Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Friday, December 01, 2006

Someone Else's Reasons For Leaving Mormonism

First, to be clear about this from the outset: my reasons for disenchantment with the LDS church have nothing to do with any perceived shortcomings in the church's doctrines relative to those of other churches. It's just a matter of finally coming to terms with the fact that I really had no good basis for believing in God at all, whether that God is defined according to LDS doctrine or those of any other religion. As a matter of fact, I think it likely that had I been brought up in a different Christian religion, I would have left it a lot sooner, precisely because the LDS church at least gives a little more justification for belief: you're not expected to believe in the church because it has the correct interpretation of the scriptures, or because church leaders say so, but because you can pray to God and get personal confirmation through the testimony of the Holy Ghost. Of course, it took me a long time to finally admit to myself that said personal spiritual confirmation can easily be just self-deception, and really doesn't furnish any better reason to believe in the church than the other rationales mentioned above--but I think without that purported rationale, fallacious as it may be, it still wouldn't have taken me nearly as long to overcome my indoctrination. (Then again, maybe not; "what-if" games are almost always dubious, and, while I don't think I would have lasted as long as a member of a different religion, I certainly don't know for sure I wouldn't have. As a matter of fact, it bothers me a great deal that it's taken me as long as it has to finally reject this one--but there's another post I plan to write some time later where I'll have more to say about that.)

Anyway, my point with all this is that I don't think there was ever any real chance, at any point, that I was going to leave the LDS church for another religion. If I saw a reasons to reject my "testimony" of the LDS church, those reasons would apply at least as strongly to any other religion. So relations of people who've left the LDS church only to join some other Christian sect...seem a little alien to me. If you've decided that the Holy Ghost wasn't really testifying to you that the church was true, that all the reasons why you believed the LDS church was the true church didn't really hold...then, um, what exactly are your reasons for believing in your new church, and why are they any more solidly grounded? Still, a couple of weeks ago I ran across a post on another blog by a couple who had left Mormonism for Quakerism...and I thought it was interesting to at least examine their reasons for leaving the church, even if they were very different reasons from mine.

Quoting from the post in question:

In a nutshell, we left because the Church was suffocating our souls, stunting our spiritual growth. While we loved the people at Church, so much of the doctrine, institution and culture was in dissonance with what was dear to our spirits. LDS meetings often left us angry and emotionally exhausted. Quaker meetings, by contrast, left us feeling a deep, abiding peace (for you Mormons out there, President Monson has said that peace is the one feeling that Satan cannot counterfeit). We found our core values in sync with the Quaker testimonies:

They got on to list those core values, and why the LDS church wasn't harmonizing with them. Here are their statements about these values, followed by my commentary:

Simplicity: While Mormon teachings aren’t in conflict with the value of simplicity, the current Church culture in America most definitely is. We have felt very little support for our single-car, small apartment lifestyle from Church members (some have been openly critical).

Hm. Granting, for the sake of argument, that "the value of simplicity" is something worth seeking out, I find it a bit odd that the writer admits that "Mormon teachings" aren't in conflict with it but that he's troubled that "the current Church culture in America" is. But shouldn't you belong to a church because you think its teachings are true? Leaving the church because of its culture seems to imply that the doctrine wasn't why you belonged to the church in the first place.

Which, actually, I think goes a long way to explaining why so many people stay in religions against the rational evidence--because they're not there for the doctrine. For me, admittedly, it took a long time to finally come out and admit to myself that I didn't have any reason to believe in the church's doctrines--but while I did manage to fool myself into thinking I had reason for believing in its doctrines, I was always aware that if the doctrines weren't true, there'd be no reason to be a member of the church. (Well, okay, currently I'm still going through the motions of being a member for fear of the social repercussions, but that's another matter.)

Anyway, moving on...

Peace: There are few pacifists in Mormonism. There are few non-pacifists in Quakerism.

Again, whether strict pacifism is necessarily something to seek out may be debatable, but I can't really argue with the assertion that Mormonism doesn't exemplify it. I have a lot of doubt as to what extent violence played a part in the early history of the Church--certainly there's a lot of anti-Mormon literature claiming that the church had a very violent past, but the fact that I don't believe in the church doesn't mean I instantly believe that every bit of anti-Mormon screed out there is true; the church's own accounts of its history may be somewhat sanitized, but I'm sure at least some of the anti-Mormon accounts out there are exaggerated, or even falsified, in the other direction. I haven't done enough research on my own to know just where the truth lies, and how much exaggeration there is in the anti-Mormon accounts, and how much sanitization in the church's accounts; it wouldn't surprise me to find out that the truth lay relatively close to what the church's own accounts claim, but it wouldn't particularly surprise me to find out the opposite, either.

Certainly, though, in modern church culture, there's no apparent tendency toward pacifism. If anything, one could argue that since Mormons generally (though certainly not unanimously) tend to be fervent supporters of George W. Bush, they're by transference supporters of the Iraq War as well...though that argument may be going a little too far. Again, though, this could be seen as a reflection of church culture versus doctrine again...

Integrity: My personal experience of Mormonism is that it does not support integrity. It’s easy to be honest when you agree. The Church cares more for the health of the institution than of its individual members. It demanded my docile agreement, my silence, or my absence. It got the latter.

Hm. The allegation that the church "does not support integrity"--that it encourages dishonesty and lawbreaking when it suits the church's purposes--is one I've seen before. But it's not something I've witnessed for myself. Maybe I've just been lucky, or maybe there are malcontents exaggerating their experiences. I don't know. In any case, the writer admits that in this case he's just talking about his "personal experience"; my experience differs, so I don't have much else to say on this one.

Compassion: Many Mormons are wonderfully compassionate. Many of its teachings, however, are exclusive. Quakerism is both compassionate and inclusive. Quaker people are pretty cool, too.

In contrast to his analysis of "simplicity", here the writer finally does get at something he disagrees with in the church's teachings. Actually, I don't know that I'd agree here, completely; overall the church does teach compassion, even if its members may not always live up to those teachings. I'm not entirely sure what the writer means about its teachings being "exclusive"; my best guess is that he's referring to the doctrine that people have to go through LDS ordinances to attain the highest reward in the afterlife. Well, it's true that the church has that doctrine, but I'd say it's actually far more inclusive in that regard than most Christian sects, since it also has the doctrine that everyone will get a chance to accept such ordinances, even if they don't in their mortal lives. The whole doctrine and practice of proxy ordinances for the dead is too involved to be worth going into in detail right here, but the gist of it is that no one gets excluded; everyone who lives or has lived on the Earth will get a chance to accept the true gospel and have the ordinances performed for him if he didn't have the opportunity to go through them in life. So the fact that the church believes those ordinances are necessary for salvation isn't as exclusive as it first seems.

Equality: Men and women ARE NOT EQUAL in the Mormon Church. Any suggestion that they are is short-sighted bullshit. Women confess only to men; men sit in ecclesiastical judgment over women; fifteen men control the coffers, policy-making, doctrine and wield the bulk of the symbolic power in the Mormon Church. Also, the LDS Church has a well-defined hierarchy. Quakerism, by contrast, is radically egalitarian, and this is definitely visible in our local meeting.

Okay, I had my disagreements with the writer on some of his other criticisms of the church, but I've got to give him full marks here. This always bothered me, too. Oh, the church has its rationalizations for why even though women can't hold the priesthood they really are men's equals, but it's pretty clear they really aren't, as far as the church goes, and that never did sit well with me. Of course, as long as I was still telling myself I had received the testimony of the Holy Ghost that the church was true, I could rationalize that well, maybe there was more to it than I was seeing, and while there sure seemed to be a pretty clear inequality there, maybe in eternal terms it did end up being balanced somehow...but no, men and women in the LDS Church are by no means equal. Not even close. Obviously, this isn't an issue unique to the Mormon church, and there are some Christian sects that are even worse in this regard...but there are quite a few that are better, too, and even if the LDS Church isn't alone in this problem, it's still a problem.

In broader terms, outside the purview of gender, though, I'd say the LDS church is more egalitarian than most Christian churches. There's no paid clergy, and on the local level there are no church officials (save the patriarchs, who have a special function and don't preside over any congregations) who are called to positions for more than a few years' duration. However, I don't know much about the Quakers, and how "radically egalitarian" they are; probably they are more so than the Mormons. Other aspects of egalitarianism aside, though, the--well, sexism, not to put too fine a point on it--of Mormon doctrine is something that's always made me uncomfortable.

Anyway, there are a few more paragraphs at the end of the post, but the above points seem to cover their main reasons for leaving the church. What most strikes me about the whole thing--going back to something I was saying near the beginning of this entry--is the complete lack of any mention of the supposed spiritual confirmation of the truth of the church. The writer's wife does mention in a comment "the confirmation of the Spirit"--but not the confirmation that the Spirit was supposed to have given her of the truth of the Mormon church. That is, after all, one of the main things that's stressed in LDS doctrine: that the Spirit is supposed to testify to you of the truth of the church, and that when you get baptized it's supposed to be because you've received that personal confirmation. does that get left out here? It seems especially odd because, according to another comment, the writer was himself a convert to Mormonism...from someone who grew up in the church, who was baptized without ever really questioning what he was going through, I could better understand the omission, but the confirmation of the truth of the church through the Holy Ghost is a central theme of the missionary lessons given to potential converts, and converts are in fact specifically asked if they've received such confirmation before they're baptized.

Yet the closest the question of whether the Mormon church, or any other church, is really the true church comes to being raised is in an opinion expressed in some of the comments that "the Mormon church, despite its flaws, has more truth than any other church". Later on, another commenter says that he has the feeling that "while religious doctrines, their objective truth or falsity, does matter to me, God doesn’t feel the need to correct our errors immediately, but uses them as teaching tools for whatever people happen to respond to them."--in other words, if I'm interpreting correctly what he's saying, sure, particular doctrines may be true or false, but either way God can use them to teach us, so in the short run it doesn't matter.

Huh. It seems to me there are three possibilities. Either he never really thought he had the spiritual confirmation in the first place (but then why get baptized? Especially since you had to say you had received said confirmation?), or he has realized it wasn't genuine (but then what makes his feelings in the Quaker church any different?), or he just doesn't want to confront the question, perhaps because at some level he realizes that if he really questions the "spiritual confirmation" he received about the LDS church, he'd have to question his belief in God in general.

I don't know which of those three is true. Any of the three would raise further questions, but none strikes me as terribly implausible. And without knowing which of the three is the case, there seems to be little point in delving too deeply into the questions each possibility would raise.

In any case, I thought it was interesting to see someone else's reasons for leaving Mormonism...even if they were very different from mine, and even if they left it for a very different destination. Certainly, even if I obviously don't agree with their decision to go join a different church instead, their leaving the LDS church took a good deal of courage, and they deserve to be applauded for their fortitude. As for why they felt to need to just go join up with another church...well, right now I'm not going to go into too much speculation on that.


At 12/02/2006 1:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You quote from the other website "[the Church] demanded my docile agreement, my silence, or my absence." But you disagree with that statement. "The allegation that the church "does not support integrity"--that it encourages dishonesty and lawbreaking when it suits the church's purposes--is one I've seen before. But it's not something I've witnessed for myself."

May I point out that in this blog you have been talking about remaining silent about your true beliefs regarding the existence of god. When you finally speak up about your beliefs, don't you think that the Church is going to put pressure on you to either change your thinking (pray for enlightenment or whatever they call it) or change your volacalization about your thinking (lie to give them the impression that you agree) or leave? That is, in order to remain a member, you have to remain silent and behave as if you agree with Church doctrine. This counts as not supporting integrity in my book.

It is probable that there are at least a few other members of the Church (of any church, really) who disagree with doctrines or procedures or whatever. But in order to remain a member of the community (humans are social animals after all), they have to lie -- to themselves or to the church -- about their beliefs. All churches "do not support integrity" in this regard. All churches require those who disagree to lie. Or leave.

You may not have witnessed "dishonesty and lawbreaking" in relation to members' relations with the outside world, but it seems to me that the Church encourages dishonesty in relation to ones' own behavior within the Church.

I do appreciate reading about your experiences and thought processes as you go through this change in your life. Thank you for sharing it with us.

At 12/08/2006 4:36 PM, Blogger An Anonymous Coward said...

Your argument that the fact that people remain silent about doubts or disbelief shows that the church doesn't support integrity seems to me like a huge stretch. Those people, by definition, have already rejected the doctrines of the church, after all. And even if, in some sense, the church can be blamed for their silence, it's only in a very indirect sense, and given that their silence is practiced specifically to deceive the church it strikes me as quite a leap to say the church therefore encourages dishonesty.

However, I think part of the problem here is that I was conflating two separate issues, rather than addressing what was really said in the post I was quoting, so I guess that's my bad. The bit about "demand[ing] docile agreement... silence, or...absence" I wasn't necessarily disagreeing with (though I think it's a bit strongly worded). I just don't think, as I said above, that that really has much to do with the church's stand on integrity. The bit about dishonesty and lawbreaking was an allegation I'd seen before elsewhere that I thought had more bearing on the real issue of integrity, but which, as I said, I'd never witnessed for myself. But maybe I shouldn't have brought it up, since it wasn't really germane to the post I was writing about.

At 4/01/2007 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked your post. I feel quite similar to you, which is that I focus on the "spiritual confirmation from the holy ghost" as being the problem I have with the church, and all churches. I sympathize with your confusion as to how others can leave Mormonism but go to another church, all without questioning those "spiritual feelings." I fear that people may rationalize away the feelings they got in the LDS church as not true, but then rationalize the exact same feelings they get in their new church as true. Interesting post.

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