Have you ever wondered why disaffected, ex-, post and former Mormons often are such neurotic people with miserable lives? After leaving the church, many of their marriages fall apart. Many lose all sense of morality, but what’s even worse, they aren’t even good at being non-Mormons. They do not have the basic competencies of adult functioning.
In fact, if you look at the skills that post-Mormons often must learn after leaving the church, it may strike you that the adult ex-Mormon actually seems like a child. Most recently, Newsweek had an article discussing what happens When the Saints Go Marching Out. However, this has not been an isolated phenomenon. People have written articles in national publications (such as Nicole Hardy’s Single, Female, Mormon, Alone in the New York Times)…articles that have enough content to be stretched into books reviewed by national publications, even, about their infantile state as a Mormon (or not-quite-so-Mormon-anymore) adult.
What could be the reasons for this debilitation? Although one could theorize many contributing factors, I will analyze the Newsweek article (since it is the most recent documentation of this phenomenon) and offer the top reason.
Someone posted this article on discrimination against non-Mormons in Southern Utah in a Facebook group I read, but upon reading a particular quote, I thought the article was instead about why Utah falls for multi-level marketing/pyramid scheme frauds.
Kevin Hansen, a local contractor who is a Mormon, said he believes Mormon people are, on average, more trustworthy than non-Mormons. He said he doesn’t see a big problem with favoring LDS people in business dealings.
“People who practice this faith and believe this religion are different,” he said. “We start from youth to believe in the Ten Commandments.” He went on to discuss the discipline and work ethics Latter-day Saint men and women learn on their missions.
“We freely put ourselves through that kind of scrutiny to be members in good standing,” he said. “If there’s a confessional in some other church – well, that’s totally voluntary. We confess once every two years as adults that are temple worthy.”
That good ole Mormon sense of discernment always saves the day, don’t it?
My post last week at Wheat & Tares on the 4 Reasons Disaffected Mormons Become Atheists has been popular indeed…in addition to a response from Jeff, it has now gotten a response from Hawkgrrrl, where she adeptly blends in the pop science reporting of Malcolm Gladwell to provide a narrative for why certain issues within Mormonism may affect people differently. In particular, Hawkgrrrl addresses Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Gladwell summarizes research describing differential reactions to World War II bombings in the UK. Three groups are highlighted, as Hawkgrrrl posts:
- Those directly killed. While there are some who are immediate casualties, and clearly they have the most severe impact, it is not their loss, but the reaction of the survivors that affects the psychological reaction of the group. These folks actually cease to influence the community, or as MacCurdy callously (yet accurately) put it ‘corpses don’t spread panic.’
- The near misses. In a bombing, these are the people who feel the blast, see the destruction, are horrified by the carnage, may even be seriously wounded but not killed. They survive, but are deeply impressed by the experience. In these cases, their “impression” reinforces a fear reaction associated with bombing. They are usually jumpy, dazed, preoccupied with the horrors of what they saw and may experience PTSD. This is the reaction leaders expected to prevail in the wake of the bombings.
- The remote misses. These are the people who listen to the sirens, hear the bombs, and even see the explosions in the distance, but they are not personally injured or often close enough to be blown off their feet by the blasts. Psychologically, the consequences to these survivors are the exact opposite of the near miss group. Their survival comes with an excitement associated with the attack and a feeling of invulnerability. A near miss leaves you traumatized, but a remote miss makes you believe you are invincible.
Hawkgrrrl applies these categories to disaffected Mormons via her experience at StayLDS.
While working on the StayLDS board, I have noticed that people come to the forum with different issues: Joseph Smith, polygamy, treatment of homosexuals, political discourse at church, racism, sexism, boredom, depression, ecclesiastical abuse. Invariably, the issues they are dealing with are incredibly important to them. But those same issues are not equally important to every participant in the forum.
For a quick example, a recent discussion was started by a woman who was rattled by the overt sexism in the temple ceremony. While a few of the men agreed that they disliked the sexism inherent in the temple, nearly all the women agreed that it was a big concern for them, one that created a lot of personal hurt and disaffection, and several stated it was one of their core issues. Perhaps understandably, the men who expressed empathy simply didn’t consider this to be a core issue for them. For the women in the discussion, sexism was a near miss. For the men, it was a remote miss. In this case, these were men who had also experienced near misses of their own, just not on that topic.
I find this to be an intriguing way of looking at certain aspects of disaffection, especially on social issues. However, any scroll down a disaffected Mormon website will reveal more than gay folks who are disaffected because of the LDS church’s anti-LGBT stances, political liberals who are stifled by conservative political discourse at church, or feminists who fight against institutionalized sexism. There are people who experience privilege along racial, gender, orientation, and other lines at church…yet who are still disaffected by issues in history. How can one say that tragedies that occurred 200 years ago, or dubious historical classes over a millennium ago, are close enough to be “near misses”? Read more…
My question to you is simple:
“How do you handle the fact that almost everyone in your life, at one time or another, has lied, mislead, withheld information or deliberately deceived you in some way?”
Starting with your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your friends and acquaintances, your teachers, your employers, the clerks in the store, institutions, and on and on. Chances are, they have not been totally honest and forthcoming about every aspect of their lives or having to do with their interactions with you.
For example, how did you deal with the fact that your parents lied to you about Santa Claus, or where babies came from, or withheld certain unflattering facts about their lives? Did you divorce them from your lives? Did they stop being your parents? In some rare cases, the answer might be “Yes.”
But, usually, you just dealt with the fact that they weren’t perfect and moved on. Maybe your respect for them diminished slightly, but they were still your parents.
This can be applied to every other person or institution in your life.
In short, ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God. So, how do you reconcile that from the rejection of the Church for committing the same sins and omissions?
I’m not so sure the analogy works:
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the implications of Mormons continuing to use the 15-million church statistic in every-day use. That there are many disaffected Mormons on the church records is itself a topic worth many points, but recently, someone asked why so many disaffected Mormons become atheists rather than simply removing the Book of Mormon from their rotation and sticking to the Bible as Christians.
This is a question I see a lot, so I wanted to discuss why I think the transition from Mormonism to traditional Christianity isn’t as seamless as many might think. At Wheat & Tares, I have proposed 4 reasons why disaffected Morm0ns become atheists. Read more…
The post that I am responding to really doesn’t centralize the size of the church at all — it is really a quite thoughtful (though I disagree with much of it), lengthy discussion of the roles and purposes of marriage (especially in light of the recent legal decisions that have made same sex marriage a reality in Utah). I apologize from the start for doing such a disservice to James here for referring to such a tangential matter here, but I just wanted to talk about how one casually mentioned statistic really derailed the rest of the article for me.
First, the article: Three Reflections on Same-Sex Marriage in Utah.
Second, the part I found problematic:
Now, I am not saying a state government couldn’t choose to encourage the formation of such “extended nuclear families.” But it seems clear to me that Judge Shelby’s assertion that same-sex marriage will not affect the culture of marriage and procreation in any way is naïve even in light of the limited data sets we have for same-sex marriages so far. Same-sex marriages are not interchangeable with post-menopausal marriages. The biological realities and their long term cultural implications are fundamentally different.
How did Judge Shelby miss that possibility? Probably because he has thought a lot more about law in and of itself than about culture—and the complex relationships between law and culture.
As it happens, many of the very people whose positions Judge Shelby ruled as having no rational basis have spent significantly more time thinking about the culture of marriage than he has. Recent Pew Research indicates that Latter-day Saints are far more likely than average Americans to rank marriage and parenthood as top life priorities. Utah’s population, as it happens, is heavily influenced by people with a strong culture (by American standards) of marriage and procreation within marriage.
In fact, if we were to assume that there is no God, Latter-day Saint leaders are people who on their own and without any divine help guide a community of fifteen million people with a strong culture of marriage and procreation within marriage. From a secular standpoint, LDS Church leaders ought to be considered among the world’s top authorities on how to maintain such a culture and ought to have a respected voice in the public sphere on issues involving family and procreation.
I want to talk about what the 15-million membership count means to me.
One way you could take a look at it is just to dismiss it: Whether we assume a God or no God, Latter-day Saint leaders are not people who help guide a community of fifteen million people with a strong culture of marriage and procreation within marriage.
However, I want to take an alternative approach. After all, I’m a big tent kind of guy. I will concede the 15-million number, but say this: if you want to take the 15 million number, then the story you must tell with this number must change. If you take the reports from this meeting seriously, then according to emeritus Presiding Bishop of the Church, H. David Burton, you can only count 36% of the number as serious, active Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church Growth blog has been independently estimating church activity rates, and came up with 30% worldwide activity in 2011.
And what does this all mean?
Recently, I was linked to a blog post provocatively titled: “A Little Study Will Lead You Out of the Church; A Lot of Study Will Bring You Back.” I think you should certainly read the article, so don’t just rely on my summary, but I would summarize Carl’s argument by presenting how he sees the disaffection process within Mormonism:
In my limited, personal experience, the reason a lot of people leave the church is as follows, or at least their story follows a kind of general pattern reproduced here (I’m not claiming to speak for anybody in particular, just noting the general pattern that I’ve seen, so if you’re reading this and you don’t fit the pattern exactly don’t freak out on me):
1. They are born into the church/are converted.
2. They live many wonderful blissful years enjoying the fellowship of the Latter-day Saints.
3. They go through the correlated curriculum, probably several times depending on the length of time this stage takes.
4. They fulfill callings. Bishops. Relief Society Presidents. EQ Presidents. Gospel Doctrine teachers. Full-time missionaries. One Area Authority 70. Etc.
5. At some point they discover that some of the things they have been taught over and over in the church are not entirely accurate, or at least represent a very much watered-down version of church history. This usually happens nowadays because of the internet.
6. They frantically do some more research, trying to disprove these new “facts.” They can find nothing official from the church on these various issues.
7. Because these new facts are, in fact, true, their minds are completely blown.
8. If they try to talk to someone about these new facts, those facts are typically labeled “anti-Mormon” and the concerns of these people are dismissed. Their personal worthiness might be brought into question. They are told to read, pray, and study more.
9. Because, again, these new facts are actually true, none of step 8 actually addresses any of the root problem, and further serves to drive them to silence and to drive their newfound doubts underground, where they fester.10. Because they now know all these facts, church becomes a substantially less fulfilling place to be. In fact, it seems so watered down and false that they begin to think “the church has lied to me about this. In fact, the church is lying to me, and everybody else, right now!”
11. After some time, the person decides that their personal code of ethics demands that they adhere to reality more than adhere to the church as they once saw it. So they leave.
But because Carl has done a deeper dive into these many issues using church-supportive sources, he has experienced an alternative route — that of adjusting paradigms, breaking the “overdeveloped sense of what it means to be a prophet or apostle.” Read more…
Instead of giving much thought at all to Thanksgiving (or the anniversary of this blog, which is sometime around this time, I think?), I have thought about religion. But more specifically, what makes religion work for the majority of its adherents? What makes religion attractive for the majority of its adherents?
And, in contrast, what makes religion fail to work for those who do not believe and/or those who do not practice? What makes religion repulsive?
In thinking about this, I can’t help but use Mormonism as a framework. I have a friend, Jared Anderson, who often says that his ideal for religion is that it might become so good it doesn’t need to be true. What does this mean, though?
In the context of Mormonism, I can say that it doesn’t seem likely that the Pandora’s box of anthropology, Egyptology, or population genetics is going to close up. (Not that these are super pressing matters to me, but still.) To put it in another way, it seems unlikely to me that I’m going to become persuaded to believing the Book of Mormon because I think of it as a literal history, or the Book of Abraham because I think it is a conventional translation. At the same time, I recognize that for many religious adherents, religious truth is more than (or perhaps, separate from) a discussion about what stuff exists in a physical sense.
Still, at the end of the day, even if I try to discuss Mormonism apart from what stuff exists in a physical sense (did a person name “Nephi” ever travel from ancient Israel to the Americas?), I’m not so sure if, for me, the truth claims that are “more than” or “separate from” those things persuade me either.
The basic problem is this: In addition to not finding Mormonism (or other religions) to be factual, I don’t typically find religions to be relevant to me.
Earlier this month, over at Millennial Star (trigger warning: Millennial Star post), ldsphilosopher wrote a post about responding to heresy and apostasy. Because ldsphilosopher’s post addressed President Uchtdorf’s Come, Join With Us talk from General Conference, I subconsciously related it with my own earlier post asking religious people: why do you go to church? If you recall, I didn’t address much of believing in the orthodoxy, because I was speaking out to the marginalized and fringe of 21st century Mormonism. Instead, I talked about the sense that where many see their churches as a place where one can be vulnerable and open, I don’t really see this a lot in Mormonism. Mormonism for fringe Mormons is more of a place to learn to bear things silently…which if that’s something you can find value in, then great, but understandably, if you’re looking for more openness, personal authenticity, and self-disclosure, then you might make different choice.
So, I was interested in hearing what ldsphilosopher had to say.
The basic tension ldsphilosopher is seeking to discuss in his post is the tension of having diversity of thought and belief in the church, while also having positions on orthodoxy. To snip from the post:
How do we respond to those who don’t just see things differently, but see things differently in a way that clearly contradicts established, core Church teachings? Is this diversity that we should celebrate and encourage? Or is this heresy that should be discouraged? Note: I’m not talking about being a Democrat. I’m not talking about believing that the lost tribes of Israel were abducted by aliens. I’m talking about central issues like the law of chastity, the Proclamation on the Family, the immorality of elective abortion, etc., and I’m defining these as “central” issues because they are what prophets and apostles have recently expressed concern about in recent conferences. Are they core doctrines in the same sense that the Atonement of Christ is? Maybe, maybe not — but when Elder Oaks and Elder Nelson explicitly say that Latter-day Saints cannot condone same-sex relationships, I feel like they are sending a clear message.
The basic way that ldsphilosopher answers this question is to distinguish between “heresy” and “apostasy”. Read more…
The past few weeks in the Mormon world (and especially the fringey internet Mormon world) have experienced thousands going through the anticipation, the experience, and the disappointment of General Conference. I’m too late to add much new to most of the conversations…especially conversations about the assertion of radical self-respect from Ordain Women. Someone wrote on Facebook that General Conference seemed to them to be the weekend when the church undid all the positives that had built up in the prior six months on progressive issues — however limited or narrow those positives might have been.
And in some sense, that seems to be an accurate assessment, at least to me. As a moderator to a fringey internet Mormon facebook group, we want the conversations to be more than anger and disappointment, but at some sense, whatever wounds that existed before are going to keep getting reopened each General Conference. That’s the nature of the situation.
In a private message board that is completely unrelated to Mormonism, someone created a topic asking, “Religious people, why do you go to church?”
The message board in question leans far on the areligious, atheistic side, so the topic did not attract many comments, but I found two comments that were submitted to be quite interesting:
There are a few reasons. Being surrounded by fellow Christians in a positive environment feels good. Not thinking about crap going on in your life feels good. Singing and praising GOD leaves you with a warm feeling inside and gets your mind off of negative things.
That is, at least, my Christian perspective of it.
I was extremely involved in the church until about halfway through college. And not just “I went to meet the requirements blah blah blah”… I truly believed I had a beautiful relationship with the maker of the universe. And I gave god all the credit for everything.
A lot of it is BS…but the catharsis of certain things… Most places aren’t like this but I was in an environment where it was safe to be completely vulnerable in your struggles. Support from fellow Christians and the pure empathy and non judging atmosphere was incredible.
I left the Church due to a life long journey of trying to understand the Bible. When I got into college I dug too deep and it left me deeply disturbed by the Americanized version and Biblical attitude.
Which has left me agnostic for the most part.
Fortunately I have found a solid group of people who,yes, are a tad more cynical but care about me just the same. And am treated differently by those very people. So it was an illusion I suppose.
I do still long for the catharsis though…I know it’s an insane and maladaptive by product but that is probably something that I will never not crave.
What I find interesting (especially about the second one) is the sense of this benefit (safety in the presence of other believers) that is conditional (as the commenter has shifted beliefs, he is treated differently.) This raises a seeming contradiction — it was safe to be completely vulnerable in his struggles, but when the struggles were doubts about religious tenets and interpretations, then not so much.