To summarize, the author is a white woman of a privileged background (her words) who has decided to become and live as a Hindu. However, she is quite sensitive to the idea that it can be insulting to “borrow” cultural items (ideas, beliefs, clothing, etc.) from a historically rich and perhaps oppressed group, in order to make a fashion-type statement. She doesn’t want to “play with Indian-ness.” She loves the philosophy and traditions of Hinduism but admits that she may not be capable or willing to take on the burden of Hinduism.
Now just from my cursory reading, I don’t think she has anything to worry about – she seems like a sincere believer to me. But the post did cause me to reflect on what I do in my spiritual life.
I feel like I am in a transition period. I am an “active” Latter-day Saint, with “active” in quotes mainly because the truth claims of the LDS church just don’t resonate with me like they used to. I have lived a very strong LDS life, have a strong extended LDS family, I served a mission, I’ve taught Institute very recently, I attend LDS church almost every Sunday, etc. And yet, in my private spiritual life, I feel very Eastern Orthodox. I read Orthodox theology and blogs, I have an active correspondence with a priest-monk who serves as a sort of spiritual father, I have a prayer rule that I try my best to follow and an icon corner, and I even have a patron saint! Orthodoxy has always fascinated me, and I have a feeling that the only reason I’m not fully Orthodox is that it would be extremely devastating to certain important LDS members of my family.
So when I read that post about cultural appropriation I felt a twinge of emotion. Am I being dishonest? Deceptive? Patronizing? Furthermore, are my interests in Orthodoxy driven by a faddish sense of the exotic? Am I lying to myself, others, or even God?
It wouldn’t be so bad if Mormonism didn’t have an active tradition of taking theological elements from other religions. Joseph Smith was an active borrower, and I mean that actually in a good way. He was able to absorb ideas like a sponge, and reconstitute them in interesting, new ways (the Masonic-influenced temple liturgy is a prime example). In my experience, since Mormonism is not creedal in nature, individual Mormons have a wide variety of beliefs about God and the church that aren’t official LDS doctrine. Take the nature of God, for instance: some Mormons believe the Godhead is utterly unique and beginningless, some believe that God the Father became God and was once a man like us, or that God is one being in a vast (potentially infinite) God-family that includes Heavenly Father’s wife (or wives) and us as His children. Some hold views that I would describe as Social Trinitarian, while others are Tritheistic, Polytheistic, Henotheistic, or Monolatrist. It would seem that in the absence of any strong doctrinal creed, Mormons are free to develop, borrow, reject, or shape their individual views as they choose, as long as they can somewhat reconcile them with what is official LDS doctrine.
So from the outside I might very well look like a Mormon who has simply melded Orthodoxy into my Mormonism, very much like the Danny character in the marginally entertaining Mormon film Sons of Provo who tries to practice both Mormonism and Buddhism.
Recently, a friend of mine who is vaguely aware of my interest in Orthodoxy told me, “You should write on your [personal] blog about how you’ve syncretized Orthodoxy and Mormonism. It would be really interesting!” And when he told me that, my heart sank a little. I don’t think I’ve syncretized the two at all – I just maintain the activity of Mormonism while my private spirituality is Orthodox. I don’t want people to think I’ve melded the two religions together – I most definitely haven’t. When I am in Sacrament Meeting I long for the Divine Liturgy.
Furthermore, I think the idea of “borrowing” the elements of Orthodoxy that I like and trying to create some kind of Frankenstein’s monster with patches from Mormonism and Orthodoxy is quite insulting to both religions (as I explained in this post). You can’t take (for instance) the Orthodox view of theosis or Atonement and just copy-and-paste it into Mormonism, because those Orthodox doctrines operate in a vast machine with many interlocking parts, including theosis and Atonement, that all work together to achieve a doctrinal whole. Taking this or that doctrine out of Orthodoxy because I just like it really sounds to me like the “cultural appropriation” that The White Hindu author was talking about.
This is the sort of cognitive dissonance that keeps me up at night. Luckily, as someone who has studied psychology at the graduate level, I also know that cognitive dissonance is okay, and that learning to live with a little dissonance can lead to living much more authentically than furiously trying to stamp it out by any means possible. I just continue to pray and ask God to help me know what to do, and take it one day at a time. Eventually I think the truth will shake out.