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Why are Ex-Mormons So Angry (and other questions)? Part II

August 18, 2011

This is the second part of what has turned out to be a surprisingly lengthy two-part series on the perception of ex-Mormons as being angry and causes and reasons for anger that may exist. Please read part I (if you haven’t already) here.

3. Why do ex-Mormons appear to be angrier than we are?

If you’ll notice my phrasing of the previous question (in the first part), I wrote that some ex-Mormons will be angry some of the time. But what outsiders generally see is a perpetually angry mass of people.

So what explains the difference between appearance and reality?

It’s a matter of an unrepresentative sample along with the vocal minority/silent majority dynamic.

To explain, there are many people who drift away from the church. Even if specific numbers are not known, church inactivity rates are not insignificant. (Maybe if I am really bored, I’ll look up [or even better, commenters will link to] estimates both from “faithful” statisticians and not-so-faithful ones…but needless to say, inactivity and retention is something that even believing bloggers will address seriously from time to time.) The thing is…most of these inactive people…who for all intents and purposes, would look (to someone within the church) indistinguishable from someone who has left the church, are not blogging. They are not posting on ex-Mormon forums. They are not posting on reddit.

In fact, they may not even think about Mormon issues at all.

The people who blog, who post on forums, etc., are fundamentally different than the people who don’t. While I’m sure there are a number of relevant trait differences among the two groups, one reasonable one to assume is that people who blog have a reason to do so. They have a motivation to blog. Who’s to say that most “ex-Mormons” have no such motivation?

For all we know, most people who leave the church might well be leaving it perfectly well alone. We would never know about it, though, because there would be no way to identify these people without having insider knowledge on their past affiliation with the church. In fact, the sheer statistics would suggest it. There may be a lot of ex-Mormon blogs, but there aren’t nearly as much as would be expected given the inactivity crisis figures. (Then again, keeping track of ex-Mormon blogs isn’t exactly a perfect science. There is the new Outer Blogness blog aggregator, and Chanson and the other permas at Main Street Plaza try to keep track of any ex-Mormon blogging efforts, but everything is nevertheless quite decentralized.)

And that decentralized nature brings up another point. A blunder I see often on the internet is in assuming that one is dealing with a static body of people. In some of my forums I’ll visit, people will protest how others flip-flop positions. For example, before a movie has come out (or immediately after its release), there will be praise and anticipation for the movie. If the movie becomes particularly popular, all of a sudden, the posts praising the movie will turn to posts in rabid opposition to it. How is it that people can turn on something they once loved?

There are some interesting hypothetical explanations for this phenomenon. Maybe when things become popular then they are no longer cool?

…but a better answer will take into account the fact that the population isn’t static at all. The people who anticipated and liked the movie when it was unknown or when it was unreleased aren’t the same people who dislike it when it is released. (And maybe, when the movie was unknown, the only people who had motivation to talk about the movie were precisely the kinds of people who would enjoy the movie enough to keep track of it or to watch early showings, even if later viewers would not be similarly impressed.)

In the similar way (but to a different effect), the same people venting about their experiences with the church aren’t the same throughout time. While blogs go defunct all the time (and Mormon blogs certainly do), I’d venture to say that ex-Mormon blogs do so more often. The disaffected Mormon underground, or Outer Blogness, or whatever you will call the body of ex-Mormons on the internet, is a transient group prone to attrition.

I’m definitely too lazy to craft anything more than anecdata, but I will venture to say that many of the blogs I read two years ago (or even a year ago) do not update regularly now. Many of the blogs I keep track of today didn’t exist two years ago. To illustrate, check out my Irresistible Blogroll. I published the blogroll formally in July of 2010 and haven’t touched it since. If you look at the faithful Mormon side, there are few blogs (if any?) which are functionally defunct (and while there are new faithful blogs I keep track of now that didn’t exist then [most notably Wheat and Tares…], most of them are there). (Although there are blogs that are highly irregular posters.) The ex-Mormon side, however, is the only one that has a “blog closing” or “final blog” post as the last entry. It’s substantially incomplete — many of the blogs I follow via RSS weren’t around when I was still maintaining the blogroll.

So, it turns out, many ex-Mormons who had cause to be distressed do move on. This isn’t to say that there aren’t ex-Mormons who don’t, but even in this case, there is still a distinction: we mellow out. So the bloggers at MSP, Jon Adams at USU SHAFT, and me here at Irresistible (Dis)Grace are long-timers with respect to ex-Mormon blogging, but we’re not venting. This subject is our hobby and intellectual plaything.

If the Bloggernacle can be said t0 have no collective memory (something Armand Mauss has lamented as a flaw in the medium), then this certainly applies to the decentralized Outer Blogness. And so, covering thorny issues of church history, doctrine, culture, and other pain points is something that happens over and over, as new generations of disaffected members struggle to find bearings in a post-faith-crisis world.

To say ex-Mormons are always angry, then, is to attribute to a static population what is better understood as the phenomenon of a dynamic population.

There are probably other conclusions we might draw from this. A while back, I wrote about the problem with atheist communities. Today, I’d probably retract much of what I said as my personal introverted thoughts on the issue masquerading as general commentary. I would probably be more willing to recognize today the important of community support — in the face-to-face, I-will-help-you-move-in-and-bake-you-something-when-you’re-sick sense — and wonder if that ever reliably and largely gets implemented in secular contexts.

…but I would venture (and maybe I’m totally wrong…because I don’t have experience here) that ex-Mormon communities do see different faces over the years. So instead of seeing the same core of people in an area at every meetup, perhaps things must be built from the ground up with the understanding that people move on — and that’s OK.

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6 Comments
  1. I agree that the population really changes.

    In my own family and extended family, I don’t want to say much because a person’s relationship to mormonism is personal. But from my understanding, the majority of relatives who are inactive or have left the LDS church have nothing or little to do with blogs or fora.

    Now, my family may not be reflective of most former LDS, but that’s my take. chanson might disagree…

  2. Thanks for the mention, Andrew! I’m very flattered.

    Great post, too! I’ll include it in my link bomb tonight. I may even want to quote from it more extensively than a quick blurb in my link bomb–would I have your permission to reproduce parts of it at SHAFT (giving you credit and directing traffic your way, of course).

  3. Jon,

    Of course it’s ok. I plan on posting this over at MSP as well. I hope it can be an often referenced go-to guide.

  4. skysix permalink

    Well done, Andrew. Although I am not a Mormon, I have long believed this is a religion that requires its members to deny the use of critical reason. It makes “intellectual slaves” of people. I wouldn’t blame anyone who, once freed from it, became angry with such a system.

  5. you’re right, it’s a population sample skewing – people who are upset and complaining are noticeable and people who are content are quiet and uncounted.

    so we pay attention to people who draw attention – and those are the people who are unhappy or unwilling to live with the status quo

    people who like or accept the status quo only become vocal and active when us discontents start to demand changes to the status quo

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