So I read an entertaining account of an American tourist getting lost in Iceland — because he did just what the GPS unit in his rented car told him to do, and he ended up in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure you’ve heard similar stories or even got GPS-lost yourself a time or two. You place your trust in some person or gadget, you obediently follow the directions the Voice of Authority gives you, but instead of the pleasant outcome you were promised, you get hopelessly lost. Maybe you can see where I’m going with this.
Here’s another way to get lost. You look at a good map, identifying your starting point, your destination, and a route to follow. You memorize a highway number or two and a couple of landmarks. You follow the mental map you now have in your head, but somehow get off course. Maybe you still have a sense of the general direction you’re headed, so you continue on. At some point you confess that your are lost. So you get out the map and recalibrate, backtracking if necessary. At some point you find a road or town or landmark that you recognize, figure out where you are, and continue on. With this method, you might get disoriented or turned around, but you never get hopelessly lost like the GPS navigator does. You’re picking up info and clues as you navigate. Your whole approach is based on acquiring reliable information about your route. If you do get lost, you are lost with a lot more information than the GPS guy.
So let’s analogize this tale to the case of Mormons dealing with LDS doctrine and history. The Church teaches members to navigate LDS doctrine and history by relying on the Voice of Authority in manuals, in talks, in the Handbook, and in counsel from local and senior leadership. Obtaining outside information is discouraged. Mainstream Mormons do fine with this most of the time — until they hit a doctrinal or historical glitch, when the Voice of Authority at some point becomes so disconnected from their circumstances or context that they know better than to continue but have no clue how to recover. Consider the reaction of mainstream Mormons to the Gospel Topics Essays as an example. It doesn’t take much, it seems, to disorientate a GPS Mormon.
I’d contrast that approach with the member who insists on constructing her own mental map of Mormonism based on all the reliable information she can acquire. If someone using the second approach becomes disorientated, it’s much easier to update the mental map one has been building and either carry on down the Mormon path or head off towards some other worthwhile destination.
So are you a GPS Mormon or a read-the-map Mormon? How do you navigate your Mormonism in the age of the Internet?