Active? Or Not?

A new reader left this comment on one of my posts recently [BTW, Hi Judy, glad to have you on board!]:

Just reading John's Out of Mormonism blog. LOL, I guess you are both now techincally "inactive". Anyway, I still think you're strong. :)

Since John's post about our recent choice to become Quakers, we've had quite a mixed reaction of responses: supportive visits, concerned phone calls, emails from priesthood leaders, and so forth. At some point, I will blog more about our current spiritual path, but in the meantime I thought I would address the question of how 'active' we are.

Ironically, even though I no longer seat myself in a Mormon chapel on Sundays, I would still call myself 'active' in the church. Why? Well, because I attend a weekly LDS Institute class (for those out there not familiar with Mormonspeak, Institute is a church-sponsored religion class). I am a permablogger on two high-traffic LDS blogs (Exponent II and SunstoneBlog). I subscribe to a church-sponsored LDS News service, I read from LDS scriptures, I ponder the temple covenants, many of my friends are LDS and our favorite conversation topics revolve around Mormonism, I sing Mormon hymns in the shower, most of the listservs that I participate in are Mormon-related, I am the Book Review Editor for a Mormon journal, and so forth.

Though I am adopting many of the attributes and practices of a Quaker, much of my spiritual and academic life still revolves around the LDS community. I suspect that it will continue to do so for quite some time. Perhaps indefinitely.

I know that my definition of 'active' probably doesn't jibe with what many would consider 'active' (meaning, a believing card-carrying Mormon). But I'm hesitant to call myself 'inactive' in Mormonism. If anything, I feel as embedded in the church culture as ever.


Anonymous said...

"Are you still active?"

For Mormons, that question seems to imply many things:

1.) Do you still go to Church on Sunday?
2.) Do you still believe?
3.) Are you actively engaged in seeking "God" (praying, studying, meditating, service, etc)?

Most TBM's probably do not delineate much between those three things -- all are inextricably tied to being an "active Mormon."

The third level of activity above is by far the most important.

For years I can say I was "active" when it came to levels of activity, but totally "inactive" as it pertained to the third level.

Ironically, now that my beliefs are no longer orthodox, my activity (in terms of the third level) is greater than it ever was before.

Caroline said...

I've never done a whole lot of Matt's number 3 in the traditional sense of praying and reading scriptures.(Well, I used to pray fairly regularly, but that's fallen off a bit.) But I suppose I do #3 in my own way by trying to help my community through service, by reading academic articles on religion, and by appreciating nature and animals.

As for #1, I'm doing that very regularly now that I have a calling I love. (Thanks bishop!)

And as for #2, I'm still in the process of sorting out what I believe and don't believe. I'm there on the basics of believing in God and Christ, but I'm not sure how much further I go these days.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty flexible in my definition of "praying, studying, meditating, service, etc."

Anything pro-active that you do that brings one closer to "God" (or meaning, understanding) to me, qualifies as "praying, studying, meditating, service, etc."

Like Caroline, I rarely formally "pray" or read traditional scriptures. However, I feel like I have a prayer in my heart all day long. For example, the "meditating" I do on the 91 freeway going to and from work every day is no less effective (actually more effective, at least for me) than prayer; and studying academic journals or even reading a good blog entry is of the same value as reading scriptures.

The point, I think, is not what one does, but what one derives.

Anonymous said...

Mormonism, sort of like Judaism, is a culture as well as a belief system. Freeing oneself from the formal obligations of membership allows one to still enjoy the best parts of the culture at their choosing.

Anonymous said...

I believe that there is a distinction between being 'active' in Christ's gospel and being 'active' in the LDS church. For some the two overlap--for others they are engaged in one but not the other. I would much rather have people around me who are following what they believe than those who are simply playing Church--you appear to me to be the former and not the latter.

jana said...

All of these comments are so thought-provoking. Thank you. Tea, I especially like the distinction that you've made between 'playing church' and being Christlike. Big difference. It's like Matt's distinctions between #1 and #3. Although I think that you can certainly be Christlike even w/o #2.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, Jana, as my father is the one of the most Christlike people I know, definitely the most Christlike athiest I know.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that there is an important distinction between being intellectually or spiritually involved in Mormonism and being an active Mormon. Intellectual and even spiritual involvement takes place within a subjective realm, a realm of personal beliefs and experience. There is much more to religion, however, than subjective experience -- even deep and profound subjective experience. To be an active Mormon is not simply to have deep and profound personal experiences or connections to Mormonism. It is also to become part of a given order that exceeds our subjective intentions and has a claim upon us that cannot be reduced to subjectivity. To be Mormon is not simply to have Mormon thoughts or to do Mormon sorts of things. It is to participate in a Mormon order that has an authoritative claim on our lives. The problem with heuristics like Matt Thurston's three aspects of activity (and the implicit hierarchy of authenticity and importance that he endorses) is that it trivializes the importance of involvement in an authoritative and given order.

Hence, while I think that you are a decent and thoughtful person, and I appreciate your contributions to Mormon discussions, I do not think that you are an active Mormon in a very important and profound sense, something, which makes me sad.

(And I'm going to get to the book review; I promise!)

Anonymous said...

Mormonism, sort of like Judaism, is a culture as well as a belief system. Freeing oneself from the formal obligations of membership allows one to still enjoy the best parts of the culture at their choosing.

And, like in Judaism, those who opt for the cafeteria system are likely to be the last of their family to identify with the culture. You may be able to consider yourself both Mormon and Quaker, but the odds of your kids adopting that kind of hybrid belief system is pretty close to nil. Non-practicing Jews are likely to have kids who intermarry and grandkids who don't consider themselves Jewish at all.

Maybe this isn't a problem for you. Maybe you want your kids to "choose for themselves" whether or not to be Mormon. Maybe you want your kids to be Quakers. I just can't imagine that Mormonism will stay in your family without traditional "activity" on your part.

jana said...

dear anonymous:

Of course I want my kids to choose for themselves. Why would I want to force my particular religious preference on them??

Thus far my daughter seems to enjoy Quakerism. My son does, too, but is also curious about Buddhism. We've attended local Buddhist temples on occasion and have a 'butsudan' (buddhist altar) in our home that was gifted to us by my mother-in-law (who is Japanese and a Buddhist).

Anonymous said...

"Why would I want to force my particular religious preference on them??"

But that begs the question of whether or not religion should be thought of as a preference or not, doesn't it?

jana said...

I guess this does beg the question for many people, especially those that believe that there's only one true path to God.
But it's not really a question for me. In my mind, a purposeful life is a journey of moving towards godliness. But I don't believe that there is just one right way to get there. It seems to me that some of us like the high road theough the hills, some meander through the grassy valleys, some enjoy a hike through the painted desert.
Maybe that last statement begs the question of what a purposeful life is. Um, yah, another day I'll answer that one.

Anonymous said...

Jana: There are lots of reasons other than belief in ecclesiastical exclusivity for being skeptical of the notion that religous identity should be thought of as a preference. For example, Michael Sandel makes arguments along these lines in
_Liberalism and the Limits of Justice_. His point is that the ethical prioritization of free choice forecloses the possiblity of any commitment or identity that is constitutive or non-accidental.

As you say, a topic for another choice. FWIW, I have no intention of raising my son so that religion is a matter of choice or preference. Ultimately, he will be free to leave Mormonism if he so chooses, but I hope that any such choice would be a gut wrenching crisis of identity for him. If it isn't, I will assume that I have failed as a parent.

jana said...

Ok, I haven't read Sandel so I can only guess that I'm getting the gist here....
I'm not saying that I will raise my kids w/o values or purpose. The Remy family has some pretty strong morals, ethics, and priorities. But I don't see the necessity for me to expect them to adhere to a particular religious framework in order to live by these values.

And I don't understand why you would want your son to experience a gut-wrenching identity crisis if he leaves Mormonism. I guess if my kids became uber-militaristic capitalists I would hope that they felt some moral qualms about this having been raised by hippie pacifist parents--so perhaps I can relate on some level w/the idea of a rebellion against the beliefs you hold dear. But I also feel like religion is such a personal thing--between an individual and God. Why would you want to mandate a particular path for your son? I mean, you can raise him Mormon--I have no argument with this as the LDS church is a good path--but why not let him freely choose for himself when he's ready to and support him in this rather than wish him such difficulty?

Kaimi said...


Granting that there are probably constitutive Sandelian attributes in anyone's life (e.g. family ties), why is it that you believe that Religion ought to be viewed as a constitutive Sandelian attribute rather than a free-choice, Rawlsian attribute?

That is, you haven't really made the case for the priority of viewing religion as a constitutive attribute. Your discussion with Jana thus far has been to suggest that it's possible to conceive of religion as something other than a preference or choice to be made at the level of the individual. Fair enough, that argument can be made. But why then is it _superior_ to view religion through this particular lens?

And should all religions be viewed through that particular lens? (Kinda puts a damper on the idea of missionary work, doesn't it?)

Melanie said...


I agree that religion cannot ultimately be forced on anyone, nor would I want to try. However, there are lots of things that we can't force in the long run that we nevertheless require of our children, hoping they will choose to make them a permanent part of their lives. For example, I might require my children to say "please," to do the dishes, to write thank-you notes, and get regular exercise--not because I enjoy controlling them but because I know that those behaviors, practiced consistently, will help them be happy. If you've found a religion that brings you joy, inspiration, peace, guidance, etc., why would you not want the same for your children? To me, the long-term benefits I see for my children are even more important than etiquette, or chores, or staying in shape. Religion has eternal consequences, and for that, I'm willing to set out an expectation of a certain level of religious activity. As Nate said, it will be their choice someday. But they will have no doubt as to where their mom stands on the issue.

Anonymous said...

For me, being a mormon is not a cultural thing--perhaps that's because I'm a convert, though. To me, it seems difficult to say that you are active in the Gospel without a connection to the priesthood and to priesthood authority--since that is the integral part of the Gospel, chuch, and LDS experience. (Just as it's hard for me to see people who reject the Pope's authority on any of various issues as being Catholic, regardless of how how many memories of catholic school they enjoy.) So it's hard to see your position as being one of activity.

Anonymous said...

Jana- I agree with Nate's comments. I do find your story interesting, and, if we are talking labels, think you would fit into the category of "seeker" that Robert Wuthnow identified in his book After Heaven. To summarize, Wuthnow said an attitude of "dwelling" characterized American religion up to the 1960's-- do as your father did, experience religion in a set place etc. The attitude of "seeking" emerged in the 1960's and denotes a more individually selected spiritualism that tends to change throughout the lifespan. While your journey, amongst Mormons, may appear unique, it appears, from the Wuthnow perspective, that you are very much a product of your time. Check out the book, it's very good.

Anonymous said...

Kaimi: I am not sure what you mean when you talk about Rawls as being a kind of Sandelian identity. To the extent that Rawls argues that our identities are fundamentally that of a chooser, his position is flatly contradicted by Sandel and the theory cannot be subsumed within it. This is something like the position of the TJ Rawls. Sandel's point is that to say that choice is fundamental is to deny that one can have any belief or identity that is not accidental. To the extent that you look at the later PL Rawls, he is saying that political freedom should be a point on which there is overlapping consensus on the part of reasonable comprehensive views. I like the later, "political" Rawls much more than the earlier Rawls, but that is precisely because his theory is constructed so as to be agnostic on the points raised by Sandel.

To insist on an argument as to why one should choose one constitutive belief rather than another constitutive belief is to deny the possibility of constitutive beliefs. This doesn't mean that to have constitutive beliefs is to deny the efficacy of reason giving, but it does mean that the reasons offered will in some sense have to be internal. I want my son to grow up Mormon, because I want him to be a fellow citizen with the Saints and part of the drama of the Latter-day Kingdom of God. There would be something fundamentally dishonest and tawdry if I was to teach him the Mormonism is simply another item in the cafateria of life that he can try out if he wants to. My way will lead to immense pain, I suspect, if Jacob comes to a crisis of faith. That is a risk I am taking on his behalf because of the beauty and joy of that which is set before us. It is a blatantly paternalist position to adopt, but I am, after all, his parent.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. Parents have the obligation to teach their children to become productive members of society, and some religious teachings are better than others to achieve this end.

Along these lines, I would hestitate to foist a world view on my child that makes him or her feel "broken" or unloved by God. For example, Mormon teachings about race (see "Mormon Doctrine")are detrimental to both black and white Mormons. Same with LDS teachings about homosexuality.

Although you as a parent may find tremendous joy and hope in the LDS Church, your children may be hurt rather than helped by the Church.

Anonymous said...

I have a question from the original post (although it is a little off the topic of how to teach your children). Which institute course are you currently taking?

Speaking of the cafeteria line... I liked what Nate had to say. I mean you wouldn't let a child pick anything they desired to eat (they'd be all over the desserts). It is important to help them make choices that will benefit their health and well-being.