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 google.com 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:
- Chapel Mormons will typically try and bend science to fit the prophets. Internet Mormons typically try to bend the prophets to fit science.
- When the apologists contradict the prophets, Chapel Mormons almost always go with the prophets, while Internet Mormons almost always go with the apologists.
- Chapel Mormons believe that the words "Lamanite" and "Native American" are interchangeable. Internet Mormons believe that the words "Lamanite" and "Native American" refer to two entirely separate cultural and linguistic groups.
- Chapel Mormons usually believe that Noah's flood was a global event, covering the entire world. Internet Mormons believe that Noah's flood was a localized event, covering only a certain area.
- Chapel Mormons believe the Lehite colony landed in a New World devoid of inhabitants save, perhaps, for at least one remaining Jaredite. Internet Mormons believe the Lehite colony landed in a New World filled with Asiatic inhabitants.
- When discussing the words of the prophets, Chapel Mormons almost never say "it was only his opinion," believing that a prophet's words and God's words are essentially one and the same. Internet Mormons, on the other hand, very often say "it was only his opinion."
- Chapel Mormons believe that Joseph Smith was correct and that the Hill Cumorah was located in Western New York and was the same hill from which he retrieved the Golden Plates. Internet Mormons believe that FARMS is correct and that the Hill Cumorah was located somewhere in Southern Mexico.
- Chapel Mormons believe that real and binding doctrine is that which is accepted and believed by the majority of the Saints (in practice, this means that they accept the overwhelming majority of what they learn in church and in the church's official publications in addition to the four Standard Works). Internet Mormons believe that the only real and binding doctrine in Mormonism is that found between the covers of the four Standard Works--all else is mere conjecture.
- Chapel Mormons tend to take a prophet's words at face value. Internet Mormons often "filter" a prophet's words through both his local cultural influences and his limited sphere of knowledge.
- Chapel Mormons believe that the living prophets supersede the scriptures. Internet Mormons believe that the scriptures supersede the living prophets.
- Chapel Mormons tend to believe that a prophet's words apply to everyone he's addressing. Internet Mormons believe that a prophet's words may not apply to at least some of the people he's addressing.
- Chapel Mormons believe that a prophet is a foreordained man of the highest moral caliber. Internet Mormons believe that a prophet is not necessarily any better than his societal average.
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.
- Chapel Mormons usually believe in a "Hemispheric Geography," i.e. that the Book of Mormon lands encompassed all of North and South America. Internet Mormons believe in a "Limited Geography," i.e. that the Book of Mormon lands only encompassed the general area between Southern Mexico and (roughly) Nicaragua.
- Most Chapel Mormons believe that the Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians. Internet Mormons believe that the Lamanites were only a small group among the ancestors of the American Indians.
- Many Chapel Mormons believe that spirit children in the pre-existence are created through sexual intercourse, just like in mortality. Internet Mormons never take a stance on this teaching either way, other than perhaps to declare it non-doctrinal.
- Many or most Chapel Mormons believe that Jesus was conceived through actual sex between God and Mary. As before, Internet Mormons rarely take a stance on this teaching either way, other than perhaps to declare it non-doctrinal.
- Most Chapel Mormons believe that God has a wife--"Heavenly Mother"--having been sealed to Her during His own mortal probation. Internet Mormons are notably less likely to commit to this belief.
- As a sub-set of the above, many Chapel Mormons believe that God has more than one wife. Internet Mormons rarely admit to this belief one way or the other.
- The vast majority of Chapel Mormons believe that God was once a man. Far fewer Internet Mormons share this belief; many of them will either declare it to be non-doctrinal or will refuse to commit either way.
- Most Chapel Mormons believe that God had a "father God." Internet Mormons are rarely willing to discuss this.
- Many Chapel Mormons believe that black Africans and those of black African descent were less valiant in the pre-existence (although this belief fortunately appears to be dwindling). Internet Mormons usually deny that this was ever a Mormon belief.
- Some Chapel Mormons still believe that birth control is a sin. The notion that birth control could be a sin never crosses an Internet Mormon's mind.
- During the march of Zion's Camp, Joseph Smith and a small party dug some Indian bones out of a burial mound. Joseph declared the bones to be those of "Zelph," a white Lamanite who fought under the great prophet Onandagus who was known from the Eastern Sea, or the Hill Cumorah, to the Rocky Mountains. Chapel Mormons who are familiar with this story believe that Joseph received this information from God, by revelation. Internet Mormons believe that Joseph was merely speculating, guessing, or--according to one Internet Mormon--joking.
- Many or most Chapel Mormons believe that Adam & Eve were the first humans. The vast majority of Internet Mormons believe in evolution.
- Most Chapel Mormons believe that it was impossible for human beings to reproduce before the fall of Adam. Thanks to their belief in evolution, most Internet Mormons disagree with this.
- Many Chapel Mormons believe that there was no death prior to the Fall of Adam. Again, thanks to their belief in evolution, most Internet Mormons disagree with this.
- Many Chapel Mormons believe that the earth is somewhere around 6,000 years old. Internet Mormons nearly always disagree, believing, as do the scientists, that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.
- Most Chapel Mormons believe that God lives near a star called Kolob. Internet Mormons are much less likely to admit having this belief.
- Many Chapel Mormons believe that "a woman's place is in the home" is the ideal arrangement. Internet Mormons believe that this notion is obsolete and/or irrelevant.
- Chapel Mormons believe that the Book of Abraham was written on ancient Egyptian scrolls that Joseph Smith translated into English. Internet Mormons believe that the Book of Abraham was A) translated from portions of the scrolls that are missing, B) received by direct revelation after Joseph Smith was inspired by laying eyes on the scrolls, C) extraplolated into English thanks to a mnemonic device or hidden code written on the scrolls, or D) any of a number of other theories not involving direct translation.
- Most Chapel Mormons believe that when the Book of Mormon says "horse," it means precisely that--a horse. Internet Mormons believe that when the Book of Mormon says "horse," it actually means a deer or, perhaps, a tapir.
- Chapel Mormons say that the prophets instruct the members what to believe--that's their job. Internet Mormons say that the prophets do not tell the members what to believe.
- Of those Latter-day Saints who are aware of Rodney Meldrum, Chapel Mormons believe he is doing a great work, whereas Internet Mormons wish he would just go away (although there is a not-so-subtle undercurrent of extreme dislike, if not abject hatred, simmering just beneath the surface).
- Most if not all Chapel Mormons believe that the prophet is always right about church doctrine when he declares it in General Conference--otherwise what's the point? Internet Mormons believe that the prophet can be mistaken about church doctrine just as often in General Conference as anywhere else.
- When discussing the words of the prophets, Chapel Mormons almost never say "that's not necessary to my salvation." Internet Mormons, on the other hand, quite often say "that's not necessary to my salvation."
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