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What kind of person stays Mormon?

July 21, 2009

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.

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  1. I was one of those Mormons with high expectations who fell hard (and picked myself up, thank you very much).
    For me, I couldn’t in good conscience stay in a group that claimed to be fully true when I believed that claim to be a farce. So, I still have a really hard time relating to liberal Mormons. I fail to see the point.

    However, I have a passing familiarity with Unitarian Universalism and I do see a point there, even thou almost all UU folk lack a belief in God. Their religion isn’t seeking God in so many words. Each individual has their own reasons, but UU helps people build a community where they can search for meaning, connectedness, truth, etc. It serves many of the traditional purposes of religion without pushing a theistic agenda.

    However, Mormonism—the doctrines and the culture—seem so bent on a rigid patriarchal, authoritarian, conservative agenda that I wonder what is so worthwhile in Mormonism that liberal folk stay and fight against the stream.

  2. The problem with Kevin’s position is that it’s still letting the “fundamentalists” set the agenda. We START from the position of the fundamentalists, and then tell them to “lighten up.”

    This is why “liberal Mormonism” is not going to succeed. It provides nothing to follow. It gets all it’s reference points from the “conservative” view. But it offers no new leadership. And ultimately, it’s just “settling” for something less than you had before.

    I was only half-joking in the comment-thread when I suggested that we just call the LDS conservatives heretics and be done with it.

    None of this, “your problem is that you take things too seriously.” Human experience is to feel passion. To take things seriously.

    Napoleon said that “great men are like meteors, designed to burn so that the world may be lighted.” And in some sense, we all feel this.

    The desire for greatness and excellence is in the heart of every human soul. Religion speaks to this human need. Day to day, we have to live in the world. We have to eat, we have to use the bathroom, we have to sleep, and otherwise live in humiliation. But we all have a sense that these mundane realities, these humiliations, are not what define us. We believe we transcend all that.

    “Getting real” didn’t envision the Cathedral of Nortre Dame, or the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It didn’t write War and Peace, or compose Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. It didn’t create the other great works of thought, art, music, and even politics that illuminate human history. Greatness occurs when a person transcends the mundane demands of reality, blindly reaches into space, and pulls down a piece of eternity for the rest of us to gape at.

    Liberal Mormonism offers no vision. So it’s existence will always be parasitic. “The dogs barking at the caravan” as my dad put it. Liberal Mormonism cannot exist without a dominant fundamentalist culture.

    If we really want to chart a new course, then let’s chart a new course. It’s time for someone to grow some balls, step up like Jeremiah did, and tell Jerusalem exactly what is wrong with it, and what God’s new destiny for his city, and his people is.

    I worry that Brigham Young’s fears may be prophetic – the LDS Church cannot stand wealth. It cannot withstand success. We have grown fat and complacent in our certainties and blessings. We have taken our moral rightness for granted. We have taken our status as chosen people for granted.

    We have been given a pearl of great price, and thus far, we seem content to use it as a paperweight.

    That is the fundamental flaw with Mormon fundamentalism. It’s smug. It’s prideful. It’s complacent. It takes it’s own blessed status with God for granted. It assumes that just because you grew up in God’s true Church, that he is now obligated to bail you out of every tough online debate you run across. It assumes that God owes you a testimony, and you don’t have to do a damn thing to get it, except show up for Sunday School each week. It assumes that because your life of faith has been easy so far, God is therefore somehow bound to make sure your faith life CONTINUES to be smooth sailing.

    The trouble with the “cultural conservative” view in Mormonism is not that they take religion too seriously. The problem is that their religious beliefs are false. The problem is not that they advocate for strong morals. The problem is that they really did nothing to earn those morals.

    I never slept with any woman before my wedding night. But, while I am grateful for that, I take no moral self-satisfaction from it. The truth is, I didn’t have sex with girls before then because I was raised not to. And frankly, I was too shy as a teenager to ever get to the point with a girl where sex was even a possibility. I earned no right to feel smug about my “purity” as opposed to the drunk frat boys I kept hearing about. What did I earn? What basis for pride on the issue did I ever have?

    But modern Mormon culture takes exactly this position. The modern generation of Mormons rest on laurels they have not earned, tout morals that are not truly theirs, and pray to a God that they cannot know – because their preconceptions keep getting in the way.

    The cry of “all is well in Zion” has gone on long enough. I think I’d like to see some new sermons.

    • Wow. I gotta send this ahead to someone near and dear, who is on a sandy foundation. I hope I don’t sound too smug, when I say, that I was one of those drunk frat boys, and was redeemed through grace and sheer perseverance.

      I’d like to see religion mean a dedicated heart more than reflexive moral posturing. It would mean, that the drunken wino begging on the sidewalk by the supermarket is just as much my Brother as my home teachers or Elders’ Quorum President.

      I am not saying, that having strong moral positions is wrong. I’m saying that knee-jerk reflexes are not thought out or felt, they are just that — reflexes. To have wrestled with the Lord like Enos, or even like an honest workaday dad, who prays for courage to do what he knows he has to to keep his family warm, fed and together.

      Who pours out his (or if it’s the single mom trying to make ends meet, her) heart out to the Lord, and submits to His will.

      Who pays the tithing with the money that was supposed to pay rent, but the medications that the doctor prescribed cost a lot more than we thought — and does not magically receive a horn of plenty to fill all bare cupboards, but gets a strong conviction in her/his heart that it’s better not to have a house than not to have obeyed one’s conscience.

      Who doesn’t think that the Church is more true, because David Archuleta almost was the American Idolater or something like that. (No disrespect meant to David here, his doings are HIS business, not mine!)

      Okay, take a deep breath… it’ll be okay.

      Then, there are those true saints, who serve, without making a show of it; who give of their possessions without putting a plaque on it dedicating it for themselves. Who, in their humble deeds and words, are witnesses every day and everywhere they are. There is more selfless service given, than is obvious from the froth on the boiling cauldron of public opinion.

      The public opinion is too often a reflection of one fringe group after another. Consider the number of people, who have heard about the Texas polygamists in Eldorado vs. people, who have heard about the thousands of grandparents, who leave the comfort of their homes to do something real for their brothers and sisters. The much, much smaller group gets at least 80% of the attention.

  3. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. Hope it wasn’t too incoherent.

  4. Pretty cool ideas, Seth…but I’m not sure where I want to begin to comment back.

    The first thing I noted was in my comments at Faith Promoting Rumor, David Clark actually addressed some of the same things you did when you said liberal Mormonism “provides nothing to follow” and only gets its reference points from Conservative Mormonism.

    His point was that “liberal religion” in general falls apart…I suggested that liberal religion (e.g., liberal beliefs) that can maintain strict practices can succeed…it’s just that conservative religions tend to be strict and liberal ones don’t.

    David said that empirically, he didn’t see evidence of liberal religion with strict practices, and I had tried to point to liberal Mormons *within* the church as such a “denomination.” And that’s when he pointed out that liberal Mormons can’t be considered much of a denomination at all. I mean, the obvious reason is that they lack institutional power to determine their own beleifs. But then, the subtle reason is exactly as you pointed out — it only exists because it gets its reference from the conservative Mormons.

    So, I wanted to ask if it’s possible for liberal Mormonism (or liberal religion in general) to provide something meaningful and impassioned…and thus something that can thrive. But I guess the irrelevance of liberal denominations of Christianity isn’t a hopeful scene there.

    what threw me off was the change in message…so it’s not just an indictment of the “dead” aspect of liberal religion…but also an indictment of fundamentalist, conservative Mormonism for being too proud in its success?

    And then you have your point on not having “earned” its morals…GEEZ, WHY DON’T YOU BLOG MORE REGULARLY, MAN?!

  5. Interesting post, Andrew.

    I really enjoyed your comment, Seth. Thanks for sharing.

    Although I was never really a very conservative member of the Church, when I fell I fell hard as well. I’ve bounced back, but it’s sort of like bungee jumping. After falling, it’s impossible to get back to where you started.

    I still don’t know exactly where I’ll ultimately end up, but I know I don’t want to go back “up” and I don’t necessarily feel at home being “down” either. I guess I’m sort of just dangling on that bungee cord, enjoying the view from both ends. 🙂

  6. I would argue that liberal Christianity is in fact the most successful form of Christianity in America, in terms of adherents. Of course, many of the adherents of liberal Christian theologies don’t realize they’re liberal. Most are simply ignorant or apathetic or non-subscribing members of conservative denominations.

    But you’re talking about organized liberal religion. Is there a point to that? I think so. There is at least as much point to it as to any other kind of club or association. There is at least as much point to it as moral education in public schools. There is at least as much point to it as art appreciation. Because really, those are the things liberal religion is about: creating community, promoting justice and morality, and doing it with symbols that the members believe are soul-stirring and beautiful. (And, of course, doing all this without believing in stupid shit.) It’s a very right-brained way to exit conservative religion, I think.

  7. Most are simply ignorant or apathetic or non-subscribing members of conservative denominations.

    Chris, that’s not a very ringing endorsement of liberal Christians and their beliefs, rhetoric matters. And in the end, doesn’t that just support Seth’s point, that liberals are just reacting to and taking cues from conservative Christians? I also have a tough time seeing how that description squares with liberal Christianity being “the most successful form of Christianity in America.”

  8. David,

    well, it seems that Chris’s description of beliefs is of a generic moderate “therapeutic moralistic deism” as one author says…so, how do they get to this? Not from missionary work or things like that. rather it’s from “ignorance” or “apathy” or “nonsubscription in their conservative denominations.” So it’s like those pew research surveys that show that even rather exclusivist denominations of Christianity feature several members who believe that if you are a “good person” you’ll get a “good reward” even if you aren’t Christian — these people don’t understand or don’t care about their actual theology, so in a way, “liberal theology” rings true.

    It’s not that THESE Christians are just reacting to and taking cues from conservatives. They don’t take a, “God doesn’t really care about the details; just be nice and you’ll get good rewards” in response to conservatives Christians or as a result of a fall…it’s just that the conservative Christian message never got to them.

    and Chris’s argument that it’s most successful because of numbers, not necessarily because of institutional power. For example, even though mainline Protestant denominations are losing members in droves and you see growing numbers of “unaffiliated” people with respect to religion…these “unaffiliates” aren’t all atheists and agnostics. Rather, these unaffiliates are people who have a particular view of deity (generally a rather moderate deism) but simply didn’t like their churches.

  9. re FD: hmm…I guess that’s why my mom and dad told me never go bungee jumping?

  10. Andrew,

    I fail to see how moderate deism = liberal Christianity.

  11. David,

    You got me there. Hopefully Chris can clear that up? Yet, I am certain that deism is liberal religion in general, even if it seems too stripped of Christianity to be Christian in my opinion. And I think that, combined with people *saying* they are Christian (even if it’s in name only) makes a difference. It makes a chimera of things.

  12. Andrew,

    I think you’ve pretty much said to David what I would say. I think it’s significant that the ignorant and apathetic masses default to liberal theology as though it were self-evident. And if they identify as Christians but hold to a sort of therapeutic, moralistic deism then I don’t know what else to call them but liberal Christians. *shrug*

    As for David’s question whether I would support Seth’s contention that “liberals are just reacting to and taking cues from conservative Christians,” I’d say that in many cases that’s true. It’s been more true since the eighteenth century than it was previously, since modern science, philosophy, and history have now eroded so much of the faith that if the liberal modernizes it then there’s virtually nothing left. That doesn’t leave them much positive content to stand on except their repudiation of fundamentalism. But in liberal Christians’ defense, many of them have found central tenets to hang on to and reinterpreted old rituals or invented new ones, so it’s not like their faith is completely contentless.


  13. I still thin Wry Catcher’s post which I (and you) linked is the best take on the subject. Trying to explain away which types of people leave is a defense mechanism.

    There is no evidence that people who are most rigid in their expectations for the church are the most likely to leave. Not only is there no statistical evidence to back up the claim, but it doesn’t even hold water anecdotally. I’ve met hundreds of former Mormons, and there are some that fall into the described category (super-Mormon, “looking beyond the mark”), but they’re nowhere near a majority of my personal sample.

  14. I see what you’re saying chanson, which is why I take a bit of cautiousness as well, but really, it makes me wish someone *was* doing statistical evidence on this (the church really isn’t helping here, lol).

    I think I’m biased by the accounts of many I read at places like RfM…maybe I’m biased and weigh the accounts of “I believed it all, and now I can’t” more than they are really extant.

  15. I think they are a bit over-represented in the class of Mormons who leave, and then yell at people about it online though.

  16. KevinR permalink

    Help, I can’t get over the pedestal someone important was standing on!

    I’ve been trying for almost two years now to climb over the pedestal on which someone was standing, a pedestal I myself probably helped build. He who was on the pedestal fell off and the pedestal is keeping me from continuing on with my life. He who fell off was bombastic and I, myself, had always wanted to be an eloquent speaker, too, so I admired him even more than perhaps some people did. I love drama, and his speaking and writing seemed dramatic to me. I found “grandiloquent” as the synonym for bombastic, which only further points me to myself as the problem, having set myself up for failure, it seems. Am I guilty of pride, because I certainly have much guilt as I try to get over this pedestal? Is there a way to get around the pedestal without climbing over it?

    This “Humpty Dumpty” of mine was Bruce R. McConkie, and he had many cohorts who were also on pedestals, some who are still living and preaching. I realize now he was an unkind person in many ways, and the journey over the pedestal is hard. I want to have faith, I thought I had faith, was my faith misplaced? Is there advice you eloquent bloggers could give me? If you’ll respond with some ideas, I promise not to put you on a pedestal even if you respond with bombast. I prefer no “pot shots” at the dead man; I’ve already made too many of those myself and they haven’t helped me get over this pedestal that seems to be blocking my way. I’m looking for guidance on the broader issues of leaders in the church and false traditions and literalism and those sorts of things, if you catch my drift?

    Just yesterday a letter arrived in the mail from my son’s mission president. This is the third of three letters we’ve received from his mission president. The first was a welcome letter. The second was to tell us our son was elevated to the position of “trainer”; the third to tell us he is now even higher as a “district leader”. I was disheartened to say the least. This mission president is very young (i.e., younger than me and I’m 45) and seems to be perpetuating the false doctrine that a leader is more righteous than all the rest of us. I see my son building pedestals like I did, and I don’t want him to have to fall, or at the very least maybe I can build a cushion for him?

    • One thought springs to mind: Never, but never, build your faith on the foundation of mortal men. Have a personal relationship with the Savior.

      The Prophets, Seers and Revelators are that, but they are also mortal men, who have the weaknesses of mortals.

      Also, as you pointed out, the one called to lead is not necessarily more righteous than the one following. Actually, quite often the more self-righteous ones are called to leadership exactly because they can use a little humbling. That is achieved if and when they realize they can’t do what is asked of them without real assistance from the Lord. And that doesn’t come without a personal relationship.

      As for BRM, much of what he said is at least defensible, considering where he came from. As long as we talk about expectations that are too high, let’s try not to expect to see no internal conflict in what all the General Authorities have said since the Quorum of The Twelve Apostles was organized. They were men, who filtered their inspiration through the lenses of their times and backgrounds. Nothing new there; it dovetails nicely with the Bible and the BofM.

      We are a “true and living church,” after all.

  17. Well, before answering that, I’d want to know how much of McConkie you’d actually read and how firm of a grasp you think you have on his overall message.

  18. KevinR, I’d suggest to possibly listen to Seth R…I’m probably not the kind of person to talk to. I could probably give some other sites and bloggers to try to look into, but I’m wondering what words Seth will say, after you respond.

  19. adamf permalink

    “The modern generation of Mormons rest on laurels they have not earned, tout morals that are not truly theirs, and pray to a God that they cannot know – because their preconceptions keep getting in the way.”
    Great quote Seth. I think I have succumbed to this in the past, especially in high school. This is definitely something I want to think a lot about in regards to teaching my kids.

    “I think they are a bit over-represented in the class of Mormons who leave, and then yell at people about it online though.”
    Definitely. Perhaps the post should be titled “What kind of person leaves Mormonism, and then gets into long debates with liberal Mormons about it?” 😉

    Johnathan said, “I still have a really hard time relating to liberal Mormons. I fail to see the point.
    After quite a few lengthy discussions with some who have left, I am starting to think that this “relating” or understanding may be extremely difficult, if not completely impossible. These things have to truly be experienced in order to be really understood, imho, and for that reason a so-called “liberal” Mormon and a fundamentalist ex-mormon are probably never going to understand each other. Therefore, I always end up moving to common ground in those conversations, as we always have A LOT in common. Even that, however, seems to bug some exmos, because if we think the same on a lot of issues, how could we come up with such different conclusions? Again, I think it’s due to experiential factors more than anything else.

    Nice post Andrew!

  20. re adamf:

    Definitely. Perhaps the post should be titled “What kind of person leaves Mormonism, and then gets into long debates with liberal Mormons about it?”

    No, couldn’t use that title! It’s not as SEO-effective!

  21. I think that the divide between liberal and conservative is the wrong way to categorize this, and here’s why. In Protestant Christianity it’s the opposite: the liberals don’t react against the conservatives. The conservatives are always reacting against the liberals.

    Let me explain. A book we used for my American Christianity class at BYU was The Churching of America by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark. The book posits that it’s the upstart churches that win the war for converts while the mainline churches with their liberalizing tendencies slide into obscurity. The cycle looks something like this:

    New upstart denomination => Grows, thrives, gains converts => Becomes complacent, begins to liberalize, stops preaching hell, etc. => Subgroup breaks away and forms a new upstart church

    From the book’s conclusion:

    Humans want their religion to be sufficiently potent, vivid, and compelling so that it can offer them rewards of great magnitude. … There comes a point, however, when a religious body has become so worldly that its rewards are few and lacking in plausibility. When hell is gone, can heaven’s departure be far behind? Here people begin to switch away. Some are recruited by very high tension movements. Others move into the newest and least secularized mainline firms. Still others abandon all religion. These principles hardly constitute a wheel of karma, but they do seem to reveal the primary feature of our religious history: the mainline bodies are always headed for the sideline. (1992 edition, p. 275)

    “Upstarting” in Protestantism isn’t always about breaking off into a new denomination. It’s often about rebelling against an old denomination, but sometimes a church will “rebel” against itself when it catches itself losing members. It will come forward, tell the congregation it was doing XYZ wrong and it needs to repent, then try again with the expectation of a new direction. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s like putting a band-aid over a knife wound.

    With that in mind, here’s how I see Mormonism:

    ~ The bulk of the church, headed by the conservative leaders, is becoming “mainline.” It’s still theologically conservative and not likely to change, but it’s becoming complacent and stale with its message. Too many people believing “all is well in Zion” and “the prophet would never lead us astray” and not listening to the voices calling for reform. The defenders of the status quo.
    ~ Then we have the upstarters, the voices of reform. Mormon bloggers, liberals, feminists, whatever. Not all of these people are theological or political “liberals,” but they share a common theme of wanting to see change in the church.
    ~ Problem 1: Mormonism can’t “rebel” against itself like some Protestant churches do. Mormons have a functional view of their leaders as inerrant, so the leaders aren’t going to step forward and admit to doing things wrong and say they’re repenting. At best, when they want to change things, they try to claim a sweeping revelation from God. Otherwise change is as quiet and gradual as possible.
    ~ Problem 2: Mormon liberalism (we’ll call it that for lack of a better term) has no power to reform. As has already been noted, the church is led by conservatives who are only going to carefully select more conservatives to succeed them. The church’s ground-up component for change is crappy-to-non-existent. You can’t form an activist organization that directly calls for reform because you’ll get ex’ed. The leaders don’t listen to the minority views in its membership and Mormonism doesn’t have the handy built-in components for forming new denominations like Protestantism does. Without the leadership of a high-ranking official who can apostatize with some kind of claim to the priesthood keys, or a charismatic grassroots leader who can claim some sort of special priesthood succession from God, a Mormon splinter group is dead in the water. So Mormon liberalism is like the emerging church of the LDS tradition—except it has nowhere to emerge to.

    I don’t have a solution to this scenario. I confess though, I observe it with just the tiniest bit of schadenfreude, because I feel good about practicing a religion where I can actually do something about the crap that makes me unhappy. (Remember, I am evil.)

    Anyways, your division shouldn’t be between “liberal” and “conservative.” It should be between “upstart/reform” and “status quo.”

    • I have one objection to the idea that the Church is incapable of change from within: I have, after all, been called to several leadership positions, and I am definitely a “liberal” in many of my views.

      The church really is much more diverse than commonly believed. Especially that is true of the General Authorities. Although they look so plain-vanilla, there are some great independent thinkers, who will not be browbeaten by their peers. But of course the General Conference message must be sufficiently watered down. But still, did you hear/read pres. Eyring’s address in October 2008 priesthood session?

      I don’t think that was a sign of complacency, but rather a call to get serious about forming a personal relationship with the Lord.

    • FireTag permalink

      At LEAST six possibilities:

      1) Mainstream Mormonism is right; the dissenters are wrong, and the church triumphs in pretty much its present form. (I, incidentally, to not get exalted).

      2) The reform cycle is not yet far enough along to be critical and the LDS fate is still to be determined within the LDS structure.

      3) One of the splinter groups to the right becomes a home to the conservatives as the main LDS moves to the left.

      4) Mormon liberals defect to an existing Mormon denomination to the left of the LDS and delay the “mainstreaming” of the main LDS movement.

      5) Globalization of the church outpaces the Finke and Starke analysis and rescrambles the playing field, and,

      6) (Unique to Mormon possibilities) the seed of the Lamanites swarms over all of us Gentiles, grafting on the faithful to a new denominational structure, because the bulk of the Gentiles (including church members) have done things like think “all is well in Zion”.

  22. way to throw a wrench in it all!

    now we’ll have to start from scratch. A truly evil act.

  23. Jack,

    You make some great points, and in fact they’re points I made at SMPT when I compared Mormonism and Pentecostalism.

    But I think there is one misclassification in your paradigm, and that is in putting “liberals” alongside your upstarts and reformers. The kinds of upstarts and reformers who generate successful revitalization movements are almost always theologically conservative, not liberal. They are Restorationists. They are distinct from the kinds of liberals we’re talking about in this thread: the Modernizers.

    Modernizers are actually the ultimate mainstreamers: they have adapted to modernity almost one hundred percent, and are actually trying to pull the church into the mainstream much faster than it’s already going (and I agree with you that that’s the direction the LDS Church is headed). The upstart revitalizers are pulling in precisely the opposite direction, back to the original sources and sectarianism and energy of the movement. The denominations that have gone along with the Modernizers rather than the Restorationists are almost all hemorrhaging members like a hemophiliac with a paper cut. By contrast, successful Restorations attract large numbers of converts (which is why the Pentecostals gain something like 20 million new converts a year).

  24. “KevinR, I’d suggest to possibly listen to Seth R… I’m wondering what words Seth will say, after you respond.”


    No pressure or anything, eh Andrew?

  25. re Seth,

    lol, I could give an answer, but I’m still under indictment for *gasp* anti-Mormonism.

    re Chris re Jack,

    *grabs popcorn*

  26. fundamentalist ex-mormon

    I would like to think in my case that should be “ex-fundamentalist-Mormon”. I’m trying to mend my ways. 🙂

  27. Bridget Jack Meyers permalink

    Chris ~ You're correct, I probably shouldn't lump modernizers with upstarters. Most modernizers have been miserable failures.

    But here's the question: what type of reform does Mormonism need? Is Mormonism starting to stumble because it's getting too liberal? It has an odd alliance with liberal Bible scholarship on an intellectual level, but that's the only real "liberalism" I see in it. It's already fairly conservative, if not too conservative. Is there even such a thing as too conservative, too much tension with the predominant culture? Given the current decline of the Southern Baptist Convention, I'd say that there is. I realize that we're in a religious recession and most congregations are seeing a slow-down of their numbers, but still.

    I personally think that one of Mormonism's great weaknesses is its lack of cultural adaptability, that it tries to force all of its members into the same mode of 19th century Pietist worship. That it maintains the same standard of dress, proselyting, and KJ-language-ism makes it too much of a niche religion.

    I think what Mormonism could use is reformers who represent a middle ground between the "conservative leadership" / "liberal blogger" extremes—someone who could revitalize and update the church's message in a way that makes it more relevant to the current culture and puts less emphasis on leadership inerrancy while maintaining the church's other conservative values.

    What do you think?

    Andrew ~ Are you expecting me and Chris to have a smackdown? He’d win. 😛

    But I’ll vote all of his comments down, just for you. TAKE THAT, CHRIS!

  28. Andrew, I just commented, but it looks like my comment got sucked into the spam filter or something. Rescue me?

    (Feel free to delete this comment when you do.)

  29. it seems you had a misspelled close tag so half your message was bold. But it’s ok now.

    lol i certainly hope these comment ratings don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of wordpress.

  30. If you get enough down-ratings, you get voted off the island.

  31. It doesn’t appear any of us were ever on the island.

  32. Doh!

    I’m gonna go found to use as our blog community portal. I get to be the president because I’m an albino anti-Mormon. You only get to be vice-president because you’re just a plain ol’ ex-Mormon anti-Mormon.

    Chanson can be the secretary-treasurer because she’s had sex in the BYU library.

  33. Hey Jack,

    There is one kind of modernizing that nearly all denominations can benefit from: a more democratic polity. That’s because people at the grassroots are much better at carrying off revitalization movements than people at the top are. Churches with top-down polities go liberal and wither. Churches with bottom-up polities stay conservative and convert the world. It’s a function of the fact that self-appointed young lay leaders with a sense of divine calling are much better motivated than old fogies who got ordained by an octogenarian relative.

    The decline of the SBC may be partly a result of tension with the dominant culture, as you suggest, but it may also be a result of mainstreaming and undemocratic polity.

    I say mainstreaming because Southern Baptists tend to be unusually hostile to charismatic-type movements, which of course are the very epitome of revitalization movements in Christianity today. Southern Baptists have defined themselves, at least in their own eyes, as the image of American respectability: the straight-laced white family that goes to church every Sunday and always brings their Bibles and wears their flag pins. Anything too enthusiastic is beneath their dignity. Bottom line: Baptists are boring, and boring doesn’t inspire commitment.

    (Of course, they’re not even bringing their mainstream image off very well anymore, since non-Baptists increasingly think of Baptists as the quintessential fundamentalist buffoons. Here’s the tension with the culture you mentioned.)

    I say lack of democratic polity because although the SBC makes a good show of being grassrootsy and anti-creedal, the truth is that they are a deeply creedal movement when it comes to their seminary teachers and missionaries. They never kick members out of their churches for being unorthodox, but in order to stay a denominational leader you have to regularly sign off on the agonizingly comprehensive Baptist Faith and Message. I think this is a major reason that the Baptists haven’t been as successful in revitalizing as the other conservative evangelical churches have.

    Anyway, the reasons for the epic member-retention fail of Baptists and Mormons in the last decade are manifold and complicated, but maybe more closely related than they might at first appear.

  34. I also meant to say, in response to your post, that when I talk about “conservative” being good for the membership numbers, I’m referring to theology, not worship practices. Modernizing worship practices is one of the first things that happens in successful grassroots revitalization movements. The irony is that as worship modernizes, theology typically grows more conservative.

  35. lyle permalink

    I would tentatively concur with the OP. I would guess that most who know me consider(ed) me fairly orthodox, back when I was a more regular poster in the ‘nacle. After my first (temple) marriage ended several years ago…I continued to attend church, usually, but was basically inactive. I expected the Church, which preached eternal marriage, to step in and actively fight to save an eternal marriage. It didn’t, and…my virtual inactivity only recently began to end. So, I expected too much and the human institution failed me. Why did I stay quasi-active and try to re-emerge? I guess because I know the Restored Gospel is true, and have to just buy into the canard that the institution isn’t perfect and/or that I expected the institution to do more than it could.

  36. Or you could just look at the example of the Bible and the Book of Mormon and conclude that the Church is just going through one of those phases.

    Remember that in the scriptures, God’s true Church was not always in a state of righteousness – for which it was ultimately punished.

    Even if you read the Doctrine and Covenants, the verses are chock full of condemnations for the “True Church.”

  37. Before I left the church, I went through a reactionary “the Church is in a state of apostasy” phase. I toyed with the idea that abandoning polygamy and other early Mormon teachings was a sign that the LDS church had lost its way. I saw the imperfect and uninspired leadership and started to conclude that if Joseph Smith was a true prophet, then these perfectly ordinary men could not be the heirs to that legacy. It was meaningless to belong to God’s church if the leaders could lead you astray.

    Take my reactionary phase and consequent 180° reversal as a warning or an interesting data point however you want.

  38. You know what religion I would have wanted to be a part of in the year 10 BC?

    Jewish. In Palestiine.


    The leaders were corrupt. The ordinances had been perverted into shallow ritualism largely directed at maintaining the authority of Jewish political factions, and lining the pockets of the political elites. Injustice was everywhere. Self-righteousness abounded.

    What kind of a church was this?

    Well, God’s Church apparently. And what’s more – Palestine was where the action was. If you wanted to be in on the ground level when events that would shake the world and change human thought forever were happening, Palestine was were it was at. And Judaism was were it was at.

    I feel similarly about the LDS Church.

  39. I imagine a tabloid reporter would have similar logic, minus the whole “God’s church” part.

  40. Well, I am technically a blogger…

  41. So we’re looking for a Messiah to rescue the LDS church from apostasy, like he did for the Jews the first time around? Interesting.

  42. Not necessarily. Sometimes God just sends prophets. And they don’t necessarily have to be “local” either.

  43. it’s gonna be me. just to let you know

  44. As long as it’s not Aaron Shavofaloff, I think I can cope.

    But God has been known to have a sense of humor…

  45. Aaron will try to be me, and he will deceive a great many, but then I will put him in his place.

  46. Seth, you left out the best part of potentially being a Jewish man in 1st century B.C. Palastine: If you were part of the aristocracy, there’s a good chance you got to practice polygamy.

    It’s a good thing you guys have the prophet Andrew to rescue the lot of you from your demi-apostasy, because I’m just here to throw peanuts at you.

    Chris ~ I love your analysis. Especially this part:

    It’s a function of the fact that self-appointed young lay leaders with a sense of divine calling are much better motivated than old fogies who got ordained by an octogenarian relative.

    I think that is a real problem in the LDS church, that there is no method in place for a young person with a sense of divine purpose to rise to power. Well, in theory God could call someone, but in reality that hasn’t happened in a looong time. I do think Mormonism can stay afloat without changing for a while though, even with the current top-down run-by-old-fogies system, because the leaders are very shrewd businessmen and problem-solvers.

    I had never given a lot of thought to how democratic polities and charismata influence church growth, though I know about the meteoric rise of Pentecostalism. You’ve given me something to think about.

    I hope you’re what I sound like in two years when I finish my MA at Trinity…

  47. i heard Chris in a podcast once. I don’t like my voice, but I wouldn’t want to sound like that. LOL


  48. Juliann permalink

    Andrew, as one of those FAIR liberals I largely agree with your take. There was a wonderful metaphor comparing bungie cord jumping (don’t remember what forum) with letting go of the black and white thinking but never regaining former heights. All believing “liberals” I know have to make adjustments but I don’t think it is accurate to characterize it as a loss. Teryl Givens is widely used to explain what happens.
    “I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice—and, therefore, the more deliberate and laden
    with personal vulnerability and investment. The option to believe must appear on our personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a
    life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.”

    There is freedom and stability in realizing that belief is a choice and that there are moments where the only thing between activity and inactivity is that choice. That is what sustains believers who won’t stop poking around the closets of church history and theology. The standard caution is to stay away from negativity which implies that there is always something out there that can come and get them. That is not a reassuring message.

  49. Juliann permalink

    KevinR, I undertand the pedestal problem and I enjoyed the irony in this poetic rendition of it:

    It dropped so low in my regard
    I heard it hit the ground,
    And go to pieces on the stones
    At bottom of my mind;

    Yet blamed the fate that fractured, less
    Than I reviled myself
    For entertaining plated wares
    Upon my silver shelf.

    — Emily Dickinson

  50. Juliann permalink

    Hi again, Jack! You said:

    ~ Problem 2: Mormon liberalism (we’ll call it that for lack of a better term) has no power to reform. As has already been noted, the church is led by conservatives who are only going to carefully select more conservatives to succeed them. The church’s ground-up component for change is crappy-to-non-existent. You can’t form an activist organization that directly calls for reform because you’ll get ex’ed.

    I say: I disagree with this. The most confrontive challenge I have seen by members (in good standing) was the Julie Beck protest petition. No one was exed and there was noticeable back peddling from the conference pulpit and leadership broadcast. Granted, there is no “system”. But grass-roots can be effective. It may not be as noticeable because it takes longer and it isn’t an open event tied to an individual. Anything that happens in Mormonism is going to happen from the inside and it is going to take time and most important, trust. That is just the way it is. So if there is a desire to reform one has to be willing to do what it takes. So I see people quietly working on the inside and I see noisy individuals talking on the outside who are for all practical purposes banging their head against a wall. If you think back to the old days online there has been significant change.

  51. re Juliann:

    I have to set my sights on something you said and what you quoted. It is something I’ve blogged about before either here or elsewhere.

    I think the church conflates the roles of choice in certain things. For example, yes, we have actions that we can take that are chosen (e.g., I choose to go to church, read the scriptures, pray, etc., or not). But at the same time, certain actions are tainted by our biases, and our biases are not chosen. I would suggest that our beliefs are strongly biased (or they *are* the biases)…so we don’t formally choose what we believe.

    In fact, I would suggest there is not freedom and stability when we realize “belief is a choice.” There is chaos and slavery and perhaps even misery. Because this destructive concept sends us on a guilt trip…for example, when we can’t exercise faith (despite our chosen actions) or we can’t believe in an orthodox model of the church (because the *concepts* ring as offensive to our biases as the statement “1+1 = 3” is). This idea that belief is chosen would have us to believe there is something wrong with us, in the same way people who think that something like homosexuality is “chosen” would have homosexuals thinking there is something wrong with them for not being able to “choose” the other way, despite their actions, which are easily chosen. When we try to pray and study scriptures but cannot force ourselves to get a spiritual experience or even desire to believe they are true, it is NOT freeing to be told that “belief is a choice.”

    Belief isn’t a choice. Beliefs are based on inclination and bias, and we don’t choose these. We might be raised to try to cultivate them, or we might seek experiences that give us such a jolt that change our beliefs, but we don’t have a repeatable, reliable way to just say, “Ok, I’ll do x, y, and z and then I’ll believe this.”

    This is precisely why we’re having this kind of discussion. Because some people are, for some reason, inclined to buy shades of gray in theology, while others are, for whatever reason, not inclined. And one can’t just “choose” to be one or the other. One can choose to lie, in their conduct and in their speech, but not in their heart.

  52. Jack: Thanks!

    Andrew: I wish I could disagree. I’m not a huge fan of the sound of my own voice. But in my defense, my microphone for that podcast made my voice sound more nasal than it usually does. I sound better in the Sunstone recording of my session from last summer. Speaking of Sunstone, any chance you’ll be heading out to SLC for that in August? I’d enjoy smacking you upside the… er, I mean meeting you in person. 😉

  53. I try not to attend conferences, because it requires exertion 😀

  54. At the time, some tried to tell me that my change of beliefs from Mormon to ex-Mormon was a choice. I didn’t experience it that way. My experiences combined with my nature led to the situation where it was no longer possible for me to believe.

    I can’t choose to believe in Mormonism. It’s just not in me. I often compare it to trying to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, but instead of a bright cheery yellow, it will be green with purple polka-dots. I just can’t make myself believe that seriously.

    So I have some sympathy for those who feel that they must believe in Mormonism because of who they are and what they’ve experienced.

  55. KevinR permalink

    SethR: Since about age 15, I have read all of McConkie’s major works, the Messiah series, the Doctrinal New Test Comm, Mormon Doctrine, and I am very much a research-oriented person as I did so. I have also read much of his so-called minor works, and heard him speak on two ocassions apart from gen conf., one on my mission. What primarily made him fall, for me, was the story of (a short auto-biography) of David G. Pace, son of the Bro. Pace who was publicly chastised by E. McConkie.

    Juliann: Thank you for the Dickinson poem.

    sorry I can’t blog longer and more often, but I enjoy reading when I can, so carry on!

  56. KevinR permalink

    SethR, I must truly repent. I didn’t see your first 1:15 am post on this, perhaps my mouse tracking wheel was moving too fast, but in reading that post, I am amazed, it speaks my thoughts. I was thinking and trying to write many of these exact things. Thank you. I am pasting that in my permanent files right next to my treatise against McConkie. At the July family reunion, I so wanted to tell my mother these things you expressed, but I couldn’t quite spit out the words. She is and has been a long-time feminist Mormon housewife and has been my “cushion” during this fall of mine. She also tried expressing this pride and resting on our laurels, but we just couldn’t form the words right. Thank you again.

  57. Well, glad to help Kevin.

    General Authorities came off a pedestal for me while I was on my mission in Japan.

    Our mission (this was early 1990s) was running a pilot program that was trying out a whole new approach to missionary work based on years of official Church research. Our stuff was more about cultural outreach and service. We focused heavily on referrals, established relationships, and gaining investigators from various service projects. Housing and street contacting were shunted aside as “something you do when you have nothing better to do.”

    It was quite a departure for the time period. Our mission president was an employee of one of the Church’s research divisions. He reported directly to Elder Neal A. Maxwell, bypassing the Asia Area Presidency – then Pres. Sorenson of the Seventy.

    The program went well, and we had a lot of success. We missionaries were all jazzed to be doing something bold and new and really felt like the cutting edge and all that.

    After our first mission president went home, we got a new one who, while committed to the program, was not as well-versed in it. At that point, I started hearing rumors (which I know you really can’t rely on among missionaries) of discontent in the chain of command. Apparently Pres. Sorenson really didn’t like our project.

    This was confirmed when he came down for one of our zone conferences and addressed the missionaries. He started regaling us with stories of his mission in Georgia back in the 1950s or 60s or something in Southern Baptist country. Then he suggested that “when you are housing…” [I’m thinking – we don’t DO housing. Didn’t you know that?] “let me give you some advice, when we knocked on doors, we would invite the people to pray with us” [OK… I guess that would work with Southern Baptists…] “and I’d like all of you to take time to pray with the people you visit” [say what?! Are you kidding me?].

    We all just stared at him. If you’d served a mission in Japan, you would have too. Every last missionary in that room (except maybe the ones who only arrived last month) knew that if you want to seriously SCARE a Japanese person, offer to pray with them the first time you meet.

    The American equivalent would be walking up to a Baptist in 1960s Georgia and offering to do a pagan ritual on his behalf. Bad mojo all around. There were people in Japan who offered prayers for people in train stations. We called them the “hand power people.” And they were seriously whacked, and most Japanese thought so too.

    But… OK… I mean, it’s not like he has time for much proselyting in Japan… he’s a busy guy… I’m sure he means well…

    Then he started talking about how he wasn’t satisfied with how things were progressing in our mission and he wanted to see some changes. First he started insisting that we switch our schedules more in compliance with standard missionary schedules all other missionaries used.

    At this point my former MTC companion (who was a zone leader) raised his hand and hesitantly interjected: “but our blue handbooks say our schedule is supposed to be like this…” (he was referencing the special mission-specific handbooks that our first mission president had given us and emphasized were to trump the standard missionary handbook on any conflicts).

    Pres. Sorenson gave him a rather level and almost belligerent look, and stated “well, maybe you ought to tear up those handbooks.”

    There was absolute stunned silence. The mission president looked extremely uncomfortable and his wife was just staring at the floor. Both were obviously trying to avoid showing any sort of reaction to the statement.

    I’m sitting here thinking “he has absolutely no idea.” He had no clue that he had just undermined our ENTIRE mission training program. We had been taught to treat this handbook as almost near personal scripture for us as missionaries. It had been the center of all of our weekly training sessions. It was LAW in that mission.

    Any illusions I had about Priesthood authorities automatically “having their stuff together” flew out the window that day. I had just watched a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy reveal that not only did he have no clue what was going on in a mission under his watch, but he was willing to waltz into it and undermine our mission president right in front of his missionaries. Not only that, but he was culturally clueless. He didn’t even know the basics about Japanese culture (and I heard a few even more disturbing firsthand stories about him that seemed to indicate that he didn’t care to know either).

    Quite a moment for a faithful, lifelong Mormon 19 year-old.

    He seemed to realize that he’d stepped in something big, and held small group meetings where he tried to backtrack a bit and say he “just meant we should be open to new ideas…” But the message was already out. Pres. Sorenson didn’t like what we were doing much.

    After the conference I went up to shake his hand.

    I looked at this man as I shook his hand and, oddly enough, I just felt I was dealing with someone worthy of my respect, oddly enough. I looked him in the eye and felt distinctly that there was more there than cluelessness and bluster. I felt I was dealing with a servant of God. Not infallibility. Not flawless moral character. Not even always rightness. But a servant nonetheless. Screwed up like me, and trying to muddle his way through life like me. But I also sensed a certain power and authority from him – a man who had a story and trials that I had no idea of.

    I also, frankly, felt a bit sorry for him. Things are supposed to work a certain way within the Church structure. Chain of authority is supposed to be followed. And here was Elder Neal A. Maxwell cutting Pres. Sorenson out of the loop and sneaking a new missionary pilot program in without his oversight, authority, or approval. In Church terms, it seemed to me that he’d been given the cold-shoulder and was missing out on something new and exciting that I’m sure he would have liked to have been a part of. Seeds of resentment were planted, and I can’t honestly say they were all Pres. Sorenson’s fault.

    You can call it indoctrination or whatever, I don’t care. But I personally felt there was something real there. And I knew I was willing to defer to this man, sustain him, and accept him as an authority to me. Maybe that’s weird to some, but it was a lesson for me that has stayed with me. The experience made Pres. Sorenson not just a Seventy, but a real human being to me. And I have to say, that I prefer being led by human beings rather than angels. These are my peers. And I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to learn to live with them.

    Because I worship a God who is seeking for peers, not just worshipers. It’s a scary thing to wake up one morning and realize that you are surrounded by peers – just people on the same level as you. But I find it exciting and liberating as well.

    But I guess not everyone is going to take the realization so evenly.

    • There was something very commonsensical about “brother Joseph” and “brother Brigham” and other such informalities. They underlined the fact, that although brother Joseph had been called of God, he was still one of us, not some otherworldly being…

      Then, again, apparently, in formal meetings it was “president this or that.” Now it seems it’s almost the other way around; you hear GAs talk about other GAs as “brother FirstNameOnly” and not “Elder LastName.” That’s been outside formal meetings, though.

      And what you said about the power and authority that you felt pres. Sorenson had despite having been exposed as a human brings to mind my experience. As a fairly inexperienced member, I attended weekly Stake Presidency meetings, and came to realize they had some very human foibles. To me it was liberating. I felt I can think of these men as my brothers; they knew the frustrations I’m experiencing better than I had supposed they would. Yes, they were human and weak, but they were also called of God. And I had decided to hang my hat at that peg. And there it is…

  58. KevinR permalink

    Well, that was certainly an interesting twist at the end of your story. From the beginning of the story, I thought you were going to go up and strangle E. Sorenson. I suppose I’ve come to the same conclusion, that all of us, GA’s and prophets included, are “peers”, or should be “peers”. It’s just that many of the leaders don’t consider the saints as “peers”, but rather as automatons that should follow them unquestioningly. I guess this is my way of building a real faith instead of the fake faith I’ve had for so many years.

  59. That is a fantastic story, Seth. It’s well-written and, like Kevin says, contains a surprising (and inspiring) twist. I had a similar experience with a visiting GA on my mission: it was the first time I’d seen the sheer humanness of a major church leader. It lowered my expectations.

    Which, getting to Andrew’s central question here, was a good thing. Believing that you’re going to see some painfully disappointing things from Mormons is a key to staying a Mormon. You’ve got to be able to come to terms with the Joseph of Rough Stone Rolling. If you can do that and still have faith instead of cynicism, I think you’re there.

    Almost. It’s not quite that simple. As someone who grew up in Springville, UT, and had 4 of my 5 best friends leave the church, Andrew’s question is an important one to me. In addition to lowering their expectations, I’ll give two other characteristics of people who stay Mormon: (1) They’re part of a tight-knit, active, and loving extended family. It’s not fail-proof, obviously, but it helps almost more than anything I’ve seen. (2) They avoid vegging out on trashy media. All the friends I had who fell away were into sleazy or violent and mindless media, and thought it was harmless. For all the philosophical reasonings they’ve come up with for leaving, all of which I’ve looked into in detail, the root cause was sleaze.

    (Now I’m just questioning whether they left because self-righteous Mormons like me made them feel evil for watching/listening to this stuff, or if they would have fallen away without my outcries, simply because such media dulls the spirit.)

  60. Neal A. Maxwell visited our mission as well. I remember standing next to him in the foyer before the fireside where he’d be featuring and hearing him, in a surprisingly irritable voice remark:

    “now calm down elders. There will be plenty of time to shake all your hands afterwards.”

    I agreed with him. Nothing is more annoying than being mobbed by a bunch of 19 year old fanboys. But the unmasked irritation in his voice, and tinge of sarcasm kind of threw me off.

    Just interesting to meet an apostle and realize – he’s a human being.

  61. For all the philosophical reasonings they’ve come up with for leaving, all of which I’ve looked into in detail, the root cause was sleaze.

    That is a comfortable, reassuring answer for those seeking a reason for people leaving the church that doesn’t involve the ex-Mormon being thoughtful, reasonable, prayerful, or faithful. It might help some to preserve their faith to blame the behavior of Mormons who end up leaving the church. It also confers a sense of safety: “If I avoid X, then I won’t leave the church.” Such pat answers never reflect the whole truth.

    Anyone who really wants to know why people leave the church should spend less time explaining away the reasons they give for leaving. Some explanations may be rationalizations, but not all of them.

    The fact is that some good people take issue with the doctrines and history of the church and end up leaving because of those issues. Not because they were sinful (any more than any other member of the church), not because they were too casual with the gospel, not because they watched R-rated movies (I’ve never seen anything in an R-rated movie surpassing the trashy violence and sex in the scriptures), not because someone offended them, and so on. But because their conscience led them out of a church that they no longer believed in, just like your conscience keeps you in the church.

  62. Not everyone is like you Jonathan.

  63. I don’t think Jonathan is trying to say that everyone is like him. But rather, through the diversity of character (as you yourself point out) we aren’t so able to make one-size-fits-all models of how a Mormon or how an ex-Mormon should act.

  64. Or why they act the way they do.

  65. Of course ex-Mormons have valid reasons for leaving the church. I meant only that these four friends of mine were really into playing violent video games for long, long hours, and listening to music that was vulgar. This seemed to be the central cause (among many, I’m sure) of the cognitive dissonance that developed in their minds: such choices are clearly contradictory to the standards of the Church, and people either leave the Church or drop their problems with it in order to quiet their cognitive dissonance.

    But I don’t mean to say that my friends’ lives are miserable and worthless. Sometimes they seem happier than I do, sometimes they don’t. Ex-Mormon, Mormon, we all still struggle.

    I will say this, though. I have yet to see an ex-Mormon, except for Wayne Booth, who lives as admirable a life as a humble and faithful Latter-day Saint. Most ex-Mormons just get angry, angry, angry. Booth didn’t. He moved on and focused on accomplishing great things in academia. And then he (almost!) came back. He kept a healthy sense of humility all along, which led him to leave the Church and then, many years later, realize it wasn’t as flawed as he’d thought.

  66. Jon,

    so do you believe that cognitive dissonance could never arise because of a person making choices that are in with the standards of the church? Where the dissonance is not from the choice, but from the contradiction in outcome? For example, the church standards are simple: read scriptures, pray, fast, attend church meetings regularly. And if one does these things, one expects to be blessed…or at the very least, that these things wouldn’t hurt.

    so, couldn’t there be cognitive dissonance in realizing that these things don’t lead to predicted outcomes. For example, if one takes Moroni’s challenge, but does not receive confirmation (or even realizes a stupor of thought)?

    It seems to me (but then again, I have a sample of only 2 comments) that you feel these things could not happen, or that the cognitive dissonance you speak of could only be caused by doing something in contravention to what the church has advised.

    I would wonder if you have thought about the reasons why many ex-Mormons seem to be “angry, angry angry.” Or if you would even recognize an ex-Mormon who was not “angry, angry, angry,” if he did not explicitly inform you.

    For example, couldn’t it be possible that ex-Mormons get “angry, angry, angry” in response to what has happened to them with relationship to the church? and that their path of finding peace and happiness is in trying to sever their connection with their abusive past…and don’t you suppose that even this could be difficult? How can one sever one’s past, when it is so prevalent? Can one leave one’s culture or family and friends so easily? So, couldn’t you imagine that there is great and humbling difficulty in trying to walk this unique path?

    • Cognitive dissonance is a catchphrase that has been partially misunderstood.

      If we use it the way the ex-Mormons (some, whom I have had the pleasure of discussing issues with), yes, cognitive dissonance absolutely comes from doing things the Lord’s way. Because His ways are not the same as man’s. His wisdom is folly to men, and men’s wisdom folly to him. It is our human logic, that rebels (natural man, if you will).

      In psychology, it is used to describe behavior like this: You are a self-reported fiscal conservative in your own budgetary decisions about discretionary spending. Then you buy “hot” new gadgets and rationalize away your profligacy, often not even realizing that’s what you’re doing. It is something like telling the ward in a testimony meeting, that you know WoW to be right, because you live it, and it’s blessing your life — and then chugging Jack Daniels by the quart, only half-consciously rationalizing away the discrepancy.

      • Well, as long as the focus is still on the beliefs (e.g., the rationalizations), then I might agree. But note that cognitive dissonance is not the same thing as hypocrisy. Rather, it is the discomfort of holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.

        So if a member, for example, believes that the Prophet will “never lead the church astray” but believes that some policy or doctrine or whatever has “led the church astray,” BAM. Cog dis.

        A better example in behavior would be something like this: you are a self-reported fiscal conservative in your own budgetary decisions about discretionary spending. However, you also hold the opinion that more liberal spending in certain areas is better. How do you reconcile these two contradictory beliefs? You have to somehow get rid of the cognitive dissonance.

        Or with the WoW answer. You believe the WoW to be right because you live it and it’s a blessing in your life. However, you note that people who chug Jack Daniels by the quart don’t seem to be any less blessed. (this is more commonly generalized as something like, “Only people in the church have true happiness and peace and joy…but if that’s the case, then why are my non-member friends, who seem to be engaging in things I deem sinful, also happy and peaceful and joyful?” So, how do you reconcile the two?

        There are quite a few ways, it turns out.

      • So, you have limited nested comments’ depth. So here.

        I agree with you on almost all you say. I mean, I know people, who have a very mature spiritual understanding, they feel they have a personal relationship with the Savior and soforth, without having been baptized into any church or religion. For them, any way that leads to Jesus, leads to salvation. You can have a very rich spiritual life without being involved in any organization at all, or none at all if you don’t want one.

        What decides the issue for me, is that my big concern was, originally, that with all these people pontificating about my eternal destiny, how can I know who’s right. I decided I don’t want to believe in this god thing, it seems too random. So it turned out that the Spirit touched me and told that it’s the priesthood keys. The medium — or the person acting in a priesthood position — may be flawed, and always is, but if I follow the one with the keys, I get closer to God.

        That has worked me for 30 years this year, and now it looks unlikely I’ll be able to “extricate” myself. I know J.S. was probably a bit prone to womanize, that the peepstone thing may look “goofy”; I would probably been really pissed to JS, looking at some letters he fired off.

        I say to a lot of the “history argument” stuff, “so, all the ordinances I’ve performed are invalid, because I’ve sinned before and after?” In that case, I would say that only those, that Jesus himself performed would be. There are things that might concern me more, had I not a real relationship with the Lord. Real to me, that is. I’ll never be able to show it to you other than by my behavior.

        What it comes down to it, if you want to believe in God, you come to him any way you can. If you feel the Spirit is giving you understanding, why would you be concerned about what other people do, whatever their “mortal” assignment.

        I have stuff “on the shelf”, too. Stuff I don’t understand. Some has been discarded already as redunant or solved, and more will surely come.

        I don’t think we can define our world in absolutist terms. Some freethinkers are as reflexively anti-religious as many people of faith are about their dogma. There are things I think I would never want do, but one thing I thougt I would never do was become baptized in a church.

        There is only one simple absolute rule that I know of, that needs no qualification: God loves all his children. Bar none. There is nothing in this world — and I doubt if there is anything outside of it — that would change that. All others that come to mind, need qualifications that begin with as long as…

        I’m not sure whether I’m incredibly naive or incredibly cynical. I have both sides in me, and sometimes I don’t know which one is talking. :/

      • Sorry, I thougt I was through…

        About one true church: Do we need covenants? If so, who confirms it? If we don’t obviously no one is needed. If we do, who is it?

        We will only *know* after we die. We’ll either know nothing, or we’ll know that, right?

      • Well, what I’m ultimately trying to get at is that it seems that people have different subjective experiences around some similar points. For example, when you wrote:

        What decides the issue for me, is that my big concern was, originally, that with all these people pontificating about my eternal destiny, how can I know who’s right. I decided I don’t want to believe in this god thing, it seems too random. So it turned out that the Spirit touched me and told that it’s the priesthood keys. The medium — or the person acting in a priesthood position — may be flawed, and always is, but if I follow the one with the keys, I get closer to God.

        I could think of a few permutations.

        For some, they WANT to believe, but they can’t. It makes as much sense as wanting to believe 2+2 = 5…and the spirit doesn’t touch them. Others are tormented in a church (whether LDS or otherwise). And they find that it makes sense not to assume anyone (even the LDS) is right. So, even if they might end up not believing in God, they do find that their path outside of church and religion brings them closer to peace and happiness.

        The history stuff is to show that from the outset, it’s not like there is any objective reason to believe. If the church were objectively this outstanding moral beacon, then that might be a reason to believe. If the church’s leaders were these outstanding people, then that might be a reason to believe. But at best, we’re left holding the bag of people and institutions who seem the same as other decidedly non-divine people and institutions. So we go by subjective experiences.

        These subjective experiences are great for *ourselves* of course, but the problem is they don’t say anything objectively. Because you feel the spirit and effects of Priesthood power is *great* for you, but it doesn’t say that the spirit exists objectively or that it is great for all. And that’s kinda what you describe. “There are things [historical] that might concern me more, had I not had a relationship with the Lord.” So you yourself admit that but for this subjective experience (the relationship with the Lord), then the objective things (historical details, etc.,) would affect you differently.

        So the question is…can everyone have this subjective experience? While the church would like to say yes, everyone who desires and has faith can, I propose no. For example, I take your next line: “What it comes down to it, if you want to believe in God, you come to him any way you can.

        and I point out that this sentiment is the cause of much misery and despair in the church. There are MANY who WANTED to believe in God, but just don’t have it in them. Many of these people were deceived into thinking that you can choose to believe…or that through willpower you can create belief. This isn’t so.

        However, your next line isn’t controversial at all. If you have the influence of the Spirit, then this is persuasive subjective experience.

        As for your question about if the one true church needs covenants, I have no idea. Show me a one true church that deserves the title (objectively), and perhaps I can answer?

      • “For some, they WANT to believe, but they can’t. It makes as much sense as wanting to believe 2+2 = 5…and the spirit doesn’t touch them. Others are tormented in a church (whether LDS or otherwise). And they find that it makes sense not to assume anyone (even the LDS) is right. So, even if they might end up not believing in God, they do find that their path outside of church and religion brings them closer to peace and happiness.”

        First of all, I know what it is to want to believe, and not be able to. I was there. When I stumbled on this, I wasn’t even actively looking.

        I can also see a person, who was brought up in Church, be very cynical, because there is just so much craziness and awkwardness about so many things so close to teenagers. I was there, too. Got myself out of one church.

        Also, to go back to that cognitive dissonance thing: I think that a genuine, consciously grasped conflict is not the same as CD. I go back to my statement, that CD is a psychological construct that is meant to describe some discrepancy that is not in conscious awareness at all.

        But still, It has been something of a problem to me, that people have bought the wealth-and-health gospel hook, line and sinker, and tout it everywhere &mdash until they fall ill or go bankrupt without any discernible wrongdoing. Then they start thinking. Some decide, that there was something they did, after all, just not knowingly (as if we and our loved ones would be punished by something we’re not aware of), and go on like before, and others figure that the Lord was onto something in D&C 121 & 122. I think only the latter can produce long-lasting happiness, but hey, I can really speak only about what I experienced. Oh, yeah, some of those health & wealth people in the described situation will just walk away and turn very bitter and blame church and members for their problems.

      • Two beliefs simultaneously and consciously held that contradict most CERTAINLY does bring cognitive dissonance. One of the first books that began the research into cog dis was “When Prophecy Fails” and that most certainly was about a genuine, consciously felt conflict. So, I mean, if you want to use your definition, fine, but understand that that is not the standard. In fact, cognitive dissonance *requires* the conscious recognition of such thing…so if one simply unconsciously had contradictory beliefs, they would not immediately recognize cognitive dissonance.

        And from there, what the research does is simply characterize how people facing cognitive dissonance will usually react. For example, some will rationalize away all the new evidence found and just cling to the old belief. On the other hand, some will throw out the old belief in its entirety and cling to the new belief. And then of course, there are options in between (of trying to blend, pick and choose, etc.,) None of these is necessarily the “right” one…really, it is situational. Whichever one works best to relieve tension for the individual is fine by me. If someone needs to leave the church, they should. And better for them if they find peace and happiness without it. One size does not fit all.

  67. Mormons get tarred with the flawed character of our less-than-savory group members. It’s only fair that ex-Mormons should be too.

  68. well, Seth, I’d make two arguments about that.

    1) what is necessary or sufficient to be a member of each group?


    2) why are these flaws flaws?

    I’d point out that Mormons get tarred with the flawed characters of the less-than-savory group members not *just* because you’re all Mormons, but because Mormonism is perceived to be a necessary quality of these flaws (or, alternatively, these “flaws” are perceived to be necessary qualities to Mormonism). This is especially the case since we can identify “authoritative” and “well-defined” institutions within Mormonism that tell us what Mormons “should be like” (e.g., the CJCL-dS)

    Ex-Mormonism, on the other hand…doesn’t quite pass muster. I mean, we could say that RfM is an “institution” within ex-Mormonism…and “Mormon Coffee” another one…but these aren’t necessary traits of ex-Mormonism. and they aren’t quite authoritative.

    HOWEVER, since I understand that they do form sizeable groups, they might be sufficient traits of ex-Mormonism (and here we are, being tarred together), so that is why I ask question 2.

    I think the answer to question 2, which is more relevant anyway to this kind of discussion, (why are many ex-Mormons “angry, angry, angry”?) is probably not the same as what a faithful member wants to say (e.g., anything that even remotely links to “bitter fruits of apostasy).

  69. Andrew,

    Yes, you’re right: cognitive dissonance comes even when people make choices in line with the church’s teachings. When this happens they either come up with an explanation (“God is testing me”) or let the tension build to the point where leaving the church is more comfortable than living with the dissonance.

    When you repeat “angry” nine times I see the insensitivity of my argument. I’m sorry. Right there was nothing but knee-jerking on my part (common in blogging, no?).

    Leaving the church would be both hard and comforting. I can imagine that the tensions that develop from friends and family would be real and strenuous. But lifting the burden that comes from claiming adherence to truths that cannot be proven objectively and trying to keep all these commandments, that would feel nice. It would be nice just to say “I’m done!”

    But since you pinned me, I’ll listen sincerely. Tell me, do you think that blogging criticisms of the church (something I still can’t tell whether you’re doing) helps someone live a more fulfilled life? I’ve noticed that whenever I get in a headbutt with an ex-Mormon over this doctrine or that doctrine I start to feel really hollow. But when I try hard to understand, I feel fulfilled, more human.

    Don’t a lot of ex-Mormons just get angry when they blog? That’s my perception from poking around Mormon blogs. Most seem to be stuck on bickering about doctrine. If this is the case, don’t you think an ex-Mormon would have a better life if her or she were to call off all conversations about the church (something Wayne Booth seems to have tried to do) and just ignore Mormonism altogether and go about living life to the fullest, recognizing that we’re all (Mormon and ex-Mormon) pretty clueless when it comes right down to it?

  70. re Jon @ 10:46

    Well, even if you want to use a strong statement like, “angry, angry, angry,” I think that’s ok, if you will back it up. For example, I admit that if I go to a place like “Recovery from Mormonism,” I see stuff that does look like “angry, angry, angry.”

    But then, I’d ask, “Why?” And for me, it comes to the realization that this is nothing to do with apostasy or whatever (that is, I do *not* think it’s something that exmormons “get” as a result of leaving)…but something that has to do with how these members experienced the church (that is, something that happened while they were in the church, but which they are only beginning to come to grips with).

    Blogging criticisms help the individual most definitely live a more fulfilled life. Blogging criticisms help people going through the same thing live more fulfilled lives. It’s not for you; it’s for them.

    It’s because it is cathartic to deal with something that you’ve had to keep under wraps for so long. It is cleansing to get if off your chest. Because you know that your family will not have it. Your friends will not have it.

    So, I would assert that if an ex-Mormon were to just “call off all conversations about the church,” this wouldn’t be the ideal solution for all (again, I am not arguing that blogging is what everyone should do…I simply point out that one-size doesn’t fit-all.) Because to be silent would be a suicide of the self. It would be a marginalization of all the struggles that one has lived with for his entire life. It would be him conceding that he was worthless and that the Church somehow was of more value than him.

    I think it is extremely hostile and insensitive to ask someone to do that.

    And I mean, this doesn’t mean that all they are doing is blogging or arguing or whining. They are living their lives to the fullest. They are learning to stop denying themselves for unworthy causes and they are learning to express themselves more fully.

    I mean, realize though that there is always a kind of identity suicide. Because even the ex-Mormon is committing suicide against his Mormon self. And so, I would try to tell you that asking an ex-Mormon to just completely walk away is still asking him to just walk away from a part of himself. From his culture, his heritage, his family, his friends, etc., etc., Some people, as you point out, do this. But I don’t think this is what we should believe everyone should do. I think it is insensitive and hostile to assume everyone should take that route. Especially when these people must live, every day, with remnants of that old culture. For example, the gay ex-Mormon must live every day knowing that his old church is actively fighting against gay marriage. So, though he may try to forget the past, it is the present that demonizes him. And so on and so on.

    Is this making any sense? I got carried away with bolding and italicism…

  71. Jon,

    Let me try to relate a parable. Let’s say someone was abused by someone close to him, someone he respected, but none of his family and friends took his word about it because they believed this person (the abuser) was a great member of the community, while the abused person didn’t have that much influence at all. If the abused person became “angry, angry, angry,” would he be justified or not? Would you want this abused person to bottle up the feelings inside and never think about them ever again, even if it meant having to sever all ties with his friends and family (who trusted the abuser more than the abused, and didn’t even believe that the abuser had abused anyone?)

    Or if the abused left the community and tried to get counseling, would you hold that his “problems” and “issues” were HIS fault, and they were due to his having committed wrong in the past?

    Couldn’t you see how counseling and expressing pentup anger, even if it might temporarily seem to be an unhappy state of affairs, could eventually lead to a much better future?

  72. Andrew,

    I should first apologize for moseying into your blog and speaking before listening. I just now read your “about me” section and can see that we agree: we dislike whiny bloggers.

    Now, I follow you with “cathartic” and “cleansing” and I see how blogging may work for some people. In fact, I like that you’re trying to carve a new image for the ex-Mormon as someone who isn’t just angry and mindless (i.e. Ed Decker).

    But you lose me at “suicide” and “worthless” and the parable of the LDS Church as an abuser. It seems a bit extreme.

    The marrow of the church in my experience is James 1:27: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Or at least it should be. When it’s not we see the result of man’s flaws (of which I’m sure both ex-Mormon and Mormon could list many). But I stay by Mormons mostly because I haven’t seen a religion or philosophy that creates people who care about other human beings as much. Perhaps Mormons don’t best serve in ways that are important to others (protesting the war, living green, etc.) but I can’t think of a more taxing service than being a good parent, or, as James 1:27 points out, a good son or daughter. The sacrifice of a parent or a caring child is much more impressive than signing up for (let’s say) a global warming club meeting once a week. I’ve seen no group that focuses quite as strongly on creating good families (though many come close), and I’ve seen nothing that requires as much goodness from people as caring about kids does.

    Faithful Mormons are generally good people. Certainly they have flaws, but they are generally not abusive.

    I realize that my reasoning is somewhat circular here. I’m saying, essentially, that good Mormons are good parents are good Mormons are good parents. But I’m basing my knowledge off of my experience and without typing out all of my experiences I’ll have to leave it that, my bearing testimony that faithful Mormons generally care about family.

  73. Jon

    No need to apologize; you haven’t done anything wrong.

    Now, as for explanation. The reason I describe these things in extreme terms is because these experiences are felt in extreme ways. So, while I am trying to carve out a new image, I am also trying to explain (but I guess it’s coming across rather poorly) the old image, to show that even the “angry” ex-Mormons aren’t necessarily “mindless,” but are very much living as well as they can through incredible situations. I write in the hopes that one day, perhaps one person will think, “Why is this person using such caustic tones?” and then begin to look at what that other person is trying to communicate. He is not communicating mindlessness. He is communicating struggle and strife. Indignation. Perhaps it’s not in the most alluring way. Perhaps it’s downright offputting. But he’s still trying to communicate something rather worthwhile.

    (I think the problem with certain ex-mormons and anti-mormons…what could be considered mindless…is that they *know* what the church teaches or has taught in the past, and yet some of them insist upon shoddy scholarship or perhaps even blatant lies. That’s really silly. There’s plenty of legit stuff that is questionable without pulling up lies.)

    I agree with you as to what the church *should* be. But does that make the reality in all cases? I am proposing that no, it does not.

    Personally, I stay by Mormons because it is my culture. Extreme as it may sound, to relinquish this would be to relinquish myself — it is, as extremely as I can put it, a suicide. And I think that many others who have been raised in the church — whether they want to or not — do the same thing. So, we’re at a crossroads of wondering how much to give and how much to take…how close to the church to maintain our identity while not being burned by it? In fact, ironically, from what I’ve read of Wayne Booth, he actually very eloquently proposes the same ideal. He does not propose reckless severance and never looking back.

    I recognize that within the church you (and many others) see “a religion or philosophy that creates people who care about other human beings” more than any other — but all I’m saying is that this isn’t the experience for many others too. I’m saying that one size doesn’t fit all, especially with Mormonism. So, I think certain ex-Mormons are angry because they meet up with many members who want one size (e.g., the church) to fit all, and who do not seem to genuinely allow for any other options.

  74. You’re right about Booth; he doesn’t propose reckless severance. When I said he “moved on” I meant that he didn’t get hung up in arguments about snippets of church doctrine (something you don’t seem to be doing in our conversation here, but something many ex-Mormons spend a lot of time doing). When he moved from BYU to Chicago he seems to have worried less about Church dogma. He made knowledge-seeking his main hobby, and he did it well. (He’s the guy who, as you likely know, came up with that term “unreliable narrator,” a term that you talk about in your recent post about the translated Bible. Booth is fantastic and brilliant, one of my favorite writers.)

    I think his view as an ex-Mormon is one that all ex-Mormons should model:

    “In teaching rhetorology as a loving practice, those years saved me from a frequently powerful impulse to cast off the Church–or to get the authorities to cast me off. Unlike some friends who could discern no middle ground and consequently leapt off into being not just “jack-Mormons” but non- or even anti-Mormons, I found that my search for shared ground removed all reasons for a break: increasingly I discovered that most of what I most deeply believed was derived from Mormon teachings: “Do what is right, let the consequence follow,” “Have I done any good in the world today? If not I have failed indeed,” “All is well, all is well.” Though ensuing decades yielded many moments of radical doubt about various notions of God and various choices made by Mormon authorities, I never came to doubt that Mormonism is one of the ‘true religions.'”

    This is one reason I like Booth so much: he was open about where his love for service came from. This love spills over in all of his writings. I want to be like that.

    What do you think of his position here?

  75. Andrew,

    I love your parable. I’ve heard separation from the church being like leaving an abusive relationship, but I don’t remember ever hearing it taken further to where the victim tries to convince others that they’ve been abused. It helps to explain in part, for me, why many ex-Mormons get caught up in trying to convince Mormons of the problems with the church. And why they get so frustrated when they fail to convince them because they feel like their experience has been invalidated.

    I also think of the separation process in terms of grieving. The stages of grief are trite and simplistic, but grief often involves anger. I have gone through phases where I was angry (angrier?) because I felt betrayed, lied to, and victimized. I also felt like I should try to protect other people from being similarly victimized.

    In any case, what may not be apparent from the internet record (a forum post is forever) is that people often move on with their lives but don’t announce that to the world. They go quietly off and are never heard from in Mormondom again (hence the poor lifetime retention rate and high number of ex-Mormons contrasted with the extremely small number of true anti-Mormons).

  76. re Jon,

    Finding out that Booth had come up with the term unreliable narrator actually was what made me look more into his works elsewhere. So what a small world it is! 😀

    I personally enjoy and agree with Booth’s position (but probably just a touch more apostat…ically than he takes it [it actually doesn’t seem like he’s much of an apostate at all, compared to being a rather liberal believer]). In other words, for me to say something like “Mormonism is one of the true religions” would involve me downclassing either the meaning of the word “true” or of the word “religion” or perhaps both…and to be honest, I’ve actually done a lot of that, which is why a lot of this stuff doesn’t bother me.

    …At the same time, I realize that for many to take his position would be to embark upon a path of (albeit noble) suffering. So, I cannot say that everyone should just pull a Booth or that those who can’t, don’t, or won’t are somehow “broken.”

    I still have to disagree with “one-size-fits-all” phraseology like, “his view as an ex-Mormon is one that all ex-Mormons should model.” Because I can’t help but feel that certain people (perhaps not you, but maybe some other members) only say this because they do not want to have to hear it.

    I feel like I have *no right* to tell someone who feels abused by the church or by their upbringing or by whatever else to suck it up and learn to see the good from it all. I mean, yes, even if I feel that’s where I would want others to be in the long-run, I cannot bring myself to be so insensitive as to not have respect for the current struggles of others.

  77. re Jonathan,

    I completely agree about the internet not directly (or even indirectly, in many cases) showing that people do move on. I mean, if people look at it theoretically, it should make a ton of sense…quite intuitively, it makes sense that the quieter ones, the ones who are “moving on” so to speak, etc., are going to be less heard about…because by definition, they aren’t really talking anymore!

    So I mean, people see blogs often when they are in vitriolic hay-days, but they don’t often pay much attention to what it means when a blog goes inactive, even though that inactivity is very meaningful.

    I think the tragedy behind “moving on” (because I know people ask me, “why don’t you just move on”) is that we are taking for granted that all things should be “moved on” from. If we have become comfortable outside of the church for example, perhaps have a new circle of family and friends or whatever, does this mean that the past never was or that it isn’t worth discussing? And just because we don’t discuss that past in terms of grief and anger, is it not worth discussing in other terms? I mean, the current state of affairs is kinda tragic (where the Bloggernacle and the faithful hold the DAMU exmormons at arm length because the former thinks the latter lacks credibility because of their anger and faithlessness), but I think a state of affairs where ex-mormons never talk about their Mormon pasts would be as tragic (imagine IF everyone who left the church left the church alone…then we’d have the same kind of issue, but with less thunder. The Bloggernacle and the faithful would be at distance from the DAMU exmormons, because the latter would be silent and undiscoverable.)

  78. Jonathan,

    The “abusive relationship” example would work better with some tweaks:

    Guy is abused by his father and eventually exposes his father for what he did.

    Then he goes one further and tries to convince ALL the other kids at school that they’ve been abused too, because “that’s what parents do.”

  79. Seth,

    I think if we were going with your analogy, that would be like anti-theism. Where I think you want to be going is something like…if you have a large family, and one kid gets abused by his father/uncle/whatever, and then he tries to convince the rest of his family members, brothers, sisters, cousins, mom, etc., that they were abused too, because of the one or two events.

  80. OK, fine. You win this time Andrew.

  81. But I think my analogy does actually fit Christopher Hitchens…

  82. Let me tweak your tweak: Then he goes one further and tries to convince his brothers and sisters that they’ve been abused too, because “that’s what dad does.” I’m confining my thoughts to the LDS church at the moment. Because the LDS church is so monolithic (it’s even a selling point—go anywhere in the world and it’s the same church!), I think it’s fair to see all Mormons as siblings in this analogy.

    Maybe they have all been abused, and maybe they haven’t. The point of the analogy is to help us sympathize with why a person who leaves the church might feel anger toward the church, try to convince Mormons of the error of their ways, and end up feeling even deeper betrayal and frustration when he feels that he is speaking to deaf ears.

  83. I think the LDS monolithic image is vastly overstated.

  84. in terms of institutionalized power at any particular point of time..?

  85. I read that article on Wayne Booth’s rhetorology and must say that I had a misconception of him. I’ve been hearing his side of things 15-45 years after his central struggles with distancing himself from the church. In the years that he was distancing himself he was certainly involved with open debates about doctrine.

    That said, he’s even more sympathetic to the church by the time he writes his 2005 autobiography, praising the good aspects of Mormonism.

  86. Stimulating exchange. I’m sorry for butting in in so many posts, but I’ve just spent the night on the computer with time on my hands…

    I wonder if it would undermine my rep as a Molly Mormon to say, that perhaps it’s just as well that some don’t “get” it in the end, and leave. I was, in fact, on the verge of doing something or the other, but I knew I had to change. And yes, I was doing things I knew I shouln’t. That’s the cognitive dissonance in my case. It had gone on long enough that I had almost completely lost my faith. Can’t have faith, if you don’t act upon it.

    I don’t say that meaning that all who leave, do so because of similar things. But really, why look for perfection in a human institution? There are times, when we need to be tested and chastised, and who better to do it than obstinate and unsympathetic priesthood leaders?

    Fairly recently I dumped my life in the hands of my Bishop, and he gave it back to me. Except he said, that he believed the Lord had accepted my repentance. I have no words to express how much I feared that situation, and to walk out with my temple recommend with me was a … different? … experience. Perhaps it was something I needed right then? There have been other, far less pleasant moments, though. Our worst trials do tend to come through other members, who test our resolve to stick with it, when the going gets tough.

    As a recap of my thoughts, I guess you have to take your relationship with the Lord seriously enough to make a real effort to stay in the Church. Frankly, leaving has never been an option, because I definitely did not want to go back to the emptiness and uncertainty I lived with previously. Faith is a gift from God, but it doesn’t come without wanting it at some level. Lightnings never actually strike out or a clear blue sky — there are always a couple of clouds involved.

  87. It wouldn’t undermine your rep to say that…I know plenty of people who say not only that but that some people are “foreordained” to never join the church or never find any appeal to the Gospel (e.g., people like Mother Teresa, who would’ve been severely limited had they not been in their particular stations in life). It’s an odd concept, but still.

    I don’t think it’s the case of people necessarily looking for perfection in a human institution (although, I guess this is the thing that got us to this topic to the first place — having “high expectations” or whatever). Rather, when you start lowering expectations, it raises the question…why not lower them some more?

    For example, I would ask, “But really, why look for divinity in a human institution?” or “But really, why look for divinity in a human book?”

    Many of the things you say, I would say that I see merit in those things…but they don’t lead me to conclude that the church is the “only true church” or that it’s necessary at all. We can be tested and chastised by members and nonmembers, both, right? And what we are being “tested” or “chastised” over is up to interpretation, right? So why assume that we are being tested over if we will drink coffee or not…when we might be being tested over whether we can truly be loving to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters (for example)?

    I guess it depends on the person. For example, you say that “leaving has never been an option, because [you] definitely did not want to go back to the emptiness and uncertainty [you] lived with previously.” And yet, I think many of the ex-mormons would say something similar — but against your comment. They would say that “emptiness” and “uncertainty” were what they found in the church. So leaving it was the reasonable option.

    And in many cases, they wanted to make it work out. They wanted to have faith. They wanted to have confirmations to their prayers. They wanted it all to ring truly for them. And yet, unlike what the scriptures say, to desire to believe wasn’t enough.

    • [W]hy assume that we are being tested over if we will drink coffee or not…when we might be being tested over whether we can truly be loving to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters (for example)?

      I think that how we are tested depends quite a bit on where we stand in our spiritual path. It has quite justifiably — IMO, at least — been said, that without love we are nothing. It does not matter how exactly I follow all the nitpicky detail re outward signs of obedience if in the end I fail the most important test. That is, what Jesus most vehemently accused the Pharisees of, isn’t it?

      I think that Father wants to see if we want to do the things we believe to be right even when it is difficult. And what is more difficult to human pride than to do everything right (as if any ordinary mortal ever had) and fail miserably in most of our tasks of acquiring possessions and honors of men? After all, so many Mormons have the idea, that if you are rich and respected, it must be because you are righteous; and the converse must therefore also be true.

      But then all that still doesn’t spell out why there should be one — and only one — true church. I guess it all just comes to whether or not you feel the Spirit touch you, and find yourself able to believe.

      I really do feel for those, who sincerely have tried, and not been able to believe. But the most vocal criticizers of the Church that I have come in contact with are the kind of people who verify the idea, that they just didn’t want to make certain changes in their lives. Wanted to keep some of their sins, justifying themselves by comparing themselves to others, who obviously have bigger shortcomings. If only they believed, that God indeed knows the heart of man, where we only see the outside.

  88. “But the most vocal criticizers of the Church that I have come in contact with are the kind of people who verify the idea, that they just didn’t want to make certain changes in their lives.”

    That’s funny because I’ve run across a lot of critics of the church and none of them have said those things. 🙂

    The people who say that kind of stuff, in my experience, believe in the church but don’t participate. The may eventually become active in the church again at some point in their lives. But they generally don’t have much criticism for the church.

    Vocal critics of the church seem to leave because they don’t believe, not because the couldn’t hack being a Mormon. Their behavior may not jibe with the church’s behavioral standards anymore, but that’s not necessarily the reason that they leave in the first place.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Notes From All Over For Week Ended July 25 | Times & Seasons, An Onymous Mormon Blog
  2. The naturalist God « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  3. How do we earn our morals? at Mormon Matters
  4. Because Seth R will not write on his own blog « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  5. How do we earn our morals? | Wheat and Tares

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