At the risk of this blog becoming all Mormon underwear all the time, I want to make a final (?) comment on this topic based on something BrianX posted in response to my earlier post on Mormon’s Secret. He mentioned a site Recovery from Mormonism that serves those who are, as the site says, “Questioning their faith in the Mormon Church and for those who need support as they transition their lives to a normal life.”
In one section, someone who works in an indoor sports facility frequented by Mormons reports on what ensued following a ruling in December 2011 by the Mormon prophet that the underwear “should not be removed, either entirely or partially, to work in the yard or for other activities that can reasonably be done with the garment worn properly beneath the clothing.” In other words, the magic underwear should be worn pretty much 24/7 unless there is a compelling reason not to, and merely being hot or restricted in one’s movements does not count.
This seems to have caused a split amongst the Mormon clientele at the sports facility. Strenuous activity in the thick and constraining underwear does not seem like much fun and as a result the group has split into those who proudly conform to the edict and now show up in sweats or other long concealing garments, those who ignore the edict and still play in traditional sports attire, and those who have simply stopped showing up altogether. It appears that Mormons are pretty expert at figuring out who is wearing the underwear or not, based on telltale lines in their clothing and other clues. The post examines the friction that has arisen between the first two groups as a result of the devout looking askance at those who are not sufficiently obedient to the prophet’s wishes. The comments at the end of the post are worth reading as they shed light on the cult mentality.
What interests me is why the Mormon prophet seems to have doubled down on the underwear issue and made it even more onerous to follow. It could be that he is using in-group/out-group psychology to increase cohesion at a time when young people, traditionally rebellious about adopting the practices of their parents’ generation, are showing even greater signs of drifting away from religious beliefs altogether.
The numerous restrictions imposed by religions and cults (or do I repeat myself?) on their followers often serve the purpose of promoting greater in-group loyalty by making it hard for the in-group to mix and socialize with the out-groups. When you are strictly limited in what and when and how you can do things, it becomes a pain to plan joint activities with outsiders and easier to stick with one’s own, and some anthropologists believe that this forms the basis for some of the dietary and other restrictions imposed by religions, especially in their early days when they were small and needed to create a separate identity.
In the case of Mormons, when you forced to wear long and bulky and uncomfortable underwear and have to cover it up with clothing like sweatpants and sweatshirts, you will be highly conspicuous when you are engaged in sports and other strenuous activities with non-Mormons. It is much less awkward to do things with just other Mormons. Also, if you wear uncomfortable and constraining underwear, you are almost always aware of it and so it perhaps heightens the wearer’s awareness that he or she is first and foremost a Mormon, and thus further strengthens group identity.
All this is pure speculation on my part as to why the Mormons are so hung up on the underwear issue.
On the plus side, since the magic underwear supposedly protects the wearer from harm and can repel bullets and other weapons, Mitt Romney should, if he is a true believer and conscientiously wears his underwear, be able to dispense with Secret Service protection.
Bill Clinton was famously asked in whether he wore boxers or briefs, and actually answered the question. Barack Obama was also asked and refused to answer. George W. Bush was not asked. Will Mitt Romney be asked the same question, but with a third Mormon option thrown in?