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But I think it's unreasonable to ask a believing Mormon to be OK with the idea of leaving the church.

Is it reasonable for you to ask me to be OK with you all staying in the church?

I think we have to distinguish between the subjective and the objective. From an objective point of view, as Seth says, if the church is true, then it's hard to find a justifiable reason to leave. The problem is that none of us find ourselves able to make objective judgments. We're all limited fallible beings. From our fallible positions, we often try to make the best decisions possible. I can certainly see how someone could rationally decide to leave. But on the other hand, I think that ultimately it is a mistake.

Hopefully that clarifies things.

Let me give a few extreme examples where I think it makes sense to leave. Consider someone who was abused by someone in authority in the church. There's simply no way they are really going to easily be able to deal with church on an emotional level. Probably it makes sense to leave, develop, and hopefully later in their progression return.

I think we as Mormons err when we confuse the ends with choices right now. While I think the church can bring greater happiness to all, I think that is a far cry from saying it will bring happiness to all at this time in their development.

None of us know what God wants people to do in their development. To assume that it is for all to join the church in this life seems a mistake. If that was his plan then I think he would have made the church more widespread both today and historically.

Well, I knew I was taking an absolute stand on logical and religious grounds. So I guess I should have expected that some explanation would be required.

I state: This is the one true church.
I conclude: Therefore, leaving it is a mistake.

However, you're taking the equation one step further and saying that means I'm looking down at you. Even after acknowledging my assurances that I don't feel "contempt" you then phrase your situation in extreme and inflamatory language that still makes it seem like I am spitting on you.

My mission president had a saying: "We should not judge those who choose to sin differently than we do."

We all have our pet sins. Who am I to say that your mistakes are worse than mine? The fact that I identify what I consider to be a deficiency in your life does not mean that I am now required to define you by that deficiency.

I have to apologize. I've been reading this thread over and I realize I missed something Alex stated quite a bit earlier. Here's the quote:

"There's a difference between recognizing a reason as valid/respectable and agreeing with that reason. All I ask is the former, not the latter."

I believe I am willing to grant you (and other ex-Mormons) "the former."

Perhaps if I'd seen this statement earlier, I could have avoided a lot of the semantic nitpicking in my earlier posts.

Clark, I appreciate hearing that you don't think the church works for everyone. If anyone you know ever leaves the church, that right there is what they need to hear from you. It will be very comforting to them.

Thanks, Seth, for recognizing that my reasons are valid and respectable, even though you don't agree with them.

But you must realize that I can see right through this:

"Who am I to say that your mistakes are worse than mine?"

It's not your own personal idea to say that what I've done is worse than anything you're doing, and you're trying your best to find some way around it, which I appreciate.

But it's part of the belief system you accept. When you term what I'm doing a "mistake," I know exactly what that's a euphemism for: "the sin of apostasy." Choosing to leave the church, and saying publically that I believe the church is false (which I say and imply on the internet rather often) is apostasy. And apostasy is worse in the church's eyes than ANY other "mistake", except maybe it's on a par with adultery and serious criminal acts. I'm guessing you haven't committed adultery or serious crimes. Therefore, in terms of the belief system you accept, my "mistake" is far worse than any "mistake" you have ever made. Can you honestly say you believe it isn't?

Alex,

I don’t understand what it is you want to hear. It seems you want to hear us say, “we prefer the color blue, but it’s just fine if you prefer green.”

But it doesn’t work that way. It’s more like, “we believe the sum of 14 and 53 is 67.” It is indeed reasonable to believe another person came up with a different sum, maybe they wrote down the numbers wrong, or added them wrong, or just guessed. But we must still submit that the sum is indeed 67. No other answer is correct or valid. It’s not a matter of agreeing to disagree.

What would you do? What would you say to someone who insisted that it was 68? However well you sympathized with them, you would still believe deep down that they were misguided in their answer – and such, apparently, is offensive.

So, if our insistence that the only valid sum is 67 is in itself offensive or condescending to others, then so be it. The best we can do is shrug our shoulders and say sorry.

But it doesn’t work that way. It’s more like, “we believe the sum of 14 and 53 is 67.”
The difference is, if we ask you to prove that the sum of 14 and 53 is 67, you can. If we ask you to prove that Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus in a grove of trees, you can't. There's simply no empirical evidence to support the statement.

The two things are not the same at all.

Ann,

You are right.
It cannot be proven. But its provability is not part of the analogy.

Apostasy is a loaded word. When I use this particular term, I typically think of examples like Judas Iscariot, Oliver Cowdery and others. The term connotates a serious betrayal of the Lord's cause. Certainly, there are technically degrees of apostasy. Therefore according to the scriptures, "apostasy" probably is the correct term to describe your situation.

But I think it is a very strong word. I think most members associate it with betrayal and willfull rebellion in the face of all that is holy. "Apostasy" is kind of a conversation stopper. Once you've been labeled an apostate, all basis for respectful dialogue with you vanishes for many members.

This is therefore not the word I use to describe a great many people I know who have "fallen away." "Mistake" is not my personal euphemism for "apostasy." It represents a choice on my part of how I choose to view you.

I'll admit that a lot of church members don't make these distinctions. For them your conduct probably is considered "apostasy" in all its awful glory (whatever euphemisms they use for it).

I'll give a couple examples representing what I think are two extremes:

#1. Oliver Cowdery. He saw visions, received powerful witness of the Holy Ghost, had profound understanding of the Gospel, was daily taught by Joseph Smith, and was entrusted with serious responsibilities in the Kingdom. Despite all of this knowledge and responsibility, he willfully rebelled.

#2. A young single mother is discovered by the missionaries. She likes the message and is impressed by various aspects of the church. Her understanding of the Gospel is limited, but she feels the Spirit when the missionaries visit. Carried along by the excitement of the conversion process, she finally gets baptised and is given the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
However, life is hard as a single mother. Eventually, the missionaries transfer out of the area. While she has some casual acquaintances at church, she has no real friends. Through some sort of misunderstanding, she never gets any Visiting Teachers. She is quickly losing all enthusiasm for the church.
Finally, she receives a calling in the church. Feeling completely overwhelmed by the demands on her life, she gives a halfhearted attempt to serve, but feels utterly inadequate (especially compared to that fabulous woman in the Relief Society Presidency). Finally, the guilt and lack of connection at church get to her and she gradually stops coming.
(This is not an uncommon scenario.)

Do you honestly think that I consider this woman an "apostate" (with all the serious connotations of that word)?

Certainly, I feel that there are worse sins this. You gave the examples of adultery and criminal activity.

But what about pride? This sin is almost universal in the church and I absolutely consider it more serious than "low-level apostasy."

So I don't think we need draw any hard conclusions about what I think about your status in the universal fellowship of sinners (or my status for that matter).

So basically, you're saying that Oliver Cowdery knew exactly what he was rejecting and chose evil, while the hypothetical young mother never really understood. You're going back to those same two options again: evil or ignorant. Forgive me for feeling that both of those are disrespectful.

Eric, there are many examples in this thread of what I "want to hear" from LDS people. IOW, reactions they could have that wouldn't offend me. Nearly everything Dave has written in this thread is the type of thing I appreciate hearing. In the post of mine that you were just responding to, I told Clark that he had hit on something that I appreciate hearing.

I don't need you to say that religious beliefs are a matter of mere preference; I know it's much deeper than that. All I'm asking is that you find some other explanation for my choice other than (a) my being ignorant of some absolute truth, where you know better, or (b) my making a willful choice to take the path of evil, where you are taking the path of good. Maybe you have to be a bit creative in finding a way to fit a respectful-to-sincere-exmos option into your personal belief system. I personally would appreciate it if you'd make that effort.

I agree with Ann that provability is an inextricable part of the analogy. Even if you cannot budge on the "absolute truth" grounds, can you not find room for respectful disagreement on provability grounds? When you came to believe in the church, it wasn't through the scientific method, through punching numbers in a calculator where everyone's personal calculator comes up with exactly the same answer as long is you enter the numbers right. It was through study and prayer, was it not?

That is where my earlier question comes in. I'll ask it again: Is it necessary for an LDS person to be so rock-solid convinced of their own eternal rightness as to say, "anyone who disagrees with the conclusions I've reached through study and prayer must not have studied/prayed it out enough"?

Alex,

I think we are talking past each other. Your comments presuppose the church not being true. If we assume that the church is all made up, then yes, it is absolutely unnecessary for members to be rock-solid convinced of its truth. And yes, there are many good, reasonable reasons not to believe in it.

Alex, I think the answer to your final question is yes, logically a believing member must think that someone arriving at the answer that the church is true is wrong and hasn't prayed or studied it out enough. In the same way I think a scientist would say to a student that someone who believes the second law of thermodynamics is wrong hasn't studied enough.

Alex, are you really saying that I can't feel respect for someone whom I feel is misguided in one aspect of life?

just a question. some of you touched on the idea of "apostasy." how exactly would you guys define the term, or how strong of a member would one have to be prior to abandoning their faith in order to be considered an apostate? obviously a convert who only came to church for a few months and then went inactive would likely not be considered one, so what level of activity/belief would you say is required?

I think the term apostasy is used in many, sometimes inconsistent ways. The major sense of apostasy is trying to change the church. Which isn't what most who leave try to do.

Seth, I've been trying repeatedly to clarify that your personal feelings toward me are not at issue here. Sure, you can FEEL respect toward someone you think is misguided on one point. And I'm sure you do feel that. But when you say some of the things that I've taken issue with above, you are not EXPRESSING respect.

Suppose that Ethan, an evangelical, had unwittingly been misinformed about LDS beliefs and practices. His pastor had told him that every adult LDS male had more than one wife, and Ethan took his pastor's word as absolute truth. Suppose Ethan met Brother Mahonri (an adult Mormon) and asked him very respectfully how many wives he had, then didn't take Mahonri's word for it when he said he had only one. After all, such a response is out of line with absolute truth. What if Ethan respectfully listened to Mahonri tell his life's story, complete with one and only one wedding, and then respectfully told Mahonri that Mahonri must be mistaken, because Ethan's belief in the plural marriage of Mormons was absolute. No evidence Mahonri could offer would budge Ethan one bit toward believing that Mahonri was anything other than mistaken or lying about the number of wives. Ethan the evangelical may feel all the respect in the world for Mahonri, but if he won't take Mahonri at his word when Mahonri describes his own personal experience, Ethan really isn't expressing respect for Mahonri, is he?

I suppose what I'm asking for is that I be allowed to define my own experience. I know what I experienced during my exit process, just like Mahonri knows how many wives he married. When my personal experiences with prayer tell me one thing, your personal experiences with prayer shouldn't get to trump mine. The fact that your experiences led you to believe in a certain absolute truth doesn't give you that right. You still only got to that perceived absolute truth through the same type of fallible, uncertain, occasionally miraculous technique through which I reached my conclusions.

Clark wrote: logically a believing member must think that someone arriving at the answer that the church is true is wrong and hasn't prayed or studied it out enough. Do you really mean a believing member, or did you mean a member with a "sure knowledge"? Because up until the time you have a "sure knowledge," you're going on faith, and it could conceivably still be you who hasn't prayed/studied it out enough. It seems to me that assuming you're the one who has "arrived," even at an intermediate destination, while others clearly need to catch up on their spiritual studies, is pride. I would hope not all believers would be logically obligated to indulge in that.

In the same way I think a scientist would say to a student that someone who believes the second law of thermodynamics is wrong hasn't studied enough.Or someone who thinks the earth revolves around the sun? Or someone who thinks phlogiston doesn't exist? Or someone who thinks the space-time continuum gets a bit wobbly near the speed of light? Or any number of other theories that one can study one's way right past? Don't get me wrong--I'm not claiming to be a Galileo or Einstein of the religious world. But neither should you be able to confidently claim that the role of well-informed professor while I'm the misguided student.

I think it's kinda like Fiddler on the Roof. In that play, Tevye learns compromise and gains a greater open-mindedness through his first two daughters' marriages. But when the third daughter wishes to marry a "Gentile," he decides that he must either take a stand here or abandon his faith altogether.

Mormons believe this is God's only true church. Therefore a believing Mormon simply cannot entertain the belief that the church isn't for everyone.

We can discuss the church's various dress codes, the wisdom of the three-hour meeting block, and the lack of fun activities for our young women. These practices can be challened freely because they don't involve crucial doctrine (in fact, these items are quite trivial).

We can even discuss plural marriage and women receiving the Priesthood because while these doctrines are certainly important, they are not central.

But if we question whether this church represents the full Restoration of God's true church ....

Now we've reached the line in the sand, so to speak. If you take away this church's claimed status as God's true church, you annihilate any reason this religion has for existing. If this isn't true, then we might as well be Methodists.

You want me to acknowledge that you left the church because it was the right thing for you to do. But if I concede this, then I must logically admit that this church is not God's ONLY true way. This effectively annihilates the CENTRAL pillar of my religious faith.

You essentially want me to discard my entire faith in the name of human tolerance and respect. This, I am unwilling to do. A religion must have a point beyond which you may not go, or it becomes meaningless.

You essentially want me to discard my entire faith in the name of human tolerance and respect. This, I am unwilling to do.

That says it all. You've chosen an approach to Mormonism that conflicts with human tolerance and respect to a significant extent that you are aware of, and you don't see a problem with that.

My point was to bring that to your attention. I don't believe you're obligated by the mere fact of LDS believership to take the approach you've chosen; some other believers in this thread have backed me up on that. But now that it's been pointed out to you, it's up to you to rethink things or not, as you see fit. Far be it from me to rush you in that process. Best wishes.

Thanks for the bandwidth, Dave, it's been a good conversation.

I am not sure that is where things have to end. I think it ends there because members are usually unwilling to damn individuals to a limited future, preferring instead to say they just have a limited perspective. However, I am sure neither attitude will make people happy. I think the "out" is that what one person considers heaven may be what another considers un-heavenly. To some extent, I think, from mormon theology at least, these different existences are entirely possible.

If one does not want a mormon conception of heaven, then I, at least, am perfectly fine in saying there may be more efficient ways outside of the church to get what you want. Indeed it may be unreasonable to think one church will always have the best path for any specific situation, especially if one does not want to go where it ultimately tends. I think this applies in one's relationship with God.

In general, as Seth alludes, mormons believe their religion leaves the most doors open. But once one accepts the closure of certain doors, other things may be more efficient. So I think getting an answer that the church isn't right for you is entirely possible. As so many people state, it is probably a very difficult process. One has to conclude that certain things are not possible, and then be fully prepared for the consequences (both positve and negative) that come about as a result of this. God would probably also have to conclude that remaining a member would exasperate ones problems more than it could help. I think this is where so many people talk past each other. Everyone assumes their answers are universally applicable.

Most members like to think that leaving as many doors open as possible will always be the wisest decision, and hence the one God will always make. I think sometimes people with very clear expectations, beliefs and attitudes may change the applicability of this idea. I think God will always allow people to do what they want. But then I also think that the spirit (or perhaps the light of Christ) is there to show people how to find the divinity in what they want. Perhaps it is not exclusively there to show the best of all possible ways, but the best way in the path chosen. However as the discussion surrounding apostasy indicated not everyone is equally decisive in their decisions.

So in terms of math it may not be something like is 3+4=7 or 8, but is an end point in a solution set included or excluded. It may not make much difference for many applications, in fact, in may even make some easier. However, it doesn't mean that if one chooses certain unusual applications, that the limitiations won't exist. Some people will even choose not to do math, making the whole issue rather irrelevant. Of course the determination of which method does and does not have the limitations is the big question. I don't think accepting more than one model implies mutual exclusivity. To my way of thinking though, it does imply subsets.

I think we have as much understanding of each other's positions as we are ever going to have.

My primary aim in posting was to point out that I can respect a person even if I don't have a similar degree of respect for a particular decision that person made.

Likewise Alex, it's been a pleasant chat.

Seth and Alex have both made their final comments in this record-breaking 120-comment thread, so I will close the thread and thank all contributors. I will post again on this interesting topic in the near future.

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