What kind of person stays Mormon?
It seems like the strong, hardcore, rigid orthodox ones are not the kind.
I’ve been reading around (too many links to just list), and it seems to me that there are particular kinds of people, formed whether through their personality or through their life experiences. This shouldn’t be groundbreaking — we should already be able to imagine that people can have different personalities and life experiences. But one such peculiarity that I see that becomes important later on is how people are raised with relationship to the LDS church (or, I imagine, any church). This becomes important for how people will regard Mormonism and the church as an institution in the future, and what will happen to them if some troubling information comes their way. So, what drove me to write this post was one by Kevin Barney at By Common Consent.
Therein, he wrote:
I have a friend who a couple of years ago experienced a crisis of faith. He is of a scientific bent of mind, and his issues all revolved around science. I asked him what his issues were, and although I cannot now recall the complete list I remember that the first couple of items were evolution and a global flood. When he finished his issues, I felt a flush of anticipatory excitement, as I realized that I agreed with all of his newfound positions. So I thought, “This is going to be easy.” But I was quickly disabused of that notion. He had had a self perception as a thoroughly orthodox, conservative Saint. I told him “No big deal, you’re just a liberal Mormon like me.” But he didn’t want to be a liberal Mormon. I thought maybe the passage of time would ease his feelings, but after a year or so I asked him if he had come to terms with his newfound views, and he gave me a one word answer: “No.” He still goes to church for the sake of the family, but he’s an empty shell of his former self.
So that caused me to wonder. On a list of scientific issues, we had identical opinions. Yet I perceived myself as a faithful, believing, active member, and he perceived himself as some class of a heretic. What was the difference?
I think I draw a similar opinion as Kevin does — the difference is in background expectations. From John Dehlin’s posts at Mormon Stories, StayLDS, Kevin’s story or john f’s old post from BCC, or comments I’ve had elsewhere on this site, I see some patters. Many of the people who fall away from the church that I talk to (or rather, many of the ones who I hear the loudest — let’s not confuse vocal prominence with the idea that this says anything about number) are not those who didn’t believe enough in the church, as some stereotypes would say, but they are those who believed too much. And they expected too much. And when these things fell apart, that’s when everything fell apart. The church just doesn’t handle this well.
So I understand why someone like Kevin’s friend can’t just “become” a liberal Mormon. He would have to kill his past self. A humbling experience indeed.
I’m wondering if it would be possible to research commonalities in narratives. Could we determine what truly leads to apostasy in the church and change it?
Personally, though I do not believe, I’d rather see flexible liberal (or whatever word we’re going to use) Mormons who stay than rigid orthodox Mormons who, if they fall, fall hard. I do not really care for truth or falsehood in this instance — I care for pragmatism.
Yet, I also must recognize that this could be voodoo. Just as it is fallacious to say that all ex-mormons must be “hiding sin” or “just didn’t believe enough” or whatever other reason there was, in trying to find new reasons, I could be committing the same fallacies (in a self-serving way for liberal Mormons, perhaps?). For example, this discussion is foreign to me. I never “fell hard” because I never had a lofty place of unrealistically high expectations. Yet I do not post on RfM or those kinds of sites…and similarly, I am also not a liberal Mormon.
When I see liberal Christians, like John Shelby Spong, who don’t even believe in the Resurrection or in an actual god, I wonder: what is the point? Even if Mormonism or theism in general shouldn’t have all these extraneous folk beliefs people want to attach to it, there should be some “orthodox” beliefs. Perhaps, then, I do have “false” expectations of religion…you tell me: if someone doesn’t believe in God, then that shouldn’t be liberal religion of any kind.
Personally, I don’t think that is a false expectation. And I have no problem with it.