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Always Apostate: The Never-Believing Mormon

November 28, 2010

Courtesy of Chanson’s latest Sunday in Outer Blogness, I found that over at We Were Going to Be Queens, Kiley took a stab at the popular question: why are people leaving the Mormon church? She raised that maybe we’re framing the question incorrectly.

…We mistakenly lump all that leave the church together into one single group. There are two groups that leave: those that lack belief and those that lost belief.

Those that lost belief tend to be those that end up on forums, that read and write blogs, those that read the so called “anti” books, etc. This group tends to include those that really truly did believe and often feel the need to give their church resume upon entering the group. “I was BIC, am an RM, went to BYU, served in this or that calling.”

For this group leaving the church is hard, and often very traumatic. These are those that were personally invested in the church. If you are reading this you probably fall into this camp to one degree or another. Upon leaving people in this group have things to work through or questions to ask. It is often said that we go through the mourning process. Dropping beliefs is hard. Reprogramming yourself is time consuming. From a TBM standpoint we had testimonies to one degree or another and we are the fallen.

Many of the youth who are leaving are not going through this process. They do not start blogs about the church. They skip the required reading to fall into the “anti” camp. They don’t post on the forums. They simply don’t have questions to ask or beliefs to sort through. Many of the youth who are leaving fall into the other category that I mentioned. They lack belief, they did not lose belief. They never truly had the testimonies at all.

Rather than asking why they are leaving I think a more valuable question would be to ask why they never believed at all. How did they make it through regular scripture study and Sunday church attendance without anything sinking in?

I like this distinction, to a point. One of the things I’ve learned since joining the Disaffected Mormon Underground is how different my experience has been from others’. The principal difference is the one that Kiley frames here — for me, the idea of having a full, strong testimony and then losing it is incredibly foreign. I cannot really conceptualize what it would be like to “know” the church is true…and then to have that knowledge fall apart.

Why? Because I never was there. I’ve been a part of the never-believing crowd.

Of course, that makes me dislike the rest of Kiley’s characterizations. I think she has a good start, but then fails to capture the experiential difference between these two groups.

From Kiley’s account, it would seem like those who lack belief have an easy slide out of the church. We “simply don’t have questions to ask or beliefs to sort through.”

I disagree. Oh, how I disagree.

See, I post on the forums. I very obviously have a blog. I guess Kiley is right in that I skipped the “required reading,” but does that mean I have no questions to ask or beliefs to sort through?

Absolutely not.

The person who grows up in the church without belief still has a big question to answer…and Kiley even hits on it. This question will wreck an individual who wants to believe, who wants to be on God’s side, but finds him (or her)self unable. That question is this: How have I made it through regular scripture study and Sunday church attendance without anything sinking in?

This is a painful question, especially in a church that teaches that beliefs are a voluntary affair. You choose to believe, so if you don’t believe, if you don’t have a testimony, that is a direct consequence of your bad choices.

So, the person who grows up in the church not believing has this guilt. Why don’t the church teachings appeal to me? Why doesn’t it make sense to me? Why don’t the Book of Mormon characters seem compelling to me? Why doesn’t the church seem inspired to me?

Why don’t I receive answers to my prayers? Why don’t I feel anything special on Sunday or in the temple? Why does it feel so wrong to defend the church in the face of my friends’ questions — why can’t even I believe the answers I’m relaying to them?

…It must because of something I’m doing wrong.

Kiley mentions that it is the first group — the group that had and then lost belief — that feels the need to go through a church resume upon entering the group. But I think this strikes the second group too.

Because what do faithful members say to us? They say that if you lack a testimony, then you need to read the scriptures. You need to attend meetings more faithfully. Fast and pray more often. Magnify your callings.

And so we who do not believe must also maintain a church resume — we have to preface our disbelief with the fact that we have read the scriptures — they just do not seem compelling AT ALL to us. We have to preface with the fact that we are “active” and we do everything we should be, BUT we don’t have a testimony at the end of the day.

And what drives us out is the fact that instead of slowly killing ourselves “enduring to the end,” we’d rather live our lives in peace.

In fact, I think that the better dividing line is activity. Kiley writes that the group that loses belief has a more traumatic experience because they were so invested in the church. But investment isn’t a function of belief — it is a function of activity. And someone who never had a testimony of the church could nevertheless have been active and invested in the church.

So, I think the dichotomy that Kiley wants to describe is different. The second group — the group that slides out with nary a problem — is not that of those who lacked belief…but those who lacked activity or commitment. More on that later.

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4 Comments
  1. Mike S permalink

    I agree more with you, that there is another category (and likely a unique category for each person, to be honest). I have always been active. I have always had a temple recommend. I went on a mission and served as AP, etc. I was on seminary council. I actually have a good experience (socially) and friends at Church (although I find it incredibly tedious and boring). Just yesterday at church, I was very warmly greeted by dozens of people who all know me and my family by name, including the entire stake presidency and even a member of the First Quorum of Seventy. I have people who are wonderful and devoted teachers to my children. We have amazing scoutmasters who have taken my boys on great adventures. They are all good people and friends.

    My problem is that I don’t “know”. I’ve read the BofM 10-15 times. I’ve prayed about it hundreds of times. Each time, I’ve felt deep in my heart that this time is finally “IT”, that I’ll finally get an answer that this is all true. But nothing. When I’ve gone to the temple, I’ve felt that “this time” it will be a great experience. But nothing. And many things bother me. If JS did the things he did today, he’d be on trial just like in the Elizabeth Smart care. I don’t believe in prophetic infallibility. I know people who are apostles and other GAs. Unlike many who demonize them, I believe that they are actually really good, well-intentioned men.

    So, have I ever had a “testimony” to lose? Probably not. Have I been offended by someone? Nope. I’m sure I still appear active to everyone around me, but really don’t think I believe. If I were to leave, I don’t know that I’ve fall in either of the two groups. But even having been active, I don’t know that I’d be “anti” as suggested. I have a lot of good friends and family who are active. I don’t believe attacking anyone’s beliefs is right.

    Who knows where all this will lead? I don’t, but it’s an interesting journey.

  2. I really like Kiley’s framing of the divide, but I totally understand that it doesn’t work in your particular case. I sometimes think that people like you have some sort of quality that I don’t, or were more attentive and thoughtful in younger years.

    I definitely fall into the “lost belief” category. I just simply accepted what I was told over and over again by really nice people who loved me and that I respected. Confirmation bias did wonders for helping me believe in a god who answers prayers.

    Were the scriptures compelling to me? I don’t think that’s even the right question. I don’t think the scriptures were particularly compelling to me at all, nor the meetings. I simply accepted that they were supposed to be compelling and figured that I’d eventually see them that way as I got older and more spiritually mature. I always thought that I’d have a long list of powerful spiritual experiences and witnesses when I was older. I thought I’d understand the scriptures more deeply as well as the temple ceremonies. It wasn’t until later in life that I started noticing that the answers I had accepted from an early age weren’t working so well and that this “spiritual maturing” I had anticipated never occurred. The scriptures made less and less sense the more I read them, and the temple became more monotonous and infuriating the more I went.

    For you to be examining this stuff and how compelling it is to you personally at an earlier age strikes me as pretty remarkable.

  3. I don’t want to give the impression that I was thinking deeply about any of this stuff from a really early age. Until I was ~15, I was pretty clueless. I just thought that everyone was playing a game. It was only then when I realized that when most people bear their testimonies, they actually believe what they are saying.

    And from there, it was downhill.

  4. I still think that trying to pin it down to just a few categories is to simple. As I said on your earlier thread — if there’s one thing I’ve learned from chatting about Mormonism on the Internet — it’s that people’s experiences in and out of Mormonism (the parts they liked, hated, fervently believed, cared about, etc.) are more diverse than I could ever have possibly imagined.

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