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Near Misses, Remote Misses, and Disaffection from Mormonism

January 28, 2014

My post last week at Wheat & Tares on the 4 Reasons Disaffected Mormons Become Atheists has been popular indeed…in addition to a response from Jeff, it has now gotten a response from Hawkgrrrl, where she adeptly blends in the pop science reporting of Malcolm Gladwell to provide a narrative for why certain issues within Mormonism may affect people differently. In particular, Hawkgrrrl addresses Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Gladwell summarizes research describing differential reactions to World War II bombings in the UK. Three groups are highlighted, as Hawkgrrrl posts:

  • Those directly killed.  While there are some who are immediate casualties, and clearly they have the most severe impact, it is not their loss, but the reaction of the survivors that affects the psychological reaction of the group.  These folks actually cease to influence the community, or as MacCurdy callously (yet accurately) put it ‘corpses don’t spread panic.’
  • The near misses.  In a bombing, these are the people who feel the blast, see the destruction, are horrified by the carnage, may even be seriously wounded but not killed.  They survive, but are deeply impressed by the experience.  In these cases, their “impression” reinforces a fear reaction associated with bombing.  They are usually jumpy, dazed, preoccupied with the horrors of what they saw and may experience PTSD.  This is the reaction leaders expected to prevail in the wake of the bombings.
  • The remote misses.  These are the people who listen to the sirens, hear the bombs, and even see the explosions in the distance, but they are not personally injured or often close enough to be blown off their feet by the blasts.  Psychologically, the consequences to these survivors are the exact opposite of the near miss group.  Their survival comes with an excitement associated with the attack and a feeling of invulnerability.  A near miss leaves you traumatized, but a remote miss makes you believe you are invincible.

Hawkgrrrl applies these categories to disaffected Mormons via her experience at StayLDS.

While working on the StayLDS board, I have noticed that people come to the forum with different issues:  Joseph Smith, polygamy, treatment of homosexuals, political discourse at church, racism, sexism, boredom, depression, ecclesiastical abuse.  Invariably, the issues they are dealing with are incredibly important to them.  But those same issues are not equally important to every participant in the forum.

For a quick example, a recent discussion was started by a woman who was rattled by the overt sexism in the temple ceremony.  While a few of the men agreed that they disliked the sexism inherent in the temple, nearly all the women agreed that it was a big concern for them, one that created a lot of personal hurt and disaffection, and several stated it was one of their core issues.  Perhaps understandably, the men who expressed empathy simply didn’t consider this to be a core issue for them.  For the women in the discussion, sexism was a near miss.  For the men, it was a remote miss.  In this case, these were men who had also experienced near misses of their own, just not on that topic.

I find this to be an intriguing way of looking at certain aspects of disaffection, especially on social issues. However, any scroll down a disaffected Mormon website will reveal more than gay folks who are disaffected because of the LDS church’s anti-LGBT stances, political liberals who are stifled by conservative political discourse at church, or feminists who fight against institutionalized sexism. There are people who experience privilege along racial, gender, orientation, and other lines at church…yet who are still disaffected by issues in history. How can one say that tragedies that occurred 200 years ago, or dubious historical classes over a millennium ago, are close enough to be “near misses”?

Hawkgrrrl has one question in particular that flows from this model that I find to be especially provocative:

  • Given that polygamy and other sexist issues can’t be a near miss for men, is there any hope women’s concerns will be taken seriously?  Likewise for how homosexuals and minorities are treated, given that all decision-making church leaders are white heterosexual men?  Taking it one step further, have any of our top leaders had any near misses (in terms of church disaffection), or only remote misses with thorny issues?

However, my concerns (as noted above) make me suspect that this question asks too much. Though it is reasonable to suppose that polygamy and other issues of sexism in the church will be remote enough from those with male privilege to hinder empathy, there is still the question that many women seem not to empathize on these issues, and issues that should be remote to everyone (e.g., doctrines and history long past) still keep popping up as being disaffection drivers.

So, what causes these issues to affect some and not others? We are back at square one.

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4 Comments
  1. Angela C permalink

    I was thinking about that too, and I can’t say with conclusive authority that I’m right, but the women within the church who aren’t bothered by sexism (or who say they are not) are generally those who experience privilege associated with benevolent patriarchy (the narrative that men are scum, women are better than men, inherently more spiritual, deserve to be provided for, are more nurturing). I’m sure in saying this I should prepare to be crucified, but it’s been my observation. Women who live the so-called ideal are also comfortable isolated from a lot of the non-sexist world. The places they are most likely to interact (health care and the schools) are still quite gender-segregated and don’t challenge those sexist norms nearly as much as the business world or other professions.

  2. Ang,

    That was going to be my pre-emptive guess as to why those issues do not affect all members of the “group” equally. In other words, sexism causes disaffection when sexism becomes a near miss — just because it is likelier to happen to women because of the institutional setup doesn’t mean that it will happen to all women, or that it can’t happen to men.

  3. Angela C permalink

    This was one of the things that was dissatisfying in Gladwell’s book. He only labels the near or remote misses in retrospect but can’t really describe a way to predict which it will be. So your adversity could spur you on to greatness or could zap your strength. Hardly ground-breaking observation. Yet I think there’s something to this idea. In either case, it’s a call for empathy, and we can always use more reminders to be empathetic.

  4. I think that how traumatic, in the long run, a near-miss is, also has to do with whether others recognize the trauma and give understanding and support, or whether they feel like their concerns are disregarded. Is their PTSD recognized? Do they find help and support in the church? Or do they only find it in others who have left?

    I believe that where the support comes from, ultimately matters as much as what the hit is, and how deeply it initially impacts someone.

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