So my very bright friend in Wisconsin has come up with something that should get us light years beyond the tired old Liahona-Iron Rod business. Here it is, in his words, not mine.
Four Types of Mormons: Preliminary Notes
We are all familiar with the iron rod-liahona dichotomy suggesting that people approach Mormonism either through exacting obedienceâ€”holding fast to the iron rodâ€”or through open-ended spiritual inquiryâ€”holding a liahona in your hand. While this analogy was clearly compelling, it does not take into account how people experience church culture and therefore cannot adequately describe the experiences of those who are not seriously engaged with the church but who are still part of it. Furthermore, it only gives a one-dimensional account of the lived experiences of engaged Mormons.
We can diagram two binaries in relation to each other, however. We can break up the Mormon experience into two dimensionsâ€”the spiritual and the culturalâ€”and then chart the tensions that these commitments create. The chart below is an attempt to do this, but before I attempt to explain it in words, I think it would be best to take a look at it:
The words and phrases that run vertically are the binary pairs: spiritual commitment vs. no spiritual commitment on the y axis and social commitment vs. no social commitment on the x axis. This dual dichotomy indicates that perceived commitment to Mormonism is more complex than being either an iron rodder or liahonaite. Instead, there are at least four positions one can take. On the chart, the words that run diagonally are the types of Mormons these intersecting commitments create. But before I explain they types, let me first explain the binaries that generate them.
By spiritual commitment I mean level of belief in the core doctrines of Mormonism. E. g., does a person really believe that the Book of Mormon is ancient scripture? Does a person really believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet? That temple sealings really create eternal marriages? Someone has a high level of spiritual commitment if she emphatically believes everything covered in the missionary discussions, and those without that spiritual commitment either disbelieve or have not seriously attempted to determine the truthfulness of the Churchâ€™s claims.
By social commitment I mean the level of commitment to social mores. This can be thought of in two ways. First, does a person regularly engage in behavior seen as stereotypically Mormon, e.g., eating funeral potatoes and Jello? But it can also mean the degree to which a person uses the mores of his or her ward or branch to make important life commitments. For example, even though the Church goes out of its way to present itself as nonpartisan, even trotting out Elder Jensen to say that yes, he is a Democrat, many are under the impression that Mormons are somehow supposed to be Republicans. This is not to say that there are not many sincere Republicans in the Church, merely that some in the Church join the party because they think they are supposed to. Social commitment can also be seen as the degree to which an individual lets the writings of Mormon cultural critics and motivational speakers and non-doctrinal statements of general authorities impact behavior. Someone with a high degree of social commitment would not drink caffeinated soda because they read Mormon Doctrine even though many temple recommend holders are Coke or Pepsi fans. Other examples of this would include an adult male who decides not to grow a beard because the general authorities do not (now) wear them or a married adult woman who would never purchase a two-piece swimsuit because she has heard over and over that bikinis are little better than stripper costumes.
Let us now turn our attention to the four types of Mormon indicated at the corners of the chart. We should think of these corner positions as extremes that few real people reach; most of us are somewhere within the chart itself. Consequently, the names chosen for the position are deliberate caricatures.
Paper Mormons have no social or spiritual attachment to the Church. Their names could be on the rolls because they were born in the covenant and then fell away or because they were hastily baptized and then rethought their decision, but they no longer think like Mormons. In fact, the only commonality this group shares is a lack of Mormon-ness.
Pretty Mormons have a high degree of social commitment but no spiritual commitment. They are outwardly very orthodox and appear as Ensign-cover ideals. But while these people may be Coke-scorning Republican stalwarts with large families, they have never seriously attempted to spiritually connect with the doctrines of the Church. These people hate living in â€œthe mission fieldâ€? because their conformity to a belief that in Wisconsin or Texas is seen as a bizarre cult does not have any social advantages.
Obediac Mormons are spiritually and socially committed to the Church. In some ways, they are Pretty Mormons with powerful testimonies. Indeed, in areas where there are large numbers of Mormons it is hard to tell the difference between Pretty and Obediac Mormons, but in â€œthe mission fieldâ€? it is simple: the Obediacs are the ones in church. Because of their intense commitment to the Church, however, they easily loose patience with members of the other groups.
Caffeinated Mormons are believers, but they scorn the nondoctrinal culture that has grown up around the Church. They do not look to this culture for guidance on most lifestyle issues, even though they are just as likely to be at sacrament meeting as Obediacs. All bets are off, however, when it comes to social mores. While they may be Republicans, they may also have facial hair, belly rings, an open container of Pepsi in their hands, a piece of rum cake on their plate, naughty underwear in their bedroom drawers, etc. Obediacs love to call Caffeinated Mormons worldly, and Caffeinated Mormons usually respond by saying â€œand your point was?â€?
The lines connecting the various positions indicate relative levels of hostility. Blue lines imply a cold war; a lack of understanding on key points, but some shared perspective. Obediacs and Caffeinated Mormons sit next to each other in leadership meetings agreeing on the overall mission but differing sharply on tactics. Pretty Mormons wish Obediacs wouldnâ€™t be so churchy while the Obediacs wish the Pretty Mormons would just read their scriptures a little more. Red lines indicate a hot war between those who simply do not think alike. When the Obediac home teacher finally gets a hold of the Paper Mormon on his list, the result is brief and awkward meeting where raised tempers are barely held in check. Pretty Mormons and Caffeinated Mormons go to church for very different reasons and so often drive each other crazy.