Is “Mormon-ness” something you can see?
There is a pervasive belief in Mormon culture that Mormon-ness, often described as a “glow,” is actually an observable characteristic. Though often taken figuratively, a recent study suggests that there might be something to it.
Nicholas Rule, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, has participated in a number of studies about the judgments people make based on appearances. When he heard from a graduate student about the self-proclaimed ability of Mormons to physically recognize other Mormons, he was skeptical. He decided to put the claims to test.
What he found was surprising.
“We didn’t think it would work,” Rule, who this fall became an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, explained to the school’s paper, Tufts Journal. “Looking at two groups of faces—Mormon and non-Mormon— nothing popped out and seemed obviously different. We were really surprised when we saw that people could tell who belonged to each group.”
The same article, titled “Spotting the Faithful,” summarizes the details of the study and its results:
Rule and his colleagues obtained images of Mormon and non-Mormon men and women from online personal advertisements posted in various major cities across the United States. Search criteria were restricted to individuals 18 to 30 years old who specifically indicated either membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or membership in another non-Mormon religious organization. Only headshots were shown and the faces had no adornments. What they found was both Mormon and non-Mormon subjects were able to identify who was a Mormon more often than would occur by chance.
Rule and his colleagues then tried to isolate which specific facial feature was betraying Mormons the most. In the end, it proved difficult to determine.
“Even when the researchers removed important features, such as the [hair, shape of the face, nose,] eyes or mouth, the subjects were [still] able to identify Mormons more often than would occur by chance.”
Befuddled, they determined that Mormon- ness must be displayed in skin texture. By testing this hypothesis through statistical modeling, they found that skin texture indeed was the crucial variable in Mormon’s ability to recognize one another.
Why might Mormons have a different skin texture than others? Rule hypothesizes that Mormon’s strict code of health, the Word of Wisdom, may be “reliably communicated” through their skin.
Unaided by such research, statements from Mormon leaders would explain this phenomena a different way.
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Brigham Young reportedly said, “‘Mormonism’ keeps men and women young and handsome; and when they are full of the Spirit of God, there are none of them but what will have a glow upon their countenances; and that is what makes you and me young; for the Spirit of God is with us and within us.”
Elder Parley P. Pratt spoke similarly of the beautifying physical effect of having the gift of the Holy Ghost.
“The gift of the Holy Ghost … develops beauty of person, form, and features,” Pratt wrote.” It invigorates all the faculties of the physical … man. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.”
More recently, Elder James E. Faust gave a talk called “The Light In Their Eyes.” In this talk he told the following fascinating story:
“I recently recalled a historic meeting in Jerusalem about 17 years ago. It was regarding the lease for the land on which the Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies was later built. Before this lease could be signed, President Ezra Taft Benson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, agreed with the Israeli government on behalf of the Church and the university not to proselyte in Israel. You might wonder why we agreed not to proselyte. We were required to do so in order to get the building permit to build that magnificent building which stands in the historic city of Jerusalem. To our knowledge the Church and BYU have scrupulously and honorably kept that non-proselyting commitment. After the lease had been signed, one of our friends insightfully remarked, ‘Oh, we know that you are not going to proselyte, but what are you going to do about the light that is in their eyes?’ He was referring to our students who were studying in Jerusalem.”
In effect, Mormon leaders (both past and present) have suggested that members of the faith look different because of the effect that God’s spirit has upon them. They believe that His godliness “rubs off” on them as they have experiences with God and as they become more like him
Then again, if Young suggests that Mormonism makes men and women young and handsome, does any evidence exists that Mormons are more beautiful than non-Mormons?
Brigham Young University, a private Mormon university, has been recognized on collegeprowler.com as having the “hottest students in the nation.” (It should be recognized, however, that the rankings done on collegeprowler.com were determined by surveys provided by the students attending the ranked universities themselves. This ranking, therefore, could really be a reflection of Mormon wishful-thinking rather than objective commentary on their beauty.)
Another silly indicator of Mormon beauty can be discovered by typing in the words “why are” into a Google search and waiting for Google predictive search to suggest the most popular searches beginning with these words. They are these:
- Why are manhole covers round?
- Why are Mormons so nice?
- Why are Mormons so hot?
- Why are flamingos pink?
That’s right—more curious to Google-ers than the mysterious pinkness of flamingos (but less curious than the shape of manhole covers?) is the niceness and hot-ness of Mormons.
But not all people have recognized the unique beauty that comes to Mormons through Mormonism. On a tour to Salt Lake City, Mark Twain satirically justified the moral propriety of polygamy with a tongue-in- cheek insult towards Mormon women.
“[I had a desire to reform polygamy] until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically ‘homely’ creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, ‘No—the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure—and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.”