Mormons as “Natural Storytellers” and Blogging as Gathering

By March 4, 2009

You’ll see on our sidebar that Religion Dispatches has done a follow-up article on the debate over the relationship between Mormon Mom blogs and the ‘nacle. While I believe that the reporter misread the debate that occurred over her initial article (I’m not sure many people were really arguing that Mommy Blogs should be excluded from the ‘nacle, but rather that the initial article had ignored and obscured the origins of the ‘nacle), I’m not all that eager to revisit that debate.  Rather, I’m interested in interrogating some of the other claims made in the two Religion Dispatches articles.

The first article argued that Mormons are “natural storytellers,” and so blogging is “natural” for us (whatever that means). Is it common to describe Mormons as natural storytellers? I have to admit I’ve never heard it. I have heard Native American communities described in this way, due to the prevalence of oral, rather than written, traditions in Native America. But in my experience Mormons are described as great record keepers, which doesn’t necessarily imply anything about our abilities to tell a good yarn.

The second article utilized quotes from Jan Shipps to cast Mormon blogging as a form of gathering. This implies that there’s something unique about the way Mormons go about blogging. Is there? And does blogging about our faith have similarities to the nineteenth-century idea of the Gathering of Zion, but in a digital sense? I’m not sure yet what I think of these claims, but I’m interested in what others think.

Poll #1:

Poll #2:

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism


  1. Thanks to Christopher for designing the polls.

    Comment by David G. — March 4, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

  2. No. Thank you Poll Daddy for designing the polls.

    Comment by Christopher — March 4, 2009 @ 3:02 pm

  3. I have to admit that I hadn’t thought of Mormon blogging as a sort of “gathering.” I think the sentiment is nice. However, I think the phenomenon is nothing more than like-minded people wanting to get together. In that sense, then, the Mormon blogging world is not even akin to a Mormon ward, where you have unlike-minded folks who don’t necessarily want to get together.

    Comment by Hunter — March 4, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

  4. I’m not sure that we’re different from others, or that the story telling is exactly “natural,” but I do think we’re shaped from the cradle to be story tellers: We tell and retell the scriptures a *lot,* with the narratives being much more familiar to most of us than isolated verses of doctrine, at least until we get to the point of proof texting. We tell our history over and over, to the point where simple labels like “Haun’s Mill” and “Crossing the plains” and “Johnston’s Army” instantly create mental images (garbled though they sometimes are). We make a sacrament out of family history and encourage everyone to go beyond the names and dates to find the stories.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — March 4, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

  5. Only an elitist pack of intellectuals would come up with so exclusionary a post.

    Comment by Steve Evans — March 4, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

  6. Steve, you forgot to charge us with sexism, too.

    Comment by David G. — March 4, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

  7. Yeah, let’s make fun of Mormon mothers while we’re at it. They are, after all, so second class.

    Comment by Hunter — March 4, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

  8. Mormons tend to associate storytelling with what gets said from the pulpit. Even Mormon leaders tend to tell stories rather than preach doctrine or make ethical pronouncements. That influences what happens in classes, too. The manuals are full of stories.

    I thought the comments on gathering by Jan Shipps were the most interesting part of the second article. Maybe networking is a better term. Is online networking a form of virtual gathering? If so, are Mormon bloggers the sheep or the goats? The good news: Perhaps we’ll only be consigned to virtual hell in the hereafter (aka our Second Life).

    Comment by Dave — March 4, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

  9. A couple thoughts:

    I’ve heard Caleb Maskill from the Jonathan Edwards Center talk about the HUGE world of reformed blogging – the bloggerchapel?

    Journals vol. 1 of the Joseph Smith Papers has been marketed professionally, but still I think the sales tell us something about how much Mormons value (hi)story. So far, J1 has sold about 50,000. The print run for a volume from the founding fathers projects averages about 1000. We will have to see how succeeding volume sales fare.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — March 6, 2009 @ 10:53 am

  10. Sorry for coming so late to the discussion, but I wanted to share the following quote from James Twitchell’s book, Shopping for God, which I think is relevant to the question of whether Mormon blogging is a form of “gathering.” Twitchell suggests that many people who participate in online religious forums

    are not after a coherent compendium but a collection of tidbits, a menage of factoids and partial conversations about things that matter. As denominations have become less important, or at least more in flux, people are cobbling together their own personalized spiritual plans. They are logging onto blogs, listening to Godcasts, interacting in chat rooms, and, in a sense, creating a highly personal just-for-me religion that connects with a panoply of other beliefs. Do-it-yourself religion (Twitchell, 13-14).

    While I actually agree with Twitchell’s suggestion here, and would argue that Mormon blogging partially fits this description, I also think there is something unique going on in the bloggernacle. It seems to me that many aren’t merely looking for a venue in which to live their cafeteria Mormonism, but rather a community with which to gather, to share testimony, and to engage their religion thoughtfully in a generally friendly environment. In this, it seems to me, there is at least a symbolic continuity between the 19th century notion of gathering and what Shipps suggests as one result of the Mormon blogging community.

    Comment by Christopher — March 11, 2009 @ 2:40 am


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