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What good is an alien community?

December 21, 2009

In response to my last post, Seth commented:

…My feeling is that the LDS faith is about community forged by covenant first and foremost.

If you are supportive and loyal to that community and don’t do things to undermine or upset it, then you can actually get away with an awful lot of other stuff.

I responded by raising that the costs of loyalty to a community could be painful. He counterresponded with a quotation:

“Loneliness is the price we pay for being free in the world.”

I thought about addressing this in one of two ways…the first is that loneliness is just one side of a coin…the other side, solitude, isn’t a “price,” but a “reward.” But I suppose someone’s mileage may vary…instead though, I looked at the second part…freedom in the world?

If we are in a community, we may not be “free in the world” (for we are bound by covenant, explicitly or implicitly). But what happens when we don’t even escape loneliness? What happens when we face alienation?

What is the difference between someone who wants to stay in the church and someone who wants to leave the church? What is the crucial difference in motivating factors, that may make the former think the church is ultimately beneficial (though with rough spots) and may make the latter think the church is ultimately harmful (though with bright spots)?

I actually don’t know. But getting back to alienation as opposed to loneliness, I feel alienation is worse. With loneliness, you can search for your group. With alienation, you are in the midst of a group already, but it still is utterly unsatisfying. It is a double harm…because not only do you suffer once from being misunderstood, but you suffer again because you wonder why, in the midst of all these people, you don’t fit in. Why is that the case when for many others, the community is beneficial or perhaps even ideal?


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  1. What is the difference between someone who wants to stay in the church and someone who wants to leave the church?

    I think it’s as simple as the belief that a more satisfying community does not exist outside of the current one.

    Which, in my opinion, may or may not be true depending on the individual. As for me – I prefer the belief that my tribe exists outside of the church (though perhaps including some TBM individuals).

  2. Sarah, this is so depressing, to whomever it applies.

    Yet, I know that’s the case for many.

    I think that would be the worst. An alienation that you feel is the best there is?

  3. I could have written this post. Loneliness has been on my mind the last few days, as I have surpassed the alienation that came from being a heretical member of a religion that I embraced, to being a former member of a religion that I have moved passed. People who I thought were friends aren’t. People who I thought might still communicate with me don’t. Its sad, especially during the holidays, to realize that much of your circle of friends was composed of people who were only friends with you so long as you subscribed to the same set of beliefs.

    I don’t think there is another tribe out there for me. I could return to Catholicism, but I will never really fit in there, as I don’t embrace their doctrine either. To become “part” of any religious community requires that you submit to their system of beliefs. Besides, Catholicism has never (in my mind) been as social and cohesive of a community as Mormonism.

    So, what’s worse, alienation or loneliness? Hard to say. For me, probably loneliness, but I haven’t been in this position long enough to say for certain.

    • Who says that another tribe must be one of the big names? You bring up Catholicism again as if it (or other big established organized religions) is the only tribe you can think of.

      • Only because its what I know.

      • If I learned anything from the church, it is that growth comes from leaving comfort zones. If what you know hasn’t worked for you, how can you hope to find what you’re looking for in those comfort (however uncomfortable they are) zones?

      • Yes, I know. I think I am just tired. I’ve been running this rig for 15 years now 😉

    • FireTag permalink


      I love the movie “Arthur”, the Clive Owen, Keira Knightley version of the legend depicting Arthur as the calvaryman slave of Roman Britain trying to survive his service and be rewarded by being allowed to return to the great ideal Empire he’d heard about from his boyhood.

      But the Empire abandons him and his troops because it is far less than ideal, and it leaves those it was supposed to protect as the justification for its power defenseless against invaders.

      Arthur must decide in what community he ultimately believes. He decides to stand for the ideal, even if he must do so alone, and discovers that a new community he never imagined grows up around him.

      At the moment, it seems like our tribes are the Mohicans sometimes, but to use a quote from another of Andrew’s threads — tend the fields because they need tending.

      You may be shocked by who your new co-workers are as much as by the loss of old companions.

  4. Andrew – I agree, alienation is depressing! I certainly think the idea that “this is the best community for me, so I better just suck it up” certainly contributed to my depression during the past few years.

    When I left the church, I believed I was choosing loneliness. At first it was terrifying, but still worth it for mental/emotional integrity. And you’re right, it has been better because there is a growing hope of finding a more satisfying community. Hope means a lot to me. Plus the TBM friends/family that are still part of my life are a huge, unexpected perk. 🙂

    Madam C, I think there is another tribe out there for you. It probably just isn’t organized around a religion. It may be as small as your husband, children, and closest friends?

    Our little niche of the bloggernacle is in some ways a shadow of what I’m looking for, and it gives me hope I’ll find my tribe in real life.

  5. Sarah,

    I like your last line: “Our little niche of the bloggernacle is in some ways a shadow of what I’m looking for, and it gives me hope I’ll find my tribe in real life.”

    But I wonder…this would be different. Our little niche online is mostly made from our shared struggles…our shared disaffection. I don’t know if I’ll find that offline (I mean, of course their will be disaffected and former Mormons offline…but I don’t think there are too many meetings other than the few conferences and things.)

    Rather, if I have to take a line from Hypatia and particularly Marcus, I think finding the right tribe would have to be finding a group from shared joys instead of struggles. So, it may need not be related to post Mormonism at all.

  6. So, it may need not be related to post Mormonism at all.

    I agree. The “shadows” are virtues: Exploration. Self-knowledge. Respect. Authenticity. etc. 🙂 I’m pretty sure I can find a real-life, local tribe into that sort of thing. Even possibly including some mormons. 🙂

  7. (Dude I’m sorry I’m always so icon happy. Geesh!)

  8. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    This may go along with the first comment.

    I was at the LDS archive a couple of weeks ago and ran into an old friend. He is very much an historian and knows a great deal of the sordid details from the LDS past. He talks about how being at church is the most excruciating (that is his actual word) 3 hours of his week. Because he knows that what is being taught is not accurate, but people also turn to him for answers and he tries to hold back so he doesn’t hurt anyone. In fact, he redefines “truth” to be kindness.

    Anyway, during our conversation, he mentioned how he can’t even imagine leaving the church. Even with all the grievances he has with it, he likened it to the story in the NT where many of the disciples of Jesus leave him and he turns to his apostles and asks if they will be leaving him as well and Peter answers, “to whom shall we go?” He says that’s how feels. He sees people leaving the church and doesn’t hold it against them, but doesn’t know where he would go without it.

  9. I think everyone in community, at least at one time or another, feels like an alien. We often look at others and think “Why does everybody else fit in but me?” But we only see the surface… We don’t see the ways in which others experience dissonance and struggle. Obviously, there are some of us in the LDS community who, for a variety of reasons, stick out more. But every community is, by its nature, diverse people coming together and forming some kind of unity.

    Those of us who “stick out” — those of us who are “outliers” from the norm — are the ones the community needs most in the long term. We offer perspectives and talents that are rare…

    Ironically, we’re also the ones the community typically has the most difficult time with. But for what it’s worth… I think we also have the most to gain from building the bridges that enable us to find our place in a community…

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