« Brigham in England | Main | Brigham on Science and Theology »

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Obviously there are things that, in theory, could lead me to disbelieve. However cognitive disbelief is more the idea that we adjust our beliefs to fit our actions. i.e. it is a kind of irrational behavior. I honestly don't think I'm twisting beliefs to justify my membership. Far from it. Rather I think that I approach things as honestly and forthrightly as possible.

There is a difference between having things I can't satisfactorily answer and having cognitive dissonance. Otherwise every physicist would be suffering cognitive dissonance due to the clash between GR and QM.

i always thought of cognitive dissonance as more of a conflict between two irreconcilable beliefs. for me it was things like "the adam and eve story has to be just a myth" vs. "adam and eve had to be real people or else what's the point w/ the endowment?" please correct me if i've misunderstood the definition.

Twisting beliefs to fit preconceived ideas is one way of dealing with cognitive dissonance. Shelving irreconcilable beliefs (filing it away until the next life) is another. Sometimes this can be satisfactorily accomplished, and other times it can't. It depends on the person. It also depends on the circumstances. A family or individual for whom Mormonism "works" will have a better time "shelving" inconsistences and unpalatable history. Someone for whom the culture and doctrine *doesn't* work might have an easier time abandoning the religion.

Sorry if my post sounded like it was implying that people leave the church because they are "living in sin" (although I suppose some people do).

I was basically stating that you either believe it or you don't. If you don't believe it, it doesn't surprise me that you'd want to leave. This is a very demanding religion. I don't think that makes you "morally weak" or anything. It just means you don't believe it anymore, and why stick with something you don't believe?

My only intent was to cut through the smokescreens. I think people can lose sight of what was going on at the personal, and spiritual level by blaming their loss of testimony on external factors.

I am more or less satisfied with Alex's answer for instance. Although he mentions the external factors as contributing to his decision to leave, he still takes personal responsibility for his life choices. He states that it was a "change of heart," if you will, that motivated his actions, not his parents or his bishop or whatever else.

My post wasn't criticizing all people who leave per se. It was more a call for people to be more honest with themselves.

Thanks for the clarification, Seth. It is certainly not just those who depart who use "smokescreens." Ironically, your description of how those who exit think applies as well, I think, to how Mormons themselves often explain those who leave, and that Mormons can lose sight of what was going on at the personal and spiritual level by blaming [another's] loss of testimony on external factors.

I think of the oft-heard but obviously false comment "they still know it's true." It is unclear who such people are trying to fool if not themselves.

Ann said:

Blaming people leaving on "sin" is a hoot. Every single person who leaves the church is a sinner. Of course, so is every single person who stays.

I think you've hit the nail on the head there, Ann, but allow me to provide a slightly different perspective.

I will gladly admit that I left the church because of my sins. I can't say I ever read any anti-Mormon literature or decided the church wasn't true for intellectual reasons. I simply started reading the New Testament one day. I found a different gospel there than the one I knew in Mormonism, and it changed the way I looked at forgiveness.

Yes, later on I had to grapple with issues like "was Joseph Smith a prophet?", and "can I still trust the Book of Mormon?", and the intellectual answers did come. But those weren't originally a part of my "unconversion."

I don't feel ashamed at all in admitting that my sin was the primary reason I left the church. It's not because I was too lazy to repent. On the contrary, I've probably repented more since I've left the church than before. The difference is that I realized the Mormon system was inadequate. No matter how much repentance I performed, I never felt forgiven.

Spencer W. Kimball, in The Miracle of Forgiveness exclaims: "How comforting it is to know that on judgement day we shall be treated fairly and justly and in the light of the total, true picture and the discernment of the Judge!"

Thoughts like that never comforted me. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we are all sinners, and no matter how much repentance we perform we go right on sinning. The only person who can say just judgement is a comforting thought is one who is pridefully confident in his own supposed righteousness. If I am to be judged "in light of the total picture," I know I will be condemned.

The New Testament paints a very different picture of forgiveness. Read Hebrews 10 to see what I mean (pay special attention to verses 10, 14, 17-18, and 23). The NT view of forgiveness gives no place for pride because it has everything to do with Christ and nothing to do with our own worthiness (see Romans 3:27).

Placing my trust alone in Christ -- and not in my own ability to maintain worthiness -- I feel a forgiveness that brings me peace and gives me hope of living with my Heavenly Father someday. That's the core of my reason for leaving the LDS church.

[i]There are things I don't understand but I'm willing to let them slide because of what I feel are the strong experiences that logically make doing otherwise illogical.[/i]

I think we're getting close to the nub here, Clark, but not quite there.

I, too, had very strong experiences of the "Moroni's promise" type, where I received answers in the way the LDS church promises to the questions the LDS church taught me to ask.

I, too, was willing to let certain things slide for a long time because the comfort of the answers I had received through spiritual experiences seemed to outweigh the discomfort of the concerns I couldn't resolve and didn't receive satisfying answers for.

I don't know that I can fully explain why that balance began to shift; why the discomfort started to outweigh the comfort. I certainly continued to have spiritual experiences where I felt God's love for me, and I still do--so it's not like the "comfort" aspect diminished. Rather, the "discomfort" aspect grew until it became overwhelming, till I couldn't stand it anymore, till I had to deal with it.

I do believe that growing discomfort was cognitive dissonance. Shelving my concerns was no longer working for me. When I took them off the back burner, I was unable to reconcile them. Generally speaking, my dissonance was that I could not reconcile the LDS church being divinely led in all things with the actual positions it took on issues A, B, C, D, and E that were of great moral and intellectual significance to me. When these beliefs could no longer be shelved or reconciled, one of them had to go.

"Cognitive dissonance appears in virtually all evaluations and decisions and is the central mechanism by which we experience new differences in the world. When we see other people behave differently to our images of them, when we hold any conflicting thoughts, we experience dissonance." from http://changingminds.org/explanations/theories/cognitive_dissonance.htm

So, yes, physicists do have cognitive dissonance when two theories cannot be reconciled. And they react to that dissonance either by shelving the inquiry and focusing on other matters, or by pushing forward in their research to try to reconcile the theories. Or they do what I did and drop their physics course after the first mention of quantum mechanics.

BTW, I am a female Alex.

Joey,

Not trying to change your mind or anything, but that's really not so different from my take on LDS theology regarding "Faith vs. Works."

But you're right in one respect: there does seem to be an overly self-sufficient attitude in the LDS faith.

Joey, I think we probably disagree on the nature of repentance and sin. I think the LDS position is that we are all sinners and always will be until the Atonement takes away the nature of the flesh in the resurrection. Thus the need for the Savior to save us from our sins. To me I think there is a danger in some forms of Protestantism in not allowing faith to manifest itself. I think that the prick of our sin brings us down in humility so that we let Christ act through us. I believe God saves us from our sins, and not in our sins.

Alex, I honestly don't think that physicists are suffering cognitive dissonance because they recognize that both theories are incomplete and that when we gain the more complete theory our misunderstandings will disappear. I think the same is true in theology.

I'd also add that I don't think spiritual experiences are only of the Moroni 10:4 type. I think that sort of spiritual experience gets you in the doorway. But I think that it is quite easy to fall away if that's the only kind of experience we have to go on. That's why I think progressing within the gospel is so important. It is coming and seeing how God interacts with us on a daily level. It is that, more than any one experience, that makes it impossible for me to deny things. Some things I can't answer. But I'm sure when I have more information I will.

Joey, I'm sorry to have to point out that you left the Church based on a misunderstanding of what the Church teaches about repentance and forgiveness. When you wrote, "Placing my trust alone in Christ -- and not in my own ability to maintain worthiness -- I feel a forgiveness that brings me peace and gives me hope of living with my Heavenly Father someday," you actually described the way that the Church views forgiveness. If you thought that pride has something to do with forgiveness, then you were mistaken. It is an unfortunate reason to leave the Church (based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the doctrine).

If anything is inadequate, it is the Evangelical concept that once you accept Jesus in your heart, then you are saved, regardless of any acts you do thereafter. If you didn't feel real forgiveness upon repentance according to the precepts of God's Restored Gospel, then perhaps you didn't trust enough in Jesus Christ, that we are saved, in the end, by his grace alone, after all we can do to better ourselves and show him that we are humble enough to repent on a daily basis and change according to his will. Realizing that your baptism and the weekly taking of the sacrament cleanses you from all sin, coupled with the confession and repentance process for grievious sins, should have given you the assurance President Kimball speaks of. Pride has nothing to do with it.

Mike wrote either mormonism is god's true religion or it's made up. it doesn't matter what i or alex did or do, either JS saw god and jesus or he didn't.

This is a very true statement. Personally, I believe that JS did see God and Jesus as he claimed. The way I see it, those who claim JS was lying have the burden of persuasion and the burden of proof. I guess they sense this too and that is why, even after leaving, as Elder Maxwell says, they just can't leave it alone. Perhaps they need to keep reassuring themselves that there is some basis to believe that the Church isn't true; the costs are indeed high, after all (if the Church is true in the end and they have rejected it b/c it wasn't "intellectually comfortable" or they like the taste of beer).

Alex, I honestly don't think that physicists are suffering cognitive dissonance because they recognize that both theories are incomplete and that when we gain the more complete theory our misunderstandings will disappear.

Saying to oneself "eventually we'll understand, so let's not worry about it" is called "shelving the inquiry," which is one way to deal with cognitive dissonance. If someone feels satisfied shelving the inquiry, I guess it is true they are not "suffering" cognitive dissonance; rather, they are effectively managing their cog dis in a way that works for them. But the fact is, they are still holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time, which is by definition cognitive dissonance. Feeling confident that "someday there will be a way to reconcile these beliefs" does not in itself reconcile the beliefs.

I'd also add that I don't think spiritual experiences are only of the Moroni 10:4 type. I think that sort of spiritual experience gets you in the doorway. But I think that it is quite easy to fall away if that's the only kind of experience we have to go on. That's why I think progressing within the gospel is so important. It is coming and seeing how God interacts with us on a daily level.

I didn't mean to imply that the only spiritual experiences I had were of the Moroni's promise type. However, those were the only type of experiences that testified to me of the LDS church specifically. I'm including in my use of the term "Moroni's promise type" all situations where I would ask God a question about a fundamental LDS belief, such as "Is Gordon B. Hinckley a prophet?" and I felt something that I took as an affirmative answer.

I certainly did and do have a relationship with God that goes far beyond such Q&A sessions. But my daily interactions with God have to do with feeling God's love for me, being filled with love for others, being motivated to live by good moral principles, et cetera...all of which are completely irrelevant to my testimony (or lack thereof) of the LDS church as divine organization.

even after leaving, as Elder Maxwell says, they just can't leave it alone

I just knew someone would bring up this, my favorite offensive statement frequently made about former Mormons. It's my favorite because everything you throw at it bounces right off. It's unfalsifiable. Anything any ex-Mormon says in response to "you can't leave it alone" will be seen as "not leaving it alone." Anything any ex-Mormon ever says about the church at all, no matter how restrained and polite, will be seen as "not leaving it alone." The ex-Mormons who actually do leave the church completely alone are by definition totally unseen and unheard by current Mormons, so they aren't available to disprove the statement. If they ever did, decades later, pop back onto the LDS radar somehow, that act itself would constitute "not leaving it alone."

The one part of your reasoning that I actually agree with, john fowles, is that many who leave the church do need to reassure themselves that the church is untrue. After all, how many times in our childhood and youth were we reassured that "the church is true"? How many times did we bear testimony of it ourselves, especially as missionaries? Uncountably many times. That oft-repeated statement is powerful conditioning, which creates mental habits that are hard to break, even when genuinely convinced of the opposite position.

Those of us who leave do require some re-conditioning in order to put our new thought patterns into something approaching as deep and comfortable a mental groove as our old thought patterns. And that's one of the reasons we need ex-LDS support groups, while ex-Presbyterians do just fine. Presbyterians do not devote one Sunday a month to testimonies of the truth of the Presbyterian church. Presbyterian Sunday School teachers don't say "I know the Presbyterian church is true" at the end of every lesson. Et cetera. They do testify a lot of Christ, though. So if they leave Christianity altogether, they often do look for an ex-Christian support group.

Anything any ex-Mormon ever says about the church at all, no matter how restrained and polite, will be seen as "not leaving it alone."

Well, that just isn't true. [The LDS Church] is just a voluntary organzation--if you believe in it and want to join, you can, and if you want to leave, you can, and if you want to obey the "ridiculous" prescriptions of the religion, such as wearing garments, you can and if you don't that's your choice and noone is forcing you to do otherwise. Etc. etc.

By the way, when Elder Maxwell said that he said it with sadness that exmos couldn't be nice to those who have chosen to remain. Do you really think that his observation is without foundation. There too you will have a very substantial burden of persuasion. [edited 3/30]

That oft-repeated statement is powerful conditioning, which creates mental habits that are hard to break, even when genuinely convinced of the opposite position.

Sort of a need to un-brainwash from all the destructive belief-mongering of the old Latter-day Saints, eh? You might be right, though, that ex-Presbyterians don't have the same problem, because they don't really believe that their church is true in the way that Latter-day Saints believe (i.e. proper priesthood authority only possible in the way that God has prescribed it, proper revelatory channels for stewardship purposes, hence the need for a literal prophet, wholsale acceptance of the doctrines rather than a pick and choose approach, to wit a one-true-church perspective).

Elder Maxwell said that he said it with sadness that exmos couldn't be nice to those who have chosen to remain.
Funny, I heard contempt [but] I heard no sadness, no sense of loss. Just condescending contempt. [ ... ] [edited 3/30]

There have been some terribly interesting comments on this thread. My impression is that a few angry Exmos give the whole class a bad name, and that at the same time some Mormons carry an Exmo chip on their shoulder. Generally the combination is enough to scuttle online exchanges on the subject, but this one seems to have carried on quite nicely. On the whole.

John F, are you at least willing to concede that many who leave the Church for religious reasons (as opposed to flagrantly sinful conduct) do so sincerely?

Ann, what exactly are Mormon leaders supposed to say about those who leave the Church? Give them a pat on the back or congratulations? All religious leaders regret the loss of members of their denomination. In view of what some Christian street preachers do on the sidewalk during Conference sessions, it's understandable that after the obligatory "of course we still love them," LDS leaders would, on occasion, slip in a "but it would be nice if they left us alone."

I think it unarguable that many who leave leave for sincere reasons. I'm sure even people like William Law were tremendously sincere in their actions. I'm not sure sincerity is really that useful for analysis.

Alex, you wrote, Saying to oneself "eventually we'll understand, so let's not worry about it" is called "shelving the inquiry," which is one way to deal with cognitive dissonance.

I disagree quite strongly obviously. I think you've created a false dichotomy. Either we must worry or we must shelve it. I brought up the scientific example, because I think it a clear example of neither of those.

John F, are you at least willing to concede that many who leave the Church for religious reasons (as opposed to flagrantly sinful conduct) do so sincerely?

I don't think that anything that I wrote would indicate otherwise. The person who left the Church because he misunderstands what the Church believes about repentance and forgiveness might be a good example. He is wrong, but that doesn't mean that he is not sincere. None of this, however, should be construed as some kind of admission on my part that the Church might not be true after all and that anyone is justified in leaving the Church because of intellectual discomfort or because they like the taste of beer.

I fully believe everyone is free to choose what they wish to believe. I also believe there is objective truth that is immutable regardless of what each individual decides to believe. I believe that this objective truth includes the fact that Jesus Christ is our savior and performed the Atonement for our salvation; that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of Jesus Christ; that the Book of Mormon is true, both historically and doctrinally; and that God's proper priesthood authority to act in his name and to seal things on earth as in heaven resides in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those beliefs naturally also mandate a belief that this is the true Church. Nothing I have been taught in the Church or that I have discovered in the scriptures or doctrines implies that because this is the True Church the church also already has all truth. Rather, I think that it is clear that this Gospel teaches that we are always searching for truth and including it in our belief system. That is perhaps another fundamental difference between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Christian churches: this is not a dead Gospel with a closed off canon and a rigid although arbitrary creed to define us. Rather, as new truth is discovered or revealed, we incorporate it into our system. This is what Jesus Christ expects of his followers.

I might add to Ann that she is mistaken on her judgment that Elder Maxwell said that in a condescending way. Elder Maxwell was a truly Christian example of charity and long-suffering. He did not make this observation about ex-mos condescendingly; but rather with sadness and irony.

John F, is it possible that he intended no condescension, but that a reasonable person (i.e., an objective observer) who had sincerely exited the Church might nevertheless take it as a condescending remark? The fact that his remark, as quoted, labels all those who have exited the Church as anti-Mormon makes it, at a minimum, factually inaccurate.

On the other hand, people generally refer to groups more critically than to individuals, and speak more freely when preaching to the choir than when addressing a mixed or public audience. So perhaps sincere Exmos should simply ignore those occasional remarks rather than treasuring and circulating them (although it was John F who first posted this one here).

I think Elder Maxwell's comment was drawing on a broader tradition in LDS thought.

I'll term it: "The Call of the Covenant" for lack of anything better.

There's a belief in the church that the baptismal and temple covenants retain some of their binding force even after an individual has left the church. That the true church will always call to these people and draw them back like Oliver Cowdery and others (kinda creepy to hear me describe it, but bear with me ...).

I remember my father reporting to us what he'd heard at a stake Priesthood leadership fireside. An attending member of the Seventy took the opportunity to offer some comfort to those in attendance who had children who "had strayed." He said that your children may leave the church and do all kinds of bad stuff (perhaps reflecting the assumption that those who leave are sinning?), but they are still sealed to you and they will return eventually. I'm not quoting accurately here, so please keep that in mind when responding to the concept.

I don't know how doctinally sound this is. But it does seem to reflect a trend of belief in the church. Maybe it derives from the story of the prodigal son. I don't know, but Maxwell's statement seems to resonnate with this line of thinking.

Thanks, Seth, that certainly puts Elder Maxwell's remarks in a better light. Not that I want this thread to become a referendum on one sentence spoken by a man who wrote a dozen books and delivered a thousand talks.

Where did Elder Maxwell make the much-discussed remark regarding those who leave the church? I'd like to read the full text.

I think you've created a false dichotomy. Either we must worry or we must shelve it.

The dichotomy is that when we hold two contradictory beliefs, we either attempt to reconcile them, or or we do not attempt to reconcile them. How is there any other option? Either a scientist works toward resolving two opposing theories, or she leaves it to other scientists to resolve those theories. What other option does she have?

Dave, I'm surprised you think "the Call of the Covenant" puts Elder Maxwell's remark in any better light. I was exposed to that line of thinking when I was in the church, and I find it troubling. Imagine how it feels to be told, essentially, "you can leave, but you can't ever LEAVE leave." Did my parents' temple sealing so fetter my agency that I will never have the option to fully and permanently exit the church? If I were to return someday, would it be due to the unseen force of the sealing power drawing me inexorably back to the fold, or would my change of heart deserve any credit?

speak more freely when preaching to the choir than when addressing a mixed or public audience

That's true. But what happens when a member of the choir quits? How can they erase from their memory what they heard? Perhaps Mos should remember that the only way to become an ex-Mo is to first spend a while as a Mo.

Justin, I'm sure that Elder Maxwell didn't originate that quote, but I was referring to his use of it pretty recently--I think at General Conference last Spring.

Here it is:

In later years, I saw a few leave the Church who could then never leave it alone. They used often their intellectual reservations to cover their behavioral lapses (see Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience [1979], 110). You will see some of that. By the way, do not expect the world's solutions to the world's problems to be very effective. Such solutions often resemble what C. S. Lewis wrote about those who go dashing back and forth with fire extinguishers in times of flood (see The Screwtape Letters [1959], 117–18). Only the gospel is constantly relevant, and the substitute things won't work.

Thanks for the quote, John F. The qualifier "a few" in his statement, "I saw a few leave the Church who could then never leave it alone, is important. I think its omission earlier caused some confusion. Of course a few people who exit are obnoxious. So are a few people who stay. It would certainly be unfortunate if only good people exited, wouldn't it? Now that would need some explaining.

It is extremely difficult for those who leave the church to "leave it alone" if they have member husbands, member children, member siblings, member friends, member employers, member - well, everything. How can you leave something alone that is a part of every aspect of your life? When your well meaning mother-in-law (or whoever) starts in on you about the church, demanding to know why you no longer believe, if you start to then explain why in fact you left, then you suddenly fall into the category of "never leaving it alone." When you try to explain to your friends why you left, you are not "leaving it alone." If you participate in an online community for people who no longer believe, because you're going to fall apart if you don't find some support somewhere, you are not "leaving it alone." I would like to know what the model is for a member who leaves and also "leaves it alone." I would think your entire family would have to leave at the same time in order for this to be possible.

Sue,

I’m sure you are aware that you create a straw man. Neither Elder Maxwell nor anyone here is talking about the type of behavior you refer to. Rather, “not leaving it alone” refers to those who insist on persecuting the believers for their beliefs, writing and speaking out against the church publicly. It is they who insist that, because they have gotten off the boat, they now must try to sink it.

Eric, in the specific quote John F. posted, Elder Maxwell did not restrict his frustration to those who "persecute believers," but to those who express "intellectual reservations," that is who try and explain their sincere disagreement with LDS beliefs. He then states his assumption that those who do express their intellectual reservations do so in order to "cover their behavioral lapses," elevated language meaning to excuse their own sin. So he's painting everyone who tries to explain their decision to exit the Church as a modern Korihor (although without the benefit of a convenient confession in the modern case). No wonder some people get upset.

At least that's how sincere Exmos are likely to interpret his remarks. And that is certainly how many Mormons appear to think as well, although you yourself seem quite liberal in restricting your frustration with the "won't-leave-it-aloners" to those who persecute LDS believers. I think restricting frustration to those who actually persecute the Church is the right approach.

Eric - People in my own family and ward have used this quote as a weapon against me. I've seen it used over and over again on the internet, against people who are expressing frustration about their situtation, etc. If that is not what he is talking about, there are certainly many confused people using it as a weapon in this very manner, since I'm hardly a raving exmormon.

Seth Rogers said:


There's a belief in the church that the baptismal and temple covenants retain some of their binding force even after an individual has left the church. That the true church will always call to these people and draw them back like Oliver Cowdery and others (kinda creepy to hear me describe it, but bear with me ...)

i suppose it's fine if members want to believe this, but from the disbeliever's standpoint i can tell you that it's not at all how they think of it. once they decide that god isn't running mormonism, the covenants become kind of pointless, rather than being some cosmically binding agreement.

Sue wrote When your well meaning mother-in-law (or whoever) starts in on you about the church, demanding to know why you no longer believe, if you start to then explain why in fact you left, then you suddenly fall into the category of "never leaving it alone."

This simply isn't true. The people who never leave it alone are those who, after leaving, go on a life-long smear campaign against the Church. I highly doubt that Elder Maxwell or other Church leaders who have made such comments are referring to people explaining their reasons for leaving upon inquisition by their mothers-in-law.

Dave wrote He then states his assumption that those who do express their intellectual reservations do so in order to "cover their behavioral lapses," elevated language meaning to excuse their own sin. So he's painting everyone who tries to explain their decision to exit the Church as a modern Korihor (although without the benefit of a convenient confession in the modern case). No wonder some people get upset.

This is not how I read the quote. He appears to be referring to "a few" specific individuals whom he knows. If this is the case, then when he states that they use their intellectual reservations to cover their behavioral lapses, he might indeed know the facts behind that which he speaks and he is not describing all ex-mos as doing this.

But Dave, can you really claim that this doesn't happen? And how can you substantiate a claim that this isn't happening in the majority of cases? Any claim by you to the contrary is just as unsubstantiated as general claims that exmos left because of sin or desire to sin (which could also mean desire not to follow the strict affirmative rules of the Church). In fact, notwithstanding the protests of various individual exmos that of course they didn't leave because they had sinned and didn't want to come clean, or they wanted to sin, or they thought the Gospel and its prohibitions were silly, how are you to claim that they are not really using intellectual reservations to cover a multitude of sins? Again, I do not think that Elder Maxwell was using this quote in this way, but your strenuous efforts to defend exmos as having left for perfectly justifiable intellectual reasons is a little strained. It suffers from the same lack of substantiation that the general accusation you are trying to refute suffers from. You might answer with reference to some of the comments of people on this thread and to the "hundreds" of wonderful exmos whom you perhaps know personally. Should such anecdotal evidence outweigh the statements of living prophets, assuming that our Church leaders really have asserted that all exmos left because of sin? Sure, the bishop quoted on this thread made such a comment. Well, maybe each of the people he has seen leave the Church did so because of sin and then used horses in the BoM as a lame excuse. The antagonism towards the Church then stems from a need to constantly reaffirm one's choice and to bolster one's pride that one has made the right choice. This might be where the bishop is coming from, so how can his observation be refuted at all?

If the exmos on this thread want to claim that most exmos left for other reasons than intellectual reservations used to cover behavorial lapses, then they are free to do so. The question is whether the evidence substantiates this. I don't have any figures. And the exmos here claim that hundreds are leaving all the time for reasons other than this. I suppose I should just believe them then. But even if I believe them, what does that change. I think they are wrong in their decision to leave the Church for whatever reason, whether intellectual reservations used to cover behavorial lapses or otherwise. I don't think the Church is the great Satan trying to oppress, manipulate, and trick everyone through some huge conspiracy that encompasses hundreds or even thousands of Church leaders and millions of members and stretches back 175 years. When my pioneer ancestors testify that all the hell they went through in being persecuted in Ohio, Missouri, Illinios, and trekking with wagons and handcarts to Salt Lake City was worth it and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and that this is the Restored Church of Jesus Christ on the earth today, I believe them over a handful of exmos who claim that the BoM can't be historical. I also believe my own testimony over theirs. Since the Church is a voluntary organization that you can either belong to or leave at your pleasure, I don't see why leaving it is such a big deal if you don't share my conviction of the truthfulness of it. Just go! Be happy. If your mother-in-law asks you why you left, just say you don't believe its true. That will certainly not enter you into the few who leave the Church but then can never leave it alone.

John F., you're one of my favorite commenters. My gosh, you put more effort into that long comment than I generally do for my posts! But I'll try to respond comprehensively.

Here's my position: I think everyone should be entitled to hold and even state their religious opinions without being open to the charge of persecuting or harassing those who believe differently. Furthermore, those statements should be taken at face value in the absence of reliable evidence to the contrary -- that's sort of a prerequisite to meaningful public dialogue.

Of course, some opinions are better than other in terms of logical consistency, evidential support, and moral decency. That's what drives a fair amount of discussion around the B'nacle and even, I suppose, the blogosphere generally: sampling others' opinions, logic, evidence, and morality and comparing it all against one's own views, hopefully with an eye to improvement. Hence the tagline of DMI: A friendly place to chat about Mormon history, doctrine, and culture.

I do think you are reaching too far when you make the following statement: The antagonism towards the Church then stems from a need to constantly reaffirm one's choice and to bolster one's pride that one has made the right choice. Any non-Mormon can use the same reasoning to say that Mormons who affirm and defend the Church do so simply to reaffirm their decision to be active Mormons and to defend their own pride in holding to that choice. That kind of thinking is just an ad hominem trick that quickly undermines meaningful dialogue by a veiled (or overt) attack on the other speaker. I'm not fond of that approach.

I think what you have labeled as my "strenuous efforts to defend exmos" is actually a defense of the approach to dialogue I just outlined rather than a defense of a point of view. I'm sure you are familiar with the concept that advocates often defend parties whose views or interests differ from their own.

If the only exmos ever mentioned by church leaders are those who are disingenuously hiding their sins, then no matter how few exmos are mentioned each time by each leader, the cumulative effect is that LDS folks never hear church leaders describe any exmo as being sincere. It creates a strong presumption in LDS people's minds against the sincerity of any exmo they happen across.

That could explain why my family still asks me from time to time what sins I left the church in order to commit. I'm not fornicating or breaking the Word of Wisdom, and they know it. In fact, I don't even have a tattoo or multiple piercings, and my wardrobe remains garment-friendly. I personally prefer to live a Mormon-like lifestyle. Members of my family have actually said, "so, callings were too much work for you, right?" and "I guess you wanted to get rid of that extra layer of clothes in the summer?" As if such petty concerns would get between me and any cause I believed in.

Why would these dear people who basically love and respect me thoughtlessly insult my sincerity by stretching their brains to find some way in which I left for purposes of sin? Where do they get the idea that EVERYONE who leaves does so because they want to sin, including their straight-arrow daughter/sister? Who will effectively counter that idea? As much as I try to be a good example of the unbelievers, I can't get very far with their strong presumption against me.

Has any General Authority ever clarified to the membership that the vast majority of former members refrain from persecuting the church? Has any General Authority ever warned the Saints to refrain from rushing to judgment about "multitudes of hidden sins" in those who leave the church? I'd like to be able to pass such quotes along to family when they bring up their perceptions of my "hidden sins" and my inability to "leave it alone." After all, it will mean a lot more to them if it's the words of a living prophet, than just an anecdotal statement from little old me.

Alex wrote Why would these dear people who basically love and respect me thoughtlessly insult my sincerity by stretching their brains to find some way in which I left for purposes of sin?

Because they believe the Church is true.

You might think they're misguided, but they desperately hope, for your own sake, that you don't really believe that Joseph Smith was a liar and that the Church is false. In some wierd way, they would rather believe that you have sinned and that is causing you to shy away from the Gospel than to bring themselves to believe that you deny the truth of it. If they acted otherwise, couldn't you construe that as their not loving you? Conversely, if they acted otherwise, wouldn't that betray a weakness in their belief in the truth of it, for only if they themselves think it might not be true could they simply shrug their shoulders at your decision (revealing that they deep down don't really think there will be eternal consequences from that choice).

If I say I did not leave because of sin, while in fact I did, that would make me a liar. If I still believe, while saying I don't believe and acting like I don't believe, that makes me a liar and a hypocrite. I am far from comforted by your suggestion that my family would prefer to implicitly and falsely accuse me of lies and hypocrisy than portray any weakness in their belief. You're not doing believers any favors with that suggestion.

I'm not suggesting that they're trying to do anything. Rather, I am asking you whether or not you think that if they just shrugged and accepted your rejection of that which they believe is absolutely true, that that would be an indication that they don't really fully believe it themselves, i.e. that they don't think that there will be eternal consequences for your choice.

As for doing favors for believers, what would give you the idea that I want to do that? Either you believe it or you don't. I'm not trying to make all believers look like perfect people. Rather, I understand that believers are just as flawed as everyone else in the world. The difference is that they subject themselves to ordinances performed by the proper priesthood authority.

Are my family's only options to either (1) forever think me a liar, or (2) deny their beliefs? What I mean by "not doing them any favors" is that you are putting them in an awful predicament that I don't think the church puts them in.

I think it should be possible for them to believe that my choice has eternal consequences and at the same time not assume that I am lying to them and hiding sins. After all, it's only a few ex-members of the church that Elder Nelson was talking about, right? Why wouldn't my family assume that I'm in the majority of ex-members of the church--the ones who do NOT use "their intellectual reservations to cover their behavioral lapses"?

Like it or not, this church claims to be God's only true church holding the fullness of His Gospel. This is never a popular view in liberal society (I don't mean "liberal" as in the "Democratic Party"). But there it is.

So if someone leaves the church, the faithful are left with only two possible options:

a) The person doesn't know what he/she is doing (weak testimony, lack of understanding, etc.)
-people who due to social conflicts with people in their ward
-people who leave over intellectual disagreements with "the Brethren"

b) The person committed sins that both destroyed testimony and lured the person away such as
-not wanting to pay tithing, sit through meetings, keep the WoW ... all that stuff.
-Sexual sins or substance abuse warping their perceptions.
-outright rebellion against church authority

And that's it. There is, of course, the option of saying "it just wasn't for them." But that only works if you don't really believe what the Mormon church claims.

I truly believe that this church is the only church on the face of the earth with the fullness of the Gospel. Because of that, I will never be entirely comfortable with your decision to leave. The only logical conclusions I can draw are:
a) you're misguided
b) you sinned or are sinning

Personally, I prefer to assume option (a) with people I don't know since it's a slightly more complimentary way to think about a person (but perhaps only slightly).

Harsh.

But there it is. If you believe this is God's true church, those are the only options available to you.

Unless, of course, I choose the equally unattractive alternative of ignoring ex-Mormons altogether.

Seth, your description of how the only possible ways a believer can view a former believer are either
a) bad or
b) worse
demonstrates exactly the problem that I see. I don't see negative descriptions of former members applying to a mere "few" exMos, only the ones who actively persecute the church.

Instead, I see my parents, who love me and would be the last people in the world to want to think poorly of me, applying those negative descriptions to me, an exMo who is determined never to persecute believers.

I don't believe they'd feel constrained to do so if any General Authority had ever said that any exMo ever had left the church for valid, respectable reasons. (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.)

Alex,

I think Seth's point is that there are no truly valid/respectable reasons for leaving the church from an LDS perspective.

Can you provide an example of a reason that is?

The best I can think of is that one simply disagrees with the theology. But even in this case an LDS person must assume that the other person has not truly thought it out/prayed out it sufficiently.

I think the difference could be that Mormons ought to respect ex-Mos themselves more than they do. And it's unfortunate that some find that they cannot respect another person because of such decisions.

But it doesn't change the fact that there are no valid/respectable reasons for leaving the church. Unless, of course, the church is not true, and then there are plenty.

The best I can think of is that one simply disagrees with the theology. But even in this case an LDS person must assume that the other person has not truly thought it out/prayed out it sufficiently.In order to be LDS, one doesn't have to have a "sure knowledge," only faith. One doesn't have to be so rock-solid convinced of one's 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." Does one?

When earlier in this thread, Ann heard "condescending contempt" toward exmos, the believers took issue. "Only by a few toward a few," the believers protested. I tried to take the believers at their word, even though I could not see how the "only a few" theory could apply to the facts of my life.

Now it seems to me the tune has changed. Eric, Seth, and John are telling me that all believers are constrained to believe there can't possibly be any respectable reason for any exmo's exit. How can I take that as anything other than condescending contempt by all believers toward all exmos?

But it doesn't change the fact that there are no valid/respectable reasons for leaving the church. Of course there are! When someone no longer believes the standard set of LDS foundational historical claims, that is a perfectly valid and respectable reason for leaving the Church. Duh. Maybe they choose to worship elsewhere; maybe they choose to worship in their own personal way; maybe they just give it up for awhile. That's what religious liberty is all about.

The problem comes from the fact that (1) some people simply cannot grasp the idea that a position they disagree with might nevertheless be a reasonable one; and, on top of that, (2) some Mormons give themselves permission to criticize and rebuke Ex-Mormons (even those who are active Christians in other denominations, even kind and gentle ones) in a way they would never criticize or rebuke Catholics or Protestants. They justify it in various ways, none of which I find defensible.

Note carefully, it is not so much what these "fully convinced Mormons" believe that I'm disputing--most believers have similar convictions about the correctness of their own denomination or creed. It's what we use that conviction to justify in terms of our own conduct that causes problems. That's my view anyway. I realize it is a messy topic that people have strong opinions about.

IF this is the only true church on the face of the earth, then there isn't a valid reason for leaving.

This is just common logic.

If you don't believe that this is THE true church, then of course there are all kinds of valid reasons for leaving.

My point is that this puts Mormons in a bit of a tight spot when deciding how to regard ex-Mormons. We can't just act like Methodists and smile when people leave and join the Lutherans and say "well, that's OK since Lutheranism is a good religion too."

If you think it's OK to leave the LDS faith, you don't really believe in it.

I don't have a particular bone to pick with you Alex. Neither do I have "contempt" for you. I also sympathize with the difficult family scenes you go through.

I have plenty of non-Mormon friends and some of them are, quite frankly, more exemplary individuals than many of the people I go to church with. Church membership is not the only measure of goodness in the world.

I don't think that regarding a person's choice to leave the church as "misguided" equals having contempt for that person.

For example, I think that Moses was misguided when he tried to lead the people all by himself with no help (which his father-in-law Jethro took him to task over). I don't think that Jacob (Old Testament) handled his marital relationships particularly well either. Peter really messed up when he denied Christ three times.

Does that mean I have contempt for these people? No, it does not. We are all misguided Alex. I do consider your exit from the church misguided. But that isn't the only thing you've done in life is it? Your identity is more than a function of whether you're misguided in some areas or not.

Hopefully your friends and family recognize that as well.

Seth, those are nice, fairly restrained remarks, but you can't seriously expect Alex or any other ex-Mormon to accept the idea that they are misguided in their religious beliefs, can you? That is equivalent to the widely-held Mormon fantasy that all those who leave the Church somehow, deep down, "really know" that the Church is still true. No, deep down most of them really do believe otherwise. That's why they left. That is really how it is. They just believe differently now.

If we all accept that, treating them as kindly as we treat everyone else will be much easier, I think.

I think my comments have acknowledged that ex-Mormons have a different take on all of this.

The point of my posts was to point out that ex-Mormons also should not be surprised at how their exit from the church is regarded among faithful members.

I think former members have a right to expect their Mormon acquaintances to respect them as people. But I think it's unreasonable to ask a believing Mormon to be OK with the idea of leaving the church.

Neither do I have "contempt" for you.

Thanks. I realize you don't bear any illwill toward me individually. We're having a pleasant, polite conversation and can continue to do so. But the fact is that you willingly accept a belief system where you believe you must see me as ignorantly screwing up the biggest decision of my life and/or sinning and lying about it, and not just me but hundreds or thousands of others like me, and you don't see a problem with that. To your way of thinking, that's just the way it is, and I need to get used to it. It makes me feel spat upon.

I'm not blaming you individually. Again, I realize you mean me no harm. But I guess I feel like a black person being sent to the back of the bus. You can send me there as gently and delicately as possible, you can feel as sorry as you want for my predicament, but the fact is you support a system that sends me to the back of the bus.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Now Reading

General Books 09-12

General Books 06-08

General Books 04-05

About This Site

Mormon Books 2015-16

Mormon Books 2013-14

Science Books

Bible Books

Mormon Books 2012

Mormon Books 2009-11

Mormon Books 2008

Mormon Books 2007

Mormon Books 2006

Mormon Books 2005

Religion Books 09-12

Religion Books 2008

Religion Books 2004-07

DMI on Facebook


Blog powered by Typepad