How to deconvert ’em just enough…

DMI Dave recently wrote a piece on how to be a good anti-Mormon. His first recommendation? “be a good Christian.”

I have to agree with Dave on this one since — although atheists famously can’t speak for one another — I don’t think any self-respecting atheist would choose to be an “anti-Mormon” and pick on Mormons full-time (as opposed to criticizing religion in general).

Then, reading on, it hit me that Dave’s definition of “good anti-Mormon” appears to be “an anti-Mormon who is not inadvertently producing more atheist or agnostic exmos than Christian exmos.” The Evangelical article Dave is responding to (We Push Them Out Into What?) as well a follow-up Evangelical article elsewhere (How to Win Friends and Influence Mormons) seem to be using the same criterion. Their analysis in a nutshell is “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and if there’s one thing LDS and Evangelicals can agree on, it’s that we shouldn’t break all the glass houses.”

One cool thing about the Internet, though, is that you don’t have to just talk about atheists in the third person (as if we’re not here on the Internet with you! 😉 ) so I’d just like to add a few minor remarks:

First, regarding Tim’s initial article, he claims that 70-80% of ex-Mormons end up as non-Christians. I’d be curious to see some real data on this — the actual proportion could be just about anything, but (since I assume most converts come from Christian faiths) I think you’d have to at least restrict to people who have self-identified as Mormon for at least five years to get a proportion that high. Even then, it’s not clear that the high proportion of atheists among exmo internauts isn’t merely due to the fact that the same personality traits that make people take skepticism all the way to atheism are also linked to enjoying hanging out on the Internet.

But the question remains: How to get them to slough off the Joseph Smith part and be left with Evangelical Christianity? The consensus appears to be that — if we can avoid being sidetracked by the “Are Mormons Christian?” question — Evangelical beliefs are sufficiently distant from Mormon doctrine that when people question part and not all of Mormonism, Evangelical Christianity is not what’s left. Seth R. and others correctly pointed out that a more typical partial deconversion leaves a “New Order Mormon.” The one point I’d add is that the situation is different for converts from Evangelical Christianity: many of them do indeed have a core of Protestant Christian beliefs that will remain intact after getting them to question Mormonism’s special claims.

Another possibility they failed to mention is leaving the “Brighamite” branch for the Community of Christ. People leave Mormonism for various reasons, and if you’re put off by the polygamy, the temple rituals and costumes, the prophet pronouncing on important spiritual issues like tatoos, and the institutionalized sexism, yet you feel a spiritual connection with Jesus and part or all of the Book of Mormon and the restoration, then Community of Christ is an obvious choice. Sometimes you hear in Mormon circles that the CoC (formerly RLDS) is moribund because of having mainstreamed or something, but from what I’ve seen of them, I would say that isn’t true.

Tim points out in the comments of his post that he disagrees with the statement that “it’s valuable to cut people out of any non-Christian faith and it’s easier to convert atheist than X (Mormons, Hindus, whatever).” In other words, Tim indicates that the two-step process (deconvert then convert) has a lower “success” rate than converting people of faith directly (without the deconversion step which introduces dangerous critical thinking skills).

Here’s another possibility to consider, though: it might be that the tendency to follow skepticism all the way to atheism is an inherent personality/character trait in some people, and that such people would never convert from one faith to another faith, hence shouldn’t figure into your calculation.

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chanson

C. L. Hanson is the friendly American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! See "letters from a broad" and the novel ExMormon for further adventures!!

16 thoughts on “How to deconvert ’em just enough…

  1. There is actually a published paper on this issue, though it is a bit dated now:

    Albrecht, Stan L. and Howard M. Bahr. 1983. “Patterns of Religious Disaffiliation: A Study of Lifelong Mormons, Mormon Converts, and Former Mormons.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 22(4):366-379.

    In that article they note that: 42% of former Mormons were drop-outs (meaning they left religion altogether); 58% were switchers (joined a different religion). Of those, 38% of the switchers became Catholics. The rest of the switchers ended up in an array of Protestant denominations.

  2. Thanks, I didn’t realize there’d been any kind of scholarly study of this. So it looks like Tim has wildly overestimated the proportion of exmos that wind up atheist.

    It’s interesting that there are so many who end up Catholic. Part of it may be related to “a Random John’s” insight (comment #18 on Tim’s post) about how Mormons would naturally gravitate to religions that have something specific to base their authority claims on. On the other hand, it might be a function of just living in predominantly Catholic countries.

    That said, you’re right to worry that it might be dated. I think things have changed dramatically enough in the past few decades to limit the usefullness of this study for analyzing the current situation.

  3. I agree that we don’t have enough data on the subject. Except for the one mentioned, and that’s apparently dated.

    I’ll admit that Tim’s theory resonates with me personally. The whole glass house thing always resonated with me and I’d like to see the ethical notion validated by data.

    But I think one part of the problem is that the most visible ex-mos online are folks like those on exmormon.org

    At the very least, it’s hard for me to imagine that hard-nosed lot going for biblical literalism all that much, not after having the literalistic bubble burst on Mormonism anyway. It’s also easy to see those types going for a highly skeptical brand of agnosticism.

    But two points: 1) I’m not too acquainted with the exmormon.org crowd to begin with and 2) I’m not sure how representative the most vocal of the ex-mo crowd are of the whole lot.

    Someone on Exmormon.org ought to run a poll anyway. Not that it would be conclusive, but it would be nice to not be completely flying blind on the issue.

  4. Hi Seth — great to see you here on MSP. I generally like your comments around the Bloggernacle (for being civil and insightful) even though we disagree on many key issues.

    As far as exmormon.org is concerned, as I recall they do polls and discussions on this all the time. Actually, the perpetual ugly fighing there between Christians and atheists is one of the most off-putting aspects of that whole site. If it weren’t for that, I’d probably hang out there more myself. But I don’t think exmormon.org is necessarily representative of atheist exmos. As I explained in my post my friend, the Internet, there’s something about the forum format that leads to more fighting/flaming than you get on blogs.

    You can get a more varied picture of exmos (atheist and otherwise) by visiting Outer Blogness. In my (completely objective 😉 ) opinion, my blog Letters from a Broad is a good place to start…

  5. Thank you Chanson.

    I’ve actually checked out this blog a couple times. Both times, I failed to find an RSS feed and moved on to other environs (I’m lazy that way). If you’ve go one, I’ll add it to my collection.

  6. That’s odd that it’s given you trouble — it’s a standard blogspot blog, and as far as I can tell has the standard RSS features of all blogspot blogs. Unfortunately I don’t know precisely how it all works…

    BTW, I’ve been thinking of this whole multi-blog conversation, and I have to tell you this comment made me laugh:

    “Imagine a roommate who made it his mission to constantly nag you about everything that is screwed up about you and NEVER had anything good to say about you whatever. Sure, he may be telling the truth, but honestly, who cares?”

    LOL, that’s got to be the best take on this subject I’ve read so far… 😉

  7. Well, if nothing else, I’m providing amusement value. I’ll take what I can get.

    A button Chanson, I need an RSS button. I’m not savvy enough to know the standard blogspot way to find the RSS feed.

  8. Oh wait. I get it! I had scripts turned off for this website. Now that I’ve enabled them a LOT of stuff just popped up on the homepage (including the RSS button). Thought the homepage looked a bit sparse…

    Like I said. Not too savvy.

  9. I am curious about the deconversion phenomenon myself. Some personality traits — endless curiosity, for example — do predispose people to follow the path of skepticism. A scientific or philosophical education helps, but is not a guarantee; most of my geology professors at BYU were believing members who had long since reconciled themselves to evolution and were not biblical literalists. Many members seem perfectly capable of dipping their feet in both worlds, though I never could…

    The way I see things, once someone has become a New Order Mormon, Evangelical Christianity is a leap back in the same direction as orthodox Mormonism. There are many differences, certainly; I’m not pretending to say they’re equivalent. But both require a certain degree of scriptural literalism and suspension of doubt, the very reason I started on the deconversion path in the first place.

  10. Eric – that’s a good point. The NOMs are accepting of a lot of doubt and skepticism, moreso than the Evangelicals. The counter-cultists seem to think that if only Mormons venerated Jesus as much as they venerate Joseph Smith, then discrediting Joseph Smith to a Mormon would naturally yield an Evangelical Christian. They don’t seem to realize that they hold additional beliefs that don’t follow immediately from belief in the divinity of Jesus.

  11. There are several aspects in Mormon theology that predispose post-Mormons to atheism.

    People raised as Mormons learn from childhood that God told Joseph Smith that all other churches were an abomination.

    There also used to be a time within living memory when Mormonism was relatively rational. Despite the best efforts of Joseph Fielding Smith and Ezra Benson, Mormons did not have the evolution wars, for example. And international Mormons often see the LDS Church as a religious reform movement and a breath of fresh air.

    The reform movement perception is relevant to atheism because for many people Mormonism is the church of last resort. When Mormonism fails, there is nothing left to turn to.

    Obviously, many post-Mormons are also suspicious of charismatic justifications of faith.

    At the same time, I expect that the Internet crowd is younger, better educated, and more intense than the post-Mormon population at large.

  12. True, Mormonism may predispose people to atheism. I think most religions teach that they’re more correct than everyone else, but Mormonism may have a stronger-than-average sentiment of “it’s this or nothing.” And what Mormonism has to dissuade people from atheism is pretty weak: Maybe God will appear and show you you’re wrong or maybe you’ll get run over by a chariot… Doesn’t take long to figure out those things won’t happen…

    I wrote a little about it on my blog: “If the church weren’t true, I’d be an atheist” and other things I learned in seminary….

  13. The Community of Christ seems like a reasonable option for people who need room to think but want to remain spiritually active in a church. They are very open, even letting non-members preach and take active roles in their congregations (generally, depending on the congregation) and the denomination does not force any particular doctrines on you, although there are common core values. You could believe in the Book of Mormon as literal history or consider it fiction, and still be active in that church.

  14. I think most religions teach that they’re more correct than everyone else, but Mormonism may have a stronger-than-average sentiment of “it’s this or nothing.”

    For all their claims to exclusivity, Roman Catholics consider many Christian tradition within the bounds of the apostolic succession and accept the validity of Protestant and Coptic sacraments. That includes the ordination of priests.

    While Catholicism and Mormonism share exclusive claims, their quality is essentially different since the Catholic attitude acknowledges the validity even among perceived heretics.

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