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How to Stay LDS: Review and Response, Part II

August 17, 2009

This is the second part of a series about John Dehlin’s How to Stay in the LDS Church After a Major Challenge to Your Faith. Part I is here.

Dehlin doesn’t present the tribal integrity of Mormonism as the only reason to stay, so in the second part, I’ll go over his other reasons to stay (although he’s probably right: it would take a book to even begin to cover them all).

With Spirituality, Dehlin again set extremes. While there apparently is credence to the claim of many ex-Mormons dropping religion completely (as much as half of all apostates, by Pew Research’s counts), Dehlin doesn’t necessarily do his point justice by suggesting that the other end in spirituality is Dawkins-esque or Maher-ian hyper-rationalism. The question is: why should one be in the church institution for spirituality? Even if one is a Dawkins-esque atheist, that doesn’t not preclude the sense of mystery, wonder, and spirituality. And then, the conundrum is in the many atheists who aren’t Dawkins-esque. (or the many who leave who aren’t even atheist).

This will become important later, since Dehlin heavily recommends supplementation.

The second reason, Community, raises a decent point (namely: a well-functioning LDS ward is surprisingly adept at building relationships in a short period of time), but there are a few questions: does a good community trump what is perceived as bad ideology? And in Dehlin’s “if…” statement, wouldn’t the more laudable alternative be to help struggling members find other communities so they aren’t dependent on the LDS one (or even to help them build their own communities)? [Finally…how many LDS wards are “well-functioning” in John’s sense? Many of John’s progressively minded sentiments sound nice, but they simply wouldn’t fly in many wards.]

Family is a common reason, and I’m inclined to say it’s a good one in most cases. At the same time, again the question is…how much bad ideology is trumped by family? How much abuse should be tolerated?

This spills naturally into the argument for Children. Many times, it is because of, not in spite of, the children that people find they cannot remain in the church, and Dehlin will also concede later on that supplementation and perhaps even deprogramming are necessary. So the question again: why stay in the church when “the vanilla” church may in fact be dangerous and the process of making the church less so requires much tinkering (which can backfire)? “It takes a village to raise a child” has been pressed by many, but each time, it comes with the premise that the LDS village’s way of raising children is intrinsically good. Yet thispremise, for  a struggling member, may be the first thing most strongly doubted or rejected!

Continuing to clean living, there are several questions…what should be considered clean living? Many ex-members, for example, place an inordinately high value on honesty and truth as “clean living,” so the LDS church’s record indicts rather than sustains in this respect. (This, I feel is one of John’s biggest setbacks in the ex-mormon community, because I feel he runs against a wall with the disaffected when he suggests they should be more pragmatic, valuing honesty and truth [or its perception] less absolutely.)

At the same time, many ex-members see the LDS attitudes toward sex (ex: masturbation, homosexuality) as distinctly dangerous, so this aspect of “clean living” would not be persuasive. (For a tamer example, why does John include cynicism in his list of things to avoid?) And so on. So, the question again is if we can best achieve our goals for clean living within the church, or if we could find other communities outside?

In his next reason, Some undeniable good within, Dehlin tips his hand. What irks me is how he equates good to inspiration, or even more, divinity. This betrays his early progressive accounting of those who leave (as I referenced in part I). It doesn’t make sense to say, specifically, “you have likely felt inspiration and divinity within the LDS Church at some point, and it would be dishonest to completely deny that now” (which is actually a bit hostile, calling out ex-mormons on one of their self-proclaimed values,) when you acknowledge that some of the reasons for loss of faith are 1) being confused about the difference between the Spirit and emotion, 2) never receiving the witness or 3) not feeling inspired within the church.

A common argument to stay is the idea that the church Maybe one of the best there is. I think Dehlin describes a common reaction (not feeling at home in other churches) and then misattributes the reason why (it’s the best optioin for us). Rather, again, this is a side effect of our integrated culture. This question relies on the assumption that one needs a church (so if you can’t find a better one, then you should stick with the one you’ve got.)

Some of the doctrine raises question about the constraints of many LDS wards. John argues several times that all Mormons, whether they recognize or not, are cafeteria or buffet Mormons…however, despite this factoid, he doesn’t provide an opening allowing for as picky eaters in the cafeteria as would be necessary. After all, it’s not just troubling historical doctrine. Many times, it’s the “goodwill” behind the doctrine and behind and institution that didn’t and doesn’t handle doctrine well. It’s not the difficult doctrines themselves that do many in (even if they are very weighty)…it’s the idea that these doctrines are indicative of an profoundly flawed institution advertising themselves falsely that couldn’t “check” these doctrines back then and that still can’t. And of course, things aren’t long past. We still have modern disagreeable doctrines.

I have no problem with telling people to continue believing in what resonates within them. I just ask if the church institution is necessary or preferable for this end.

Finally, openness to inspiration within. I think it’s fine if anyone wants to hope for these things. But, it actually doesn’t really address why one should pick the LDS way up Mt. Fuji over any of the rest. This last reason doesn’t seem to be a reason, pre-decision, to stay…but a post-decisional justification.

Dehlin finally establishes that if all of these things can be found outside of the church, great…just trade up, not down. Sounds good, man. More in part III.

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