Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, and Christian Meanness

December 21, 2007

Last weekend my wife and I rented the movie Saved!, a mild satire about life in an evangelical Christian high school. It’s a reasonably entertaining movie, although it gets a bit preachy toward the end. Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), the pious socialite, represents what has become a common stereotype of Christians–one who hypocritically pledges devotion to Christ while using her faith to justify really nasty actions. Hilary Faye is contrasted with other stereotypes–Roland (Macaulay Culkin) and Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the shoplifting, smoking, fornicating delinquents who end up having hearts of gold.

As with many stereotypes, the stereotype of “mean Christians” is not without basis. There are some well-meaning Christians out there who, I’m not afraid to say, strike me as being really extreme, judgmental, and narrow-minded. Like the ones who hold “Church of the Devil” signs and yell condemnations into bullhorns outside temple square during General Conference, or the ones I saw protesting outside the local Planned Parenthood a couple months ago. But then, I’ve met lots of non-Christians who fit the same mold. I don’t think that Christians, as a group, are particularly meaner than other groups.

However, I think there is something about the Fundamentalist mindset that makes one susceptible to being judgmental. If you are convinced that you are right and that everybody else is wrong, it’s hard to avoid judging others or being condescending. And, as Pema Chodron has put it, “We are all capable of becoming fundamentalists because we get addicted to other people’s wrongness” (thanks Exponent II!). I witnessed the same Fundamentalist-meanness trend in Utah. Even well-meaning, good-hearted Mormons occasionally found themselves making some disparaging comment about the non-religious, intellectuals, gays, “liberals,” or some other group they deemed to be “wrong.” For some, these comments occurred more than “occasionally.” Much more.

But then, I’ve often found myself making disparaging comments about those people–about how they are wrong (and I am right), how they are judgmental (and I am not). It looks like I’m just as susceptible to the self-aggrandizing delusions that I despise in others. Crap.

I think that pretty much any group of strong-willed, like-minded individuals is prone to the us vs. them, “we’re right and they’re wrong” mentality. Christians certainly may fall into this trap, but they are by no means its only victims.

This is by no means a novel idea, but if we (be we Christian, Mormon, secular, or whatever) could all avoid judgment, exercise more tolerance, and admit our own susceptibility to error, meanness probably wouldn’t be much of a concern for any of us.


  1. (be we Christian, Mormon, secular, or whatever)

    Doh! Mormons are Christians. Don’t fall for the dirty marketing campaign trying to say otherwise.

  2. Well done. I particularly liked how you honestly and humbly admitted that calling ‘those people’ wrong was the same problem. Crap indeed.

    Nice post.

  3. Geoff,

    I intended to distinguish Mormons from evangelical Christians. Sorry for not being more precise in my wording.

  4. Very good post. Thank you for illustrating that Mormons don’t have the monopoly on meanness or being judgemental. It really is heart breaking that members of the church take a judgemental attitude at times, but as has been shown in previous comments, this church is for the sick, not the perfect, and as such all we can do is encourage our peers to be more Christlike-not attack and condemn them.
    Also, it’s important to remember that just because some members act inapropriately doesn’t mean that the church or its leaders are wrong. There is a difference between Mormon culture and Mormon doctrine. The doctrine is there to guide us and help us be more Christ-like, but unfortunately the culture lags behind what the doctrine teaches.

  5. The doctrine is there to guide us and help us be more Christ-like, but unfortunately the culture lags behind what the doctrine teaches.

    Doctrine is defined by the culture. If a doctrine isn’t accepted by the culture, it fades on the wayside. (See Adam-God, ancestry of Native Americsns, priesthood ban doctrines, immorality of birth control, etc etc etc). On the other hand, when a culture largely embraces a teaching it becomes ‘doctrine.’

    I dislike the word (and popular concept of) ‘dcotrine’ anyways and think we should get rid of it. Like the creeds of Christianity, ‘doctrine’ and the false glorification of orthodoxy all too often breed meanness.

    And of course, as Steve pointed out, my dislike of ‘doctrine’ perhaps causes some meanness in me as well.

  6. Good point narrator. I am not fond of the word when it is used in contexts that you and I are all too familiar with.

    The word by Mormons is used to connote something other then a body of teachings that are commonly by a groups of people, especially those that are religious. I have made my life a whole simpler by looking for what is true and for me truth is best described as, to borrow from Abraham Lincoln, that which make a lasting peace among ourselves, our neighbors, and the nations.

    I wish that more people shared this outlook instead of constantly quoting Prophets on things that no general authority has talked about in thirty years.

  7. Mormons can be mean? No way 🙂

    This post embodies my current struggles as I have evaluated the effects of religion on society. Is it possible to have religion without a “us vs. them” mentality?

  8. […] a recent VSOM thread, one commenter said the following: “There is a difference between Mormon culture and Mormon doctrine. The […]

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