Mormons love little social media campaigns, whether it’s encouraging people to #DiscoverTheBook or changing their profile pictures to say, “I’m a Mormon”. The latest Mormon social media missionary effort is the hashtag, #MormonByChoice, started by LDS photographer, Jill Thomas. (Who, according to someone on Ex-Mormon Reddit, is a really awesome person who has gone through a lot of hard things. She’s also super cute!)
The hashtag apparently came in response to a number of Jill’s friends leaving the LDS church and posting about it publicly (something many of us are familiar with.) She claims that some of her “non-member” friends were affected by these ex-Mormon voices, so she decided to let others know that she chooses her faith.
While I totally understand’s Jill’s motives (I would have been all-aboard this campaign a year ago!) I think there are some interesting insights to be made from #MormonByChoice.
The church has been heavily pushing the “faith is a choice/doubt your doubts” rhetoric lately, as it’s seen members resigning left and right. I’ve written before about faith being a choice, but not in the way that we think. I recommend you go and read it, because I don’t want to write my thoughts out again. 😉
Essentially, I believe faith is a choice up to a certain point, and part of the choice is choosing what you expose yourself to. A scientologist who never exposes himself to truths about the Church of Scientology can go their entire life believing L. Ron Hubbard was the most noble man to ever walk the planet. If, however, they decide to conduct some unbiased research into his character, they’ll soon discover a very different story, which they can (perhaps) choose to accept or dismiss. (Cognitive dissonance, you know?)
However, for many people, myself included, faith stops becoming a choice at a certain point. When evidence is so overwhelming and legitimate that nothing short of Olympic-level mental gymnastics can make it fit together anymore in one’s mind, it’s almost impossible (for me, impossible) to continue believing. I would personally call it “delusion”, not faith, at that point.
It frustrates me that this campaign could propagate the idea that we can just choose to stay even when we have doubts or don’t believe. It isn’t really a choice when you realize it’s not true anymore. My life would be easier if I stayed Mormon but I personally, I can never go back knowing what I know now.” – Reddit user
As much as this campaign tries to push the narrative that being Mormon is a choice . . . it’s not exactly true. Not for most members, anyway. For any Mormons reading this — if you were born in a heavily Muslim country, do you think you’d choose to be Mormon? I’m guessing you can recognize that the answer is “no”, because it’s unlikely you’d even be given that choice!
Mormons may choose whether or not to stay in the church they were raised in — hence the “choice’ element of their faith — but they typically make that choice based on a lifetime of bias, family and social pressures, a whitewashed narrative given by the church, and other factors that make their choice semi-determined before they even make it. Kind of like an 8-year-old getting baptized.
I get where this campaign is coming from, as I’ve said. But as someone on Reddit perfectly pointed out, Mormons wouldn’t need to emphasize that they weren’t forced into their religion if that wasn’t a common perception. #MormonByChoice simply highlights the fact that many people in the world view Mormonism as a high-demand religious cult. And for good reasons — here are some of the most basic characteristics of a cult:
If you teach a child all its life that pizza is the best food in the world, only feed it pizza, and regularly describe all other foods as being bad for you and disgusting, what would the child say its favorite food is? This is a very over-simplified analogy, of course, but I believe choices are heavily influenced long before we make them. (If we even ever really do.)
I suppose the relevant questions have to do with what Mormon beliefs can be ‘chosen’—and why must they be chosen? What does it say about a belief that it must be chosen? Should one choose to believe something that can be demonstrated as propositionally incorrect? In what instances can a chosen belief be said to have higher benefit than an unchosen belief? Can a chosen belief ever be said to have epistemic value?” – Reddit user