Do people leave the church for greener grass?

Green grass

I was just reading a fascinating new post at Times & Seasons — Wanted: Greener Grass.

I won’t lie; part of what amused me was the link to a study of children’s drawings that captured their preconceived notions of what kind of person a scientist is (with implications as to the gender stereotypes harbored by boys and girls and how mutable those stereotypes are after experience with actual scientists.)

But that wasn’t all. Of course, Dane’s own article was interesting because of its hypothesis about (some of) those who leave the church and its comparison and contrast of the respective ideological “pastures” or “lawns” of groups quite ideologically distinct from the church.

(As an aside, one thing I appreciated about Dane’s article is that he admits early: whatever his hypotheses about why he thinks some people might leave the church, he doesn’t know why. I think this kind of humility is commendable [and good for both sides of the fence].)

Structurally, Dane’s article is concise. Why might people leave? To get to greener grass. What can we do with that? Analyze whether the grass within the LDS church really is all that brown and patchy, or whether the grass outside of the LDS church is far richer or greener in comparison. Conclusion? The second part (at least) is not the case, because interestingly enough, we can find some of the same points of discomfort (poor attitudes regarding intellectuals, gays, women, artists, etc.,) within groups that are drastically different from the church (like the communist Chinese government). A human problem, not a Mormon problem.

I think that there are plenty of examples that do show stunning insensitivity, intolerance, or oppression outside of the church, so without going too far deeper into the nuances and plausible objections, I might be willing to concede that point.

However, I haven’t addressed the first part of the question. Just because the grass on the other side isn’t all that greener, does that mean all the grass is green? Or can’t all the grass be brown and patchy? I guess our mileage will vary here, but I suppose that the people who have issues regarding race, the precarious treatment of intellectuals, feminists, and gay people, and so on in the church also see and have issues with those same things elsewhere in the world. I imagine that if they are not direct activists for change within the church, then they are activists for change somewhere else or in some other fashion.

…but here’s the clincher that I don’t think is addressed. With the church, we have an entity that claims divine revelation, inspired leadership, a plan of salvation and happiness, and the fulness of the Gospel. For the church to be “on par” with the rest of the world — which we are led to believe is wayward, sinful, in need of our message — this is not comforting or easy to square away.

I know that for me, it was tough to try to align doctrinal expectations of a grand creation, a caring force within the universe, the true path via divine revelation and the restored Gospel, and so forth, with a creation that apparently was not all that grand, a universe that apparently was uncaring — if not hostile — and a pathway of revelation that apparently was just as mundane and laden with misdirection as everyone else’s supposedly false or misguided paths.

So, leaving wasn’t so much about finding greener grass, but in realizing that there wasn’t much difference in the grasses at all.

I know people say: “The church is true, but the people are not,” but it seems to me that the only way I can interface and interact with the church is through people. Corporations may be legal persons according to the Supreme Court, but I suspect that if the entire C-suite, the entire board of directors, the entire group of shareholders, and all other people jumped ship, the corporation would not survive.

When people have suggested that I (or anyone else) lighten up on the church…that I take it less seriously…that I stop expecting so much from it…I point out that I am doing that. By not accepting the church as the source of grand and ultimate truth. Understanding that the church is like any other human enterprise is refreshing not because it reveals greener grass elsewhere, but because it offers a way out of our panic from seeing that the church’s grass isn’t all that green.

(And I’ll note that none of this even *touches* other pressing questions, such as the historicity of various scriptures and whatnot.)

Views: 4765
0saves

18 Comments

  1. 1

    [...] leave for greener grass? July 9, 2010 — Andrew My latest post can be found at Main Street Plaza. This post is a response to an article at Times and Seasons — “Wanted: Greener [...]

       0 likes

  2. 2
    Leah says:

    “When people have suggested that I (or anyone else) lighten up on the churchthat I take it less seriouslythat I stop expecting so much from itI point out that I am doing that. By not accepting the church as the source of grand and ultimate truth.”

    Amen! People like to talk about how wonderful it is that we have modern revelation so we can adapt to what the world needs today, which sounds great, except that when it comes to positive change, the Church always seems to be behind the curve, not ahead. e.g. ending polygamy, granting Blacks the priesthood, etc.

    I would not be entirely surprised if in fifteen to twenty years, the prophet gets a “revelation” that it’s okay for gays to marry after all.

       0 likes

  3. 3
    Goldarn says:

    Good piece, but I have one quibble. The communist Chinese government is much like the Mormon church. The both have a similar authoritarian basis which (I think) leads to similar biases.

       0 likes

  4. 4
    Andrew S says:

    Leah,

    I certainly hope it’s not 15-20 years, but then again, I couldn’t even begin to try to put a time estimate on that kind of change…

    Goldarn,

    I see what you mean, but at the same time, I feel like the similarity in authoritarian bias contrasts the difference in…I dunno how to put it…origins and goals.

    The LDS claimed origin is divine. But Maoism — even if it is a cult of personality — didn’t claim to be bestowed by the gods. It was (at least an attempt) for some kind of human, rational system for maintaining order and stability.

       0 likes

  5. 5
    chanson says:

    True, excellent points.

    The second part (at least) is not the case, because interestingly enough, we can find some of the same points of discomfort (poor attitudes regarding intellectuals, gays, women, artists, etc.,) within groups that are drastically different from the church (like the communist Chinese government). A human problem, not a Mormon problem.

    I think this is absolutely true (up to the exception mentioned by Goldarn @3). However, you can choose leaders who encourage open inquiry and discourage bigotry.

       0 likes

  6. 6
    Alan says:

    For the church to be on par with the rest of the world which we are led to believe is wayward, sinful, in need of our message this is not comforting or easy to square away.

    When the Buddha saw an ugly world for what it was, he left his cozy palace and entered the world with joy. Mormons add another bar to the palace door, to keep the ugliness squared away. The Buddha was interested in breaking down dualisms, whereas Mormons are interested in maintaining them.

       0 likes

  7. 7
    Andrew S. says:

    re 5:

    That would have been one of my biggest “counters” to Dane’s main claim, chanson. I think that yes, we can find quite a bit of “bad grass” out of the church, but it is also the case that we certainly *can* find organizations and groups that align with our interests and do not stifle them.

    I suppose the same could be true of the church, but people’s mileage varies. As we discussed a while back, even though there are places like Sunstone, etc., the three-hour block is the central hub…

    re 6:

    Interesting point…I feel like I have something I want to say in response…but I can’t quite think what that might be…

    If I understand correctly, Buddhism is still trying to keep ugliness squared away. But it is at a personal (rather than institutional) level, right? Where an individual tries to eliminate desires, cravings, etc., that lead to suffering?

       0 likes

  8. 8
    aerin says:

    Strangely enough, when I studied Soviet Russia, part of the propaganda machine was to talk about how “unhappy” we were in the west.

    They would have articles and films, etc. about how poorly workers were treated in the United States, people going broke without health insurance, focus on the homeless, etc. But, in truth, while all those problems are real and exist, it wasn’t the whole story. I’m not saying that the capitalist system is better – but stalinist communism had many, many problems. And now it no longer exists in the same form.

    It would be nice to believe that former mormons leave for greener pastures only to find that the grass isn’t so green on the other side.

    This is a fallacy – particularly in terms of sexism and financial transparency.

    Today, I have multiple female managers at my work. I know I could be a manager if I wanted to be – I would not be held back because I’m female. Today I can choose to donate money to charitable causes who publish where that money goes. I know when I donate money to an organization to give to Haiti, it goes to help the people in Haiti. Not to build another temple.

    By pointing these things out, typically members get upset and say I’m just bitter. That’s fine. I can choose to spend my time and money with organizations that are transparent and do not discriminate as consistently and openly.

    Are they completely transparent? (probably not). Are they completely free of discrimination? (again, probably not). But the organizations I now choose to associate with have a much, much better record. So in that sense, the grass is much greener. And I can prove it.

       0 likes

  9. 9
    Andrew S. says:

    aerin, that’s a good point.

    Heck, in response to America’s studies on human rights violations, China makes sure to launch a study of human rights violations in America…and of course, when you read it, you can easily understand what points they are trying to point out, but you can also see that these kinds of violations are 1) not as bad as they were in the past and 2) not comparable to China’s current situation. [And that's with China now being a consumerist, capitalist economy.]

       0 likes

  10. 10
    Wayne says:

    “If I understand correctly, Buddhism is still trying to keep ugliness squared away. But it is at a personal (rather than institutional) level, right? Where an individual tries to eliminate desires, cravings, etc., that lead to suffering?”

    Yes, the keeping ugliness squared away is on the individual level. But It’s less about managing the ugliness and suffering and more about allowing them to coexist with the beauty and joy.

       0 likes

  11. 11
    Wayne says:

    I read the article and mostly agree with her premise. For me the grass is definitly greener, some of the comments from TBM’s reminded me why. Being TBM seems to be about reminding yourself of its truth and less about whether it actually functions properly.

       0 likes

  12. 12
    Andrew S. says:

    Wayne,

    OK, I guess I understand. But then, I guess I would have the same question Chris poses an LDS person as having toward a Buddhist from his article comparing and contrasting the anthropologies: http://chriscarrollsmith.blogspot.com/2010/07/buddhist-and-mormon-anthropologies.html

    To this a Mormon might pose an equally provocative counter-question. “Instead of torturing yourself trying to escape the cycle of existence, why not just go with the flow? Why not just try to reduce the total amount of suffering in the world, so the endless continuation of human life won’t be so bad?”

       0 likes

  13. 13

    In my estimation, Buddhists would not find this question provocative. In Buddhism, “existence” is “torture”; escaping it is the opposite. So, if a Mormon were to ask a Buddhist after an hour-long conversation, “Why torture yourself trying to escape existence?” it’s kind of like, “Um, were you not listening?”

    This reminds me of when I was talking to this Jehovah’s Witness about gay marriage for half an hour, and at the end of the conversation he said, meaning no offense: “You know, you have the right to marry any woman you want, right?” I was deeply saddened by this question, as though the whole conversation was for naught. Like the whole time the guy was just waiting to insert what he knows is “true,” not really contemplating my point-of-view.

    Really, what we’re looking at here is the question of proselytism and the consequence a proselytizing faith has on the mindset of its adherents. Buddhists believe there are many paths to salvation/nirvana, whereas Mormons believe that “all religions have a piece of the truth, but the Church is the one and only true Church.” For this reason, I find Buddhism to be inherently respectful of other faiths, and Mormonism, well…not. Yet, I think it’s difficult for people who believe in a one-and-only truth of their faith to make the leap from “persecution of their faith via pluralism” to “the inherent arrogance in thinking one’s truth is the only truth.” Buddhism circumvents this conundrum, in my opinion.

       0 likes

  14. 14
    Wayne says:

    Andrew,
    Chris Carroll’s counter question to the Buddhist misses the point. The whole point is to go with the flow. Sure, just like Christian religions striving for heaven, ultimately a Buddhist goal is some end point. The goal while alive is to fully embrace life. Key to this in Bhuddist terms, is understanding that life if filled with joy and pain. Thus reducing suffering. This has to be done on an individual level first.

       0 likes

  15. 15
    Andrew S. says:

    Alan, Wayne,

    I’m beginning to see what you’re saying. At some point, all comparisons fail because each group isn’t even using the same fundamentals.

    I agree that with the way Buddhism is set up, it ens up far more respectful of other faiths than Mormonism…

       0 likes

  16. 16
    Rob says:

    I found this article, especially the title quite interesting. It is something I have been contemplating. I have seen many members over the years fall inactive, resign their membership and join other churches, and many even come back. I am a young man born in the covenant, and I consider myself to be a believing Mormon; but one who is also aware of other religions and one who is generally willing to question and investigate the church. I am also willing to disagree.

    Over the past few weeks I have felt a feeling of incompleteness and anger. I attended a church trip to a church historic site, and something about it really turned me off, both the youth surrounding me and on some level the historic sites.

    I have done some geneological research into my family history, something encouraged by the church, that has left me feeling torn. I’ve found that my family is Scotch-Irish; I had previously believed them to be Irish. I always knew they were Southerner’s and I always knew that they were members of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I have always had a cultural divide between the church and myself, that has grown larger overtime. I have overtime embraced my Southern heritage; but as people familiar with the south know, the LDS church is maybe a lot of things or maybe a few things but Southern it ain’t. I feel a cultural strain between embracing my families past history in Protestantism and Evangelical Protestantism.

    The final problem that I have emerging is the fact that I have begun to find church activities extraordinarily boring, and I am beginning to abhor my priesthood responsibilities.

    I don’t want to leave the church; primarily out of nervousness and guilt, but it needs to be more interesting and more welcoming to other cultures.

       0 likes

  17. 17
    chanson says:

    The final problem that I have emerging is the fact that I have begun to find church activities extraordinarily boring, and I am beginning to abhor my priesthood responsibilities.

    Do you think the new “Gospel Principles” manual is part of the problem? And the fact that teachers are discouraged from going beyond this simple text? I’m kind of curious as to how many believers are put off by this.

       0 likes

  18. 18
    Andrew S. says:

    That’s really interesting, Rob. I have not fully looked at the possibility of a family’s past religious history straining with current membership and belief. Then again, I tend to devalue family past more than I probably ought to…

    Have you tried looking into extra-curricular (church-wise) activities? Things like Sunstone for example?

       0 likes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • Recent Comments

  • MSP TV

    Chad Hardy's BYU Honor Code Review
  • EXMO Radio

    Alma 23-25, not quite as a drinking game.
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Meta

  • Awards

    Lists of Brodie award winners:






    X-Mormon of the Year 2013: J. Seth Anderson and Michael Ferguson


    X-Mormon of the Year 2012: David Twede


    X-Mormon of the Year 2011: Joanna Brooks


    X-Mormon of the Year 2010: Monica Bielanko


    X-Mormon of the Year 2009: Walter Kirn