The role of individuality in narratives about Mormonism

February 6, 2008 | 50 comments
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Some conversations I’ve had in the past months have touched on the idea of individuality. The concept can play surprisingly different roles in people’s narratives about Mormonism.

For instance, some good friends who I’ve known for many years are in the process of leaving the church. Conversations with them sometimes discuss the idea of individuality. I would paraphrase some of their assertions along these lines: “Aspects of church doctrine and culture — important among them, the multiplicity of rules on everything from earrings or tattoos to alcohol, tithing, church attendance, and so on — force a type of conformity that prevents me from fully expressing my individual personality. Only outside the confines of Mormonism can I really be an individual.” It’s a familiar theme — similar complaints are aired regularly on the internet, on bloggernacle blogs and DAMU sites and elsewhere.

Conversations with a different set of mostly young church members in California suggest a very different way that individuality can play a role in the Mormon narrative. One refrain I’ve heard somewhat regularly goes along these lines: “All of my friends at school are drinking and hooking up, and I feel lots of pressure to do the same. My Mormon identity gives me the strength to resist that pressure, and thus to preserve my own individuality. If I weren’t a Mormon, I’d probably be much more of a conformist and less of an individual.” Similar assertions come up regularly in some discussions in church contexts, as well as online.

These narratives are striking in their disagreement. Both of these narratives draw on common baselines. Both narratives give a very high worth to the idea of individuality, and both evaluate Mormonism in terms of how it affects that individuality. Yet both of them situate Mormonism, and Mormon rules in particular, in very different ways in that analysis. In one narrative, Mormonism and Mormon rules reinforce and protect individuality; in the other narrative, they stifle individuality.

Is one of these narratives wrong? Is it possible that they’re both right? In what ways might Mormonism (and Mormon rules in particular) foster individuality, and in what ways might it stifle individuality? I think our answer to that is going to largely depend on how we frame different actions as being expressions (or not expressions) of individuality.

Take alcohol, for instance. Is it a sign of individuality to drink alcohol? Or is it a sign of individuality not to drink alcohol? The act can easily be cast in either light. One could assert on the one hand, “all of my Mormon friends conform to church rules; but I retain my individuality by drinking alcohol.” On the other hand, one could assert (in most non-Utah environments) that “most of my classmates and co-workers drink alcohol; but I retain my individuality by refusing to drink.” The same dichotomy potentially applies to everything from tattoos or body piercings to sex. (Is cheering for the Yankees a sign of individualism or of conformity? Context matters a lot; and ultimately, the answer may depend on whether you’re in the Bronx or at Fenway.)

Also, I have to wonder to what extent these sorts of decisions are based on different tribal affiliation, rather than individual iconoclastic tendencies. Does the Mormon really refrain from drinking because she wants to assert her individuality? Or is she really saying: “Most of you belong to one tribe, which allows alcohol. I belong to another tribe, which does not.” How do we measure the relative individuality of our actions? Do we measure them against the tribal norms (no drinking), or against larger societal norms (widespread alcohol use)?

(And of course, if tribal norms are societal norms, then the two analyses may dovetail. In a largely Mormon-dominated environment like Utah, there may be little in the way of societal norms that differ from church norms.)

And ultimately, why do we think that individuality matters? Or rather, why are some types (but only some types) of individuality prized? It’s clear that not all non-conformity is good. No one proudly asserts their individuality by refusing to wear deodorant, for instance. Why are drinking or not-drinking, tattooing or not-tattooing, important ways to assert one’s individuality — but refusing to brush one’s teeth is not? (Does individuality really exist, or is it all just variation in tribal affiliation? There’s no non-tooth-brushing tribe.)

What do we really mean if we say that we prize individuality — and how does this value fit into our various Mormon narratives?

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50 Responses to The role of individuality in narratives about Mormonism

  1. sol on February 6, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Great post, Kaimi. You’ve asked some really interesting questions that I have no idea how to answer, but I am excited to read others’ thoughts. However, I fear the that you have unintentionally opened a can of worms. I can hear the haters wriggling their way over right now…

  2. Tigersue on February 6, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    My take on this is that individuality comes in ideas, thoughts, talents. Not in what we do, but what we think and how we feel.
    Sometimes that jives with what the church teaches, and perhaps sometimes it does not, generally I come around when I see the wisdom of the teachings.
    I go back to a time as a student nurse working in a lock down unit for troubled teens, a group of teenagers asked us how can we have fun without alcohol and drugs? My response is how can you have fun with something that makes you different from what you really are?
    When a substance changes the chemicals in your brain are you really an individual after all, with the freedom to choose or are you controlled by that substance. How many DUI’s that hurt someone get off because “they were not themselves”?
    Tattoo’s although may seem innocent, they are often used to identify members of gangs, and other groups. More often than not the tattoo is used to show rebellion, not individuality. (I have heard of cases where people will get the tattoo to hide or minimize a scar, I have no problem with that.)
    When people leave the church because of “not wanting to feel confined” are really looking for reason and justification to sin, not because they want to be individual.
    Those that look at the church as a form of safety, a way to keep from peer pressure, are finding their individuality, that you do not have to partake “of the world” to be individual, but rather, be free to actually think, act and do. I would dare say there are many people out of the church that follow the guidelines, of respect the body, avoid drugs and alcohol, that are as individual as those that leave the church wanting those very things.
    Personally, I think my individuality comes from being a clarinetist, a piano player, a reader, a lover of classical music, and a thinker. Someone else can be an excellent teacher, creative, artistic, friendly, compassionate, and a lover of nature. I would rather teach my children that is what makes them individual, not the cut of the hair, or the clothing they wear, or if they can go party all night long.

  3. John on February 6, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    I love it when I see young teenagers “act out” they dress oddly, style their hair oddly, wear odd clothing, get odd piercings, and then say that they are all trying to “be themselves”. They are searching for their own identity, however, it seems that they all do it the same way. We all remember the various clubs and groups, the goth group, the band group, the cheerleader group, the bible thumper group, the Mormon group, the chess playing group. Each one trying to be an individual and different, but it seems that they are all just trying to break away from the groups they have grown up in and join a group that they feel more comfortable in. It’s rare to find someone who is truly unique or trying to do something totally different.

  4. Susan M on February 6, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    “No one proudly asserts their individuality by refusing to wear deodorant, for instance.”

    You’ve obviously never been to The Evergreen State College, aka the hippy school, in Olympia, WA. I had a roommate there who did not wear deodorant and only bathed once a month. She was very into being natural. And she reeked.

  5. dangermom on February 6, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    It’s my personal theory that the closer we come to Christ, the more individual–the more truly ourselves–we will become. Heavenly Father wants us to fulfill all our potential, so as we learn and grow closer to him, we’ll become more creative and truly original, bringing new and beautiful ideas, actions, and things into the world as we learn to be our best selves.

    What this has to do with the choice to drink or not I’m not sure. :)

  6. Kevinf on February 6, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Good thought provoking post. From a strictly Mormon perspective, our belief in uncreated pre-existent intelligences and spirits would seem to strike some resonance for finding our individuality, but often as a culture, I see the effort to be less individual, and more conformist. For those that don’t seem to fit in, their individuality sometimes can become a wedge that separates them from the culture.

    I have a 20 year old who currently is ineligible for a mission because of some chronic health issues. He feels a little outside the normal LDS community just by being 20 and not on a mission. Add to that his love of indie rock music, being a musician, and politically liberal, he feels all of that compounds the problems. He really sometimes feels that being active at church requires sacrificing much of his individuality.

    I went through many of the same things at his age, but it mostly ended when I got married in the temple. The fact that I had somewhat long hair at the time and hadn’t served a mission didn’t seem so out of the mainstream anymore because of other conforming activities.

    How often do we hear (or bear ourselves) testimonies on Fast Sundays that are our public statements of conformity? White shirts and ties for deacons? Yet as individuals, we really do relish our uniqueness. I find that since I was first called into a bishopric some 12 years back, I did some things to avoid looking like I didn’t fit the role I had been called to, such as when I am in my home ward or stake, I always wear a white shirt on Sundays, usually with a suit. Out of town, and visiting another ward, I’m wearing blue, or patterned button down oxfords with my khakis. It’s a paradox of individuality and conformity, and it makes life interesting.

  7. Margy on February 6, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Pirates. Pirates are often described as a non-tooth-brushing tribe.

    To me individuality is not so much defined by whether we conform or not, but why we conform or not.

    We might want to do something because the people we want to identify with are doing it. We’re not mindlessly conforming, but deliberately figuring out who we are as indivividuals. If we freely choose to conform, we are expressing our individuality.

    We usually don’t want to do something just because someone else says we should. We want to do/not do things because it’s want we want do/not do. If we reduce the church to a list of do’s and don’ts (which I think is so wrongheaded, but so very in our human nature), we see the church as something that squashes individuality. If we instead see the church as a context for our personal spiritual journey and that it’s our responsibility to find our way, we hopefully end up finding out who we really are.

    Ultimately, I think we want to be who we want to be regardless of what every one else around us is doing or telling us to do. But I think people who are truly comfortable doing this are very rare.

  8. MAC on February 6, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Adolescents are expected to act out a little (or maybe a lot) as their personalities gel. Adults, not so much.

    I would hazard a guess that a much larger percentage of the population of the US is tattooed, pierced, and imbibing than are tithe paying members of the Church. So I don’t know that the individuality argument really holds too much water.

    If your need to wear an additional set of earrings or spend an evening discussing dark beers at a trendy micro-brewery trumps your spirituality, there is probably something else going on.

    That said, if “expressing your individuality” consists of getting the most current version of a tramp stamp, you probably need to consider an individual expression plan with a little more gravity.

  9. Heterodox on February 6, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Sounds more like a context based argument based on whether the individuals in question were living in a minority or majority Mormon environment.

    Perhaps more interesting, If there is \”T\”ruth, and we are God\’s children, then any choice which leads us away from developing like God destroys the potential for individuality. It would seem that only deity truly enjoy any level of true individuality, and everything else falls short as a pale imitation and sounds more like Devil-inspired group think.

  10. BHodges on February 6, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I really like this post, thanks for the thoughts. It is another way to underscore the paradox in LDS theology regarding the eternal individuality and the Zion community/eternal marriage belief.

  11. dpc on February 6, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    I certainly want to be unique just like everybody else

  12. AmyB on February 6, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    It seems to me that the way this idea is framed relates mostly to adolescent development. It’s about outward behaviors in relation to the overarching culture. I think if you discussed it more deeply with people who are older, you will find the nuances of the argument to be different.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m one of those people on the way out. That may automatically negate my opinions for most readers, but I’ll say it anyway. For me it’s more about my sense of self. In the church, my female Self found it far too painful to keep trying to make sense of the fundamental doctrines and institutional structures. It wasn’t about being different, or individual, but about doing what I needed to do to feel like a full-fledged, dignified human being. I realize that many here have struggled with similar issues and probably come to some peace. I haven’t. Anyway, things like the word of wisdom or piercings or tattoos became things I no longer (for the most part) evaluate in relation to how LDS culture views it and how I can be different. My “individuality” in relation to the LDS church, or anything really, just isn’t a relevant thought to me. I’m more concerned about how I can contribute to the world and learn to love and serve to my fullest capacity.

  13. Ray on February 6, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    The battle between agency (which, in my mind, is the truest form of individuality) and coerced conformity (ultimately tied to power) is the oldest we have recorded. Unfortunately, all of us are mortal, natural (wo)men, so this battle still plays out even in the Church – with many members leaning to both extremes (agency void of consequence and blind obedience). Ironically, each extreme is just a different way to express Lucifer’s plan. (“I’ll save you regardless of what you do,” and “I’ll guarantee everyone does exactly what they are told to do.”)

    I prefer the muddle in the middle. “Work out your own salvation/exaltation” sums it up quite nicely, imo.

  14. dpc on February 6, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    I think that this is related to the cliched “Keep it real” and “Be true to yourself”. I don’t know what those statements mean, but apparently they are very deep and meaningful. As far as the rules of Mormonism are concerned, ironically, I think that the reason people state ‘I don’t want to conform to the Mormon tribe” is really a cover for “I want to conform to the mainstream”. It’s not a showing of individuality. It’s not some kind of deeply principled move. How tough is it to start buying lattes from Starbucks when every day one of your coworkers goes on a Starbucks run and asks if you want one? How tough is it to start having a glass of wine with the Board of Directors at the Christmas party or a beer with your buddies after work? How tough is to start having sexual relations with a willing boy/girlfriend? How tough is it not to go to Church on Sunday?

    People are individuals merely by existing. You just have to be born. People need justifications to maintain (or change) their group affiliation and individuality is a great cover.

  15. Dave on February 6, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Frankly, I view the concept “individuality” as used by these speakers as simply a form of self-deception or, more kindly, just rhetoric or a habitual way of speaking about what one chooses to do. Unpacking the rhetoric, here’s what they’re saying: “There are some things I want to do. Membership in the Church prevents or renders problematic doing them. So I’ll distance myself from the Church in order to do what I want to do.”

    It works the same for the alternate group. “There are things I want (or don’t want) to do. Membership in the Church helps me do (or not do) these things. So I’m happy about membership in the Church which helps me do what I want to do.”

    I just don’t see how the concept “individuality” really explains anything about their behavior. It’s about desires, social context and institutions, and choices, and everyone is in that situation whether they employ “individuality” rhetoric or not.

  16. TMD on February 6, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    it may be useful to note that there is some social psychological work on this question. In a seminal piece (‘Being the same and different too) Marilynn Brewer addresses the fact that individuals’ identify affiliations are produced in good part by the contrary action of two opposed needs–the need to feel like an individual (i.e., different) and the need to feel like like part of something bigger (i.e., the same). Both are products of more basic self-esteem needs. De-identifications occur when people feel like they are insufficiently differentiated from other people, identifications occur when they feel insufficiently connected to a group or groups. This model would suggest that these people are feeling like they, and perhaps others through their recognitions of their identity, are becoming to predictable and ‘like’ some more general group (and hence not being special and having special and distinct attributes), and it is giving rise to some anxieties about their individual uniqueness and self esteem as a distinct person.

    Of course, it may also be that they have antipathy toward the group they are identied with, and thus really just want to identify with some other group, and perhaps have identified some quality–like ‘people who do X are more unique individuals’–as motivation for the messy process of deidentification and reidentification.

  17. Steve Evans on February 6, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Amy, sorry to hear that you feel you’re on your way out, but I love what you’re saying about learning to love and serve to your fullest capacity.

  18. Kevinf on February 6, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Ray, your statement

    “agency (which, in my mind, is the truest form of individuality) and coerced conformity (ultimately tied to power)”

    is intriguing. Both of these can lead to the exact same behavior. From the outside, since we all have a tendency to be judgmental, correctly or not, can we always tell the difference between one who is exercising agency, and someone who is conforming either just to identify with the church, or those who actually might be coerced, ie parents. a spouse, etc? I think this is especially cogent with the youth in the church. I’ve sat in on some of those interviews, and wished I’d been able to know for sure. In the position of holding a calling, you can rely on the spirit somewhat, but for all the rest of us, this is I think a big challenge.

  19. greenfrog on February 6, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Along the lines of TMD’s #16, in my experience, the individuation/identification tension is most noticeable (and perhaps at its highest degree) when I have been at a stage of transformation. I’ve come to think of that particular kind of ‘itch’ as a sign that my current way of understanding myself and/or my relation to the Church (or whatever else may present the other side of the ‘itch’) is about to change.

  20. Kaimi Wenger on February 6, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    Interesting comments, all. Thanks for the comments so far. Let me address a few of them.

    TMD (16), thanks for the tie-in to broader analysis. That sounds right to me — there are basic needs to be both the same, and to be different. We align ourselves differently depending on what we choose to be the same and different with. And I think we can satisfy those psychological impulses from without or within the church (or any other particular group), depending on which communities or norm sets we choose to identify with, or against.

    AmyB (12), I really liked and appreciated your perspective. I think you’re very right to note that the individuality argument is not the only reason one may choose to exit the church. In my own conversations, I don’t think it’s the only reason why people leave the church (at least, not the ones who I talk to). Individuality and conformity does come up as a repeated theme, though — it seems to be one of the threads that sometimes makes up the cloth of exit. And it was the repetition of that theme — and its strikingly different use in a more orthodox setting — was what made me want to examine the topic.

    And I agree — to a large degree, defining oneself against the church (or any other particular behavioral standard) becomes less relevant as time goes by. The real journey, as you suggest, is learning to love and serve to the fullest extent possible, and I’d add, developing ourselves as individuals and as family/community members.

  21. Kevinf on February 6, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Amy, I echo Steve’s statements. Loving and serving others is the highest calling to which we can aspire. The church as an organization gives us opportunities for such service, but it certainly is not the only place we can serve.

  22. Ray on February 6, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    kevinf, “Both of these can lead to the exact same behavior. ” That’s my point exactly when I mention the tendency to gravitate to one extreme or the other – that the extremes are really the same position.

  23. David Douglas Brown on February 6, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Kaimi and others, thanks so much for your thought provoking comments. It just makes me wonder whether it is Mormon “culture” or doctrine that makes someone feel that they can’t be an individual within the church.

    Or perhaps they just don’t see enough diversity within their congregations or too few “believing” iconoclasts that they can look up to? (Maybe a few more Orin Porter Rockwell or J. Golden Kimball types would be helpful? :-) ) Certainly there is a lot of sameness in many wards due to the narrow confines, although that has never been a concern for my family in NY with county-sized wards and a marvelous mix of people of many backgrounds.

    On a more timeless scale, however, I wonder how people can really know who they truly are as an individual without knowing about the pre-existence, their mission in this life, and who they can become. And what about their family background (aka Family History) and the story of their heritage and how they came to be.

    For me, I can be a much truer individual because of my knowledge God’s plan, the insight of a Patriarchal Blessing, a strong sense of my family roots, and the support of a loving family and church community. That makes me grateful (almost) every day to be a Latter-day Saint.

  24. Ann on February 6, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    I mostly agree with Dave #15, but he’s overlooking another common dynamic with his illustration. That is, people who have things they want to do, but are constrained by church membership, do not feel constrained when they believe the church is true. When they no longer believe, the behavioral constraints become pointless exercises.

    When I had a more typical faith, I saw tithing and the Word of Wisdom as blessings. Now I see them as irritants. The things themselves haven’t changed. My faith didn’t change because I stopped tithing. I stopped tithing when I stopped believing.

  25. manaen on February 6, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    IMHO, individuality is doing/thinking/saying/believing/etc. what you decide, without consideration of whether every/some/no one else does the same.
    .
    I experience my individuality of belief as well at work or at Church; I experience my individuality in reading the scriptures as well in a restaruant or in Sunday School; I experience my individuality in not drinking alcohol as well at dinner with a friend who drinks or at my ward’s social; etc.
    .
    The externals are irrelevant to individuality. Freedom is won by living this.

  26. djinn on February 6, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    “Only outside the confines of Mormonism can I really be an individual.” Perhaps, Kaimi, your good friends who are leaving the church are trying to be kind–that is, they are telling you the most vanilla-possible reason for their exit. But, this doesn’t mean they aren’t being honest with you; they are moving on to something else; if they are actually leaving Mormonism for any of the wide range of reasons discussed with much vehemence here then they can’t discuss the reasons with their church friends at church, even you, it seems. So to be the emerging them — an individual — they are leaving the confines of Mormonism.

  27. Left Field on February 7, 2008 at 12:14 am

    I would really like to have an Obama sticker on my car when I park at church. Oddly enough, I would rather NOT have an Obama sticker when I park at the historically Black university where I teach. I really do prefer Obama no matter where I park. I wonder what all that says about me and the role of the bumper sticker.

  28. Lincoln on February 7, 2008 at 12:41 am

    I think David O. McKay hit the nail on the head when he said \”Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God\’s greatest gift to man. . . . Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give. It is inherent in the spirit of man. It is a divine gift to every normal being. Whether born in abject poverty or shackled at birth by inherited riches, everyone has this most precious of all life\’s endowments–the gift of free agency; man\’s inherited and inalienable right. Free agency is the impelling source of the soul\’s progress. It is the purpose of the Lord that man become like him. In order for man to achieve this it was necessary for the Creator first to make him free.\” This idea promotes individual self-determination above any institutional obedience-based notions of conformity.

  29. pjb on February 7, 2008 at 12:47 am

    Yay Ray!
    Too few believing iconoclasts where I live for sure! As I transitioned into the change of identifying with my unidentifyable parts I had to take a spiritual, emotional, and physical break from “Mormonism” the culture. I almost threw the baby out with the bathwater.
    Re-entry as subtle as it was worked out well. I re-enlisted myself on new terms that felt more like choice and individuality rather than expectation or conformity.

  30. Jared on February 7, 2008 at 12:56 am

    I see lots of “individuality” among acquaintances, friends, and loved ones among those who, in the language of the scriptures, are natural men and saints.

    The scripture teach we are natural men and women unless we yield to the enticings of the Holy spirit. When the spirit manifest itself and the recipient does in fact yield and make changes (repents) then the idea of “individuality” takes on a completely different meaning because they are now “saints”, because of the presence of “spirit”.

    So I see two separate discussions here. In my experience, when someone talks about striking out on their own and leave the church seeking after “individually” it usually means they never really yielded to the enticings of the Holy Spirit. The few who do leave after yielding to the H.S. generally return at some point in their lives. This is evident from a study church history.

  31. sister blah 2 on February 7, 2008 at 1:41 am

    This is why I could never live in Utah. I feel like I am self-aware enough to recognize a tendency in me to always want to be against the grain. I’m afraid that if I went to Utah, against the grain would push me OUT of the church. Whereas out here in “non-Zion,” being an individual pushes me INTO the church. I freely admit it’s a weakness on my part. But sometimes wisdom is knowing our weaknesses.

  32. Joel on February 7, 2008 at 1:50 am

    I’m with C.S. Lewis who, in my reading, argues that Heaven will be infinitely full of interesting individuals who found themselves because they gave themselves to Christ, while Hell will filled with dreadfully boring and compliant duds. Although the theology might be a little suspect, the sentiments are interesting and compelling.

  33. john f. on February 7, 2008 at 6:35 am

    Great comment # 31 sb2.

    Thanks for this post Kaimi — great insights and great comments that have followed.

    I noticed this same dynamic in High School where I mostly hung around with punks and skateboarders. It was great — we were truly individuals among all the jocks and preppies. But I noticed that the punks and skateboarders didn’t seem to take too kindly to those among their own ranks who didn’t want to conform to the mores of being a punk skateboarder — be it through music taste, dress, hairstyle, or whatever.

  34. Peter LLC on February 7, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Preach on, John. I wore some “tight” pants once (back in the early 1990s when big pants and small wheels were firmly anchored in the skater’s code) and was excoriated by my best friend for dressing like an idiot. As a resident of London, you’ve probably seen punks who dress just like they’ve been doing for 30 years now. And I wonder how fans of Corrosion of Conformity responded to the band’s last release which made it to 108 on the Billboard Top 200.

  35. john f. on February 7, 2008 at 8:00 am

    You nailed it Peter.

    Although I hear skateboarders are primarily gangsta rap these days so even we as punk skateboarders would not conform to their individuality.

  36. Josh Smith on February 7, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I imagine Nephi saying the following line with a snobby grimace:

    “Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves–to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.” 2 Ne. 10:23

    Some choice. Not a whole lot of individuality going on here. I’m very open to alternative readings.

    I appreciated BHodges comments–there are competing values in our faith between individuality and community. I haven’t worked out that conflict in my mind. Many of these posts here help me down that path.

  37. TMD on February 7, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    I’ve been doing some reading of Ratzinger’s (now Benedict XVI) Introduction to Christianity recently, in it he makes the interesting argument that part of what made Christ Christ was that he yielded up all of himself to the Father and thus became a reflection of the father instead of an individualistic expression of his personality. To become Christlike in this sense, then, is to increasingly give up one’s individuality, replacing it with the will of the Father.

    Clearly a set of catholic sentiments, rather than mormon ones.

    But it nevertheless brings up the question, within mormon theology, is the desire to stress our individuality an unencumbered good, part of becoming like Christ, or is it a part of the natural man which we are to try to throw off as we imitate christ and try to follow him?

    I’m not sure.

  38. Bob on February 7, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    #35: John, I invite you or others to visit: http://www.english.ilstu.edu/strickland/border/rundquis.html
    This is my son’s writing on ‘skateboarder culture’. He also got through Berkley, with honors, in Shakespearian English.

  39. Liz on February 7, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    If you look at the little things (the petty ones, in some cases) the church asks us to avoid, they are all things that are meaningless in the eternal perspective. I mean, who really cares about tattoos, piercing, etc. They are just a way to exclude ourselves from the larger tribe of the world, while include us in the smaller tribe of the church.

    And these things are not why people leave the church. They might include them as part of the reason why they don’t feel they can be an individual, but they aren’t the main reasons.

    Individuality as seen in this way is impossible. We can do nothing to ourselves (on the outside) that is individual if you see individuality as meaning something that is unique, never done before. Any kind of dress, body art, style of hair, etc, has been done. You could probably find tons of people who have your exact same look.

    On the other hand, all people are individuals because of personality, our core essence. And no amount of conformity can change that. So, when people say that the church doesn’t let them be an individual, this is disingenuous. We might not smoke, drink, etc., but those things aren’t our core self. Those are things that impede our selves.

    I see Amy B. (# 12) as talking about something else, though. And I had similar concerns a few years ago which caused me to leave the church for a while. If you see actual principles of the gospel stopping you from self-development, that’s one thing, and a possibly reason to leave. But, the church can in no way stop you from being an individual.

    It is impossible.

  40. Bob on February 7, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    To me, Being an individual is to see or define yourself from your inside. Not an individual, is to see or define yourself by what is outside of you. It;s always looking in a mirror to check how others see you, or concerned how your group sees you. (Are THEY seeing me do the the right things?)

  41. Ray on February 7, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    My dad used to say that every single one of us does exactly what we REALLY want to do – that you can hide behind your words, but you can’t hide behind your actions. Whatever we do, in the end it’s what we wanted to do more than the alternative. We can convince ourselves otherwise, but we are “deceiving our own selves”.

    If you want to do something badly enough, you’ll do it.

  42. BHodges on February 7, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Josh: It is a very fascinating paradox. We are coupling the eternal certainty of individuality with the expectation of community. Get that to work and you might have Zion.

  43. Bob on February 7, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    #41: Ray…if only it were that simple. I DO NOT for any reason, want to do yard work today. But my wife wishes me to, (and I DO want to keep her happy), THEREFORE: I will be doing something I REALLY don’t want to be doing.

  44. Ray on February 7, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Wrong, Bob. Your wife is more important than not doing the yard work, so you really do want to do it.

  45. Bob on February 7, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    #44: No..the question is why aren’t YOU coming over and doing!

  46. Ray on February 7, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Because I don’t want to? *grin*

  47. dangermom on February 7, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    31 said: “This is why I could never live in Utah. I feel like I am self-aware enough to recognize a tendency in me to always want to be against the grain. I’m afraid that if I went to Utah, against the grain would push me OUT of the church. Whereas out here in “non-Zion,” being an individual pushes me INTO the church. I freely admit it’s a weakness on my part. But sometimes wisdom is knowing our weaknesses.”

    I have this weakness too, and I’m trying to work on it. I don’t think it’s a good trait to want to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing, regardless of the actual rightness or wrongness or the activity. Although it’s benefited me in many ways, I think it’s time to start trying to grow out of it! Maybe someday I’ll be ready to live in Provo…

  48. SilverRain on February 8, 2008 at 8:01 am

    The only way to truly be an individual is to realize that you already ARE one. Nothing you can do either way will change your own individuality.

    Then, you have to let it go and stop worrying about it.

  49. Ellis on February 10, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    I express my individuality by making my own choices. Sometimes that choice is to conform an sometimes it isn’t. As long as it is my choice and not a choice someone makes for me a foists off on me my individuality is not compromised.

  50. Jonovitch on February 11, 2008 at 1:18 am

    manaen (25), you nailed it — it bears repeating: “individuality is doing/thinking/saying/believing what you decide, without consideration of whether everyone/someone/no one else does the same.” I couldn’t think of a more perfect definition of true individuality.

    And, as others have noted here, it is only in becoming exactly as God is (an act of perfect conformity with the ultimate individual) that we too can become perfectly individual, i.e., able to make any choice at any time without any hint of influence whatsoever by the choices of others. As we become more like God, we attain more individuality. How’s that for a true paradox?

    dangermom (47), I don’t think anyone is ever really ready to live in Provo. ;)

    Jon

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