There's a conversation (begun by Andrew S) about Mormon identity going on over at Main Street Plaza that interested me enough that I already left two substantial comments. I was about to leave another when I decided that I should invest in my own blog too, that my thoughts on the topic can provide material for both MSP and SPA.
Here's the thing. I think of myself just as Mormon, not ex-Mormon or jack-Mormon or post-Mormon or New Order Mormon or Sunstone Mormon, just Mormon, for good or ill. But if someone wants me to narrow my religious self-definition, I go with post-Mormon.
There are a number of reasons for this. One is that "Post" is a surname in my genealogy--and a very cool surname, if you ask me. I like that it's a versatile noun, verb and prefix. I like that it means mail, one of my favorite things in the world.
Another is that I like the abbreviation pomo. I like how it sounds, I like that it's also an abbreviation for post-modernism.
I also like the post- construction, as in post-impressionism, post-modernism, or post-apocalyptic.
This is the grounds on which I defend it against Andrew's misinterpretation (as I see it) of the term. He writes,
Postmormon sounds great (a better "brand" than DAMU or ex-), but it also sounds a bit off. A postmormon seems to me to define someone who has moved past Mormonism in such a way that it doesn't define him in any meaningful way except that, as a matter of record, the person once was a part of the LDS church.
Although I can see the logic of that definition, I don't think it's necessarily a fair restriction of what "post" means. I looked up "post-" in my great big clothbound American Heritage Dictionary (I have three clothbound dictionaries, each of which weighs more than my laptop) and all it offers is "1) after, later" or "2) behind, posterior to." It doesn't specify that what is after or later is free from significant influence by what preceded it.
If you really want to be a purist on this, so that post-Mormon means "after, later" and nothing else, as in "post-secondary education" (meaning, education that comes after high school) or "postdoc" meaning "academic study after you get a PhD that is a lot like PhD work," I still think post-Mormon works as a term. Honestly, in that pure form, it's closest to how I think of myself: someone who is just in the state that follows being a believing, devout Mormon. I'm not an ex-Mormon, because I haven't renounced my Mormon identity. I'm not merely an inactive Mormon, because that suggests that I'm just taking a break and will come back. I "left the church" long before the term DAMU came into usage, plus it describes a community or movement more than a state of being, so it doesn't really work for me.
However, I can acknowledge that this way I think of myself--someone who's just doing what comes after being a Mormon who pays tithing and went on a mission and so forth--isn't really the most precisely accurate description of my Mormon identity, particularly when it comes to how it appears to others. For that, I have to resort to another way "post-" is typically applied--as in, as I wrote earlier, post-apocalyptic, post-impressionism and post-modernism.
I would question any use of the term "post-apocalyptic" to mean "a world in which an apocalypse once happened, but the world has moved past that apocalypse in such a way that it doesn't define the world in any meaningful way except that, as a matter of history, the entire world was once irrevocably changed and rendered almost uninhabitable, and most of its inhabitants killed."
I looked up the term "post-impressionism" in my three dictionaries, and all stressed that it was a reaction to impressionism, not a way of outgrowing impressionism. That ever reliable intellectual warehouse Wikipedia states that "Post-impressionists extended impressionism while rejecting its limitations."
Similarly, post-modernism began primarily as a literary and artistic term, an attempt to express the idea that we are mired in modernity, even though modernity is not adequate to describe our condition or meet our needs; hence we're left with post-modernity, which, among other things, is fractured, inadequate, ironic, and endlessly self-referential.
One dictionary definition of post-modernism is: "of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language."
Likewise, to me, post-Mormonism involves a radical reappraisal of religious assumptions about culture, identity, history or language.
I think it is more accurate to argue that most constructions using post-whatever stress the on-going primacy of an aftermath, instead of a freedom from what came before--as in postmortem, post-surgery, or post-war. When that aftermath has ceased to be a major influence, we find a completely new term--for instance, someone who once had surgery but whose health is no longer evaluated primarily by that surgery is not a post-surgery patient but someone who has recovered.
And I started trying to think of any organization that makes their members ask to leave, or organizations that count you as a member, no matter what.
Most organizations make you maintain a membership and/or pay dues. The Modern Language Association is always sending me notices if I forget to pay my dues, telling me that I can't go to the convention or have my name listed in the directory if I don't.
Really, the main form of organization I can think of where you're included on the roles of membership, no matter what, is an alumni association. And alumni associations exist to acknowledge a post-status: you're no longer a student, but you once were. You might still be loyal to the institution where you studied; you might care about its sports teams. You might want the library to name a wing after you. You might not. But you can't ungraduate. You can renounce your degree or pretend it didn't happen, but it did.
And that lead me to realize that I would really like to see a Mormon Alumni Association. Because sometimes I feel like I graduated from Mormonism. I don't want to pretend like I never was a Mormon and I don't want to unlearn (most of) what I learned from it.
Alum-Mormon is another imperfect, inadequate description of a complex relationship with an influential institution, but I think there is reason to toss it around with all the other terms as well.