not for breaking any of their “commandments,” but because I did not always fit into their social rules. Despite those rough moments, I am happy to present this short guide to Mormon types, for the edification of all humankind.

One will note, while reading this guide, that faith is the primary distinction between groups. Unlike other species, the Mormons do not distinguish so much between socio-economic status or skin color, although these can come into play. No, with Mormons, it is the varying levels and kinds of faith that distinguish one from another.

I could never hope to make a complete list of all types of Mormons; there is too much variation and subtlety in Mormon society, and sometimes even treachery. However the guide I present is a good, representative start. My sometimes dangerous travels through Mormon lands has been fruitful for me personally, and I hope what I share today can also be beneficial to you, the reader.

One final note to remember: individuals can and do slip from one type to another, and can even be multiple types at one time. Do not make the mistake of pigeon-holing others. To those who are Mormon, these categories are not all-inclusive. You may find yourself uncomfortably fitting into one or two of these groups. See what fits, and change yourself if you don’t like what does fit.

The True Believing Mormons – These are the Saints who have a simple but powerful belief in the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, Jr. These people believe Gordon B. Hinckley would never lead them astray and follow the admonitions of their local leaders without questions or complaints. These humble members would rather die than actually gossip or judge another person. Caffeine and contention are of the devil, and the phrase “Oh, my heck!” can often be heard. Remember: while their faith may be simple, the feelings and convictions are deeply held. Do not fear approaching the True Believer, but chances are, they will approach you first. Well-meaning, but sometimes blind.

The Ersatz Believer – These individuals are so expert at deceit, they even fool themselves. Deep down, they do not truly believe the gospel, but they fear the social repercussions of ever expressing doubt or personal imperfection. Cowards at heart, these members fear man more than God and are happy to tear down others in an attempt to take close attention off themselves. This usually works, and they tend to be viewed as the most spiritual members, even though it is all just surface appearance. These often end up in leadership positions, where they can perpetuate their brand of “faith” and appoint others of a similar mind. They often are the first to shake hands with a visitor or new member, but their friendliness usually ends there. Despite the wish of many that they do leave, usually, these members will stay in the church for the status of “holiness,” only leaving if called out for their self-righteous behavior. Approach with caution.

The Honest Doubters – An honest doubter believes the church is true, has faith in its veracity and hopes they will some day have a testimony. Often pitied or looked down upon, these are not considered strong members, because of their truthful expression of faith without knowledge. Always destined to have callings in the youth programs or the primary, these members will never be the leaders of the church. Some may not even want leadership positions. Despite their doubts they can find many good and worthwhile aspects to belonging to the church. They try to attend, despite their doubts, despite any gossiping, and despite their low status. This group faces a large risk of leaving if they are insulted and gossiped about enough. But at least they tend to be honest.

The Socialite Believer – This is a somewhat hybrid group, with elements of the Honest Doubters and the Faux Believers. They may have doubts, they may truly believe, but their primary reason for coming to church is the social structure. They honestly get something out of their social contacts at church, but may or may not actually “feel the spirit” or “have a testimony.” Theirs is a drive to be around their kind of people, and the church fills that need. They like the support; they like the activities, the talking after meetings, and sometimes indulge in the gossiping, as long as it is not about themselves. Often become inactive if their social needs are not being met in church anymore. On the surface, they are harmless, but can be sucked in the same judgmental behavior as the Faux Believers.

The Jack Mormon Believer – This refers to a long-time member of the church, usually born in the covenant, sometimes to an “inactive” family. These are people who have decided the “game” of church is not worth their time. Sometimes, they have problems with authority. Sometimes, there is a problem with the word of wisdom or swearing, or some other highly noticeable sin. Whatever it is, these are the visible rebels who have given up trying to appear holy, preferring to revel in their sin, or at least they have quit pretending they don’t have a problem. People make mistakes, and as far as the Faux Believers are concerned, the Jack Mormon’s biggest mistake is that they chose to sin in an evident way. Perhaps they would have returned back into full activity with the church, or even wanted to return to activity, but decided the blatant judging is not worth their time. Most of these are Mormons in name only. Despite commonly-held beliefs, these are often nice people, unless cornered about their lack of church activity.

The Rebel Believer – This group is relatively small and often overlooked or lumped in with the Jack Mormons. However, they have faith, like the True Believer. The main difference is that the Rebel Believers passively fight against the Faux Believers. These social mischief-makers like to wear clothing and have hair-dos that push the envelope of acceptable dress. They often say outrageous things during Sunday School and tell quirky stories during the bearing of their testimonies. This is often meant to annoy only those who superficially belong to the church, because True Believers will love the quirky Rebel despite annoyances and differences. Attention is often a goal, as well, but the Rebel Believer is sometimes just expressing an artistic soul. May have outlandish ideas, but generally considered harmless.

The Intellectual Believer – The intellectuals are considered a dangerous breed by many. They have gnosis gained by their education and superior intellect. They have pondered the many unanswerable questions of the gospel and found their answers on the web. To these members, doctrine is relative and changeable, something to be argued over, not prayed over. Speculative doctrine is their specialty. Sometimes, suppressed history or abuses of ecclesiastical power outrages the Intellectual. In an attempt to argue a reasonable viewpoint, the Intellectual often argues himself right out of the Kingdom. Some return to the fold, but there are many out there who wander aimlessly through the lone and dreary world. This breed of believer is sometimes hunted because they make easy prey in the attempt to keep the doctrine pure. Intellectuals who somehow do remain in the church are also known to hang out with Faux Believers and participate in the mocking of those who do not know the gospel as well as they do. This group fears the day that President Packer becomes president of the church, because of his hard-line stance on doctrine. Considered extremely dangerous and membership is sometimes terminated with extreme prejudice.

The Hard-Line Believer – This believer is often considered the foundation of the church, a foundation stone for the members, a pillar of the community, because there is nothing that will move them from their faith, even if said faith is erroneous. Hardliners believe that nothing any prophet has ever said is wrong. Even personal opinions and private statements. This form of belief operates on the assumption that there is only black and white, only one way of viewing something. As inflexible thinkers, the Hardliner cannot fathom being wrong and dismiss without examination any dissenting views. The champion of this group is Boyd K. Packer. Annoying, occasionally harmful when approached by non-mainstream questions, but generally good members, if not annoying.

The Speculative Believer – Very similar to the Intellectuals, the Speculator willingly delves into deeper doctrine. Unlike the Intellectuals, the Speculative Believer does not have the education to know everything. They do not have any scientific rationale to explain away DNA problems with the Book of Mormon, so they invent wild theories to bolster their faith. This group also favors the telling and retelling of Mormon folklore, perpetuating myths of the three Nephites and other dubious miraculous claims. That’s not to say they don’t also believe in true miracles. In fact, this group believes just about any speculative idea. Aliens on other worlds? Why not? Abraham talks about worlds without number. No matter that there is no modern prophet who talks about beings on other worlds. It must be true. Considered a dangerous group, but only to those who will listen to them.

Blind Following Believer – These interesting fellows are barely able to think for themselves. Not only do they follow any statement by any leader in the church, they also follow the social structures without questioning. Their loyalty is high and their vision is off. Hard working and generally agreeable, the Blind Follower, like the True Believers, can be found in any variety of unpleasant extra-curricular activities like service projects and doing their home teaching. Blind Followers are considered quite valuable to the local social unit, the “ward,” and Bishops and Elders Quorum Presidents love to utilize this breed. Generally pleasant to be around, unless their beliefs are challenged in any way.

Too Willing to Doubt Believer – This group can be difficult to spot, because when they are in the church, they are camouflaged as some other group, normally the Blind Follower. However, once out of the church, they are much easier to identify, by their written testimonials online and in so-called “anti” material. Such statements, like the call of the bluebird, are unmistakable to those who recognize it. For those hoping to catch a glimpse, be on the lookout for such phrases as “I never doubted the church until I read . . .” Another favorite phrase is “I grew up in the church and never questioned until my friend’s pastor . . .” While in the church, these are generally considered harmless, like the Blind Followers. However, once out of the church, the Too Willing to Doubters appoint themselves the champions of ex-Mormons and try to lure others to doubt, as they do. Difficult to discuss with them, because by this point, they have usually swallowed everything their new “pastor” has told them.

The Fault-Finding Believer – The Fault-Finders can be a nasty little group. Although they claim to have a great deal of faith, their interest lies in tearing down others. Seen primarily in the company of the Socialites, these individuals often choose to tear down a “ward member” with low social skills or one who does not fit in. More frequently, however, is the attacks on local and world-wide leadership. Although no one is human, the Fault-Finder is happy to belittle and mock any leader who dares to be less than perfect. They can always do a better job than those called to lead them. Highly unpleasant to be around, only tolerated by the Socialites.

The Lost Believer – These are a sad lot. Perhaps once True Believers, the Lost Believer has made some mistake that led to their being ousted by the clan or “ward.” Sometimes, ousting is by ostracization, when deemed socially repugnant, but not too bad an offense. More often, the offender is cut off through a process called “disfellowship,” a temporary cutting off of religious privileges. More serious still is “excommunication,” which is another way of saying “Get lost!” No matter what the punishment, the Lost Believer truly had belief in the church teachings, but mistakes, called “sin,” are against the moral code of the group, and Mormons place the needs of the group above the needs of the individual. Some of these lost souls make their way back, but a good majority remain without the spiritual guidance provided by the Church. Sadly, in some cases, these individuals could have been rescued before the more severe punishments kick in, but what usually happens is when they are ostracized, they begin to feel little need to go through the “repentance” process. Usually not approached or even talked about by those actively in the church, regardless of the group to which they belong.

True but Prideful Believer – Ah, the Proud! These are normally, although not always, wealthy and well-to-do. Over-privileged and natural influence flowing from their good breeding and money, the Proud are often called upon to leadership positions. This is because they make better leaders than they do backseat drivers, and they have a tendency to join in with the Fault-Finders unless they are themselves leading. Although their faith and belief may be strong, they honestly believe they are better and more perfect than those around them. Their mighty houses might go against the warnings of the prophets, their large families might be more than they can handle emotionally, but they sure look righteous. They can afford this image, as they can afford the monster SUV’s to cart around their gaggle of children. Large and expensive framed pictures of temples and the “First Presidency” often greet the visitor. Statues and expensive paintings of the Savior adorn the house. Much attention is paid to the image of good breeding and righteous living, and yet, the Proud normally cannot spare more than $5.00 for fast offerings. Approach with caution, unless you are wealthy yourself. Otherwise, they will not even notice you exist and could walk all over you.

The Seeking Believer – This group has a healthy balance of faith and questioning. They are characterized by a thirst for additional knowledge while avoiding the temptation to intellectualize the gospel. Speculation can be fine, in moderation, but the written documents of the living and past prophets, coupled by the teachings of the spirit, is where the true knowledge can come. The Seeker is one who accepts the imperfections of the church leadership, and yet who still clings to their faith. These are ones who realize that not all questions have answers, who understand that they lack complete knowledge, are willing to seek more, and are aware that some knowledge will always be out of their grasp in this life. These are they who attend church for a variety of reasons, for the fellowship, for their callings, and yes, to even learn something. These are they who, while not seeking out the so-called “anti-Mormon” literature, are not afraid of it, can confront it and not lose their testimony. Why? Because their faith is not so fragile that the tinkling of brass can shatter it. These can be socially active or rather quiet individuals, but they are characterized by their love of learning the gospel and discussing it with others. Generally, these are easy to approach, but even these can have their elements of fanaticism.

I hope this little guide has been helpful. It is nowhere close to comprehensive, but has some of the major groupings of Mormons. Please remember that this is not an entirely serious piece, and should not be taken without a prescription. Ask your doctor if this guide is for you. Take only as directed, with a sense of humor and self introspection.


Eric Russell said...

Nice post. This line had me cracking up: "this group fears the day that President Packer becomes president of the church".

Which of the categories would most of the apostles or President Hinckley go under? None of the categories seem to really fit them and their type of belief.

Mike said...

Yeah I liked the post was very descriptive! Wow, how long did that take you to write? BTW, you forgot one very special group of believers. The "called by God to be Prophet" believers. These believers are called by elohim to lead the church in a different direction because of its corruptness. I just happen to be the only one, so you can convert the true church now, or be cast into outerdarkness for eternity. I am also making you my wife. Have a good one, tell the other members.

mathoni said...

I hadn't thought of the leaders of the church. Admittedly, I tread carefully on those waters. I believe in showing a level of respect, and categorizing them in a parodic way might not be considered respectful by some. However, I'm willing to take suggestions for the Expanded edition of the Beginner's Guide to Mormon Types. What would you suggest, not just about the prophet and apostles, but any other groups?

As for elohimus, you nearly leave me speechless. However, to answer your question, I probably spent way more time than I should have writing this piece. Glad you liked it.

Mormon Mom Cast said...

I haven't decided where I fit yet...

Hey, I enjoy your blog and wanted to let you know about a new podcast - the MormonMomCast.

You can check it out HERE and let me know what you think - hey, also if you ever have a segment you'd like to submit you can email an mp3 to us!! :O)

Okay, back to conference ---

mathoni said...

I have plans of a second essay like this. Perhaps you can find yourself in this next group. :) My wife has informed me of several female types I failed to include.

Thanks for the offer. We may take you up on that at some point.