Saturday, June 10, 2006

Looking back at Mormon-l

It has been many years since my encounter with Mormon-l, once hosted at Brigham Young University email servers. The way some of the former members talk about it, you'd think it was a den of evil snakes, right from the start. Yet, at the time I first engaged there, it was one of the most enthralling and uplifting experiences I had ever had, in any church-related activity.

After nearly forty years of church membership I felt like I was suddenly lit on fire with the spirit of the gospel. Ever before that time, my attention to the church seemed shallow and perfunctory, and probably so routine that it became rather boring. Most of my church associates invested neither time nor interest in the issues we discussed every day on the list. The only similar experience I ever had prior was with teaching young adult gospel doctrine, where some of the kids wanted to learn! the gospel. The enthusiasm level on the list seemed comparable. The Mormon-l experience was new and exciting.

I had a lot of positive impressions from those early days of email. For all the earlier decades, it had felt as though I longed for a group of intellectual peers with a common interest in the gospel. Especially dealing with contemporary issues. The talk tended toward sophisticated ideas, and often prompted intense critical thinking. I studied things that had not so captured my attention since I was a college student.

Initially, Mormon-l seemed like a dream come true. For me the experience was a reawakening and a rebirth.

The problems we encountered really evolved fairly slowly. Gradually the list membership came to represent certain interests that I had never before encountered in the church. I will never understand why that group acted as such a magnet. But at the time there was a very popular interest among that class of people with liberal thinking and feminist philosophy. It seemed to me that we were suddenly in a war with a race of space aliens who seemed to harbor a vicious hatred for everything I thought I loved. But it wasn't like that every day, nor all at once.

Some of the people involved in supporting and promoting the original list were just as shocked as I was by the way things evolved. As things started going downhill, I had conversations with charter list members and with the list sponsor. They were uniformly sympathetic at the consternation and complaints, but that did not alter the tone or direction of discussions.

The dialog was eventually predominated by what I characterize as "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed". That, and a constant thread of base humor that seemed so incongruous with the original tone of the list. I thought there were several major list contributors who so prided themselves on being open-minded that they had basically allowed their brains to fall out.

Some of the feminist activists on the list were as distressed about the developments as I was. I felt like Lynn and David Anderson were my friends, but there was a great wedge of difference driving us apart. Terry Day was very kind to me personally, but many of his general comments on the list were insufferable. It was as if a great crowd of these people had followed some path and suddenly ended up in the great and spacious building, mocking the faithful saints of God.

I think the original Mormon-l served a good and useful purpose. But I had no doubts when the time came to move on. When my friend John Redelfs invited me to his new email list, I felt like a lost soul walking into the light again. And in spite of some bumps here and there, the Zion list experience has been fulfilling, far beyond my expectations.

Even a lifesaver for me, in more than one instance.

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