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Read this post: In the world, but not of the world.

April 1, 2012

Over at My Lone, but Not-So-Dreary World, Sarah has captured what (I believe) is the quintessential post/former/cultural Mormon experience. Read the entire post for sure, but I’ll just post an excerpt:

…I feel so disjointed. I am connected to the non-Mormon world by values and pursuits; and I am connected to the Mormon world by language, understanding and long-ingrained habits (e.g. modesty). Yet rather than feel at home with one group or the other – I just feel out-of-place with both. I feel like a refugee and an imposter. And I feel sad.

What is so crushing about this sentiment is that for so many people, leaving the church was about pursuing authenticity. And I know that there are some people who will call authenticity a kind of modern, feel-good, no-demands mushiness. Instead of authenticity, others would say that we should follow a duty that comes from outside ourselves and calls us out — demanding that we exit our comfort zones to become something we are not. To become something that, when we think about it, we are afraid of it. Isn’t that how the ego preserves itself? By causing us to identify with it and to fear its annihilation?

But, as I was saying, leaving the church was about pursuing authenticity. we thought that we could pursue our values and not let them be subsumed by what the church told us our values should be. We thought we could meet with like-minded persons and find a place that we actually fit in, because for us, the church wasn’t that place.

But I think too many people learn what Sarah learned. It’s not that we feel at home with the one group and feel ill at ease with the other. Nope. We just feel out-of-place with both. We are refugees and imposters.

I think when faithful or active members of the church (the two are not completely overlapping sets) say things like, “They leave the church, but can’t leave it alone,” they are looking at things too simply. (And I have a feeling that my “most vocal opponent” or whatever he’s calling himself these days, will comment on this.) They think that someone’s continued engagement with Mormonism — either after they’ve begun identifying as “former,” “post,” or even just “unorthodox” or “uncorrelated” — means that they are secretly faithful orthodox members just waiting to be discovered…diamonds in the rough.

But here’s the problem. Many of these members already didn’t fit in with the church when they were active or orthodox…and now that they’ve gone through whatever falling out event that they’ve gone through, there’s not an easy way to “go back.” You can melt an ice sculpture into a puddle…but the puddle retains no memory of what it was when it was ice…and so even if you can try to refreeze something, it won’t be a sculpture.

At the same time, there is no question that growing up in the church means that you interact with the world in a different way than people who have never interacted with Mormonism will. So, just because you leave doesn’t mean that you’ll be fluent in non-Mormon ways of thinking. Ex-Mormons have to learn how to fit in non-Mormon situations. That’s why there can be entire episodes of podcasts devoted to teaching people about alcohol.

People keep telling me that many things are “an acquired taste.” Most alcoholic beverages are “an acquired taste.” Coffee and tea too. Isn’t it so strange that these physical things that differentiate Mormonism from non-Mormonism…they relate to “acquired tastes?” So, it’s not like there is a default way of doing things, and then if you’re Mormon, you’re the weird one. Rather, it’s that being Mormon and being non-Mormon are weird in their own ways…you have to learn both. You have to learn to appreciate both. Sometimes, you don’t quite learn to appreciate either. It’s just that one is a bit more popular than the other.

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6 Comments
  1. Seth R. permalink

    I guess I just always assumed that real authenticity (and not the mushy fad notions people have about it) would involve a lot of trials and suffering.

    Doesn’t it always?

  2. Seth,

    I guess if I had to put it in a different way, it would be to say that I had always assumed that authenticity would be something I recognized when I found it. So it wouldn’t have to be easy or come without trial…I just thought that when you saw the goal…your goal…then you would know that no matter how far the distance, no matter how numerous or how fierce the trials, you would KNOW that it would be worth it. Because you had a real idea that you could, with enough effort, reach that goal.

  3. Seth R. permalink

    I don’t know.

    I’m not sure I agree with that – that finding authenticity is always obvious to the person who pulls it off, that it’s clear cut with no nuances and nagging doubts.

  4. then it seems like it’s meaningless.

    maybe that’s the point.

  5. Thanks so much for your insights. I wrote it trying to make sense of my feelings. Your post opened my eyes to how my experiences yesterday tied into my past/present pursuit of authenticity…much appreciated food for thought.

    • I should add, pursuit of authenticity *and belonging*, whatever that means…

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