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Avoiding Post-Mormonism

September 19, 2010

They can leave the church, but they can’t leave it alone.

This succinct line intrigues me because I feel that it describes an actual phenomenon (to a certain extent), but which everyone has different answers about. With respect to Mormonism, why don’t people “leave it alone”? Is it that Mormonism inculcates and integrates to such an extent that ex- and former Mormons cannot so easily shed the church, whether they want to or not? Is it that Mormonism often doesn’t leave the former member alone, in the sense that many of the friends and family of the ex-Mormon may still be faithful members (or the ex- member may be constantly confronted with Mormon initiatives, bringing up the memories)? Or is it something else?

Even though this blog has covered many issues, the exploration of this quote has been a mission statement, vision, and elevator pitch, all in one.

As time has passed, I’ve been forced to re-address this quotation for myself…and sometimes, the answer changes. I feel as if I am in a gray void space. What is this void?

I can empathize with people who feel many labels are inadequate. For me, they either try to explain too much (and get stuff wrong) or they fail to explain enough (and lack nuance). When people ask me, “What are you?” I understand (even if they don’t) that the cost of concision is concealment.

I know that many people would like for me to abandon the “Mormon” label. After all, if I don’t believe in Mormon faith claims and don’t engage in the offline Mormon community, what right do I have to the term? I know a lot of people who discount the idea of “cultural Mormonism” by pointing out the pioneer paradigm — the pioneers left their histories and cultures to seek what they actually believed in…so identity in a Mormon sense should be modeled as what one seeks to become, not as what one feel situated in history as.

But I am not a non-Mormon, nor will I ever be. I know far more than any non-Mormon can because of my experiences.

But do other terms fare better? I have problems with “post-Mormon,” “former Mormon,” and “ex-Mormon” each, and not just because I am always unsure of whether they should be hyphenated.

I understand that the nonbelieving Mormon community struggles with this issue, but in some primal sense, being an “ex-Mormon” implies some sense of organizational closure to me. Either resignation or excommunication, usually. (Of course, as I noted, the community “struggles” with this because there’s the question of whether resignation really matters…whether it is necessary to “stick it to the man” or whether it actually concedes power to the man by playing by his rules.)

It seems odd to imagine, for example, someone calling themselves an “ex-Mormon” but then also saying, “It’s possible that I might someday revisit my ward; I have nothing against the people and might enjoy it, but I wouldn’t pretend to believe it,” or, in a more technologically inclined bent, “Maybe I’ll try to write a profile just to see if it gets through. I’ll be frank, but charitable.” Whether one has resigned (or is even considering it) or not may be an irrelevant issue — the real point seems to me that the “ex-Mormon” has (or seeks) closure from the body of the church, and I can’t say I’m there.

I’m not quite sure what I think of the difference in the terms “former” and “post-Mormon,” but both together suggest a different connotation from “ex”. Again, it could be that I’m just intuiting or sensing far too much into these words, but these suggest a sort of identity closure, as opposed to organizational closure. The post-Mormon is beyond Mormonism as an identity, maybe.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been busy with my graduate year of school, and from a practical aspect, I seem to be “beyond” Mormonism effectively. I’ve been writing less at all the places I’ve on board to blog, and that’s what’s driven me to revisit this topic yet again.

But still I hesitate. I am avoiding a possible future where I am completely severed from or am “beyond” Mormonism, because I feel like if I ever reach that point, then I become someone with no history, or perhaps, someone with no connection to history.

It’s not amusing to think that one day, Mormonism will be “something I once did/was,” because then, how will I account for all these years? Well, if it’s something I once did, then I don’t account. I don’t bring it up, and I bring up other stuff instead. But what would I bring up instead? I feel rather more two-dimensional without this minority religion whose relationship status is “it’s complicated.”

When does all the residual stuff evaporate? When do I stop micro-flinching when I hear someone saying something negative about the church (as if they can bore past my skull to see the secrets of my history that I was once affiliated with it)? Should I even ever want such a day to come?

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  1. I’ve wanted to articulate something like this for a while, but you not only beat me to it, it put it more eloquently than I could have. I bow to you, sir.

  2. The residual stuff will evaporate with time, as you find things to fill up the space in your life that Mormonism once occupied. It takes a different amount of time for everyone, but you will move on, rest assured.

    As an ex-Catholic, I found that it takes a period of readjustment to unlearn all of the ideas and habits that religion ingrains in you. The Mormon experience is probably different, but I’m guessing that there are also similarities.

  3. To me, “Ex-Mormon” indicates that I once followed mormon teachings, and now I do not. Whether I am technically still mormon or not, philosophically I am no longer.

    I understand the term isn’t perfect without also assigning a definition, but I don’t know if there is a better term.

  4. Ahab,

    The issue isn’t about the future or present, but about the past that is set in stone. A non-Mormon, for example, doesn’t have years or Mormon language, Mormon practices, etc., He doesn’t have the “history” there.

    What I’m saying is I don’t think I can get away from the history, and even if I could, I don’t think I’d want to.

    I don’t want to get to a point where I can no longer recognize who I was in the past, because that past person is ‘severed’ from who I am currently.


    I feel the issue with this is that there is no distinction between, say, “inactive Mormons,” “bad Mormons,” and “ex-Mormons.” Each group could all “not follow mormon teachings anymore, but for drastically different reasons” This reminds me of the article I wrote at MSP a while ago about the stereotypes that ex-mormons are just lazy and desire to sin.

  5. If these three groups must be distinguished from each other, I would say that to me, “Ex-Mormon” means that I once followed mormon teachings, but now I positively reject them.

    I don’t think that a ‘bad’ or ‘inactive’ mormon would qualify as an exmormon so long as they do not positively reject mormon teachings.

    My stance on the ‘laziness’ issue is that the group you are describing as being ‘too lazy’ to attend church or follow its teachings are not lazy at all, but rather, have found better non-lazy things to do with their time than to go to church 3 hours each Sunday and worry about what the bishop thinks.

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