Why are Ex-Mormons So Angry (and other questions)? Part I
A while back on reddit, a Mormon stumbled into the popular (and still growing) ex-Mormon reddit to ask the ex-Mormon denizens a few questions. Many of the questions were quite patronizing (despite the poster’s stated desire to “support whatever [our] beliefs [were] in a non-patronizing way”), and the proceeding conversation was less than pretty. However, it was a good chance for me to formalize some little-known dynamics of the disaffected Mormon underground that explain why some questions come up over and over again from well-meaning (or even not-so-well-meaning) Mormon (or even non-Mormon) outsiders:
- Are ex-Mormons all angry?
- If so, why are we angry?
- If not (or if there is some caveat), then why do we appear to be angry?
In addressing these basic questions, I made comments that I’ve made on many blogs and on many occasions, but recently I realized that I’ve never formally taken the time to post these things.
Until now. This is the first part of what has turned out to be a surprisingly lengthy two-part series. Part II may be found here.
1. Are ex-Mormons all angry?
The simple answer to this question is no. Ex-Mormons are not all angry. This does not mean that there aren’t non-negligible elements of the ex-Mormon community who are angry. Neither does it mean that the ex-Mormons who are angry are not justifiably so, or angry for no reason. (However short this answer is, it necessitates the next two questions, and the next two questions are where the behind-the-scene dynamics operate.)
2. Why are (some) ex-Mormons (sometimes) angry?
The fact is that there are some ex-Mormons who are angry. And these ex-Mormons would argue that they have valid cause to be angry. One criticism of the Mormon redditor was to raise that “it’s kind of pathetic to get so wrapped up in something that isn’t a part of you now.” In more veiled terms, Mormons talk about people who leave the church, but cannot leave it alone. Both insiders and outsiders to church affairs wonder why people who leave allow it to take up so much of their lives. Why give power to the church if you don’t agree with it?
On the surface, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Other churches and religious communities do not have the dynamics that the Mormon/ex-Mormon one has, and people cannot see what lies beneath the surface of the ex-Mormon experience that makes it different from many other community dynamics (but the ex-Mormon, whether he has critically assessed these dynamics, nevertheless lives them.)
To begin to explain, I would raise simply that Mormonism isn’t something that you just leave and then — *poof* — it’s “not a part of you.” Mormonism is an extremely pervasive culture and religion. Many ex-Mormons have friends and family members still in the religion, and their standings with the church have extremely adverse effects to their relationships. They face their friends and family either constantly trying to reconvert them or these same people coming to treat them as if they have leprosy simply because they do not believe. Ex-Mormons may have their children preyed upon (or, at the very least, prayed for…to save them from the apostasy of the parents); ex-Mormons may have family members and friends turn against them. And that’s for the ex-Mormons who can leave. Many cannot openly reject the church without jeopardizing their relationships.
People are JUSTIFIABLY angry because of these relationship issues.
But think further: the ex-Mormon him- or herself was once devoted to the church. She was (at the very least) taught to trust the church’s teachings, the scriptures, commandments, and so on. So, even without any threat to relationships, the person who comes to believe that things are not as she was taught is JUSTIFIABLY angry because she put so much time (and money) in the church to find out that she was taught incorrect things. She who comes to believe that the truth was obscured from her is indignant. She feels JUSTIFIABLY betrayed and hurt.
So, in some ways, it’s more of a surprise to see people who walk away from it without having any adverse reaction. Considering that Mormonism isn’t just a once-in-a-blue-moon thing — that it is a total lifestyle — leaving it shouldn’t be easy. I don’t want to make assumptions, but when I see people who have little problem leaving the church, I suspect that they were never invested in the first place. (Ironically, this is the claim that many believing members will make of anyone who leaves — including the ones who struggle deeply over their exit.) To the contrary, when I see people who are active on ex-Mormon forums, blogs, and websites, what I see over and over again are people who were VERY invested in Mormonism when they were active, and who consequently have an incredible challenge to move away. They essentially have to come to terms with how to re-interpret most of their entire lives. What did the relationships mean? What did their activity mean? What did their service mean? How could this have happened to them?
To make an analogy, it would be VERY strange if someone who recently divorced a long-time spouse or who recently lost a long-loved loved one had NO adverse reactions, NO grief, etc., We might think them to be cold, or suspect the nature of their relationship to the person. It is far more common to see people having long-running issues that they have to work very hard at resolving over time…and if there are long-running relationship issues (say, protracted custody battle…), then we understand that there will be deeper feelings for a longer period of time.
So, that explains why many ex-Mormons are angry (and why there is method to the madness [pun very much intended]). I’ll address the final question (of why ex-Mormons appear to be angrier than we are) in Part II, which may be found here.