Steve, here, thinking about etymology: ‘Cult’ and ‘Cult-ure’
Wiki defines culture as “An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning . . or “a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize a group.” These things have been much on my mind recently.
Last year we moved part-time to St. George, Utah; nominally a Mormon (LDS) community. Awhile ago, Elizabeth and I heard a term suggesting two types of Mormons: “Mormals” and Mormons. The “Mormals” were Mormons who related to the rest of us in normative ways: for example, they talk openly with everyone and go to many social functions besides their own.
In St. George, there’s been an influx of wealthy “gentiles” from across the country, substantially diluting the dominant Mormon majority. Now there seem to be pockets of Mormons, Mormals and the rest of us (whose faith, or lack thereof, doesn’t seem relevant).
When you travel perhaps 35 miles to Hildale/Colorado City, (a twin-town that straddles the Utah-Arizona line, the bastion of the FLDS church), you find it is virtually impossible for a non-FLDS to find work or become included socially without becoming FLDS. They live together under one concrete, socially intertwined set of beliefs and rules established by one leader. Outsiders are not welcome or comfortable, and are regarded with suspicion. For example, because they believe in plural marriage, there are a number of “lost boys” who cannot marry. They live on the margins in their community, which also has the world’s highest incidence of mental retardation. I believe this is not only genetic, but also fostered by their sequestered group and highly censored communication with the ‘outside’ world. But I expect there are “lost boys” in other cults.
In St. George, my wife doesn’t seem as affected as others are by the aloofness characteristic of many Mormons. She is just as happy participating with them musically or socially whenever she is invited into their wards; however, with the FLDS, I think even she would have a hard time.
When a culture (like the Mormons), through a family dynamic perhaps, becomes ‘cultified’i.e. damaged by the psychological powers that dominate that family, the larger culture of Mormonism begins to morph into a cult. They become suspicious of those not in their family group and wall off cross-cultural input. This isn’t new and is described by many who are more educated than I.
Partly I pursue this because in my own family, my father was more a ‘cult-Mormon’ and my mother was “Mormal”, one who lives with doubt. When my brothers and I entered adolescence, our minds opened, and the threats began. Doors closed and the windows were boarded to seal off the outside from a threat which was inside. Our minds were at their most open, our thinking most fluid. To my father the threat was the devil in the culture: my non-Mormon friends, the school’s teachers, the library. Ironically, in my case, it was as a missionary for the Mormon church to England that led to a weakening of my cult-mentality. Although we were told by those holding the highest authority that we were “sent to teach, NOT to be taught”, I had the good fortune of serving under Marion D. Hanks, a Mormon leader who preached from Shakespeare and Wordsworth more convincingly than from the Book of Mormon.
My dearest friends from “other” cultures, both in my family and outside it, could only hope and wait to see whether I would grow beyond my cult-boundaries, knowing I might then be able to use an evolving, more encompassing culture which offered more real kinship with the family of humanity. Now I watch the church, waiting to see what direction it will take in today’s increasingly polarized American culture. I see signs of hope and will end with one such sign, a quote from the recent LDS General Conference. “Wise parents must weigh when children are ready to begin exercising their own agency in a particular area of their lives … if parents hold on to all decision-making power and see it as their ‘right,’ they severely limit the growth and development of their children.”
Elder Larry Y. Wilson
I hope they are listening.