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Oh, my ex-mormon brethren…

December 1, 2010

At some point, someone is going to say, “Andrew S, your conduct in the blogging world/real world embarrasses me. I feel bad for you since you apparently have no shame for yourself.” OK, I accept my sentencing (but not after crying myself to sleep for the night after such an accusation is made.)

Anyway, Main Street Plaza opened a thread for faithful Mormons today. It was to allow faithful readers and visitors to introduce themselves and be welcomed…but then there was a part later on making it known that MSP is “open t0 constructive criticism” — probably about whether MSP reaches its goals of having reasonable, civil discussions (despite differences in belief). Chanson welcomed feedback on specific posts or policies.

So far, so good. At least theoretically. When I saw it, I can’t deny that I didn’t feel a bit uneasy about it.

As I write, I feel like I’m about to write nearly the same post as I did before about Good Religion vs. Bad Religion, but with a twist.

I’m not saying “Boo! MSP is bad!” I’m not even saying that MSP utterly fails in its goals to have reasonable, civil discussions. BUT I am saying that once again, this is an issue where both sides are clearly going to have disagreements.

For example, when you take someone who is going to view any discussion about issues uncharitable to her faith as an attack or as call for debate, how can you not see where that conversation is going to go?

I’m not saying all Mormons are like that, but you know there are people like that. And if even one stumbles into a thread like this, everything ends.

Does that mean there can be no such thing as reasonable, civil discussions (despite differences in belief)?

Well, here’s the funny thing. I think there actually was a lot of constructive and productive dialogue. But that required at least one similarity in belief — a similar belief as to what an “attack” even means or what “civil discussion” even means. But for one without that shared belief, however, I feel that one person in particular is going to walk away believing all sorts of terrible things about ex-Mormons because of one day’s experience.

(In a mostly unrelated story, I remember a day in class when my classmates got to talking about all the weird stuff in the temple. I didn’t know any better, so I emphatically denied everything they were talking about. After all, I was a real Mormon, yet I had never heard of any of the stuff they were bringing. Obviously, they must have heard wrong, or they were just spreading misinformation.

Eventually, of course, I realized that they had a surprisingly aware understanding of the temple ceremony [at least, the pre-1990 one] that I didn’t have [because I wasn’t endowed]. It didn’t cause me that much distress at all, because I had already recognized I didn’t believe in the church, but another thing that didn’t change was the fact that I still resented them for the day they had badgered me. Even though on many issues they ended up accurate, what affected me in the long-term, and what still affects me, was how they engaged me.)


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  1. I’m kind of wondering how much age/maturity has to do with what’s going on at MSP. I mean, we just had Clarke and the Kiwi guy, and now Jessica. Three adolescents and three blown-up discussions. Is it something about very young people, something about very young Mormons, something about MSP and young Mormons and/or young people in general, or is the sample size just too small to draw any conclusions at all?

  2. openminded permalink

    It’s pretty common among adolescents. I have a few friends on facebook who added me through a Mormon friend, and when they post a status based off religion and an atheist responds, it’s pretty typical to see an backlash like Clarke’s.

    And who can blame them? The developmental stage they’re in intensifies the amygdala (brain’s emotion center), hormones come into play, and a large portion of their life (I’m assuming Clarke went to the early-morning seminary classes, attended dozens of social events, and is about to embark on a two-year mission) is being downsized to a con artist scam.

    It’s really unfortunate. Mormons aren’t held in high regard socially in some places, either.

    But I’ve seen people post more maturely. Don’t know what does it, probably exposure to people who disagree with them.

  3. kuri,

    you know, I didn’t even realize that. Where are all these teenagers coming from? Don’t they have school? Joking aside, I think it is something about youth (speaking as a youth lol)

  4. I think it is important to realize where young/naive TBMs are coming from and how to handle it. Certainly we should realize that we have to tread lightly around people like that if our objective is to help change their thinking process. It was easy enough to predict the backlashes to the grownup straight-talking that we’re all used to. If you tell a seasoned Internet debater “your facts are wrong”, that’s fine. It’s just a friendly debate. But if you tell a 17-year old, emotionally charged TBM “your facts are wrong”, you’re a jerk. I think it does good to target your message appropriately for your audience, regardless of whether you’re right. We want the discussion to be productive, don’t we?

  5. openminded permalink

    Problem is, anything that goes against their beliefs at all will trigger a reaction. Saying it nicely does nothing because anything that goes against them isn’t “nice”.

    It’d be best to redirect them to some other thread that addresses their concerns (or at least puts them through a similar conversation to Clarke’s so they can understand our side better)

  6. I’ve never had much interaction with people that young online, so I wasn’t really sure what was doing it. But yeah, with three teens (well, one’s 20 now, but she used to be a teen) I’ve seen that whole hypersensitive “OMG you’re disagreeing with me! How can you be so mean!” thing IRL a few times, so I don’t know why I expected different on MSP.

  7. Carson,

    While I generally agree with your point (that is, targeting the message for the audience is always a good idea), I think I have to agree with openminded on this point.

    Nevertheless, if someone feels like I’m attacking them, if I don’t have a dog in that fight, I just drop it. I just hope they don’t fall apart whenever they realize what actually happened.

  8. Geez… what happened to that MSP thread? I’m thinking it might not be a bad idea for Chanson to delete that entire exchange with Jessica.

  9. Somehow I managed to make it through 30 or so of those comments without clawing my eyes out. All the blame (often it’s subtle) drives me crazy. Either these so-called “faithful Mormons” are “too young” or the MSP folk are “mean” or the teens “don’t know enough about history” or the MSP folk are “bitter and can’t leave it alone” and around and around we go, never accomplishing anything. Or at least very little. When conversations like this ARE productive I really get the warm fuzzies but it just doesn’t happen very often.

  10. Seth,

    Even though I think the discussion was pretty bad, I’d like to emphasize that MSP is not BCC.


    The thing is, without blame, it’s difficult to even interface with it. Basically, the disagreement poses this huge problem for both sides that must be accounted for. “Too young” or “mean” or “don’t know enough” etc., are the working models to try to account for the difference of opinion.

  11. Interesting that you mentioned the “Good Religion vs. Bad Religion” post, because I’ve encountered a certain kind of trolling that comes from religious people as well. When they come on with their testimonies, aggressively chuck them in the faces of the secularist community, and then smugly cross their arms and prepare to bask in the shocked faces of all those lousy atheists who have been rendered as speechless as Korihor by the strong WORD OF GOD!

    Yeah… quite charming.

  12. Andrew,

    Great post. When conversations get heated often the heated participants are actually entrenching themselves in their respective positions. Far from convincing anyone else they are really just convincing themselves. When people start to get argumentative I have found viewing the interaction through a “stages of change” heuristic helpful. It isn’t the end all be all. But I think it has utility.

  13. Troth,

    I tend to agree that many times, conversations are meant from the perspective of rallying the base or of entrenching positions. (This is really the only way I can explain the debates between big name atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens or Harris with big name theist debaters.)

    But that stages of change model is pretty nifty. Especially since this semester, I’ve taken an organizational development and change class, and in more or less words, that’s pretty spot on to things we learned there.

  14. Andrew – You’re right – people ARE trying to account for things – that is why they need something new to attribute the problem (e.g. the conflict, or the difference of opinion that is not gracefully discussed, etc.). I’m not sure how to do this online yet. In family therapy I always try to give them a new, family-centered problem, rather than the one they come in with (e.g. “If my teen wasn’t so X then all would be fine”). The research over the last 30 years on blame and family therapy is pretty clear now that if negativity and blame are high, successful outcomes are not going to happen. It depends how we’re measuring “success” here though… but yeah, people need some new attributions.

  15. Andrew, I agree that the goal is so difficult that it’s maybe even crazy. But I’m going to try. Why not?

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to insist they be specific in their critiques. Otherwise, we just get a load of “you guys are all just a bunch of haters,” and how can I respond to that except to say “no, we’re not” and direct them to our FAQ?

  16. Why not?

    Perhaps because a major outcome is that most people end up disliking each other more afterward, rather than less.

    I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable to insist that people be specific in critiques. But nevertheless, people are going away thinking even more that we are all just a bunch of haters.

  17. ” …nevertheless, people are going away thinking even more that we are all just a bunch of haters.”

    If this is truly a concern of yours, pls feel free to spend a little time in comments over at MSP convincing our visitors otherwise.

    You’re an extremely bright guy. I hope that quality helps you to learn sooner than later that you can’t be all things to all people. Neither can every blog post. And especially not every Mormon-themed blog post that somehow shows up on the radar of the hoi polloi.

    Last time around, you called me out because I leveraged Reddit to take a video viral. This time around, I didn’t use Reddit, but somehow I’m still being called out. Should I stop linking to MSP in the videos I upload? My sense is that MSP is perfectly capable of handling the influx … even if handling the influx means simply letting a bunch of TBM kids spout off + the consequences. Because that’s OK, too. As long as nobody’s threatening bodily harm.

    I really appreciate you being around when I have technical questions, but how about cutting me and MSP some slack? We just had a video hit 600K views this past week. How about come congratulations instead of this second-guessing?

  18. Chino,

    I honestly don’t know what I can do, since all I’m doing is pissing people off too. The problem is…I’m not sure who I would prefer pissing off since I don’t fully agree with any of the sides. Neither am I sure whether I would prefer to do what I really OUGHT to do to avoid pissing anyone off (e.g., vanish from the face of the internet).

    I feel like this is deja vu…

    Clearly, as others recognized in the MSP thread (and as chanson tried to counter, but hmm…), YOU are the dominant voice behind MSP. YOU have the force of publicity; YOU are more visible; YOU are more driven to get your message out. I can’t compete with that, and I’m not saying I ever could.

    But at the end of the day, when you do what you do (very well, I will add), what does 600k views mean to me? Am I supposed to be impressed by something that helps your aims (which you already know I’m increasingly alienated to?)

    Please don’t be confused. I’m not second-guessing your competence. Definitely not. I’m second-guessing whether I want to be within 100 miles of it and when I should just get out of the way.

  19. Seth R. permalink

    I’ve been around the bloggernacle ever since at least 2004 and I think earlier. And one rule I’ve noticed.

    The moment a person’s blogging focus becomes about popularity, hits, and whether they are accepted into X community or not, the quality of content inevitably goes down and the blog winds up hijacked by social concerns rather than content concerns.

    I sat through the whole “Banner of Heaven” incident, the Snarkernacle, the debate over whether Feminist Mormon Housewives was or was not “legit” as a “Mormon issues” blog, various Niblet controversies, the Mormon Archipelago debate, and DKL’s attempts to challenge it’s dominance, constant whining about who got positioned where in who’s aggregator, and more angsty backbiting sessions about the dividing line between the bloggernacle and the DAMU than I care to think about.

    They’re all tempests in a teacup.

    The bloggers who endure are the ones who shrug their shoulders at it all, and continue to produce stand-up content – without reference to who does or does not like them. These bloggers are the ones who end up outliving the controversies.

  20. That sounds about right, Seth R.

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