Mormon Alumni Association

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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.

Anyway. One other thing. Elaine notes in the comments that "I can't think of any other religious organization, at least any reputable religion, that makes their members ask to leave."

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.

7 Comments

That's a great way of looking at it. I'd like to join the Mormon Alumni Association as well. ;)

I'm glad you like the idea, chanson, because as I was writing the post, I was thinking that you'd make a great alumni association president. You're a complete non-believer, but you retain this interest, curiosity and openness about what Mormonism means to a whole variety of people. You're far less angry and a lot more neutral than most people who struggle to figure out how to name and define their Mormon pasts. I'd love to see what you'd do with the organization. :-)

I think I would identify as Andrew's definition of post-Mormon IF my family and friends weren't Mormon. It's hard to leave it all completely behind when almost all the people you love are Mormon. So I guess I'll go with your take on it: I was Mormon, I'm not anymore, but it was a big part of my life - and still is, just in a different way. Unless that's not what you mean, in which case I totally misread you.

And I envy chanson's kindness and friendliness about Mormonism. I tend to head more towards derisive a lot of the time, though I try to curb it.

Hi Rebecca--

so, as I see it, there are two issues at play in your comment: one is how people define "post-", and the other is how you personally define yourself in relationship to Mormonism. From what you wrote,

I was Mormon, I'm not anymore, but it was a big part of my life - and still is, just in a different way

I think my definition of pomo works, but if you thought some other term described you status better, I wouldn't say you nay. (though I do like the phrase "say you nay.")

I envy chanson's kindness and friendliness about Mormonism. I tend to head more towards derisive a lot of the time, though I try to curb it.

Yeah. Me too.

I also vote for Chanson as president of the MAA.

I really like your take on this, Holly, especially the comparison to "post-apocalyptic." When defining my religious identity I usually avoid the Mormon issue altogether by referring to myself as "agnostic," but it wouldn't be true to claim that Mormonism has no part in my identity--especially since, like Rebecca, I still have a lot of family ties to the religion. That was actually something I enjoyed about attending Sunstone this year; I'm still in the process of figuring out what Mormonism means to me in this post-/alum-Mormon phase, and being at Sunstone gave me a lot to think about in that regard. (Which is similar, I believe, to what you've said before about why you attend Sunstone.)

As I posted at MSP, I actually like your definition better, and I'm more convinced by the examples you used (and there are more here which are just as persuasive!).

I like the idea of Mormon Alumni Association too.

As I commented at MSP, the reason I have this issue with self-identification is because, although I know what I believe in and don't believe in, I guess I'm looking for a term that covers history...so I have similar experiences to Ben -- if I say I'm just an agnostic atheist, then that doesn't portray my family, my past, my formative experiences (which, I like how you describe the various post- movements...I feel I'm "expanding my past experiences while rejecting their limitations").

Hi Ben and Andrew--

I don't think most people I run into care one way or the other what my metaphysical beliefs are, so I don't feel like I have much reason to label myself agnostic (which is pretty much what I am). Likewise, most people don't care about what prefix I put in front of -Mormon--it's mostly other -Mormons who care about this. The way I typically explain my -Mo status to a no-Mo is, "I grew up Mormon." It's an undeniable fact, conveys only indirectly that my current status is less active than my former status, and expresses no judgment regarding either.

I actually like the term post-Mormon for all the reasons I use above, but I don't ever expect it to have currency equal to, say, Jack Mormon or ex-Mormon. I honestly don't use it that often. But the phrase "I grew up Mormon"--I say that all the time.

So, how about the term "gro-Mo," meaning both "I have grown up Mormon" and "I have outgrown parts of Mormonism"? :-)

I will also say that having begun writing Mormon as -Mormon, I really like it, and might do it more often, especially on -Mormon sites, just to irritate the people who consider themselves regular-Mormons.

and you're right, Ben--Sunstone is really useful for helping people figure out what the parts of their lives they devoted to Mormonism mean to them. Sometimes it's traumatic, but most of the time, I actually think it's fun.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on August 27, 2009 3:04 PM.

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