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What is/was your relationship with Mormonism?

December 27, 2009

This is really a question I just had for everyone…because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this blogging, it’s that people have such widely differing relationships with Mormonism. I mean, I’ve taken for granted that people are looking for the same “things” from it as I was/am, but that is not the case.

So, my question is: what is (or was) your relationship with the church and Mormonism? What purpose did it/does it serve…what do you look for (or what did you look for) from it?

To give an example of what I’m trying to think about, let’s take three different people, whose positions I hope I have correctly surmised:

Person A:

Person A looked for something that spoke out to him internally. Subjective experience and validation were principally important to him. He wasn’t concerned about historical issues or theological issues, because those weren’t what he got or was looking from Mormonism. Rather, a pursuit of personal authenticity, personal peace and joy was what he was looking for. To the extent that the church did not lead toward these things, this disharmony was a dealbreaker.

OK, I guess you can guess who that is.

Person B

Person B had a different view from Person A. The subjective experiences person B got from mormonism weren’t necessarily all that good, but these weren’t the matter of principal importance to him. Rather, he dealt with whatever personal discomfort that came by recognizing that the church is simply true, so it is a necessary (as a result of its facticity) evil (as a result of the personal pain it causes). However, if the church were not true (or if Person B sufficiently doubted such), then it would not make sense to continue to bear the burden.


Person C

Person C had a different view from both Persons A and B. For C, again, the actual truth of historical events or theologies weren’t vitally important…and neither was personal peace…so to the extent that there were uncomfortable parts or controversial parts in either of these, the “reason” for being Mormon woudn’t be threatened. Instead, Person C’s relationship with Mormonism was that it was his community first and foremost. As a beneficiary of that community, he owed an allegiance to the community.

Now, I’m sure I could come up with quite a few more scenarios…(and maybe the people who represent these anonymous archetypes will post [hopefully they won’t come and say, “No, you’ve got it all wrong!”])…so my question…does your relationship fit into one of these or is it different?


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  1. Person A fits my relationship with the church pretty exactly. Person B reminds me of Jared, in its most extreme form, although I don’t know that it was meant to portray him. Person C reminds me of my husband, and also with FireTag in terms of his relationship with the CoC. Actually, most of the people on NOM that I know of I would think fall into the 3rd category, if they are trying to maintain a relationship with the church at all.

    I would think that Person A would most likely leave teh church over values differences and Person B over historicity concerns. Person C is the one that I think would have the most difficult and tenuous relationship with the church, because of the connections between self and community.

    Where do you consider yourself to fall, Andrew? (I would guess you would fall into category C, but I may be wrong).

    It would be interesting if you were to cross-post this post on either Mormon Matters and/or Main Street Plaza, just because I would be curious to see what the spectrum of relationships with the Mormon Church are. I would guess that many of your TBM posters would fall into category B.

    • FireTag permalink

      Well, maybe I’m C as Madame Curie suggests. I certainly love my church, but I only know how to express my relationship with it as an obligation, willfully embraced, to fulfill its mission, whether that has anything to do or not with preserving or promoting it as an institution.

      The funny thing is that I was taught as a boy, quite subconsciously, that you were the “bad” Mormons. You know, the ones who had engaged in polygamy, wouldn’t let blacks in the priesthood, and did bizarre things in their temples. Time really does bring better prospective.

      • FireTag, no, we definitely are the “bad” Mormons. For all of those reasons. haha.

  2. My relationship with Mormonism is probably best described as a sordid affair.

  3. MC:

    I like to think of Jared as someone who became like a person B because of an experience as a person A. Always, always, always, he talks about having profound experiences with the spirit. So, I don’t think you could get him to admit that the church is a “necessary evil.” But no, I didn’t have Jared specifically in mind for person B.

    I agree with your characterization of persons A and B, but interestingly enough, the person I thought of for C doesn’t seem to have much of a difficult relationship at all. I never cease to be amazed because this person always says things like, “Well, personal peace was never the reason for me staying in the church.” The connections between self and community, even if they are rough, just seem to bounce off, as I said…

    I think I fit into category A. Category C seems strangest to me. I couldn’t imagine putting “community” above “personal peace.”

    Crossposting sounds like a good idea, wow!


    Other than you constantly researching and airing the dirty laundry of your mistress, it doesn’t seem that sordid 😀

    • Did I mention that I got interested in Mormonism in the first place by dating the bishop’s daughter? 😛

      • yes, you did. But that’s like the Spice Girls song…if you want to be some girl’s lover (G-rated), you have got to get with her friends.

  4. I know Andrew’s interactions with me probably inspired at least a portion of profile C. But I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

    It is true that I feel a strong, almost ethnic, sense of loyalty to the Mormon community, it rituals, and traditions. It is also true that, even if I were to conclude that the whole thing is some fantasy founded by a deluded and morally dubious Joseph Smith, I would still remain a “Mormon” by affiliation, and probably not change too much of my current religious observance (although I think temple-observance might be affected and I’d probably feel obligated to turn down certain callings).

    So, I think Andrew has identified that aspect of me well-enough.

    What is missing is the fact that I really do believe in the general package of Mormonism (though not all particulars).

    What’s missing is that I’m not just ethnically identified with Mormonism by sheer virtue of having been born, bred and raised in an orthodox Mormon household. I’m also completely invested in being a Mormon. It also informs how I think about the world, my entire intellectual paradigm is built around it.

    For instance, all the tools that I use to make sense of the world have the Mormon label slapped all over them. There are no ethics for me without placing them within the Mormon paradigm. There is no philosophy without placing it in the Mormon paradigm. There is no politics, except insofar as it agrees or disagrees with Mormon values. There is no history, except as far as it fits into the grand narrative of God’s dealings with his covenant people. For me, World War II was primarily an event within the Mormon narrative, and subordinate to that narrative, for instance.

    To reject Mormonism entirely, in short, would mean to throw out all basis I have for understanding the world.

    And this is why my confidence in Mormonism is unshakeable. Because it has served me well through every new intellectual discovery, every stage of my life, every bit of uncomfortable information.

    My life has been Mormon. My thoughts have been Mormon, and I am satisfied with them.

    I have always been an observer of things. And I have never, EVER found a paradigm superior to Mormonism. Secularism offers me little that I find particularly impressive. Other Christian faiths have proven fundamentally lacking. Other faiths I have encountered do not impress either.

    Mormon thought has been so robust, so adaptable, so supremely useful in my intellectual life, that abandoning it just because (Joseph slept with a 14 year old) seems simply ludicrous. Sorry, but there it is.

    As for why discovering the same information about LDS history that drove others out had no such effect on me…

    It’s about expectations.

    I have always been an avid student of history. And one thing that this has taught me is that human history is always multi-faceted, always morally ambiguous. I expect the genuine heroes of human history to have skeletons in the closet. It’s simply par for the course. So for me, it was actually almost a relief to discover that Joseph Smith had some too. It actually made him more of a believable character to me, more fascinating, more compelling and more worthy of being taken seriously.

    In short, I could never base my faith and intellectual life on a movement founded by a white-washed saint. For me, discovering that Joseph Smith may have had some serious problems was a profoundly faith-affirming event. It made him a real person. I could never take seriously someone who was not completely real.

    Challenges to my faith have simply had the effect of strengthening it. Primarily by virtue of how irrelevant they have been to anything that matters in my faith life.

    Adventure, intellectual discovery, a cause, a community, destiny.

    These are the things I look for from religion. These are the things that secularism has failed to offer to me. These are the themes that the critics of Mormonism in my life have failed to address (although Andrew does give it a good college-try – though I’m not sure he qualifies as a “critic” necessarily).

    For instance, taking the Book of Abraham as an example.

    The critic brings up all these reasons why Joseph Smith couldn’t have really been translating from the papyrus he had when he wrote the BoA.

    Now, take what I’ve told you about myself so far, and explain to me why I should give a damn.

    What in my life of belief is really interested in whether Joseph was accurately transmitting the proper linguistics from an ancient piece of parchment? Why care?

    To preserve some fundamentalist security-blanket paradigm of what a prophet does?

    To reassure oneself that the universe of faith is predictable and safe?

    Do I care about these things?

    You get one guess.

  5. I guess that basically Andrew, it’s not that I value community more than I value personal peace.

    It’s that I don’t value personal peace that much, and I am not currently seeking it.

  6. exceeeellllent.

    I’ll have to take some time to read the long post. But in response to your short one…if you don’t value personal peace that much and are currently not seeking it…then, wouldn’t you still be able to value community more?

  7. I do value it more. It keeps me grounded. Which offsets my natural need for exploration in a nice way.

  8. Andrew, you totally need a separate page on your blog just for the “Best of Seth” comments. That last long one there was pretty sweet. Never thought I would get a spiritual boost on an atheist blog, lol. Thanks Seth. 🙂

  9. Oh, and I’m probably in group A, if I had to choose one of the three.

    Just going out on a limb here… I’ll guess that Guest Writer 800+ is in category B? 😉

    • indeed, gw800+ was the inspiration for category B

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      adamf wins a prize!

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Though, to be fair, the “necessary evil” part probably made it a little too easy. Most that fit closest to category B probably would still consider the church more of a positive influence in the world than a negative, but might still leave it anyway if they no longer believed it was true, because staying would go against their sense of personal integrity.

  10. Adam,

    I KNOW RIGHT? Seth writes more on others’ blogs than he does on his own *COUGH COUGH*

    • Gosh, how do I get him to write on my blog (other than “write something interesting, haha)?

      • you’ve gotta be a pot boiler!

        1) Write something interesting
        2) Stop being liberal and stand up for what you believe!
        3) ???
        4) Profit.

      • I boil the pot once in a while, and get burned, haha.

        1 – Working on that. 😉
        2 – I stole that idea from Seth I think, and posted it on MM a while back. Thanks Seth. 😉

      • I boil the pot on other sites, and then I get thrashed p. badly. It’s actually kinda depressing sometimes. But with just a few days recuperation, I’m back for more.

    • I keep telling people that I don’t have any original ideas, and parasitically rely on others to provide me with starting points to work from. But do they listen…?

  11. Andrew– I figured you were group C because you write so much about the effect of community. However, now that I re-read the descriptions, I realize that you were describing yourself in Group A. Doh!

    Adam – You said, Never thought I would get a spiritual boost on an atheist blog, lol.

    That’s interesting that you referred to this blog as an “atheist blog,” because that isn’t at all how I categorize it. I realize Andrew is an atheist, so it makes sense once you categorize the blog that way. I just never thought of it like that, I always categorized it more as a post-Mormon blog.

    It goes to show, you get out of blogs and what-not what you expect to see in them. I know, for example, that my blog is labeled as everything from “ex-Mormon” to “heretic Mormon” to (I kid you not) “inter-faith”. While in retrospect, I understand why I warranted the “interfaith” categorization, I never thought of it like that. Interesting how much our individual biases really do affect what we “hear” others’ say over the internet.

    • Haha interesting… I hadn’t thought of it that deeply I guess, only assuming that Andrew identified MORE with his “atheism” than with his “post-Mormonism.” That may be incorrect though, as he does write more about Mormon topics than atheism per se…

      “Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest…”

      For the record, I haven’t “labeled” your blog… but now I’m curious, what mine would be labeled as… Do tell, my vanity is intrigued. 😀

      • I’ve categorized your blog (in my head, of course, since I don’t categorize them on my blog itself) as largely a psychology/pro-marriage/pro-relationships blog. Speaking of, I took that quiz you recommended on your blog on your last post. I came out squarely “secure and attached” or something like that. It was right in the middle of the upper left quadrant. Don’t worry, I’ll respond to your blog 🙂

  12. re MC and adamf:

    I do write about community a lot, I guess, but it’s from a position of misunderstanding, alienation, and things like that. I still don’t know what to think of Seth’s big comment, for example.

    re atheism v. post-mormonism:

    On a purely subject-matter level, I think it would be better to say that I address mormonism and postmormonism much more than atheism. I think that if I tried to submit this blog to a purely atheist blogroll, for example, it wouldn’t be very popular and might even be rejected (I haven’t tried though). However, I apparently can move around well in Mormon circles, whether faithful, nonbelieving, etc.,

    I actually take a very minimalistic approach to atheism. After all, atheism only says *one* thing. Namely, I don’t believe in God. I do think that Mormonism says a lot more about where I’ve come from, where I am, and even where I’m going…although I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that “all the tools that I use to make sense of the world have the Mormon label slapped all over them.” It’s just that not believing in god is such a stark contrast that it sticks out in several areas.

  13. I used to be A (the deal was never broken, though). Then I was sort of B (but I was B because of the subjective experiences). Then I was sort of Seth, except where he says, “To reject Mormonism entirely, in short, would mean to throw out all basis I have for understanding the world” and that’s what gives him “unshakable confidence,” well, that’s what I did. I found my old understanding flawed, so I threw out all basis I have for understanding the world.

  14. Give me a good alternative kuri.

    Because from what I’ve seen, it’s not all that swell of an intellectual exchange.

    But this would have to assume that my paradigm of Mormonism is the same as yours was. Which is most certainly not the case.

  15. I guess I have a few questions.

    What does it mean to have an entire intellectual paradigm be built around Mormonism? I mean, I could see spiritual, maybe. but you said intellectual…what does that entail?

    And I have a more involved question…this requires some setup. You say that you could never base your faith and intellectual life on something founded by a white-washed saint. So, finding out that Joseph wasn’t such a white-washed saint but instead had had some serious problems was faith-affirming. You say this is because of expectations, because of avid study of history (where the norm is multifacetedness, and moral ambiguousness).

    And yet, you also say that you view history as “fitting a grand narrative of God’s dealings with his covenant people.”

    Do you think, then, that God is not “white-washed”? That the idea of divinity is not “white-washed”? Is the idea of divinity itself “morally ambiguous,” or do you expect something better from it? If it *is* morally ambiguous, not white washed, filled with “serious problems” (as the rest of history), then what does faith mean? What does Mormonism *really* look like and why is it more appealing than, say, secularism?

    However, if God is some cut above. If God is not morally ambiguous (no matter how much we humans are), then how can you believe in him still, because wouldn’t he (and things associated with him) be white-washed saints?

    The reason I ask this series of questions is because it seems to me too that, hey, if Joseph Smith has big problems, this makes sense…why? Because people have a track record of having big problems. If someone claims not to have big problems, great if that’s true, but I’m not necessarily holding my breath or putting money on it.

    HOWEVER, it seems to me that this doesn’t just apply to humanity. Rather, the entire “intellectual paradigm” is filled with things like this. So, for me, the incursion of the “divine” is something that seems white-washed, and as a result, unrealistic. On the other hand, if the divine is not white-washed, then I don’t know why we are calling it “divine” or treating it in the way that we do.

    Does that make any sense?

    Let me try to put it to your Book of Abraham example. You ask: “What in my life of belief is really interested in whether Joseph was accurately transmitting the proper linguistics from an ancient piece of parchment? Why care?”

    Well, I guess I would adjust things a bit. Whether Joseph is accurately transmitting proper linguistics from an ancient piece of parchment is really a low level question. This is really such a petty, nonbeliever, you-missed-the-point question in the long run. The more important point, I think, is this: what reason have we to believe that either ancient parchment OR a modern transmittance of that parchment has something that we should consider “divine”? Now, our petty “you-missed-the-point” questions can still have some relevance here. Because then we can have some questions like, “OK, so supposing that there is something that we should consider divine in this parchment, why should we suppose that it would manifest itself in our world in such a manner that makes it appear as “morally ambiguous” as other non-divine things?”

    • rick permalink

      I really appreciated Seth’s post as he identified a lot of feelings that I have toward the church.

      I personally don’t care where academics line up on the historical authenticity. It’s not that I have a testimony of the Church–I don’t; it’s that I’ve studied history enough view it as a discipline that is entirely manufactured and a completely unreliable source of truth: in other words, complete bullshit. Science, empiricism, demands that you can test theories and hypothesis and can, over time, refine theories. History has no way of testing; no way of refining theories (other than lucking onto new evidence). The study of history is the art of making “truths” out of scraps of paper from hundreds of years ago, most of which was lies in its own time, and then completely doing a reversal and a sly “we have revised our understandings according to new evidence” when a new scrap of paper is found. It’s not that I believe the church is true because I don’t. But, I think resorting to some mundane historical arguments as a basis for “truth” in either direction is a little stupid, to say the least: we (as academics, as a society, as a people), can’t even agree on the historical truths of 2008 even with millions of hours of news footage, carefully documented reporting, 5+ billion eye witnesses to be interviewed and so forth. History from 1838 is not truth, it is complete bullshit–in either direction. Fun stories, perhaps: truth, no.

      My attachment to Mormonism is largely based on what I personally have extracted, philosophically/theologically speaking, from the writings of Joseph Smith and so forth. The nature of God: “as man is, God once was, as God is, man may become” (not directly Joseph Smith, but sums it up nicely), God as a being who has agency, who is bound by natural laws, but who is God by his understanding and mastery of the natural laws of the universe. The nature of man, his/her divinity, their inalienable agency, their right to personal understanding, revelation, and self-governance. So on and so forth. My world view, my philosophy, and so forth is completely Mormon: not “fanatical right wing, gay bashing, close minded bigotry Mormon”, but inescapably Mormon.

      My problem with Mormonism is that, in application, the church and the people bring these to the wrong conclusions. My understanding of Mormonism leads me to a socially libertarian, otherwise very liberal political philosophy. The church, well, I don’t need to exactly rehash that point here, I suppose. I see the church today much as the Bible describes Christ’s experience of Judaism: sure, there may have been some truth in there somewhere, but it was run by a bunch of Pharisees: inane bean-counters who got their jollies by inventing arbitrary rules to give themselves control over others. I’m sure we’ve got more inane rules these days and, if not, the slavish “follow the Brethren” mindset that has millions of people jumping on offhand remarks is quickly getting us there. We invent arbitrary standards and then “tsk, tsk, it’s the shame the evil world doesn’t live the gospel (by our arbitrary rules)” in some of the shameful displays of self-aggrandizement that I’ve ever seen.

      As Jack Meyers commented “So I feel like I have a love-hate relationship with Mormonism. I fall in love with its principles only to fall out of love with how those principles are actually implemented. It’s a heartache.” This is pretty much where I’m at, except that I attend and am practicing, if on a very sporadic once every 1-2 month schedule. However, I’ve not found a place where I feel I have a home–my personal beliefs may be pretty far off from your garden variety Mormon, but they are still “under the tent” of Mormonism and at least somewhat accepted. I may differ from my implementation of my beliefs, but I share a common (albeit a distant and oft ignored) philosophy–a philosophy that is viewed outright heretical in most other religions.

  16. Give me a good alternative kuri.
    Because from what I’ve seen, it’s not all that swell of an intellectual exchange.

    I don’t have a good alternative. Not in the sense of providing certainty about the world.

  17. I don’t think I fit very well into any of your categories, Andrew.

    When I was 18, I made a melodramatic observation in my journal that I often felt like I was dealing with two Mormonisms. I thought Mormonism-in-principle was pretty damn cool. Prophets, apostles, missions, new scripture, blessings, and a very organized structure all sounded like pluses to me.

    Mormonism-in-practice was a huge disappointment. My concerns were historical, subjective and practical, and I think that last one posed the most problems. I can find ways of wiggling around a faith’s history and being okay with it, and subjective evidence is (to some extent) the weakest kind. That Mormonism didn’t give me the warm fuzzies that I felt at evangelical youth group can be overlooked.

    But having problems with what a religion is actually asking you to do every day for the rest of your life is a hurdle that can’t really be overcome.

    So I feel like I have a love-hate relationship with Mormonism. I fall in love with its principles only to fall out of love with how those principles are actually implemented. It’s a heartache.

  18. Jack:

    then you can make a new category. These aren’t supposed to be comprehensive, after all.

    Yours is an interesting perspective though…so, do you ever find yourself trying to meld the “cool Mormon principles” with evangelicalism to get a kind of best-of-both-worlds thing?

  19. To some extent, yes. I’ve come to select a lot of the evangelical options that have parallels in Mormonism. This is from an e-mail that I sent to a friend on the subject earlier this year, comparing my beliefs to LDS beliefs:

    Arminianism (with a very positive view of Open Theism): Much closer to LDS free will theology than Calvinism
    Charismatic: Mormons believe in gifts of the Spirit as well
    Believer’s Baptism: Even though I have family ties to paedobaptism, I firmly prefer believer’s baptism by submersion. Then again, I’ve come to view LDS baptism as little more than slightly delayed infant baptism, but Mormons seem to think it’s credobaptism.
    Baptism/Gift of the Holy Spirit: I would like to see this more widely articulated in evangelical Christianity as a separate event from conversion, and I’d really love to see the laying on of hands practiced in conjunction with it. I don’t think the laying on of hands is necessary for it, but it’s hardly ever done by evangelicals today even though it was clearly done in the Bible.
    Priesthood Power & Authority: You know how some Mormon women will say that they hold the priesthood through their husbands, and some women will even talk about giving blessings by the power of their husband’s priesthood? That’s actually how I feel about Protestant priesthood authority and “the priesthood of all believers.” We hold Christ’s priesthood; in fact I think we hold it through the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so it’s technically not a priesthood of all believers. It’s open to all believers, but it comes from the gift of the Holy Spirit.
    Sanctification/Glorification/Deification: I’d really like to see a more open view towards deification. I think it can be incorporated into Protestant thought in conjunction with sanctification and glorification.
    Individual soteriological inclusivism: This is a hard sell, but I do not like teaching that people are going to hell simply for having some things theologically wrong about God. Plus I think it provides an answer to the problem of those who have never heard the gospel.

    The one place where I’ve definitively parted ways is on the gender system. I think the LDS system is the equivalent of an evangelical hard complementarian system with some soft-comp/semigalitarian trends at the local level.

    • Okay, let me break these things down a few at a time and you guys can ask questions if you want.

      In traditional Christianity, there’s basically three systems of thought on God, foreknowledge, and free will. Brief summaries:

      Calvinism ~ God alone chooses who will be saved; all others will be damned. The saved cannot do anything to effect their own salvation. Once saved it is not possible to fall away. God has an absolute foreknowledge of the future.

      Arminianism ~ God predestines those who will be saved based on his foreknowledge of who will choose him, which is kind of a round-about way of saying people can choose for themselves to accept salvation. They have libertarian free will. At the same time, God has absolute foreknowledge of the future. (A lot of philosophy types insist that foreknowledge and libertarian free will are incompatible. I don’t agree.)

      Open Theism ~ God does not exhaustively know the future, either because that’s just the way the universe works or because he has voluntarily suppressed his knowledge of the future so that humankind might have libertarian free will.

      There’s some other systems, such a Molinism, Process Theism, and several attempts at reconciling Calvinism and Arminianism, but I would say these are the big three.

      In practice, I would say most Mormons are more Arminian than anything else. They seem to believe in libertarian free will, but they also believe that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the future.

      Philosophically sophisticated Mormons seem to be more open theists.


      In traditional Christianity, there are, broadly, two categories on spiritual gifts:

      Cessationists ~ Believe that miraculous spiritual gifts (tongues, healing, prophecy, etc.) have ceased. That doesn’t mean there can’t be miracles; it just means there can’t be people out there who have a gift for performing those miracles.

      Charismatic ~ Believe that there are miraculous spiritual gifts today. There have been a lot of excesses in the charismatic movement (people rolling on floors, barking like dogs, crowds of people babbling in tongues, etc.) but technically the term just means you believe there can be miraculous spiritual gifts today.

      Mormons are more charismatic than anything else because they attribute miraculous powers to the priesthood. There’s some iffiness on Mormonism’s interpretation of the gift of tongues. There’s a lot of lip service given to the idea that any member can perform a miracle, but I haven’t seen much practice behind the idea.

      Anyways, ask me questions if you want, if not I’ll do the next few tomorrow.

      • FireTag permalink

        Thanks for this. I am confirmed that my understanding of the physical universe doesn’t fit neatly into the first classification scheme because time itself doesn’t fit neatly into classifications pf past, present, or future. I’m used to a classification in which spacetime can be viewed from “inside” or “outside”.

        In the “outside” view, spacetime is a frozen block. There is no distinction between what has happened and what will happen. The same events can be found scattered throughout the block.

        In the “inside” view, descriptions are seen in terms of choices, causes, and consequences, but it’s still the same events in both views. It’s only the way we “map” them that is different.

        In fact, I personally suspect that the differences between the spiritual and physical aspects of reality are nothing more than a different way of mapping the same events.

  20. Sofal permalink

    To reject Mormonism entirely, in short, would mean to throw out all basis I have for understanding the world.

    That sounds like a sunk cost to me, and is exactly the position I was in. I simply threw out the basis in exchange for a more reliable one.

    Because it has served me well through every new intellectual discovery, every stage of my life, every bit of uncomfortable information.

    That is interesting to me, because my experience has been the opposite. My intellectual discoveries, life trials, and historical studies kept spawning new doubts and feeding old confusions. The more life experience I got, the more the dogma seemed to clash with reality. The spiritual, intellectual, and historical elements were all deeply unsatisfying to me. There were so many things that could not be explained by Mormonism. I had to twist my brain in order for everything to fit into the dogma.

    I eventually came to realize that there is a perfectly logical and simple explanation for all of my doubts and questions. When I finally accepted that explanation, all of my confusion went away. Even though there is still a lot of uncertainty, it feels so much more real and honest to acknowledge it.

    To be certain of the truth of Mormonism is a blast for sure. You get to view this life as a small act in a grand and wonderful all-encompassing plan for the happiness and progression of humanity. The idea of a loving Heavenly Father that cares deeply about you personally and knows you better than you know yourself is extremely comforting. The idea that we get to keep all of our cherished relationships forever and that all of our physical imperfections will go away some day is comforting.

    Alack, I cannot comfort myself with stories that can’t stand up to the light.

    Adventure, intellectual discovery, a cause, a community, destiny. These are the things I look for from religion. These are the things that secularism has failed to offer to me.

    Let me just run down that list:

    Adventure – This is the strangest of them all. I simply just don’t understand how religion favors adventure more than secularism.

    Intellectual discovery – This is exactly what I have found virtually none of in church and a lot of outside of church. I’m not even exaggerating here. This is huge.

    Cause – I once believed that deep and profound meaning in life could only be found through religion. To my surprise, this turned out to be false.

    Community – Okay yes. Religion pretty much rocks in this category. It makes it a lot easier, at least. Unless you value intellectual discovery within the community…

    Destiny – Believing in a destiny is simply a type of personal motivator that has its disadvantages.

    • “I simply threw out the basis in exchange for a more reliable one.”

      I have no way of responding to this until I know exactly what your religious basis entailed, and what you think you have now.

      “I eventually came to realize that there is a perfectly logical and simple explanation for all of my doubts and questions. When I finally accepted that explanation, all of my confusion went away.”

      Which to me seems to be a big fat warning bell that you haven’t actually found a true explanation, but rather are merely avoiding the problem. I am always, ALWAYS, highly suspicious of myself any time I start to feel like everything is certain.

      People who crave certainty will find ways to get it. Even if they have to artificially manufacture it, or invent it out of thin air.

      “The idea of a loving Heavenly Father that cares deeply about you personally and knows you better than you know yourself is extremely comforting. The idea that we get to keep all of our cherished relationships forever and that all of our physical imperfections will go away some day is comforting.”

      That kind of comfort has never been a particularly big feature for me in my religious life.

      Besides Sofal, if what you are saying is that Mormons are simply willfully blinding themselves to the truth in the name of their own brand of spiritual comfort food, doesn’t it follow that now that you are out of Mormonism, you should be highly uncomfortable?

      This is not the impression I get from you. If I am right, and you are quite comfortable where you are at, is it not actually true that you have substituted one state of denial for another? Being committed to the truth is never comfortable. It is never reassuring. It is never satisfied.

      If you are any of these things, then the conclusion seems to follow, does it not? You are still erecting comfort-zones for yourself and denying the true journey. That you now label it “secular” instead of “religious” doesn’t really make much difference in my book.

      “I cannot comfort myself with stories that can’t stand up to the light.”

      Well, like I’ve been saying, if you think these stories are supposed to be comforting, I would say you have been missing half the point all this time.

      And how exactly can these stories “not stand up to the light?” Is it that they don’t have any useful purpose at all? Or that they simply didn’t provide you with what you happened to be looking for?

      “I simply just don’t understand how religion favors adventure more than secularism.”

      I suppose I would respond that this is because you were doing religion wrong. You seem to have this basic assumption that religion is all about comfort and safety-zones.

      That has never been the religious world I have inhabited.

      • rick permalink

        — quoting (and quote within the quote) —
        ““I simply just don’t understand how religion favors adventure more than secularism.”

        I suppose I would respond that this is because you were doing religion wrong. You seem to have this basic assumption that religion is all about comfort and safety-zones.”
        — end quoting (and quote within the quote) —
        Seth, I agree with you that comfort shouldn’t be a part of religion–it should motivate you towards action, not towards security / comfort. That said, the “comfort” is a huge factor of most Mormon (and, indeed, most religious) congregations–listen to a testimony meeting and how many people talk about the “comfort they get from their knowledge of the truthfulness of the Gospel”.

      • Rick, sorry for the wait for approval. I woke up really late and didn’t see that you had comments waiting to be approved.

      • Sofal permalink

        It seems that I’ve described my experience as though it was primarily active, as if I chose to disbelieve in the Church. As much as I’d love to say that I have complete control over my beliefs, I don’t. I just used reason and scientific scrutiny to discover truth and emotional/spiritual intuition to discover what is fulfilling to me. Mormonism eventually failed me in both of these areas. Now I know most TBMs would say that instead it was I that failed Mormonism rather than vice versa. They would endlessly pull out the old “you didn’t have enough faith” or “you didn’t pray hard enough”. This is amateur psychoanalysis brought about by the absolute certainty that TBMs have.

        I don’t lump you, Seth, into the standard TBM category. You have always had very thoughtful comments and I always stop and slowly read if I see your username while skimming through a long comment thread. Therefore I’m sure that your reasons for why I’ve failed Mormonism will be different from the rest, and I honestly do want to know what they would be.

        Don’t think of me as a cantankerous ex-Mormon that likes to troll people who say they believe. I’m a fully-active member who has recently given up struggling with doubts and has decided to fully accept the overwhelming possibility that everything I’ve believed in is false. I was literally tossed into this conclusion against my will.

        Besides Sofal, if what you are saying is that Mormons are simply willfully blinding themselves to the truth in the name of their own brand of spiritual comfort food, doesn’t it follow that now that you are out of Mormonism, you should be highly uncomfortable?

        I am uncomfortable. I’m very uncomfortable and am sometimes in denial. I find myself in denial of the fact that if/when my parents and siblings find out that I don’t believe, things are going to get extremely ugly for me. When I read through online forums such as this and see so many reasonable believers like you, I think “surely they wouldn’t react all that badly, would they?” And then I talk on the phone with my dad or video chat with my family and I realize once again that there is a violent storm brewing in the distance. My life would be much more comfortable if I could just choose to believe despite it all. You seem like someone who has been able to accomplish this, and I am fascinated by it.

        Well, like I’ve been saying, if you think these stories are supposed to be comforting, I would say you have been missing half the point all this time.

        I do think that the purpose of these stories is mainly motivation to endure (comfort) and obey. If this is not the point, then I have surely missed it all my life. Please tell me what the point is to these stories.

        And how exactly can these stories “not stand up to the light?” Is it that they don’t have any useful purpose at all? Or that they simply didn’t provide you with what you happened to be looking for?

        When I examine the claims of LDS doctrine using any method (from cold hard scientific scrutiny to intense prayer), they fail in both plausibility and usefulness. God has yet to reveal the truth of these things to me as promised. I’ve asked sincerely countless times. The ball is in His court now. The God I once believed in (the God I was taught to believe in) would have given me a personally persuasive reason to believe. There has got to be a better way to live a fulfilled life and serve my fellow man than chasing after empty promises, desperately trying to find meaning and usefulness where there is none. I could go on for hours about how Mormonism doesn’t fulfill me, so that you could understand. I say this all in a lamenting tone, rather than an angry one.

        You seem to have this basic assumption that religion is all about comfort and safety-zones.

        I think religion is mostly about community and group identity. A common set of deep, personal beliefs binds a community together like nothing else can. In this way, people can come together to create something greater than themselves. It’s like a living, breathing organism. Comfort and safety-zones are an important part of keeping everything together. This is exactly what the church teaches that a home should be: a comfort zone. The temple is also a safety zone. The doctrine of the resurrection serves no purpose other than to comfort (well maybe sometimes as a warning, e.g. Corianton). “Families can be forever” is primarily a message of comfort. “Heavenly Father loves you” is a message of comfort. “The Savior is born” is a message of comfort and joy. “The Church is True” – comfort. “I know my Savior lives” – comfort. “Peace be unto you”, “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.”, “Heavenly Father answers prayers”, “The prophet will never lead the church astray.”

        Besides comfort, what else is there? I can think of two things: serve one another, and preach the gospel. The former is the best part of religion by far. I just don’t see why it must be packaged up with all the empty comforts.

        I suppose I would respond that this is because you were doing religion wrong.

        The only way I can think of how I must have been doing religion wrong was that I must have been taught it wrong by the church. I took the doctrine too seriously. I really believed the things that were said. For example, I was taught to believe all my life that whether or not Joseph Smith really translated ancient plates was a big deal. Nobody told me how to properly decide what things to toss out and what things to believe. I’ve always been surrounded by strict orthodoxy at church and at home.

      • Rick, it could well be that I’m overly dismissive of the role that comfort plays in religious observance. But it just hasn’t been a big feature for me.


        I just don’t see that much that is safe and comforting in the scriptural stories (unless you count the comfort of mere familiarity). The story of Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt is a highly uncomfortable and challenging story. In fact it is so downright revolutionary that it has served as a model for some of the biggest instances of human revolt in world history.

        The idea of escape from enslavement, then the life-and-death struggle to eliminate slave-mentality from the escapees, the idea of a utopian society. These stories have inspired all sorts of fascinating and uncomfortable events in human history – from Martin Luther King to Vladimir Lenin. From the founding of United States to the blood-soaked apocalyptic battlefields of the Russian Civil War. Hugely uncomfortable and controversial events driven by a terrifying vision – both to exalted and utterly debased aims.

        The entire story of Enoch in the Book of Moses. The idea of a man who has to plead with God not to utterly destroy the depraved human race. That’s not a comfortable story. Indeed, it’s the entire theodicy in a few succinct chapters – one of the most troubling theological problems in human history.

        Is there ever a time when human aims and the overall unsalvagability of the human situation justifies genocide?

        The answers aren’t as obvious or easy as you may think.

        When have things gotten so bad that bloodshed is the only rational solution?

        How on earth can the human race ever be salvaged from its own inherent filthiness and ugliness?

        Not nice. Not easy. I seriously think the only way you can ever be truly comfortable in religion is if you are not paying any attention. Which is certainly a temptation for busy people.

    • I do feel bad for leaving a response that is so belligerent in tone to what I felt was a very polite comment. So I guess I’d just like to thank Sofal for the even tone of the above comment. Hopefully I haven’t abused that.

  21. *puts popcorn in microwave. Sets timer*

    • *grabs more popcorn*

  22. Andrew – whichever I consider myself – your post begs the question – why would anyone ever convert to mormonism from another faith?

    In other words, if you substitute Roman Catholicism or Buddhism for mormonism in your post – why would anyone leave that community (the faith of their parents)?? Not paying attention to any discomfort – assuming (like person b) that one’s faith is true, no matter what. Of course, those other faiths don’t count, because they’re not true.

    The logic becomes circular to my mind.

    • Why go with Mormonism from Catholicism?

      Mainly because creation ex nihilo doesn’t work. On many different levels. I’d go into more detail. But I don’t think this is really the place for it.

  23. aerin:

    I don’t see what you’re getting at, and I don’t see what question begging is going on.

    Each archetype (and these are not meant to be the only ones) was designed in mind to fit as a way *in* and a way *out*. In fact, Persons A and B were based on people who are post/former/ex-Mormons.

    So, substitute Roman Catholicism in here. It follows that a person A in Catholicism would leave for exactly the same reason I said he would in Mormonism — if the subjective experiences do not tend favorably.

    On the other hand, person B isn’t looking for personal sunshine and daisies from religion. He is looking for the perception that the religion is correct, factually correct. So, a person B in Catholicism would leave for exactly the same reason as I said he would in Mormonism — he loses the perception that the religion is ultimately the correct one.

    You can see the same with person C, although I guess to update for Seth’s postings (and other people’s), you’d have to take into consideration that the community — and all the things it has inculcated in a person…the basis of an entire worldview — being “too rigid” and too maladaptive to handle novelty…then a person C would leave (if I am understanding it correctly.)

    So, how do I answer the question? “Why would anyone leave that community (the faith of their parents)??” Well, if they aren’t a person whose relationship with religion *is* to maintain a community, then this piece of information (it’s the faith of their parents) is irrelevant. If they do not subjectively feel anchored to the religion (A) or they do not think the religion is ultimately correct (B), they will leave.

    • Being a convert to Mormonism from Catholicism, I was a person A in terms of my exit from Catholicism as well as from Mormonism, but I have retained person C within myself in terms of my Roman Catholic-ness. I am and will always be ethnically Catholic, for better or for worse.

    • Thanks Andrew. I wasn’t trying to question the different types of people and their motivations for staying mormon or leaving mormonism….or the different personality types. I agree with those and know of many people who would self-identify into all three categories.

      I was thinking about two things. The first is what I was mentioning on MSP (I’ll respond there) about an additional archtype of a minor child (under 18).

      The second was trying to understand the nature of community and how important those community connections are for person c. If those community connections are the reason to support and stay in any community, then for a person c – there would never be any reason to leave and join another faith (like mormonism). Because the faith itself doesn’t matter, it’s the community and the allegiance that a person owes that community.

      If you are a person c, and about allegiance to a community – I don’t know that you can still support missionary work. Or at least, be prepared to be very disappointed…as any of the other people who value community will probably stay in their current religious communities (Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.)

      Perhaps I’m not making sense…I think throwing missionary work (trying to convert other people) makes these personality types/ways of being more complicated. And it seems to me that missionary work is a core value and principle in mormonism.

      • Well, if there are additional archetypes, feel free to add them. I didn’t ever think that A, B, and C were the only ones…I just mentioned them because I had people in mind that fit these.

        Regarding a person C and community…well, the first thing I’d note is when I think about other people who remind me of the C argumentation (I’ll have to see if my suspicions are confirmed if I can repost this post on, say, Mormon Matters), I think one thing to note is that these often *are* people who don’t leave and join another faith (or if they do, it’s because of another reason…and sometimes, as Madam Curie pointed out, you can join a different religion and realize that your culture and community was always with the one of your upbringing). And it’s really baffling to me. I’m just biased because currently, I only see the NOMs and the liberal Mormons and the middle way Mormons and the StayLDS Mormons — I don’t get to see equivalents in Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, etc.,

        I think the issue is that despite the allegiance these people want to have with the community, they risk that *the community* will reject *them*. If community connections are the reasons to support and stay in a community, then if your spouse leaves you, your friends shun you, the church excommunicates you, etc., etc., your community connections don’t seem to be working as well.

        If I were a C, I’d look at missionary work differently too. Firstly, I’d look at it as something I needed to do as part of the covenanted community…not something that I necessarily do because I believe my church is absolutely correct. Next, what I’m trying to do is help people find a community, with the belief that my community itself is pretty good (it may not be “easy” or “fun” or “enjoyable,” but these aren’t the measures of a good community). If it happens that these people already feel integrated within a community, why should I feel disappointed? If they have a community, then my goal is met…it just isn’t met inside the church.

        Instead, I think that person B would be more “disappointed” with missionary work. “How can it be that so many people will not accept the *truth*?” Person A may be disillusioned. “How can it be that people in other religions seem to have the same subjective experiences that I do in mine?”

        Does that re-interpretation of missionary work make sense?

        NOW, I think I can see where a person C would have some problem with a traditional understanding of missionary work. Given my scenario above, such a person might think that missionary work is imperialistic. S/he might have problems with the “one true church” claim.

  24. Sofal,

    I’d have to agree with your list to a great extent, it pegs a great deal of my thoughts as well. I like what what your saying about Cause and Adventure. Cause for me seems much greater in my secular understanding about the dramatic beauty in the natural world. Granted that in a secular sense we all apply meaning to an rather indifferent cosmos, its perception to a large degree. Still my perceptions give me profound inspiration, I accept that and have no qualms.

    Once again, I agree on the community issue as well. It’s hard, but I don’t think impossible. As was stated previously, Andrew is the community expert, he should give us his insight on the subject 🙂

  25. re Marcus and Sofal about community:

    I think in a mechanical sense, Mormonism has a particularly robust community in terms of some issues: e.g., if you’re moving. I recently thought about how much easier it would be if I knew people in the city I was going to, and then I realized that if I went to an LDS ward, I’d *easily* have that new support group.

    I know that other people are trying to make surrogates, but there seems to be disagreement on this. I mean, an “atheist church” seems to miss the point.

    On the other hand, I think when Sofal raises things like “intellectual discovery” as a negative for Mormon community, he exposes his hand.

    It’s not that intellectual discovery is a net negative for the Mormon community. Rather, this points out something else…you have to *fit* into a community. Communities can differ based on who comprises them. So, if we are alienated from the community, for us, it will certainly seem like we are not being stimulated intellectually. On the other hand, many believers would strongly disagree that Mormonism (or any other religion) cannot be intellectually stimulating. They would be baffled by the prospect that someone can’t or doesn’t find it intellectually stimulating.

    And I mean…consider…if we consider the church to be intellectually oppressive…that’s really a “ground level” claim. But if you looking above the ground, at claims *about* that claim, then even from a so-called intellectually oppressive environment, you have quite a lot of intellectually meaningful questions. The ground level claim is: “the church is correlated and this stifles creativity.” But questions about that could be, “What does correlation do? How does correlation unite the community? What is the spirit of correlation?” From knowing answers to these questions, you can “get with” the spirit of correlation, and all of a sudden, Mormonism is no longer intellectually oppressive because you know how to work with the system.

    • See, I knew you’d come through.

  26. This has got to be the most lively discussion I have engaged in on your site, Andrew. Cool topic!

    • i had to start outdoing you since you’ve been on a roll with posts for a while…

  27. On the “adventure” thing, of course being a devout Mormon can prevent one from exploring many of the experiences that are normal in our culture — probably especially for young people in our culture — and it can be narrowing in many ways (intellectually, socially, culturally, etc.)

    OTOH, being Mormon can open new worlds for people. If I, for example, hadn’t been a Mormon, I never would have gone to Japan, never would have learned to speak and read Japanese, never would have lived there for almost 10 years, never would have made a career out of what I learned there… (not to mention, never would have married who I married, or had the kids that I have…).

    So I think being Mormon can be something like being in the military. Yes, your life is rigidly controlled in some ways, and yes, you always have to follow orders, but on the other hand you can have opportunities to do things and see things and experience things that many other people do not.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Because Seth R will not write on his own blog « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  2. What is/was your relationship with Mormonism? | Main Street Plaza
  3. What is your relationship with Mormonism? | Wheat and Tares

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