Things That Don't Make Sense #2: Where Was it Nephi Lived Again?
Richard Bushman: "Hoisted on My Own Petard"

My Mormon Map

Presenting my first guest post from my good friend -Domokun-:

I once moved to a new community that I was not previously familiar with.  The homeowners' association gave me a road map of the area.  As I was exploring the paths to find shortcuts and new commuting routes, I found one street that looked promising.  As I traveled it in my car, at a place that should have been a through-road was a dead end.  I was furious!  Not only was this new route unable to shave the three minutes from my commute that I thought it would, my trust in the map had been shaken.  I no longer fully trusted that particular map to be an accurate representation of the streets in the area.

I learned to read maps at a young age.  As a boy, I loved camping and hiking, and the orienteering aspects of those activities really appealed to me.  I learned to trust and rely on maps to educate me about places I had never been to before, and to show me the path that I needed to get there.  Because of this, I feel like I have developed a relatively good sense of spatial direction, at least when I’m in a place with easily identifiable landmarks and regular, grid-like streets.

I think that many people also have a kind of metaphorical map that they use to orient their lives.  In Mormonism, this map is very fleshed out, and includes many details. 

There is a very large Legend in Mormonism that defines everything on the map.  There is an incredible amount of detail in some parts of the map.  As a boy and young man, I had my whole future mapped out for me. I was baptized at age 8, graduated from Primary into the Aaronic Priesthood at age 12, and every two years thereafter advanced into different offices, from Deacon to Teacher, and then onto Priest.  I graduated from high school, and went to BYU.  Shortly after starting my freshman year, I received the Melchizedek Priesthood, and then sent in my mission papers. I received my mission call, and left for it in the summer after my freshman year.  On my mission I started as a greenie, then became a junior companion, then I was made a zone leader, and eventually a trainer.  I had been a District Leader, trainer, Branch President, I helped "open" a new town, I baptized an above-average number of converts for my mission, and except for not ever being an Assistant to the President, I achieved every milestone a Mormon missionary could reasonably hope for.

After a two-year mission, I returned to BYU. I met my future wife there, got married in the temple, and then a year later graduated with my bachelor’s degree.  My wife started graduate school out of state, and we moved across the country, where I found my first "real" job and started working full-time.  A few years later, after my wife had finished school and was working full-time herself, we decided to start our family.  Several children were soon born.

I was also following the Mormon "Priesthood Leadership" track, which included being part of an Elder’s Quorum presidency and holding several ward and stake clerk callings.  I was on track to eventually being in a bishopric, high council, and if I were especially outwardly obedient and ambitious, perhaps even a stake presidency or higher.  I was following the plan that one day I would soon be ordained to be a High Priest (especially before I became one of those older, late-40s types STILL attending Elder’s Quorum) and I knew that I would have many callings and positions of importance and responsibility in the church during my lifetime.  In short, if I followed the Mormon map laid out for me, my life would have many planned milestones and accomplishments inside the church’s organization and social structure.

In contrast to the baroque map that young Mormon men get, the map that young Mormon women get is fairly sparse.  After baptism, the young women of the church have very few formal milestones to look forward to.  Baptism is the only church ordinance many young women receive prior to marriage.  Temple marriage is the pinnacle of Mormon personal achievement, but is possibly the last personal ordinance they will receive, aside from the weekly sacrament.

Upon entering womanhood at age 18, women attend Relief Society, which is the church’s women’s organization, but is ultimately run by men.  Following the Mormon map, they have only marriage and motherhood to look forward to, with maybe a small chance to be a Primary, Young Women’s, or Relief Society President (which would still report to, and ask permission from, the local Bishop for every meaningful detail).  In the temple, women promise to obey their worthy husbands and in their wedding sealings must "give themselves" to him, who gets to "receive them".  There are no Priesthood advancements for women, and in all of the callings they get (from men) they will always report back to men. The Mormon map can be overly detailed for men, but in stark contrast is very empty and sparse, relatively speaking, for women.  As my wife told me, though, this is not necessarily a bad thing to have the freedom to chart her own course in life.

In addition to the "life milestones" such a metaphorical map can provide, there are also many things on that map that tell me what to believe, how to live, what to think, what to eat and drink, and even what kind of attitudes I should have. It is very much a mass-produced, not customized map.  Even though the Mormon canon is supposedly “open”, these parts of the map are printed in indelible ink, and are not easily or often changed.  For Mormons who have this map, they are not encouraged to go out into the world to verify the map, or even add to or take away things from the map, because the map is declared by the church to be perfect and complete.

One of the problems with the Mormon map is that it is the same map for everyone.  Men are told in excruciating detail what to do, while women are told to be mothers and wives, and not much else.  The problem is not that women are free to chart their own course, because the path is drawn for them, just without any additional milestones.  They accomplish milestones vicariously through their husbands and children. They are described not as an artist, a great thinker, or as an accomplished individual, but as the wife of the bishop, the mother of the returned missionary, the grandmother of twelve.  It is true that many strong, independent women do chart their own course.  They have careers, high social status, intellectual interests, and lead very fulfilling lives.  But none of those landmarks appear on the Mormon map.  The official Mormon cartographers specifically counsel against women exploring those territories.

If a Mormon metaphorically leaves home and goes out into the world, and sees that his map doesn't always match up to the world around him, he can run into many problems.  When he goes back and tells others that the map is wrong, he is viewed with suspicion.  There must be some underlying reason, or un-repented-of sin, or desire to start sinning, otherwise there would be no reason for this Mormon to question the accuracy of his map.  He may then be cast out of the tribe, either directly through excommunication because he questioned the map, or indirectly by being shunned or marginalized for having corrected only his own map, or for even suggesting that the Mormon map may have errors.

I think that for a group of people who insist that their maps of the world are the only correct maps in existence, Mormons should be more open to corrections and additions, so they can maintain the claim that their maps are the most accurate and relevant.  Sadly this is not the case.  Whenever a Mormon finds that their Mormon map does not accurately reflect the world around them, other Mormons insist that the perception is wrong or mistaken, that they are relying upon their own prideful learning, or that they don’t have the will or fortitude to live according to the map and want to sin. Of course it could NEVER be that the map itself is wrong.

Some Mormons run into problems when their mass-produced, one-size-fits-all, printed-in-indelible-ink Mormon maps aren't exactly true to their own personal experience.  Sure, the Mormon map is correct in places, and there are some very nice sites on the horizon in these maps, at least according to the Legend.  It’s too bad there's no verifiable proof that those prizes exist outside of the map’s Legend. So, I end up having to trust my map and I must put much faith into it, out of necessity, because I can’t prove it in any way.  I hoped that the really wonderful promises beyond the horizon are really there, but I had no way of knowing for sure.  Too many Mormons nearly kill themselves trying to follow the impossible path outlined in the map.

My map falls apart when I start to see the many problems and inconsistencies in the small part of my map that I have explored. If the map can be wrong here, what's to say that it is correct about the fabulous stuff that's supposed to be way over there?  I then learned that the cartographers who made my map were wrong about many things, and my confidence in the Mormon map waned even more.  I also discovered that other people have very different maps, yet they are just as happy or even happier than I am, and seem to find their own paths and treasures just fine with their different maps.

I have to ask myself, what is so special about the Mormon map? Is it even correct at all?  How much of it is true?  What parts are wrong? What if I discard this map for another?  Why do I need this particular map in the first place?  How will my family and friends react to my new map?  What if the true meaning of life is found in charting my own course, instead of relying on a demonstrably incorrect map?

Discarding my Mormon map is difficult.  I have relied upon it for so long that I have often taken it for granted that everything on it was correct.  Many times it was so much a part of me that I didn’t even realize I was using a map.   As I contemplate the errors in my Mormon map, I realize that I still have my moral compass.   I am not lost without direction.  I forgot that I could use my own compass to chart my own course.  I am free from depending on an error-prone map that inaccurately represents the real world.  As Alex Korzybski said, "The map is not the territory."


Mayan Elephant

good to see you hear brother domo. i am a huge fan of this essay.


Domo, this is a tremendous essay. I recall you were surprised at the favorable response the first draft of this essay received. This is a classic. In my own life I experienced references to the Mormon map, but not until you essay brought the pieces together did the whole light on the subject come to be.

Hellmut Lotz

I enjoyed the poetry and the beautiful fit of your metaphor, Domokun.


Great job, Domo. Of course, it's not the map that's wrong, but the reader. According to FAIR, in order to read it correctly you have to squint really hard while holding the map at exactly a 38.7 degree angle and using only light from the sunrise on the third day after the vernal equinox. Unfortunately, none of the prophets knew this--they're only human after all!

Doctrinal Engineer

I really liked this essay, Domo. Wonderful job.


Hey, I'm one of those late 40's (well, 46) guys still attending Elders Quorum. What's your point? :-)

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