Ex-Mormon Narratives: A lazy review
A little gmail birdie sent me news of Seth Payne’s report/study/paper on Ex-Mormon Narratives.
I thought about reviewing and critiquing point by point (instead of expecting all of you to read it all), but laziness won out, and I would rather you just read the paper. My main problem (and this seems to be my eternal problem) is that I don’t really feel represented by the same people who go to Recovery from Mormonism…At least, I hope I’m not that whiny.
Anyway, the idea was to try to classify the narratives of a sample of ex-Mormon not as an investigation into factual problems of the church (since the narratives could be understandably way off base in actually telling of problems…and I can accept this, seeing as it happens on all sides), but rather as insight of the narrative perspectives of ex-Mormons. Blah blah blah, it’s all explained in the paper.
But really, the reason I have to write an entry is because of the bomb Payne drops:
This study should focus our attention on the social and cultural estrangement aspects of Mormon apostasy first and foremost. As I have illustrated above, the narratives themselves seem to be driven by an estrangement process both doctrinal and social. I believe that we, as liberal and intellectual Mormons are partially to blame for perpetuating these feelings of estrangement.
For too long we have been marginal to Mormon culture and have conceived of ourselves as “the other.” In many cases, we have defined ourselves by what we are not and by what we do not believe, rather than as what we are and by what truths we have found. Rather than positively affirm our faith, we have often sought identity through the discovery and adoption of heterodox views. The irony of course, is that the whole notion of orthodoxy is anathema to Mormonism. There is no orthodoxy, but merely the perception thereof.
Regardless of any particular truth claim or its so-called validity, there is one observable and tangible, yet amazingly silent reality. In our midst there are those who struggle and suffer with their faith. There are those who feel alone and isolated and whose world-views are shattering regardless of how much they fast, pray, hold family home evening, or read the Book of Mormon. These saints often feel as if they are alone.
At first glance, Mormonism may give off the appearance of a homogeny of culture and belief, yet, there is a strong undercurrent of lively discussion, debate, belief, and conversation involving a wide-range of Latter-day Saints who may or may not accept all of modern Mormonism’s unique truth claims. I believe that we, who are engaged in this conversation are called to make our faith manifest to kindred spirits – to validate their struggle, to share our experiences, our doubts, and our love. Recently, one first-time attendee of Sunstone West commented on his blog: “Sunstone attendees treated me exactly the way we hope and ask ward members to treat all newcomers.” Let us extend that experience beyond the walls of this symposium. Let us, in our unique and individual way, seek out those who need and want to hear our perspective and our testimony. May I be so bold as to call such an effort Mormon neo-Liberalism?
Within the narratives reviewed for this study, it seems that the authors believed they were presented with an either/or, black and white choice: accept Mormonism and all of its disparate truth claims; or completely reject it. Yet, many at this conference are examples of those Latter-day Saints who do not reject Mormonism altogether but revel in its paradoxes, contradictions, and challenges.
These narratives would seem to indicate that a possible difference between the ex- and liberal Mormon may be the degree to which each perceives his or her individual latitude of belief within Mormonism at-large as well as their ability to perceive Mormonism as what Armand Mauss has called a “human institution” with its inherent strengths, weaknesses, and struggles.
I definitely did not see this coming — and by this I mean the…chastising?…of liberal Mormons for their inaction. In many ways, liberal Mormons are kin to ex- and former-Mormons, because both groups recognize the paradoxes, contradictions, and challenges (although I guess ex-Mormons don’t do too much reveling over these things.)
The one things I am a bit skeptical of is how viable liberal Mormonism can be for everyone. I mean, I recognize that the church would be a much cooler place if it were like Sunstone or my favorite bloggernacle sites, but this doesn’t change the reality that at the end of the day, I do not believe in the central tenets of Mormonism or in theism at all. My viewing the Mormon church as a “‘human institution’ with its inherent strengths, weaknesses, and struggles” gives me little reason to believe, so my question to Seth and others is: if we recognize that this is a human institution, then why should we take for granted the spiritual and metaphysical claims that the church makes? Or does liberal Mormonism go so far that we need not accept those foundational claims?
Edit: Runtu also writes about the commonality of religious conversion narratives.
Update: Shameless self-promotion for my article at Mormon Matters.