Nonconformism has a respectable history. According to Wikipedia:
Nonconformist was a term used in England after the Act of Uniformity 1662 to refer to an English subject belonging to a non-Christian religion or any non-Anglican church. It may also refer more narrowly to such a person who also advocated religious liberty. The term is also applied retrospectively to English Dissenters (such as Puritans and Presbyterians) who violated theAct of Uniformity 1559, typically by practising or advocating radical, sometimes separatist, dissent with respect to the Established Church.
Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers (founded in 1648), and those less organized were considered Nonconformists at the time of the 1662 Act of Uniformity. Later, as other groups formed, they were also considered Nonconformists. These included Methodists, Unitarians, and members of the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army! It’s hard to believe they were once considered a radical group. But it’s hard to argue with history – although some will try.
In this posting I will try to show that a new conformity has gripped America – all the more insidious because few are aware of it. It might be called the conformity of corporatism: our latest religion. One of the dogmas of this new religion is uncritical acceptance. Of what? Of itself, of course.
One of the hallmarks of modern society was critical thinking. And one of the hallmarks of a non-modern society has always been uncritical acceptance of the way things are. This is the kind of society America became in the Fifties. I can remember it well – and I certainly did not like it. And it has taken me this long to understand what was going on. It was simply a return to normalcy: to a non-modern world – the world mankind has lived in most of its existence.
This new world, the post-modern world, is different, however: it has the latest technologies, but the oldest social structures: repressive and hierarchical. In other words: like China, which has concentrated on increasing wealth, but neglected human values entirely. This is the wave of the future: 1984 with a twist Orwell could not not possibly have anticipated – since it depended on technologies that had not yet been invented.
Allow me to illustrate how this change worked with an example from my own history: its effect on the church I was born in, and which all my family, expect myself, still believes in – even though it now longer exists in its previous form. Back in the Forties, it still believed it was the one true church, that all the others were wrong, and it was going to save the world! Modest pretensions, but not uncommon for the time Mormonism appeared: the early 19th Century. At the time, all kinds a strange religions flourished: the Shakers, for example. These were not tolerant times: the founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, was killed by an angry mob. But nevertheless all kinds of deviant behavior existed – including prominent free-thinkers, such as Emerson and Thoreau.
America was becoming more democratic all the time. The slaves were freed and women got the right to vote. This progress stopped late in that same century with growing power of industrialization and capitalism. Populism and the union movement tried to stop it, but were unsuccessful. In the next century, the New Deal tried to stop it, but was also unsuccessful.
After WWII, everything changed. Financial independence, via the small business, especially the family farm, was no longer possible, and Americans were forced to work for large organizations, where they became organization people: something new for Americans – but something most embraced eagerly. One side-effect of this change was complete conformity – which they accepted uncritically.
This sea-change made our little church (the Missouri Mormons) unacceptable, and it had to stop being non-conformist – which it is not done very well.
“But what about the Mormons,” you may ask, “How come they are so successful? They are certainly different.” Yes, they are, but they are different with a difference, one that allowed them to survive, and even thrive. After they went to Utah they were a different as they could be – but they gradually woke up and decided to join America after all: they accepted the inevitable, and became as conservative as they could be: the ideal employees for the new economy. Companies, and especially all our security agencies, love to hire them: they are hard-working and honest. Even Howard Hughes spend his last days with them. A Mormon will never be president, they are still considered too strange for that. But they are the fastest-growing church in America – and you can’t argue with success in America.