A Nevermos take on Missions
I’ll try to be polite, but the idea of going off to serve two years, without constant contact with family, paying for it yourself, is well to a nevermormon, crazy. It’s bizarre, weird behavior. And it’s one of the things that is fairly unique to Mormon culture.
It’s unique in several ways from an outsiders perspective. For one thing in nevermormon society the people who go off on missions are the most zealous and faithful members of religions. They’re almost surreal in their perspective because they’re sooo into their religion. In LDS culture the mission isn’t some bizarre thing that weirdos do. It very mainstream. In fact I would argue that it is a right of passage for men into LDS adulthood. This is what Mormons cannot understand about perception of Mormons by nevermormons. Odd behavior for nevermormons is mainstream and perfectly normal in Mormon culture. For this reason nevermormons will continue to see Mormons as a peculiar people.
Another way that the mission unique is that it is not an closed experience of a Mormon’s life. It is something that many people seem to build the whole front end of their lives around, and something that serves as a capstone on the LDS youth cycle, along with marriage and going to the Temple. I don’t include the baptism [which appears to be defacto mandatory at age 8] because it seems a formality squarely grounded in childhood. Sure it’s important, but is not a clear severing of the LDS youth away from the family such as marriage or the mission is. The mission is both a psychological and clearly physical separation period in which the men are taught self reliance and become the founding members of new family groups.
Furthermore, the mission is something that Mormon culture uses to judge men after they return, once again showing that the missionary experience beyond the mission, for once an LDS man has been a missionary, he will remain a missionary for life. It is a badge of honor for missionaries, and the lack of that badge is a permanent demerit within Mormon culture, much as people without college degrees might be looked down upon in American society. It works both good and bad. Having it is a plus, but not having it is a negative, as opposed to a neutral position. This positive/negative behavior which can lead to alot of passion over what nevermormons would consider voluntary behavior [religious missions] once again marks Mormons out as a peculiar people.