What Mormon Fundamentalism Shares with Pornography

Around the large LDS blogs, fundamentalism has received attention in several ways. One excellent post with good comments comes from Ziff at Zelophehad's Daughters, in which he invokes Mauss and Hinckley, wrestles with definitions, and laments that, "in the Mormon context, the word ‘fundamentalist' has come to be almost synonymous with ‘polygamous.'"

In response to President Hinckley's statement, "There is no such thing as a ‘Mormon Fundamentalist,'" Ziff points out that "This is true, but only if we take ‘Mormon' as referring only to members of the LDS Church and ‘fundamentalist' as referring only to polygamists. When we define both terms more broadly, then President Hinckley's statement is no longer true."

One commenter pushes back against Mauss's definition of fundamentalism, apparently regarding it as pejorative in most contexts. "I don't like any implication that scriptural literalism or traditional gender roles are the fundamentals of the religion. Second I think the term lacks precision. Is it clear which beliefs are fundamentalist and how often they occur together? Why not say scriptural literalist or advocate of prophetic infallibility or whatever else is really meant in each instance? Finally, I don't hear many LDS looking to self-identify as fundamentalist. If popular usage continues (what I perceive as) its trend towards treating fundamentalist as a synonym for crazy or criminal, I think the descriptor will be an even tougher sell." In a later post, Ziff suggests scriptural literalism as a general synonym for fundamentalism.

Feminist Mormon Housewives has hosted multiple discussions on FLDS and polygamy (I seem to recall even a meet up with women from the Yearning for Zion Ranch, but was unable to locate this post). "Fundamentalist" and similar terms don't seem to dominate there, though one guest-poster self-identified as a "fundamentalist Mormon" and clarified that in a follow-up, "I am a Mormon Fundamentalist. I ascribe to the early teachings of the Mormon faith."

BYU law professor Fred Gedicks, guest-posting at TimesAndSeasons, defines fundamentalist religion as one "guided by scriptural literalism and unchanging, uncompromising doctrines that reveal truth and reality, understood as ‘objective' in the Cartesian sense" and asks "Is the LDS church spiritual or fundamentalist? Does an answer depend on whether one focuses on culture, theology, membership, or leadership? Can a fundamentalist church, one that insists on unchanging and uncompromising truths, and scriptural literalism, retain mass appeal in contemporary U.S. society?"

Mormonism, it seems, has a fundamentalist strain, following the socio-religious definition used by Mauss and used by others. In spite of logical or theological objections, however, the dominant connotation of "fundamentalist" is likely to remain something like "polygamous break-off." Whether it's excessively literalist strains of interpretation in Gospel Doctrine class or polygamous families wearing older styles of homemade clothing coming into the Wal-Mart in S. Utah, I think I know it when I see it.

6/16/2010 4:00:00 AM
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