Are Mormons Crunchy?

Rod Dreher has a new book out, all about a new countercultural movement which he describes as “crunchy conservatism”–or, as his subtitle eloquently puts it, “How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).” National Review is sponsoring a blog all about the book (full confession: I’ve been in correspondence with some of the authors), and it’s a place rich in reflection. If you have any sort of opinion about childrearing, farming, alternative energy sources, homeschooling, breastfeeding, global trade, popular culture, family size, suburbanization, civic religion, environmentalism, watching television, modern pedagogy, or the 1960s, then you’ll find something of interest there, as well as in the book itself. Especially, I think, if you’re Mormon.

Think about the superficial matters first. Dreher developed this argument, which he first expressed in an old National Review article here, in response to his realization that a lot of his and his family’s nominally “conservative” interests–in gardening, rural life, homeschooling, and so forth–were actually resulting in his associating more and more with people from the “counterculture.” In time, he came to realize that the counterculture consists of more than just the hippies he was taught to despise from his Republican youth onward; there was a deeply religious aspect to the counterculture, and the more he became familiar with it, the more he wanted to be a part of it. Yet a lot of what he describes as part of counterculture is pretty mainstream for many American Mormons. Grow your own food? Sacrifice work to spend more time with family? Dress modestly (and sew your own clothes if the stores don’t have anything up to your standards)? Avoid the degrading elements of pop culture (or just chuck the television set entirely)? Do genealogy and go to family reunions? Preserve and can your own fruit? Get married, stay married, and have a lot of kids? I suspect that relatively few of the American Mormons reading this blog have ever lived the full-blown, old pioneer ethic, close-knit, patriarchal, Utah Mormon communal/familial ideal, but I suspect that most of us are at least familiar with it, or embrace certain elements of it, or can point back at parents or grandparents who embraced even more than we did. Mormonism, in short, has a lot of Dreher’s “crunchy” counterculture built into it; when social trends have the result of leading those who dissent from the mainstream to embrace some countercultural practice–like, say, homeschooling–it doesn’t surprise me at all to often find many Mormons moving in the same direction, maybe even leading the pack.

Why is this? That leads us into deeper issues, which deserve exploration (and exploration that I don’t think Dreher himself does a very good job of providing). One could focus on the secularization and streamlining of American culture, the flattening and homogenizing of our society and indeed our whole world under the force of the free market and modern technology, and the resulting collapse of local exceptions to dominant cultural mores (which means, in particular, the increased diffculty religious communities had in preserving their cultural “borders” against the temptations and corruptions available just down the road, just through the cable televsion line, just over the internet). Faced with such, those who dissent from the dominant culture need to get more aggressive–pulling their kids out of public schools, getting more selective about where they shop, etc. Looking at it this way, you could say that American Mormons are present in this counterculture because we’re simply the most practiced dissenting community in American history; we’ve got more strategies for dealing with an invasive society, and more willingness to use them, then anyone else around. But that only tells you why the process has become particularly visible at this point in time–it doesn’t tell you why the process exists or why it is going in the direction it is.

In my view, the central issue is one of authority–modern social and economic patterns are all about liberating the individual, increasing their choices, reducing their costs, linking people up so they can more easily disconnect and reconnect as they please. Mormonism, by contrast, is an authoritarian movement, one that insists that certain choices are intrinsically necessary, right (or wrong) regardless of cost-benefit analysis. Living “authoritatively” in an environment that merely tolerates, and often is deeply hostile too, parental or religious or civic authority, is enormously difficult. So, these crunchy counterculturalists are, whether they realize it or not, recreating their own enclosed, authoritative networks. I’ll homeschool the kids, so I can have authority over what they learn, not some bureaucracy that I can’t interact with, can’t understand, and can’t predict. I’ll garden and buy free-range eggs and cut down on the meat because I don’t want my household’s health and habits to be subject to some vague and probably polluted economic process; I want to be able to have some authority over what’s going into our bodies. Maybe that’s a rather abstract way of putting it, but I suspect it’s close to the truth. And since Mormons have a much more intimate and common-sensical understanding of authority than the rest of (philosophically) liberal America, these communal countercultural practices fit like a hand into a glove. Which is not to say that most American Mormons are donning that glove; throughout our history, it’s been pretty clear that many Mormons have been both uncomfortable with and unsure of how exactly to act counterculturally, and sometimes have fled from that (sometimes financially burdensome, sometimes much mocked, sometimes outright dangerous) prospect into the hands of the mainstream. Still, the potential is there.

For me, being authoritative and communal and countercultural is exactly what makes Mormon economic communitarianism possible–surely the Mormon ideal of an egalitarian Zion has got to be among the most powerful “counter” visions to America’s capitalist culture ever. At the same time, our “crunchiness” might be best seen in our ability to question America’s meritocratic mentality. Of course, there are those who say that Mormonism’s countercultural potential is actually a countering of exactly the sort of deep, embedded traditionalism that Dreher thinks he has discovered through crunchiness; living a “tory” life outside the liberal market and the American mainstream, according to this line of thinking, is an impossibility for a revelatory religion, and results in bad economics to boot, so we ought to just thank goodness for pluralism and consumerism and not read too much into our (fast disappearing?) tradition of gardens and family reunions. As you might expect, I’ve written even more on the topic here. But do check out the blog, and the book if you have time. It ought to give all Mormons something to chew on, I think.

38 comments for “Are Mormons Crunchy?

  1. Julie M. Smith
    February 23, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    To answer your original question, it seems that there are varying degrees of crunchiness among church members. Some are pretty (er–quick!–what’s the opposite of crunchy?) soggy: completely unreflective as to which parts of the culture they adopt. I’ve got varying degrees of crunchiness (homeschool, most elements of attachment parenting) and sogginess (I Heart Wal-Mart and C-Sections and Happy Meals on busy days).

    I, of course, think that the people with elements of each are the ones who are truly evaluating which elements of the culture and counterculture are best for their families, while anyone completely soggy or completely crunchy has allowed an ideology to do their thinking for them.

  2. gst
    February 23, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    The home in which I grew up probably wasn’t “crunchy” by most standards, but there was always a “Whole Earth Catalog” around the house.

  3. gst
    February 23, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    And no, we weren’t survivalists either. We were suburbanites.

  4. February 23, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Many of us are crunchy (I know I am). But it’s interesting, I get the MOST resistance for my “counter-culture” ideas from LDS. They are alarmed by the fact I homebirth, homeschool (well some of them are anyway), extended babywear, cloth diaper, and horror of horrors AVOID CRAP FOOD and try to eat organic, use natural healing methods, etc etc. But maybe that’s just in Alberta. Hmmm, I will have to check the book out. I am glad I am not totally one side or the other either.

  5. February 23, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    I like your dualism, Julie–crunchy and soggy. Being completely the first would probably entail the sort of rejection of the mainstream that only the casual wealthy or the deeply paranoid can pull off. Being completely the second means you’ve just completely given up on the idea of your Mormonism (or whatever your belief system may be) demanding anything at all out of the ordinary from you. The reflective person is trying to figure out how to lead and conserve a way of life that partakes of both. But then, part of Dreher’s whole argument is that modern conservatism is “crunchy” at all–it’s completely rejected the organic and ordinary in favor of big money and big growth. So if you do anything at all on your own authority, in your own local way, however small, then you’re a crunchy con, by his definition.

  6. Kevin Barney
    February 23, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    As all peanut butter lovers know, the opposite of *crunchy* is *creamy*.

  7. Tanya Spackman
    February 23, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    Yes, Mormons are crunchy and taste best with a light cream sauce or a bit of sweet and sour sauce.

    And the book sounds interesting.

  8. Melissa
    February 23, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    I guess I qualify as “fairly crunchy” (bake my own bread, usually eat organic, don’t watch television, think Walmart is evil AND really never shop there).

    But, I don’t consider these “crunchy” traits Mormon-made at all. I didn’t care about any of it until graduate school. I attribute all my crunchiness to the academic nerds I hang out with. Furthermore, it is precisely my non-crunchy bits (like the fact that I won’t leave the house—even to work out–without mascara and lipgloss) that come directly from my Utah Mormon upbringing.

    (I know, I know, *your* Utah Mormon upbringing didn’t require mascara and lipgloss. But mine did.)

  9. Pam W.
    February 23, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    During the past year or so I’ve found myself surprised at the relative degree of crunchiness I’ve attained (call me The Accidental Granola): breastfeeding past a year, using cloth diapers (until they caused problems with our old plumbing), planning to homeschool my kindergartner this fall, and grinding wheat to make bread (OK, when I have time, and I use a bread machine).

    But I love cow’s milk and white sugar (hangs head in shame).

    My parents used to subscribe to the Mother Earth News when I was growing up. Now that is one crunchy magazine.

  10. February 23, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    I went for a few years at BYU without shaving my legs, and it was pretty noticable and crunchy. I wasn’t even sure what point I was making other than I really disliked shaving, my husband didn’t care one way or the other, and I didn’t think being a woman was reason enough to have to do it. I think the other women in my basketball class might have been grossed out, but I didn’t mind.

    Interestingly, upon leaving BYU I weighed the costs and benefits and started shaving again. I realized that there are only a few “signals” we get to telegraph about who we are and what we think is important to other people we meet casually. Hairy female legs still send a pretty strong signal in Mormon and non-Mormon society, I think, and for most people it’s the only signal they might hear. I felt regretful that I might use up my signal space with that message instead of a chance to somehow send a “gospel” signal. Obviously I don’t see any contradition (and any correlation I see isn’t strong enough to carry the day) between hairy legs and the gospel, but I was just reluctant to drown out opportunities for relationships and conversations with my counter-culture statement.

    I still do plenty of counter-culture things that feel fundamentally important to me. But there is a cost, and benefit, to peculiarity.

  11. Julie M. Smith
    February 23, 2006 at 9:07 pm

    Wow, Gina, I’d completely forgotten that I haven’t shaved my legs in a decade until you mentioned it. Thanks for making me feel guilty for wasting a missionary opportunity.

  12. February 23, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    Lol. I went to a (geeky) womens’ math program one summer in college, and all I brought to wear was a few pairs of pants and a bunch of white t-shirts (why dress up do to math with a bunch of women?) We had a great time and it had come up quite a bit that I was Mormon. At the end of the program we were designing a t-shirt to take home, and someone suggested a blue t-shirt. One of the women looked at me earnestly and asked if it was against my religion to wear anything but white. In addition to making me laugh, even now, I also wonder what strange personality traits and bad fashion sense I’m burdening other people’s ideas of Mormons with :) I thought I’d do the little bit I’m willing.

  13. February 23, 2006 at 9:48 pm

    I realized that there are only a few “signals� we get to telegraph about who we are and what we think is important to other people we meet casually

    I’ve thought of that a lot in the last thirty years. Am I bearing false witness by things I do or say because of the sub-text those things communicate? I still reflect on the concept from time to time. It is why “a style of our own” doesn’t mean dressing like David O McKay’s vision of the city of Heaven, or like Moroni.

  14. February 23, 2006 at 10:53 pm

    “It is why ‘a style of our own’ doesn’t mean dressing like David O McKay’s vision of the city of Heaven, or like Moroni.”

    I’m not sure what you particularly have in mind in this comment, Stephen, but I think it’s an interesting one, which connects well with some of the things Mary, Melissa, Gina and Julie said. (All women. A coincidence? How gendered is Mormon crunchiness, or the lack thereof?) I stand behind the idea that there is plenty in Mormon history, doctrine, ritual, and society which makes us dissenters and counterculturalists par excellence, and I think a lot of that has to do with just what I said above: since we have a strong (if sometimes peculiar) grasp on the authoritative basis for much of what we do and believe, it’s easier for us to stick with our own and chart our own path with our own somewhat odd priorities when American culture goes the other way. So we still talk about gardening and maintaining a food supply and buying a wheat grinder and all sorts of thrifty, hands-on practices which mark us as genuine cultural throwbacks in America today.

    At the same time, it appears that on some level many of those who have set and who continue to set the pace for our culture hate the idea of being countercultural, and think it is important for Mormonism to radiate a, by contrast, “establishment conservative” style. I don’t know if this can be reduced to, on the one hand, a creeping worldliness, or on the other hand, the “mainstreaming” of our religion; perhaps it’s a little bit of both. Either way, especially when it comes to gender roles and appearances, countercultural activities outside a few authoritatively approved forms–like family size or restrictive media rules or the aforementioned breadmaking–are definitely not easily embraced in most American Mormon congregations. The stay-at-home dad is sometimes given a doubtful stare; the breadwinner who foregoes economic advancement in the name of family time is sometimes considered to have let down the kingdom; and the woman who gets into books and doesn’t shave her legs and refuses to dress (and shop) like a proper lady is sometimes considered a bad apple, or worse. This is all pretty general, I realize. But I found it interesting to contemplate that some of the very countercultureness which our own beliefs encourages is occasionally undermined by the same society which nurtures those beliefs in the first place.

  15. Jeremiah J.
    February 23, 2006 at 10:58 pm

    Russell, don’t tell me you’re going to come out as a crunchy con. Oh, say it ain’t so. I have ecological concerns, I like gardening and I think midwives are pretty cool. But if I’m conscripted into conservatism count me a straight-up Burkean. Burke–who by the way never ever would have been caught dead in Burkenstocks. The guy wrote a treatise on aesthetics, for pete’s sake.

    Sometimes ideological terms as descriptive labels get confused with ideological terms as normative principles. Neo conservatism and paleo conservatism have distinct principles or families of principles which can guide political thought and action. I’m not sure that “crunchy conservative” can. A wide variety of attitudes, personality traits, and ethical principles brings people to homeopathic medicine, gardening, homeschooling and bad fashion sense.

    This book almost looks like a perfect sequel to Bobos in Paradise. Except that the first installment was meant to make the subject look ridiculous. This book, the opposite. I hope Brooks is getting some royalties. At any rate I’m skeptical of both. The crunchiest devout Mormons I know voted Kerry last election.

  16. February 24, 2006 at 7:31 am

    Jeremiah, my friend, don’t worry–I ain’t no crunchy con, because I’m not “conservative” in the way Dreher is talking about it. Dreher’s talking about people who vote for and/or sympathize with contemporary “conservative” positions–i.e., those articulated by the Republican party–but who are at the same time “countercultural” in this specific, vaguely communal, hippie-ish sense. Strictly on its own terms, you’re right that it can easily just pass as just another upper-middle-class affectation; I think (if you look at the NRO blog) that’s why Ross Douthat’s and Caleb Stegall’s critiques are on the mark (and I believe that’s also why our own true-blue conservative, Adam Greenwood, doesn’t think much of the whole crunchy con thing). But I like it because I don’t think it needs to be or has to be taken strictly on its own terms. I think–as I write on my own blog–that there’s something thoughtful and heavy to Dreher’s terms: a “crunchy” conservatism is one that’s trying to really “chew over” genuine social and economic structures, that’s confronting the necessitiy of not just developing alternatives to mainstream corporate capitalism, but actually dissenting from it. I think that kind of dissenting invites nonliberal, communitarian reflections, which predictably I’m in favor of. So, in short, crunchy conservative arguably gets actual, philosophical conservatism–including Burke!–on the table. And, as I’m sure you well know, there’s plenty of reason to doubt that an actual, living and breathing 21st-century Burke would be a (capital-R) Republican.

  17. Lamonte
    February 24, 2006 at 8:18 am

    Jeremiah – Of course you are a Burkean in the literal sense too – if you know what I mean. OK, bad joke.

  18. lyle
    February 24, 2006 at 11:38 am

    I’m not smart enough to understand it all; but I’m fairly conservative, drive a prius, like natural foods, don’t shave and would prefer homeschooling. Crunchy? Creamy? Soggie? Who knows? I’ve never worried about signals cuz the ones i’m sending are far too many in number and contradictory to be received in anycase. Maybe its just the ex-RM, but isn’t our individuality what is most likely to shine through to other ‘individuals’ who might not otherwise listen to the Gospel from some ‘clone’ of what is supposted to be normal, etc.?

  19. Boris Max
    February 24, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    Mormons are the most practiced dissenting community in America? Raise the fist, brother Russell, raise the fist. Maybe we should retitle this post Russell Arben Fox’s Bad*********s Song? I’m assuming you don’t have a sweet back, but I could be wrong. Will a crunchy-con-Mormon brother come back soon to collect on some dues?

    But seriously, and for those who aren’t fans of Melvin Van Peebles films, I think it’s interesting how this entire thread demonstrates that “countercultural” has become just another marketing demographic. If the revolution won’t be televised, will you be able to purchase it in a Whole Earth catalog? If you breastfeed for over a year, as the World Health Organization suggests doing, are you sticking it to the Man? Are you manning your own barricades when you buy your sweatshop-made kitch at Target instead of Wal-Mart? I can see arguments in favor of homeschooling as countercultural in the abstract, but it seems that most of the homeschooled want the same kind of careers as the public schooled. Gardening? Maybe, but not if you use Miracle-gro.

    The interesting thing here is the desire to seem outside the mainstream. Sadly, however, if this “countercultural” pose is something that is purchased and is mass-produced, then it’s little better than the identity of the white suburban kids who are really down with 50 Cent. Some individuals who read this blog may be quite countercultural, but Mormons in general? As a people, we’re only four years away from the orgy of assmiliationist groveling that was the Salt Lake Winter Olympics.

  20. February 24, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    “As a people, we’re only four years away from the orgy of assmiliationist groveling that was the Salt Lake Winter Olympics.”


    You’re right, Boris, as Jeremiah said above, that there’s a sense in which all of this is nothing more than another consumerist affectation. Which is why what I like about it is the possibility of pushing it deeper, into a willingness to actually think about alternative economic arrangements, about challenging meritocracy (in business and in education, as Greg Call did in that brillaint old post I linked to above), about actually getting back to the farm (even if it just grows sugar beets). Yes, getting outside the mainstream–“thinking outside the box,” “subverting the dominant paradigm,” all of that–has long since been commodified. And if that’s all crunchiness involves, then it’s no different than any other pose. But maybe, especially in light of Mormonism’s communitarian and localist traditions, it could be something more.

    And, for what it’s worth, I’m a Shaft man myself. (“Watch your mouth!”)

  21. Boris Max
    February 24, 2006 at 12:58 pm

    But Russell, Shaft was the Man’s attempt to take Sweet Sweetback’s revolutionary mojo away and turn him into an agent of the state security apparatus. Black, yes, but also a private dick. Talk about commodification…

    Oh well, at least you didn’t bring up Superfly.

  22. February 24, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    “Shaft was the Man’s attempt to take Sweet Sweetback’s revolutionary mojo away and turn him into an agent of the state security apparatus.”

    Ah, but that’s only what Shaft wanted the Man to think. He was playing more than one side, Our Man Shaft.

  23. Julie M. Smith
    February 24, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    “All women. A coincidence? How gendered is Mormon crunchiness, or the lack thereof?”

    I don’t think it is a coincidence. Consumption and parenting practices are largely determined by women.

    “I can see arguments in favor of homeschooling as countercultural in the abstract, but it seems that most of the homeschooled want the same kind of careers as the public schooled.”

    You know, I think about homeschooling a lot. But I give virtually no thought to the careers that my boys will end up with. To me, the product is a well-educated individual, regardless of occupation. I don’t know if this is the norm for homeschoolers.

  24. Randy B.
    February 24, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    It strikes me that while it is probably fair to characterize home-schooling as “countercultural,” that obviously doesn’t make all home schoolers hip crunchy granola types. I think it was Julie that mentioned in a previous discussion that Mormon home schoolers are often extremely soggy (my apologies if I’m misremembering or mischaracterizing here). Perhaps Julie has some thoughts on whether Mormon homeschoolers are more likely to be soggy than homeschoolers of other faiths.

  25. Veritas
    February 24, 2006 at 3:13 pm

    Boris Max, I think you’re my hero….

  26. Jeremiah J.
    February 24, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    Lamonte- took me a few seconds to get that one! I haven’t lived in Burke since 1994 but I’m proud to claim it.

  27. Julie M. Smith
    February 24, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    Randy B.,

    I do think Mormon homeschoolers are soggier than homeschoolers of other faiths. But part of that might be that crunchy cons are WAY overrepresented in the ranks of homeschoolers.

  28. Adam Greenwood
    February 24, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    I am, of course, all for quiet, traditional ways of living, for putting home and town at the center of our discourse, for remembering that freedom is the means of achieving virtue and not the solvent of it, and so on.

    But I don’t know if this crunchy conservatism stuff is more than an irritable mental gesture. I dunno. I’ll give an example. The Lovely One and I had a remarkable, spiritual experience when we decided to have a natural birth for our latest daughter. But a lot of other folks we met who’ve done the same thing really seemed to congratulate themselves way too much about it, and feel contempt for people who used epidurals and other drugs. I admit that I have a hard time grasping what’s so evil about that.

    Also, of course, I think “crunchy conservatism” is a form of perfectionism, which is one of the banes of a decent politics. Its attacking people who agree with you on some things because they don’t agree with you on everything.

  29. Edward A. Erdtsieck
    February 25, 2006 at 12:02 pm

    Russel Arben Fox:

    I thought your observations, particularly in the last two paragraph, were instructive. Of course, I have not read Rod Dreher’s new book, so I don’t have an opinon of it, yet. But I thought your ideas were insightful. However, I’d like to expand on one of your observations, i.e. “Mormonism, by contrast is an authoritarian movement.” Yes, it’s right at the personal level, but wrong in the larger community level.

    We have become a part of the masses, who are guided by mass approval [polling]. One quality that stands out here is, that things change all the time and each new ruler has his own agenda. Opportunity is always first and rightness comes last, thereby creating a stream of poor and unstable economies. Under this we all have [theoretically] the opportunity for gain, but most of us don’t live long enough to realize it.

    The central support for all that “crunchiness” is our creative structure, which through a few centuries developed from industrial to a knowledge based society. It has liberated us and given us increased choices and time. We also the ability to connect and reconnect with others. As you noted. Today we live at a faster pace than those 200 years ago. This brittleness [crunchiness] reflects the bifurcation, that Mormonism faces as a movement.

    Egalitarianism is not the Lord’s ideal. We were created as man and woman. We are divided by Priesthood – deacon, teacher and priest elder, high priest. The story of the creation was a process of separating, light from darkness, water from dry land, etc. Nevertheless, we as Mormons are united under One God by One Covenant.

    On the personal level Mormonism is like a yoke, the one Jesus Christ asks us to put on. Mormonism is like a bridle limiting our movement and making us manageable to be led away from the abominations in the world. We’re either with Him or we become one of His lost sheep. The law of free agency does not operate within His doctrine. The Lord’s ideal is righteousness.

    However, as members of the USA or the world, we operate under the laws of the communities, such as democracy or free ageny and our constitution. Our Church has maintained complete and absolute political neutrality, except as it relates to certain personal issues.

    The brittleness you describe is our experience with the fruit of good and evil. It is a double edge sword. I don’t think brittleness is the reason for abominations. What hurts is our inability, as a Mormon “mass” movement, to see far enough ahead into the future, independent of the prophet. And our affiliation with movements in the larger community, are frequently based on our personal economic rather than spiritual need.

    Of course, we are not a mass movement. However, the world is repeatedly informed by them, who proclaim their interpretation of one doctrine [plural marriage] or by them, who differ with our General Authorities. The doctrine of Jesus Christ has not yet made it into an ideology before the world. We still are Republican or Democrats. We are enjoying the sweetness of the fruit, but when the Lord’s reduces His blessings to the larger community, then we also will taste the bitterness.

  30. dangermom
    February 26, 2006 at 10:27 pm

    This is something I’ve been observing for several years now, so I’m interested in reading a book about it! Whenever I got into some ‘crunchy’ activity like food storage, gardening, or homeschooling, I would find that half my friends and information was coming from super-conservatives, and the other half was from complete leftist hippies. My mom is a hippie Mormon earth mama, so I’ve always has both worlds, but it’s always been interesting to see how people who considered themselves so opposite were coming to similar lifestyles.

    I don’t know many LDS homeschoolers in real life–my best homeschooling friend is a leftist unschooler with no religion and the rest are all evangelicals–but the ones I’ve met online are about half and half with regards to ‘crunchiness.’ The only one I know IRL is pretty soggy. I myself am medium–I’m a terrible gardener (I try!) and I don’t bake bread, but I’m boycotting WalMart and had cloth diapers.

  31. February 26, 2006 at 11:27 pm


    “I think ‘crunchy conservatism’ is a form of perfectionism, which is one of the banes of a decent politics.”

    Which is a deep disagreement between us. (Our deepest, perhaps?) Not that I deny what you say in terms of strategy, to say nothing of basic civility: pursuing comprehensive models of existence so to, implicitly, distinguish oneself those who don’t attain such completeness is not only rude, but also a crummy way to build a political movement. However, you can be a perfectionist without acting in ways that are rude or unnecessarily counterproductive. I think a politics which doesn’t aim for a kind of perfectionism (using the term in a specific, theoretical way here) is a politics that, in the end, makes principles subservient to externalities which will generally be controlled by others.


    A lot of deep thoughts there; thanks for the contribution. I think there’s some important arguments to made along the lines you suggest–that collectively we are not really all that crunchy; it is only on a person-by-person basis that the gospel today is experienced in a sufficiently “burdensome,” authoritative way as to lead to “crunchiness”; on the whole, we are a people that mostly go along with the world. I would also say, however, that even if that is so, one cannot necessarily intuit what the full ideological realization of a Mormon way of life would look like simply by assuming an inverse of the world. For example, just because the world teaches egalitarianism, I don’t think one should assume that the gospel doesn’t teach it. I think you’re wrong to believe that gender and role divisions can’t be experienced in an egalitarian way.


    “Whenever I got into some ‘crunchy’ activity like food storage, gardening, or homeschooling, I would find that half my friends and information was coming from super-conservatives, and the other half was from complete leftist hippies.”

    Far out–you’re Dreher’s perfect reader! This is exactly the phenomenon he’s interested in–the fact that lifestyles that have been stereotypically associated with the loony left have in fact, over the last twenty or thirty years, ended up being embraced by and even producing from within their own ranks numerous conservative Christians.

  32. February 28, 2006 at 10:04 am


    An interesting post. Certainly, crunchiness is a loose political/sociological movement that is ill defined, but somehow easily recognized. This makes answering the question, Are Mormons crunchy? somewhat difficult.

    While Mormons often share some of the outward trappings of crunchiness, we do so for non-crunchy reasons. At times we have the form of theological, institutional or social principles that may look crunchy, but we have very different sources and purposes for these forms. At the core of crunchiness I see three principles that could be Mormon, but are not: a deeply spiritual and emotional connection to mother earth; a profound sense of community; and a distrust of hierarchical authority. While we sort of share these principles with the crunchy community, our understanding of each of them is very different.

    I see a deep, profound connection to mother earth, which is both spiritual and emotional, as central crunchiness. The omnipresent, benevolent earth goddess provides the origin of crunchy health and well-being. We may be the only Christian religion with the potential theology of a female god, but she remains a distant, almost patriarchal, isolated entity. Our poorly defined understanding of Heavenly Mother is very different from the crunchy relationship to the ever present and ever benevolent mother earth from whence all goodness flows. Our relationship to the earth is likewise paternal rather than the maternal, nurturing crunchy relationship. This may be the result of generations scratching out a living off the land as dirt farmers or our creation mythology. We left the benevolent Eden to live in the lone and dreary world where we are the superintendents of a world that must be dunged about and continuously worked. Our relationship to the earth is antagonist and hierarchical, with us on the top of the hierarchy. I see the crunchy earth-relationship exactly opposite: the earth is the source of all goodness and we are blessed when we live close to her and nestled in harmony with her natural order. Mormon culture (more specifically Utah culture) is very outdoorsy. But our outdoorsiness is not often of the Ed Abby sort. We like to experience nature through machines: Jeeps, snowmobiles, mountain bikes, ATCs, guns, bows, rods etc etc. Outdoor Mormon events are not about becoming emotionally attuned to mother earth through the scents of juniper smoke and the taste of wild berries.

    We share the institutions of community with the crunchy folks, but somehow miss the social importance of it. Crunchy people go to PTA and local city councils because they want to bring their community together as a functional collective. They buy local produce because it gets them closer to mother earth and enables their local community spirit and culture to flourish. There is a deep hostility to globalization because this threatens local community and local traditions. Mormons have the theological and institutional structure of community, but somehow I don’t think we understand the importance of community like our crunchy neighbors do. We home teach and visit teach because we are supposed to. We go to church because its what we do on Sunday. I don’t think many of us see these activities as building a collective community that is integrated and amiably unified. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see Mormon culture sharing the vision of building our ward into an emotionally fulfilling commune, even though we think this is what Brigham City should have become and that this is what Zion will be. As for anti-globalization, well, we have visions of a global church reading the same Ensign every month and receiving the same Sunday school lesions every week. We simply don’t share the same sense of sanctity of local culture even though our wards are structured to help us build a functional community out of disparate peoples.

    Which comes to authority. Crunchy authority is derived from the collective. It is a grass roots movement that is always uncomfortable with hierarchical structure and authority. Mormon authority is always absolute (there is both a Truth and an order in which truth is disseminated). We thrive on organization and top down leadership, it’s just how things are ordered and there is order in the Lord’s house. It may be our order, but it’s not a crunchy order. Again, we have this vision of Zion as a diffuse, congenial collective where Christ acts as the single authoritative source and organized authority (legislative, executive, judiciary) are superfluous because of the collective good will of all. Sounds crunchy, but I don’t see a 15-year plan to convert each ward into the City of Enoch. Maybe we should have such a plan? Maybe I misunderstand Zion? Anyway, just because some of us wear Birkenstocks doesn’t mean we’re crunchy.

  33. Adam Greenwood
    February 28, 2006 at 10:50 am

    ““I think ‘crunchy conservatism’ is a form of perfectionism, which is one of the banes of a decent politics.â€?

    Which is a deep disagreement between us. (Our deepest, perhaps?) Not that I deny what you say in terms of strategy, to say nothing of basic civility: pursuing comprehensive models of existence so to, implicitly, distinguish oneself those who don’t attain such completeness is not only rude, but also a crummy way to build a political movement. However, you can be a perfectionist without acting in ways that are rude or unnecessarily counterproductive. I think a politics which doesn’t aim for a kind of perfectionism (using the term in a specific, theoretical way here) is a politics that, in the end, makes principles subservient to externalities which will generally be controlled by others.”


    we’re defining ‘perfectionism’ differently. Of course one should politically *aim* for the the true, the good, and the perfect. But one should settle for half a loaf rather than none, and one should be just as concerned with preserving the half-loaf one already has as one is in extending it. Don’t make the best the enemy of the good, and etc. Dreher is a perfectionist in *my* sense, and it manifests itself for his relative unconcern with people who have nothing at all in common with him and his disgust and hysteria for people who have lots of things in common with him but not all.

  34. greenman
    February 28, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    I’m not sure if any of us actually realize how far this crunchiness can lead. If we are to move ever closer to establishing the ideal society/utopia/Zion, then I surmise that we’re all going to have to be about as crunchy as the Rock upon which that society will be built. If the lion will lie down with the lamb and eat straw like the ox then, are we to infer that, as we strive towards perfection, we will all eventually become vegetarians, too? Is God a vegetarian? Swords into plowshares, spears into pruning-hooks. No more guns? If He came not to bring peace, but a sword, then what would Jesus bomb? Why do Mormons generally favor war in Iraq? I thought the crusades were over. Maybe the whole Middle East quagmire really is all about oil. Are we ready to replace fossil fuels with a cleaner, more economically viable method of obtaining energy? Should we push for full implementation of the economic (not to mention medicinal) properties of the hemp plant? What about abolishing the use of money altogether? Or the thought of moving beyond nation-states towards the formation of one united humanity? Anyone interested in communalism? Who can live without the thought of money and capitalism? The first assignment God gave to Adam was to dress and keep the Garden of Eden. We are to be stewards of life on this planet. We are to have dominion over the earth but that doesn’t give us the right to relentlessly capitalize on everything we see. I myself am neither liberal nor conservative. Neither Republican nor Democrat. Our calling as Saints is so far beyond all of that. I only claim to be a disciple of the Master. The Jewish carpenter, political dissident, revolutionary activist. Jesus could have been mistaken for a hippie, man.

  35. Veritas
    February 28, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    Greenman, Im right there with you.

  36. Adam Greenwood
    February 28, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    Another problem with “crunchy” conservatism. It concedes far too much ground. It acts as if libertarianism is the norm, and even tries to persuade conservatives who think it isn’t that they’re wrong. It’s fun being an insurgent but its self-indulgent when you have to create the authority you’re rebelling against in order to have your fun. Much better to realize that conservatism, like all political movements, is somewhat inchoate and can be swept along by people who are convinced that they are part of it, not apart from it. Dreher would be much better off addressing problems instead of complaining about how conservatives don’t pay enough attention to problems.

  37. Edward A. Erdtsieck
    March 2, 2006 at 8:30 am

    Russell Arben Fox,
    You’ve started a compelling discussion. After calling for a deeper exploration of the issues, which you feel was a shortcoming of Rod Dreher’s book, you wrote:

    “One could focus on the secularization and streamlining of the American culture, the flattening and homogenizing of our society and indeed our whole world under the force of the free market and modern technology, and the resulting collapse of local exceptions to dominant cultural mores . . . the increased difficulty religious communities had in preserving their cultural “borders” against temptations and corruptions available just down the road.”

    The world outside the Church is a market place for stuff and ideas. Some good and some not so good. Authority is establish by them, who own the gold and establish the value for the acquisition. You were correct in asking, what future does it have?

    Matthew [NT] wrote that Jesus Christ compared our days to a fig tree, who has young and tender branches and no fruit. At one point in His travels, He cursed such a tree and it shriveled and died.

    Our modern technology and free market is bringing many the blessings and prosperity, which may not be deserved. And in the process it causing the collapse of competing religious communities. Of course, as Mormons we are not exempt, just remember the parable of the twelve virgins and their oil lamps. I also remember, that He is a jealous God.

  38. Adam Greenwood
    March 7, 2006 at 12:52 am

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