Internet Mormonism vs. Chapel Mormonism

Has The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
split into two different religions (without even knowing it)?

The enormous popularity of the Internet has brought a vast amount of information into the hands of a great many people--information that, until recently, could only be accessed through inconvenient trips to far-flung libraries and archival repositories.  Nowadays, a simple visit to places nearly any sort of information into the hands of the average user with only a few keystrokes.

This has meant that a great deal of information regarding Mormonism's early history and prior beliefs are now widely available--information which was, until the advent of the Internet, largely unknown by the average member.  Therefore, apologists for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are no longer able to just ignore certain issues and hope they go away.  They must now deal with virtually all the controversial aspects of Mormonism, since increasing numbers of LDS members are becoming aware of these issues.

A typical apologetic ploy is the "that was only his opinion" tactic.  By reminding readers that Mormonism never claimed its leaders to be infallible, any controversial or repugnant teaching of yesteryear--such as the Adam-God doctrine--can be dismissed as being only the prophet's opinion.  Nowadays, with knowledge of such historical items becoming more and more widespread, that tactic has been put into "overdrive."  Similarly, apologists are now spending a lot of time reminding readers that prophets in the Bible did and said many foolish things, so it would be absurd to hold modern prophets to a higher standard.

In this way, apologists have collectively (and perhaps inadvertently) redefined what most Mormons have been taught regarding the role and importance of prophets.  Unfortunately, and perhaps most importantly, the prophets themselves have never defined their own role the way the apologists have.  Therefore, a dichotomy has been created:  Mormonism as interpreted by the apologists, and Mormonism as interpreted by the average member and by the prophets themselves.

These two different schools of thought are typically encountered in separate venues.  Since Mormonism's controversial issues are widely and freely discussed on the Internet, many apologists likewise seek to make their own views and interpretations known via the Internet.  By the same token, Mormonism's chapels are settings for religious instruction and ordinances--as opposed to places for debate or argument--so only official teachings are shared therein.  Therefore, the adherents of these separate schools of thought can be termed "Internet Mormons" and "Chapel Mormons"--not because of the only places they inhabit, of course, but because of the places one is most likely to encounter them.  Lest anyone be confused, I also acknowledge that Internet Mormonism--at least in its embryonic form--has been around much longer than the Internet itself has.  Again, the name "Internet Mormonism" merely calls attention to the place at which one is most likely to encounter this brand of Mormon thought.  It also pays tribute to the fact that the Internet was the catalyst for the recent explosion of this particular brand of Mormonism.

A spectrum of belief is probably common in most religious traditions, but within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a different dynamic is at work:  Both Internet Mormonism and Chapel Mormonism have each taken on independent lives of their own.  The most interesting aspect of this dichotomy is that each group claims that its views are the "true" Mormonism.  For example, exmormons (who were almost invariably Chapel Mormons before they left the church) are routinely castigated by Internet Mormons as having never understood their religion in the first place, while Chapel Mormons often tell apologists that they were never taught such radical notions in their ward or branch.

Without further ado, here are a few specific examples of the diametrically opposing beliefs espoused by the Internet Mormons and the Chapel Mormons, respectively:

It can hardly be overstated that the prophets and apostles themselves have near-universally fallen on the "Chapel Mormon" side of each of the above points of divergence and have clearly and unambiguously taught their followers to do the same.  There are, however, other points of divergence about which A) they have not spoken of in recent memory, B) they have softened their stance on over the years, C) they have sent mixed signals, or D) they haven't committed themselves either way.  As such, the following list represents items on which Chapel Mormons and Internet Mormons tend to diverge, just like the above list, but can't quite as easily be blamed on adherence to--or departure from--the words of the prophets (due to questionable doctrinality).  Therefore, while the above list consisted of hard-and-fast identifiers, the following list only identifies general trends: Whenever a Mormon is confronted with controversial and contradictory historical information which he or she can no longer simply ignore, he or she has one of two choices:  Either apostatize or convert to Internet Mormonism.  As Internet Mormonism progressively claims a greater and greater percentage of Mormonism as a whole, it will be interesting to see how Mormon culture changes--and how the LDS heirarchy reacts thereto.

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