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Leave the church but can’t leave it alone (redux)

February 18, 2009

So, there’s been this idea of people who leave the church but can’t leave it alone (it’s in my blog’s very byline, right). And it’s been interesting to see how people jump to these very interesting (and very off) conclusions about why people might do such a thing. Some answers are that ex-Mormons (or ex-anythin, really) must feel “guilty” because they know the “truthfulness of the gospel” but are turning away from it. And as a result, they have to be fixated on it. On a blog I’ve recently found, one commenter seemed to capture the essence of what some people *really* believe about ex-mormons or atheists. I’ll post it:

I’m curious why people who leave the church always go to the polar opposite end of the spectrum and want to take everyone with them. I suppose misery loves company…so that’s understandable. What I cannot even fathom is how one would ever think there is no Father in Heaven. Whether you’re LDS or not, if you can look at the beauty in nature or hold your new born baby in your arms and not believe there is a loving, generous Creator, you really have learned nothing.

I try to answer this simply each time, but this one has a few parts to answer…first of all is the answer to the question…why would someone not leave the church alone when they leave it? I mean, there are certainly many ex-mormon blogs that just go on and on about the church. Some ex-mormons may become anti-mormon. Some may become angry.

Now, while this completely ignores all the ex-mormons who do not go on the internet and talk about it incessantly (you don’t notice those guys because, by definition, they aren’t talking about it)…I think I can explain simply why people leave but don’t leave it alone.

Mormonism is a culture. It’s something people grow up with. It’s a pervasive aspect of one’s life…I’d think it’s sometimes more pervasive than national identity (but maybe that’s just because I’ve lived in multiple countries and so I don’t have a strong geographic location, but I’ve always been Mormon). So, when they leave the church, that doesn’t mean they go to a blank slate. No, they still have culture, personality, habits. This does not speak to the truthfulness of doctrine, however, so one can’t say, “Ah, that guilt is your conscience!” If one has a pervading desire to smoke even after quitting…that’s doesn’t say anything other than the mere fact that they still have a physiological dependency to work out.

So, the next question? Why does it seem like a lot of ex-mormons are angry? Well…consider this: ex-Mormons feel betrayed, lied to, scammed or duped. If you are a member who cannot understand how anyone could feel the church had lied to them…imagine if some person very close to you deceived you. What if your significant other were unfaithful? You wouldn’t just say, “Oh, I’ll be over it the day after the divorce.” It would linger with you, and you’d be indignant for quite a while after. Or what if a relative died?

Now, getting into the heart of what K.B. says…she would like to say that ex-mormons always end up miserable. After all, since they are always ranting and raving and trying to pull people away from the church, it must be a sign that they are miserable, right? And there have been many people who have talked about the “bitter fruits of apostasy.”

And yet…this is a misrepresentation. While there are certainly cases of people who leave the church and screw it up…the reason people leave in the first place is because of misery. So they leave the source of their misery (their church environment), and work on finding happiness. But as the stained glass of their old culture shatters into a million shards, they have to slowly suffer while they take each shard out of their flesh. So, leaving the church is an extended process. A painful process. But one that tries to go from unhappiness to happiness.

So, if people try to brings others with them, it’s because they want them to leave the source of misery, limitation, restriction, and denial. They want their friends to leave that which does not affirm joy and instead affirms some future, supernatural goal. Perhaps if anything, the error of excess of some ex-Mormons or atheists is in reasoning that there can be no joy found in religion (just because they don’t find joy or truth in it).

This gets to the end of K.B.’s message…why would someone become atheist? LDS or not, she says, it’s *clear* or so she things that you can see God’s handiwork. I think that Michelle (the original author) answered this well in a followup article, but to summarize: this universe is far to exceptional to be either good or bad. For every instance of profound goodness we can find, we can find profound badness. We need not be pessimistic and think the universe is out to get us, or be optimistic and think there is a kind and caring god. At most charitable, I can idealize that there *could* be a creator who utterly doesn’t care and is disengaged, but at best, it’s more reasonable to not believe. You can’t necessarily see God in a newborn child, because you should instead focus in on the newborn child. But just as well, when a disaster strikes, you need not blame God for not being merciful, but just recognize the awesome power of a neutral nature.

UPDATE: BHodges has done meticulous research on the origins of the terms.

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13 Comments
  1. I couldn’t resist leaving a little comment for KB:

    Whether you’re LDS or not, if you can look at the beauty of presents under a tree and not believe there is a loving, generous Santa Claus, you really have learned nothing.

  2. Todd permalink

    Here are a few reasons I can’t leave it alone. First, my entire extended family. That’s a big reason. I care about how the church influences them, for better and for worse.

    Second, Mormon culture is part of my identity, both to myself and to my friends (who were very confused by Proposition 8: “I thought Mormons were supposed to be nice like you” was the theme on which I heard a thousand variations last year. I want Mormon culture to be something I can be proud of.

    Third, Mormon culture has the potential to affect the wider American culture significantly. See: MX Missile Project. If President Hinkley had spoken against American use of torture like President Kimbal spoke against the MX Missile, that would probably have doubled the number of Republican senators speaking out against torture. Instead, we went on a crusade against gay marriage. I would like to see the substantial energy of Mormon culture directed towards more useful goals. The wasted potential is painful.

    Fourth, Mormon cosmology has provided a rich framework for my own ethical growth, and although I no longer believe in the existence of God, I still find it natural, and useful, to discuss moral and ethical questions in terms of Mormon theology–especially, of course, when conversing with my Mormon family.

    Those are the first few things that came to mind; I’m sure I could go on, but I won’t.

  3. I completely agree, Todd. Thanks for the comments.

  4. I have quite a few siblings and cousins who have left mormonism (all my siblings, actually). Of all of us (my siblings), I’m the only person who participates on mormon related bb’s regularly and blogs. None of them seem to be interested (which is fine).

    I don’t know if there is only one right way to leave the mormon church OR to join the mormon church, for that matter. Personally, I find former mormons and NOM much too interesting.

    Are there people who are genuinely interested in getting rid of mormonism? yes. But there is much more grey. Some people have no ill will – some people went back to mormonism. Everyone seems to be living one day at a time, following their conscience. What more can one hope for?

  5. Well…consider this: ex-Mormons feel betrayed, lied to, scammed or duped. If you are a member who cannot understand how anyone could feel the church had lied to them…imagine if some person very close to you deceived you. What if your significant other were unfaithful? You wouldn’t just say, “Oh, I’ll be over it the day after the divorce.” It would linger with you, and you’d be indignant for quite a while after.

    Well said. I think it is this feeling of injustice that motivates many that have problems with the LDS faith. They share what they have learned because they want others to be informed. Most LDS members are ignorant of LDS history and only know what the Church tells them. If “Joe Mormon” knew what really happened when the Church was started he would at least begin to question the current LDS Church.

    A common example of how they are ignorant of history is polygamy. Many Mormons are aware that Joseph and others lived polygamy and don’t have a problem with it because many Biblical (OT) prophets practiced it. However, they are sadly uninformed about Joseph marrying married women without their husbands knowing. They are also unaware that he may have had children by some of these women. This combine with statements by some of his wives, of which Mormons in general are unaware, make a strong case that these were not just platonic relationships but involved a sexual component too.

    The list of issues like this go on and on and on. Most Mormons have been taught that people who bring these points up are “anti-Mormon” and they should not listen to or read anything they have to say. The sad thing is that most of what is said is, at the very least, rooted in fact but they will never know that because they are instructed to not engage such people. So the person that tries to share truths about LDS history with a believer can become very frustrated because they are blown off like they don’t know what they are talking about, when the reality of the situation is that the person blowing them off has no clue about their own history. It’s a difficult bridge to gap and thus the informer (ex-MO, Anti-Mo, whatever) is viewed as a raving, angry person by the true believer.

  6. Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog! I appreciate the comment and post shout-out 🙂

    Nice “meeting” you!

  7. The LDS culture is not a compatible environment for the LGBT community. Up until the convenient revelation in ’78 for blacks to receive the priesthood, LDS culture was not exactly inviting for them either.

    I believe the LDS faith will either become more extreme and more bizarre, or they will try to align themselves with more main-stream sentiment. Regardless, membership is declining faster than even the most fervent baby-makers can keep producing. It’s a dying religion, and personally, it can’t die fast enough.

  8. This was a fantastic post, simply because I agree with pretty much all of it. 😉 Being one of those Mormons who has left the Church but doesn’t seem to be able to leave it alone, I imagine that I’ll start getting comments like this on my site too.

    The thing that really gets me is the fact that true-believing Mormons expect you to leave the LDS Church alone when you exit, and yet they do not see that in conflict with them going out and preaching the gospel to anyone who will sit still long enough.

    So it’s great for them to push their beliefs on others, but heaven forbid that “the others” try to share their beliefs in return?

    Secondly, who is forcing them to read ex-Mormon sites anyway? Unlike missionaries who go out and knock on doors and force themselves on unsuspecting people who really just wanted to sit and drink their morning coffee, ex-Mormon blogs are only found if someone is looking for them. So if you are offended by reading an ex-Mormon blog you might want to simply not look! (I know, it’s an awfully strange idea, but I had to throw it out there anyway.)

    Great site – I shall be back!

  9. Thanks, Lyoness, for your comments! I guess even though having to respond to people constantly when they ask why we don’t “leave it alone” can be tedious, but it’s important to provide a clearer image of ex-Mormons. Your points are true (haha, but then again, we already were pretty much in agreement) — how are we supposed to “leave the church alone” when we may still have family and friends in the church and when the church still is socially and politically active (and presses against nonbelievers)?

  10. You might be interested in this overview of the phrase and where it seems to have originated:

    http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2008/08/they-leave-church-but-cant-leave-it.html

  11. That’s for the link

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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