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Writing “The Other” Off

October 2, 2011

I am struggling to be gracious today. (Well, I struggle to be gracious every day. And normally, it’s not much of a struggle. Normally, I simply fail at it with ease, and don’t even think anything of it.)

Today, I was manning the torpedos at the Wheat & Tares twitter for the General Conference twitter #ldsconf hashtag. (Yeah, recently, I’ve taken to just coming out and saying that I’m the guy behind it all, although I certainly encourage my co-bloggers to get in on it as well.)

I try not to say things that will stir the pot too much (unlike some people I could name), because in my role representing Wheat & Tares, I recognize that I do have a kind of responsibility for the site. Instead, I often interject with funny side comments.

…for serious commentary (which I plan to post about later), I’ll need to study over the written transcripts of the talks, and that serious commentary will probably be spread out over here and W&T, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, so I’m tweeting, and I notice (of  course, most people have) that many of the speakers are hitting on various current phenomena…the internet, twitter, blogs, Angry Birds, etc., Interestingly, there was a sort of back and forth between speakers…one would praise these new technologies, but another one would deride them. I think the idea is that the technology can be good, but there are risks. There are ways to misuse. (That’s a serious topic I’ll have to address when the transcripts come out.)

Anyway, Elder Andersen came out and admitted that he was reading a blog (I wasn’t fully paying attention, but I think he said that it was not an LDS one, though) about motherhood. I tweeted wondering that if Andersen reads non-LDS blogs, what about LDS ones?

Anyway, here came one response…a response that probably is predictable from a blog who’s twitter bio advertises that it is the “best Mormon blog in the world”:

@WheatnTweet he reads us. not sure about you guys. sorry, man. #ldsconf

But at that time, I didn’t really think much of the comment, so I just responded with LOL.

…but that wasn’t the only response:

Maybe he would read you guys if you didn’t have so many who seem to hate everything about the church.

Really? Who says something like this?

Afterward came the damage control:

Your bloggers are great; commenters… I haven’t been impressed.

To reiterate: I actually read your blog often; the posts are interesting. I just don’t comment because others seem so negative.

Quite frankly, I think there definitely is a difference in blogs based on the different comment communities, and the divergent community norms when it comes to members of the communities. Dave Banack says that people pretty much self-sort into the various communities, but I think this fails to account for some things that happen either overtly or covertly.

I will be the first to admit that W&T is extremely reluctant to censor, suspend, ban, or even close posts to further comments. Any time the issue gets brought up, there are extremely strong opinions about it, and when someone does it without consulting the rest, there is generally a meltdown. If you remember the old Mormon Matters in its final days, then you should be aware that it fell apart because of this kind of issue. It can be difficult to get into such a community from the fact that everything is chaotic, and in chaos, certain strident voices can outshout everyone else.

bonsaiBut at the same time, it’s sometimes extremely difficult to get into other communities where merely asking questions will make people view you with suspicion (and people openly write that this is the case, although they later come and try to damage control their earlier statements.) Some communities heavily prefer to shape the discussion…it seems to me like tending to a bonsai…not letting any rogue limbs grow too far.

Most of the writers at W&T are well aware of what it’s like to be outsiders…to be the limbs which are to be trimmed and discarded rather than those to be admired, so a statement to say that “the bloggers are great…the commenters…not so much,” misses something.

…and I would argue that this kind of argumentation misses something else. Yes, there is a diversity of opinion at Wheat and Tares. YES, that means that there are some people who are not members of the church, and moreover who are not sympathetic to the church as it is currently run. But we don’t have a discussion that is negative just for the sake of being negative.

I’ve been to negative places around the internet with respect to Mormonism. W&T simply ain’t it. It’s kinda like in the civil rights movement…when people saw Martin Luther King, they saw someone who was radical! Who was critical! Who should be put in his place! Who shouldn’t be so angry!

But these people didn’t know anything about anger, about criticality, about radicality…until they saw Malcolm X. And it was only through comparing the two that people started to “compromise” with Dr. King, because perhaps…perhaps he wasn’t as “bad” as Malcolm X.

But the Martin Luther King/Malcolm X example is instructive here in another way. It wasn’t that Martin = good (because he was “calmer”) and Malcolm = bad (because he was “angrier”). Most of the times, negativity does not exist just to be negative. Anger has a cause and purpose.

I think that what really bothers me about the state of Mormon/ex-Mormon affairs right now is the extent that both sides largely write the other off.

I think sometimes it appears that ex-Mormons don’t know what they want…after all, you can see posts whining about how Mormons won’t leave ex-Mormons alone (they keep trying to reactivate us…or turn us into “projects,” or whatever)…but at the same time, you can see other posts about how Mormons completely disengage with ex-Mormons (as if apostasy is a mental disorder that’s catching.) What do ex-Mormons really want?

(Well, firstly, ex-Mormons aren’t a monolithic group…But secondly…) I think the two options are a false dichotomy. Really, I think that people simply don’t want to be written off. And the current state of affairs is to write “the other” off. Either you write him off as someone in need of salvation, or you write him off as someone who is hopeless.

I think in the Mormon blogging arena, what bothers me the most about some of the Bloggernacle personalities is not that they want to convert ex-Mormons…or even that they don’t want to convert ex-Mormons…but rather, they just don’t want to have anything to do with ex-Mormons at all. They don’t want to deal with us in any way.

Scott B commented at M* once that:

You (likely) feel like we want you to come back to the church, we generally feel like you want us to leave the church.

But I was struck  by how far off this characterization sounds. From continued engagement with a lot of people in the Bloggernacle crowd (as opposed to, say, the Nothing Wavering crowd), I decidedly do not feel like they want me to come back to church. I feel like they do not care, but whatever I do, they would rather me not interrupt what they are doing if I can’t pacify myself.

They can be very polite about it, but that nevertheless seems to be the undertone.

Writing “the other” off isn’t just something on the faithful side. I’m at a point where a lot of disaffected/former/ex-Mormons discussions aren’t a lot of fun either, because it’s just an attempt to vent at the “Morgbots” or whatever they are called. People seem so sure that they know where the TBM is coming from (having possibly “been there before”) that they can dismiss anyone else as brainwashed, rather than recognize that some people’s experiences may be different, and accordingly, their faith has been grounded differently. Quite simply, some people may have quite a bit more nuanced of a perspective.

I just don’t feel “hurt” enough to go through some conversations. Like, it’s really not that bad for me, so sometimes I just can’t sympathize.

I don’t want to blame the “victims,” but I wonder how much of the divide is because some people literally seem to lose a sense of decency with interacting with members when they have a faith crisis.

Maybe it’s best if we stop associating with the other side. Maybe it’s best if for the most part, we stick to our own kinds…

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14 Comments
  1. Seth R. permalink

    Well, I’ve felt bullied and manipulated by both sides.

    From the faithful crowd who thinks a few tears in testimony meeting is a valid way to win an argument, to the animated ex-Mormon who wants us all to roll over and kiss her butt just because she has a sob-story.

    I don’t like being pushed around and expected to think a certain way.

    Still… it’s been years since I really participated much in the bloggernacle community. And when I occasionally go back to read new material there, I’m sometimes a bit taken aback at how the tone has changed from what I remember. Nothing I can pin down or prove, just a general sense-impression I guess.

  2. I guess I just wasn’t around for when times were “better”

  3. I liked L. Tom Perry’s GC advice to members: “Share something about your religious beliefs, but also ask them about their beliefs.” W&T operates more in line with the spirit of that admonition than BCC ever has or will. Do your thing and ignore ‘em. They’re just sore that Jesse Stay spent so much time commenting on that recent thread of yours, so don’t let ‘em psyche you out with their predictable trash talk.

  4. Yes, I definitely need a tough internet skin.

  5. First off, what Chino said. You guys are in a good space having constructive discussions, but religion is a passionate topic. You can’t expect to please everyone.

    Second:

    Writing “the other” off isn’t just something on the faithful side. I’m at a point where a lot of disaffected/former/ex-Mormons discussions aren’t a lot of fun either, because it’s just an attempt to vent at the “Morgbots” or whatever they are called. People seem so sure that they know where the TBM is coming from (having possibly “been there before”) that they can dismiss anyone else as brainwashed, rather than recognize that some people’s experiences may be different, and accordingly, their faith has been grounded differently. Quite simply, some people may have quite a bit more nuanced of a perspective.

    It’s an interesting thing, these days it seems like in order to criticize, one needs to get credibility by claiming that some opposite side is doing some equal-and-opposite bad thing.

    Your characterization of exmos isn’t false, but it isn’t quite parallel to the other part of your post either. As you pointed out in an earlier post, a lot of this venting and anger is from people who just left and are still stinging from the blow. So, while from the outside it can look like exmo space is an unending stream of bitterness, the bitter part is typically short-lived for each individual. Of course it’s not interesting to keep reading the standard venting posts that constantly pop up — if you’ve been on the LDS-interest Internet for a while, you’ve read the same thing a hundred times. But they keep popping up (in part) because they’re new for each batch of people participating in them. It’s true that you often see people who “seem so sure that they know where the TBM is coming from (having possibly “been there before”) that they can dismiss anyone else as brainwashed” — but a lot of people outgrow this adolescent outlook. When I first left the church I thought I knew all about the Mormon mindset, and in the intervening years, through listening, I’ve learned (and am still learning) how much I have yet to learn…

    • Seth R. permalink

      Chanson, I’m just tired of dealing with it. I come onto any discussion format, and it’s just a never-ending parade of these high maintenance emotionally damaged beacons of bitterness and anger – one… after… the… other.

      It’s wearing me down. It’s not happy work being subjected to this kind of thing, day in and day out. And since these emotionally damaged people are so intense, they tend to wear down, drown-out, and push out the more reasonable voices, so they can’t be heard anymore.

      So while it’s nice that they outgrow this immature and unreasonable phase and all…. there’s always another one to take their place. It just never – ends.

      Which means the public square of the Internet will never be a place for reasonable discussion.

      • You’re not being “reasonable” if you’re pretending that victims choose to get hurt. You’re being an enabler at best.

        Your church churns out an endless stream of suicide victims and “emotionally damaged” people. How dare you blame us for surviving. How dare you blame those who make you feel guilty or uncomfortable. And how dare you condemn “immaturity” by coming here to whine about your precious hurt feelings.

        Damn you to hell. Damn all abusers to hell.

        • Seth R. permalink

          Tachyon,

          Prove it.

          Prove to me that the LDS Church “churns out a constant stream of suicide victims.”

          It seems to me that what REALLY contributes to the “constant stream of suicide victims” are people like YOU who glorify suicide, and turn the people who do it into “admirable martyrs” for your own ideological cause.

          But if glorifying suicide so you can score cheap points against your own object of resentment is how you get-down, well… I guess it’s a free country, isn’t it?

  6. chanson,

    I guess I should’ve just paid attention to my two-part post on why exmos are angry. ;)

  7. I’m not convinced that the LDS church has a particularly high suicide rate either. But I don’t think the rate is the issue. I think the issue is how the church contributes to or doesn’t contribute to the problems of its members who commit or attempt suicide, whether they are few or many.

    • Seth R. permalink

      kuri,

      I would agree that when a suicide occurs, it is a good idea for all concerned to look into the causes of it, and be open to whether they – as individuals, or as institutions – have improvement or reforms that need to be made.

      However, it is not useful to rush to assign blame – like Joanna Brooks unwisely did in her most recent article – where she essentially accused the wife of helping cause her ex-husband’s suicide.

      That sort of stuff is just ideological gamesmanship – where one’s own pet cause becomes more important than the people involved.

      • That cuts both ways, as I hope you realize.

        • Seth R. permalink

          Yes. And I just read a completely over-the-top blog post with some guy blaming the recent gay suicide victim and calling him a “coward”, etc.

          I didn’t appreciate his article any more than I appreciated Joanna’s.

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