About Corazon

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"Cafeteria Mormons," Jack Mormons," and Other Ridiculous Labels

One of the common cognitive practices of Homo Sapiens is to assign labels and symbols to different types of events, people, places etc. that we encounter throughout our day-to-day existence.  It is through labels and symbols that we are able to better understand and process the world around us.  Labels afford us the ability to compartmentalize large amounts of data into neat little bundles, thereby making better sense of the experiences we have.  It is a simple and efficient process that has served our specie quite well.

But there is a dramatic drawback to labels and symbols.  While "labeling" does provide us with a quick and proficient way of understanding things on the fly, it also makes us far too simple-minded in our overall perspective of life.  Labeling makes us jump to premature conclusions by enforcing simplistic reasoning.  By its very nature, labeling abhors critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills, both of which require more time and effort to employ effectively.

This isn't to say that labeling doesn't have it's place.  For thousands of years, Homo Sapiens have needed to quickly classify the different experiences and stimuli of life as threats, dangers, friend, foe, etc.  It is an important skill that we have mastered well.  But in the 21st century world, labeling is more nuanced than it was for our ancestors.  For us, labeling causes us to make hasty and impulsive judgments of one another.  To illustrate my point, see what conclusions your mind will jump to when you hear these labels:
- "He/she is a Muslim."
- "He/She is a member of the NRA."
- "He/She is an ardent supporter of the ACLU."
- "He/She is a recovering alcoholic."
- "He/She is a registered Democrat."
All of these labels (and the countless others that we employ) have the capacity to form our base opinions and understanding of others, even when we have no additional information on the subject.  For example, I bet your mind didn't picture these people in relation to the labels above:
- The NBA's all-time leader in scoring is a Muslim named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
- Michael Moore and Whoopi Goldberg are members of the NRA.
- Helen Keller helped to found the ACLU in 1920.
- Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, is a recovering alcoholic.
- Country stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw are registered Democrats.
As you can see, labels are a confusing cognitive tool that we humans need to be careful with.  In our modern world, labels rarely if ever tell the entire story.

With this in mind, I want to take the concept of "labeling" and apply it to my faith.  As an unorthodox Mormon (yes, that self-appointed label doesn't capture my entire story either), I have seen how different members of my religion, each with different opinions and outlooks on life, have been arbitrarily assigned different labels to better explain their views.  For example, Mormons who rarely attend and violate certain codes of conduct (i.e. drink coffee, alcohol, etc.) are often called "Jack Mormons," while a Mormon who devoutly walks the line, adheres to all commandments and rarely misses a Sunday is called a "True Blue Mormon."  Mormons who may questions basic points of doctrine and history are sometimes referred to as "New Age Mormons," while those who try to "make it work" but cannot embrace every tenant of Mormonism are called "Cafeteria Mormons."

Admittedly, each of these labels, and my corresponding explanations, are far too simplistic to tell the entire story, but THAT'S MY ENTIRE POINT!!!  Electing to arbitrarily assign labels to people based on their behavior, beliefs/lack of belief, etc. is about as effective and intelligent as trying to clean a loaded gun.

Humans are complex creatures, even if Lynyrd Skynyrd insists on calling us "Simple Men."  A person who may appear to be a "Jack Mormon" may, in reality, have a far greater understanding of Mormon theology and history than any "True Blue Mormon" on the planet (I would actually argue that this is more true than people want to admit).  A "Cafeteria Mormon," who struggles with some aspects of the faith, may have a greater testimony and devotion to the religion than any "Molly Mormon."  In short, choosing to label flies in the face of what Jesus himself ardently preached at the Sermon on the Mount:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye (Matt. 7: 1-5).
But this advise also goes for the struggling and/or departed Mormon who has elected to either distance and/or remove himself/herself from the faith.  Your newly "enlightened" path does not grant you the right to ridicule those who stay.  You may have problems with the doctrine, history and culture of the Mormon church, but those aren't golden tickets of retribution.

The danger of labeling is not self-evident.  It is hidden within layers of arrogance and pride.  As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, 2nd Counselor of the Mormon faith, states:
This sin has many faces. It leads some to revel in their own perceived self-worth, accomplishments, talents, wealth, or position. They count these blessings as evidence of being “chosen,” “superior,” or “more righteous” than others. This is the sin of “Thank God I am more special than you.” At its core is the desire to be admired or envied. It is the sin of self-glorification.
For others, pride turns to envy: they look bitterly at those who have better positions, more talents, or greater possessions than they do. They seek to hurt, diminish, and tear down others in a misguided and unworthy attempt at self-elevation. When those they envy stumble or suffer, they secretly cheer. 
[...] 
Brethren, unfortunately we see today too often the same kind of attitude and behavior spill over into the public discourse of politics, ethnicity, and religion.
The old adage, "Don't judge a book by its cover" certainly comes to mind when we consider the appropriate way to wield the sword of labeling.  And though we will never completely eradicate labeling from our cognitive tray of resources (and I don't think we should to begin with), hopefully humanity will evolve to the point where we can master the practice of labeling effectively...

...before labeling masters us.

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