I distrust Most Mormons. Whenever I see Most Mormons, I’m inclined to disagree with whatever is being said. If it were possible, I’d like to do away with Most Mormons entirely – not the actual people, of course, but rather Most Mormons, the rhetorical device. As in: Most Mormons have no friends outside the church. Most Mormons don’t read the newspaper. Most Mormons don’t understand the New Testament. Sociological study of Mormons and Mormonism has much to offer, but Most Mormons (in our online discourse) usually consists of nothing but impressions built from a few cherry-picked incidents or acquaintances.
Even more pernicious is the way that the rhetoric of Most Mormons lets us flatter ourselves as exceptional. It’s only natural to want to demonstrate to friends and colleagues that we’re as (intellectually sophisticated, religiously respectable, progressively enlightened, unabashedly fun-loving, etc.) as they are. When conversation turns to some of the more unusual aspects of Mormon history or practice or theology, it can be tempting to preserve credibility by declaring, “Yes, well, that particular aspect of Mormonism is a bit embarrassing, but I’m not like Most Mormons.”
It won’t work. It’s better for your own credibility to embrace your religion rather than to flee from it. Note, however, that this has more to do with what you say than what you actually believe or do. Within limits, you can share your friends’ intellectual pretensions, slacker attitudes, and even their unhealthy habits without invoking Most Mormons. Rather than “Most Mormons horde insane amounts of wheat in preparation for the end of the world, but I’m not like Most Mormons,” how about, “My church emphasizes both spiritual and physical preparedness, so I try to keep some extra canned food and fresh batteries on hand in case we have another ice storm like last year”? Rather than “Most Mormons have irrational hang-ups about drinking coffee,” how about “I enjoy coffee, but I really like how Mormon teachings emphasize the importance of our bodies to our spiritual lives”?
See? You can be a food-storage slacker and Word of Wisdom scofflaw and still claim allegiance to Most Mormons. Acknowledging our membership and our affinity to our brothers and sisters when we talk about the church, rather than presenting ourselves as alienated observers who know better than all those other rubes, is probably at least as important for our spiritual welfare as not drinking coffee and storing a year’s supply of food. How many not-like-Most-Mormons does the world actually need? It seems to me that the market is satiated, and there’s a long waiting list whenever a position comes open. But there’s always a need for people who will say, “Yes, I’m a Mormon, and this is how I live my religion.”
I’d like to send Most Mormons (and its cousins, Most Missionaries and Utah Mormons) into permanent retirement at the Home for Worn-Out Strawmen, but it’s better to be not-like-Most-Mormons than not a Mormon at all. If you’re new to the church and still trying to figure out the odd cultural mores of your new religion, by all means feel free to be not-like-Most-Mormons. And everyone is allowed a period of searching and introspection while they make peace with their beliefs and doubts. If being not-like-Most-Mormons helps you, then please be as not-like-most as you want. Eventually, however, you should realize that you are just like most Mormons after all, despite (or because of) your questions and foibles. It’s generous to offer your place at the edge to someone who needs it more than you. Please move toward the center, so that those still arriving can find a seat on the aisles.