Reader Question: If you dont want anything to do with the LDS faith, then why allocate so much of your time talking about it??

We’ve just gotten yet another comment asking the above question. I feel like we’ve answered this on MSP about a million times — it’s probably our biggest “FAQ” — but I don’t think we have one go-to post where people give their various answers and explanations. Mine’s a little like Jonathan’s: it’s basically a fun hobby (though there’s a bit more to my answer than that, eg. I never said I want “nothing to do with the LDS faith”). How about the rest of you?

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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!!

38 thoughts on “Reader Question: If you dont want anything to do with the LDS faith, then why allocate so much of your time talking about it??

  1. This came up amongst some of my Facebook friends a couple of weeks ago when I shared Robert’s “I’m an ex-Mormon video.” Someone commented:

    I don’t think I’ll ever understand why so many who have left _________ (in this case, the LDS Church) feel it so necessary to keep getting their digs in about what they’ve left. My experience is that people who love something (a good restaurant, a Church, a political party, a good book) proclaim it – but don’t typically go around wasting energy on being anti- whatever it was they tried and didn’t like. It is the same principle as: proclaiming peace vs. being “anti-war” – the one is proclaiming (and bringing to mind) the goal/dream (peace), whereas the other is actually engaging in that which claimed to be the target of disdain…The opposite of love is not really hate; both of those require engagement. The true opposite of love is indifference. This link demonstrates that the person(s) involved want to continue the embrace.

    I replied:

    The experience of being part of the Church is one that goes much deeper than a restaurant or a gym. The Church was the dominant influence that permeated every aspect of my life for the the first 20+ years and I truly did love it when I was a part of it. Many of my friends and family members are still active members. I think it would be very unnatural indeed if I was completely disengaged from it.

    I compare my experience with leaving the Church to leaving a bad marriage. I’d be lying to say that there was nothing good about being a Mormon and I was too close to the situation when I was in it to recognize the harmful aspects of it, so I kept going back for those parts that were good. When I was finally able to recognize that this wasn’t good for me anymore and I should leave, I was still sad about it, even though I knew it was the right thing to do.

    I do not consider myself anti-Mormon. I consider myself pro-“my experience” which didn’t get a voice before. I have no desire for anyone who is happy in the Church to leave. I do have a desire for those who are unhappy to know that they are not alone; that the problem isn’t because of them; and that other than some disappointed friends and family, nothing bad will happen to them for walking away. I am critical of any unhealthy approaches to religion. Mormonism just happens to be the one I talk about the most because that’s the one I’m most familiar with. And while I don’t think it’s impossible to practice Mormonism in healthy ways, I do think it’s more difficult than many other religions.

  2. Also, there was a time when I wanted nothing to do with it. Now I’m at a place where I’m reflecting from the vantage point of more distance and objectivity. I think it’s normal to examine important parts of your past. And it is a fun hobby. :-)

  3. The Mormon church has (and still does) do all it can to make doubting members feel that they are alone. This site, and others like it, not only prove that they are not alone, but also provide a forum and community where people who are leaving Mormonism can find like-minded people, acquaintances, and friends.

    If you have been a believing member of the Mormon church for decades, as I was (from birth), your life is filled the idea that *you* are the problem, not the church, because the church is perfect. Not only are you the problem, you are alone, because people are discouraged from voicing their doubts.

    In the end, it all comes down to this: I did my best to believe in the Mormon church with all my heart and soul. I want to spare other people the rough road that I had to take, and I want the advice and camaraderie of those who traveled before me.

  4. Leah — I think that’s a great answer.

    Your friend’s comment also shows the standard assumption that we constantly get from believers: If you’re a former Mormon and you’re talking about Mormonism at all, then it must be some sort of hateful attack against Mormons and Mormonism. That isn’t true at all, but it’s a misconception that members learn at church in lessons about how evil, dangerous, and sad “apostates” are.

    This same sort of misconception shows through the question I quoted in the title here. “If you don’t believe, why would you find it interesting?” I’m tempted to answer with the question “Isn’t Mormonism interesting? Why would I have to believe in it to find it interesting?”

    Ultimately, I think of it as an ignorant question. And I don’t mean that in the insulting sense (as though it meant stupid, which it doesn’t) — rather, I mean it in the sense that all of us have facts and subjects that we don’t know about simply because we haven’t learned or thought about them (yet). If you think about it for about five minutes, you can see that there are plenty of reasons exmos would be interested in discussion their Mormon experience that have absolutely nothing to do with “attacking” you and your faith (O TBM lurker 😉 ). I hope we succeed in shining a little light on this question in order to help people avoid this (honest but ignorant) error.

  5. Lisa! Well, I guess that demonstrates that we have a spectrum of different viewpoints here. 😉

    Goldarn — That’s another good reason. I absolutely agree about being made to feel you’re the only one who is having doubts (or doesn’t believe). It’s fun to counteract that isolation by finding a community where you can meet others who had similar experiences.

  6. chanson: tongue in cheek of course 😉

    seriously though, while i understand it may be an honest if not ignorant question I feel too often it’s meant to put us in a corner.

    “Ha! See how they’ll get outta this one!”

    As if to imply we have a sekrit love for the church and have to smother that love with all this so-called hatred. So it’s a smidge insulting to my intelligence to have someone ask me that. If it’s not insulting it’s condescending. Which is insulting as well, I suppose.

    so “to piss you off” is my standard “go away, jerk” response.

  7. My reason for staying interested is complicated and builds on those already mentioned. As Leah noted, it was a big part of my life. I’m not fixated on it, but I find it interesting to examine my own history.

    I do go days and even weeks without thinking about Mormonism (when I am not getting my MSP fix). However, I have turned this interest into a career – I’m a scholar who studies religion, Mormonism in particular. So, at this point, I kind of have to stay interested.

    And, as noted, I’m not actually out to destroy Mormonism or even get anyone to leave. I do criticize, and I criticize frequently. But I also criticize the government, other governments, other religions, other groups that do crappy stuff, businesses (e.g., Microsoft), etc. I think criticism is healthy. If an organization is doing bad stuff, someone should point it out. Fighting civil rights (e.g., Prop. 8) is bad; criticizing Mormonism for it is good. Child sex abuse is bad; criticizing Catholicism for it is good.

    For those Mormons who can’t understand why I or any other former Mormon would remain interested, think about what our external criticism has done for your religion. If it wasn’t for critical outsiders, Mormonism would still be: practicing polygamy, disenfranchising blacks, teaching the penalties in the temple, baptizing holocaust victims posthumously, attaching electrodes to the scrotums of gay men, etc. External criticism of organizations, particularly organizations that claim divine authority, is vital to keep them from taking things too far. I think MSPs post about Bruce Hafen being a gay basher probably caught the attention of church headquarters and, from what I’ve gathered, they muzzled him a bit. That is the aim of criticism. So, criticize us for criticizing, but we’re really just trying to help. 😉

  8. just re-reading comments and had a thought regarding the question Leah had directed at her on facebook. (this is long, apologies)

    “My experience is that people who love something (a good restaurant, a Church, a political party, a good book) proclaim it but dont typically go around wasting energy on being anti- whatever it was they tried and didnt like.”

    dudes, seriously? have you ever gone to a bad restaurant? chances are you’ll tell all your friends it sucks and why. there’s a saying or studies or something (i’m being lazy, obvs) that says people are more apt to tell their friends about bad experiences with whatever person or organization or what-have-you than if their experience was good.

    people like to bitch. some people need to vent. some people need to de-program themselves.

    it’s a grieving process. anger is part of it. people, like me, need to deal with the crap by talking and when ya got nobody you got the internet. then there are people like leah who’ve made their peace and just want to dissect something that made up such a huge part of their lives. it’s like psychology. we’re trying to figure you out just like you’re trying to figure us out, even though we’ve already been there.

    it’s a support group, too. leaving–even just disagreeing–is harder than y’all have been told. little makes you feel more alone. see goldarn’s response.

    think of it as an anti-testimony meeting. why do you bear your testimony at every possible meeting? once a month, once a week, whenever. it’s a matter of building community, edifying yr own testimony (really, i’ve been told that even if you don’t have one you should bear one because then–like magic!–you’ll get one). oh–and if you hear others bear theirs, it’ll help yours.

    and really, i can’t stand those meetings anymore. i like mine. it makes me feel sane. yours might make you feel sane in its own way, too, esp if you’re a convert or live in an area where you’re one of few members.

    not to be insensitive, but i’ve had a day and this is about as honest as i can get here.

    i should write a post. i guess i kinda already have.

  9. I get similar questions asking why I feel the need to point to foibles in Evangelical Christianity (being a former evangelical). It is just as goldarn says, part of it is to let people know they are not alone. I spent years quietly questioning things that didn’t add up… but could never speak them out loud… I would have been… crucified. :)

    Sites like this give empowerment and permission for folks to speak out on what has remained silent inside.

  10. Great answer Leah! And as chanson mentioned – “Who ever said I ‘didn’t want anything’ to do with it?”

    I’ve always liked the explanation (as from Andrew of Irresistible DisGrace) that even if we no longer claim affiliation with the LDS Church, we are still cultural Mormons. In my professional and personal life I feel like an immigrant to a secular world: I’ve chosen to leave the culture of my upbringing to join a culture that feels more like home but is still somewhat foreign to me.

    I still very much feel the need to connect with people who understand where I come from and can relate to my choice to leave!

  11. I’ve always like the breakup analogy that Leah brought up. So you’ve had “the talk” and you’re not a couple anymore. There’s still time for heartbreak and tears. You’re still going to complain about your ex to your friends for a while, about all the annoying and stupid things they did. You’re not going to be ready to move on to new relationships for a while. You need to reconstruct your life without that person, and that takes time.

    Someday, you’ll move on and find a new love.

    Or maybe, it gets worse. It ends up that your ex marries your sister. You get to see him at all of your family dinners, weddings, holiday, and reunions. You’re never really allowed to move on because your ex is always there, keeping the wounds open.

    In many ways, the LDS church is still in my life. I’m married to a wonderful LDS woman. Most of my family is LDS. So it’s never far away.

    Then there’s the whole fighting against gay marriage thing. I feel duty-bound to stay engaged with the LDS church to counteract its oppressive use of its financial and political power.

    Most importantly, my children are being taught Mormonism. I think I could leave well enough alone except for that fact. I’m not opposed to them learning about Mormonism, but I want them to hear all sides instead of experiencing the indoctrination that I received as a child. I’m keenly aware of my responsibility to my descendants to stand up and be heard. As long as they might be unduly influenced by the LDS church, I must stand as a witness of all the secrets and lies they want to hide.

    Going back to the breakup analogy, it’s like your ex is now cheating on your sister, just like he did with you. Your sister is unaware and madly, blissfully in love. What are you going to do? Let her live in a false heaven because she’s happy? Or try to tell her the unpleasant truth?

  12. The church has taught (brainwashed?) me that once I learn the truth I am obligated to share it with others. The vast majority of ‘others’ in my life are TBMs, as such I must share with them the truth (or rather falsehood) of historical and current doctrines and practices that I have learned. I was eager to share ‘the truth’ (as I knew it) when I was 19, why shouldn’t I be eager to share the truth (as I know it) when I am 49?

  13. Well, Leah said what I would have said. And Jonathan expounded with what I would’ve expounded. The two important things to realize, when you get down to it, is firstly that Mormonism is incredibly central and pervasive if you grow up within it (the marriage), and that, most often, Mormonism *remains* pervasive even when you leave it (the ex- getting with a sibling but maintaining the same habits he or she had with you).

    I’d also like to mention another thing.

    Today I wrote a post here about how failing to account for nonvocal people can (dis)tort our evaluation of everything. in the post, I was talking about people who just go inactive and never write or talk on blogs, but I think the same thing can happen to people who used to blog but then moved on.

    Since we generally don’t see or hear from these people after they have achieved “blog silence,” we don’t see the cases of people who have “moved on” from whatever their interests were in Mormonism. We don’t realize that the active ex-Mormon community at any given time is in flux…it’s different people coming and going.

  14. Great responses, all! I’d especially like to follow-up on Andrew’s point:

    The exmos you see on the Internet are a very small segment of the total number of those who leave Mormonism. And — as discussed in Andrew’s post — probably not a very representative sample.

    Of those exmos who do go online, most are especially active during the “breakup phase” to use the metaphor of this thread. So, if a lot of discussions in exmo space seem very repetitive, it’s partially because the people in the discussions are changing. For each new batch of exmos, each topic is new.

  15. This question is similar to the one seen frequently on “fringe” Mormon groups: why do you bother sticking around if you’re so discontented? I think both are fair questions.

    When I first left the Church, I found a great little support group – an actual, in-person support group, that met regularly – of ex-Mormons. I was pretty f’ed up when I left, so I visited this support group. What I saw there freaked me right the hell out and I didn’t attend more than once or twice after the first time. Basically there were people who had left the Church years ago, even decades ago, and all I could think was, Geez… do I still want to be talking about Mormonism in twenty years?

    At that point, what I wanted to believe was that I’d get over it. I didn’t want to be bitter and wretched; I didn’t want to feel abused anymore. I just wanted to get through the stages of grief in a timely manner. I didn’t want to be defined, forever after, as something-Mormon (active, inactive, ex-, post-, anti-, whatev).

    Here I am four years later, still talking about Mormonism. I wonder what it will feel like when I surpass the amount of time I spent as an actual Mormon, and yet still be talking about Mormonism. Because I will – I accept that now.

    I definitely do not identify as a cultural Mormon, and I’m not one of those who will say that “some part of me will always be Mormon.” That’s not true for me. But it’s a major part of my past. It’s why I married at 19 and had kids at 20 and 22. It’s why my dad didn’t see me get married. It’s why I left one degree program for another. It’s why I lived in Utah, and it’s why I hated living in Utah. It’s why I am deeply distrustful of religion in general and Christians in particular.

    It’s a major part of the history of my marriage. It’s part of the mythology of our family. It’s why my partner hasn’t seen so many great movies or heard so much great music; he has both a two-year cultural dead zone AND 28 years of not watching anything above the rating of PG.

    The Church is so many Reasons Why this and that, and because of that its influence is inextricable, even for a convert. Now I think it’s pretty silly that I thought I COULD just walk away, dust off my hands and move on with nary a wear or tear.

    And though I completely understand why active members would be irritated and confused by former members continuing to discuss the Church, I wonder how much of that question reflects a certain amount of discontent on their part. When I chose to walk away, I wanted nothing more than to believe that the rest of my life could be wholly and easily intact, especially because, as Lisa said in another post, every second of my time in the system was pure sacrifice; I didn’t find joy in it at all. When believers think we should just “get over it,” I wonder if that might speak to some insecure desire to shake off something so oppressive.

  16. When believers think we should just get over it, I wonder if that might speak to some insecure desire to shake off something so oppressive.

    Interesting point. It kind of points to another assumption behind the question: If you dont believe, why would you find it interesting? It’s like saying: “Sure I can see spending time on Mormonism if you think your eternal salvation depends on it. But if not and obligation, why would you waste your time on it?”

  17. I have no trouble at all in leaving the Church alone, having had no contact now for several years. I do have trouble leaving my thoughts about the Church alone. The way I once perceived aspects of the Church is quite different from the way I now perceive them. That interests me, as does religion and spirituality in general. It interest me that Mormons think a burning bosom testifies to Mormon truths, while John Wesley and the Methodist think a “warm heart” testifies of Methodist truths. It interests me that I at one time thought that Mormon’s had the corner on all things spiritual. That is, they experience is the true spirituality, whereas others have at best an artificial spirituality. The only exception is when the Spirit bares witness of the truthfulness of Mormonism, all others are counterfeit. All of that interest me.

  18. I think many believing Mormons are bad at distinguishing their own identities from the church. Therefore any criticism of the church equals criticism of them, personally. I’ve noticed this tendency when I discuss doctrine, culture, or current events (most recently, Prop 8) with my believing Mormon friends. They tend to take it very personally.

    It doesn’t surprise me to see believers saying, “Why do you care so much? Why don’t you just leave the church alone?” Because they don’t understand how much a part of our lives the church still is (and must be, because it imposes itself via our friends and families). And from their perspective, the honest criticism of the church makes them feel as though they are personally being kicked by random strangers with a vendetta. I think impersonal discussion of the facts, like the linked MSP article, can be most offensive because some believers are unable of experiencing anything church-related in an impersonal way.

  19. It reminds me of the statement – “America: love it or leave it”. As if a person can’t openly disagree with choices that the American government is making without being told they need to move to another country. And btw, that statement is without politics – it could be said on both sides of the aisle when people are upset about the “direction the country is going”.

    The entire argument does seem circular to my mind. chanson – it’s like your post about if there is no solution, there is no problem. Nothing a former mormon says about this topic will ever convince some mormons (specifically people who make the statement) that people don’t “leave the church but can’t leave it alone”. Despite all sorts of evidence to the contrary. And despite the evidence of many former mormons who are happy, some who have moved on from various places on the interwebs, even some who return to church. So despite all the evidence, some people will still see what they want to see.

  20. For me, my relationship with the LDS church has always been complicated. I was born into it and grew up loving the fact that I belonged to the only church I knew of that recognized a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. But as I grew up, it hit me more and more that the churches my friends went to actually had more of an egalitarian view of women than the LDS church. Going to BYU was supposed to be the way to remain strong, according to my parents’ talks with my inactive older brother. I went there active and within a couple of years found myself vowing never to marry an LDS guy in the temple. I made myself work through it so I didn’t end up the black sheep instead of the brother who never did get back to the church, married an LDS guy in the temple and it was a huge mistake. My “must be married in the temple mother” never went back after her first time, even to be sealed to my dad but she couldn’t tell me why. She just sent me to the temple without preparation even after it had freaked her out. Her sealing to her first husband was canceled because he was gay and couldn’t just get over it with lots of fasting, prayer and a temple marriage to a woman. The church’s response is to continue to give homosexuals no choice. Damned if you don’t marry, damned if you marry your own sex, but damning your spouse as well as yourself to misery if you marry the opposite sex. That experience screwed her up in so many ways, but I’m supposed to believe God would rather have her (and him) dragged into that mess than allow same sex couples to be together?

    Living in CA, Prop 8 brought up not only that old issue, but the hypocrisy of demanding that marriage be between one man and one woman when I am stuck in a marriage between one man (my ex) and whatever women he ends up being sealed to after me. I don’t want to spend eternity with him or his new wife, never mind both of them. But I can’t get a cancellation because in the paternalistic wisdom, the old men in SLC feel it’s worse for me to be deprived of the blessings of the sealing than to be tied to those people for eternity. Which brings me to the problem I’ve always had with the crazy LDS reasons for marriage. When young, get married so you can have sex even if you don’t know the person well enough to know if you can spend a lifetime together. Now older, should I find some random guy to marry so that they will release me from my prior sealing? It makes no sense.

    But I have two daughters who are under pressure from their dad and from all of our extended family members (well, other than a few inactives) to follow the path that brought me misery and yet still holds so much promise and I need to figure out what to do as their mother who loves them dearly. Think about a religion that values the divine feminine as well as masculine, that teaches that almost no one goes to hell because God is a God of love and then look at what is taught (or forbidden to be taught, as the case may be) in churches, in political expenditures and in daily living. Anything short of the highest Celestial Kingdom might as well be hell and if they are right on the role of women in the hereafter, that will be hell for me as well.

    Believe me, I’d rather just not think about it. Because thinking about the promise of LDS doctrine vs. the reality is depressing as well as frustrating. Almost as depressing and frustrating as trying to figure out how to help my children navigate it when I have such a hard time myself. Whether I end up sending in my resignation or hanging in there so as not to hurt my family, I need all the support I can get. If honest discussion were possible at Church, I’d go there and talk to LDS about it, but it’s not, so I’m on the internet instead.

  21. @1

    The opposite of love is not really hate; both of those require engagement. The true opposite of love is indifference. This link demonstrates that the person(s) involved want to continue the embrace.

    Wow. This is like the argument that if you show a gay person that you love them, while carefully telling them they’re living in sin, and they engage with you angrily, then therefore they secretly want to stop sinning and enter the fold of God’s love. No matter how this is spun, it makes one side right and the other side wrong.

    The opposite of indifference is engagement, not love. People are engaged for a lot of reasons, including anger, fear, duty, curiosity. Ex-Mormons see the fear used to keep people in the Church, the co-dependence. So when they leave, there is reason to say to other Mormons, “Look, I’m happy now. If you’re going to be Mormon, be so for the right reasons.”

    Personally, I’m where proxm is at @9. I criticize because I see things that are wrong, but I critique organizations quite often and in different ways. I’ll play Devil’s advocate sometimes. I’m interested in doing this respectfully. I’m also interested in religion academically and have been studying Mormonism the last few years.

  22. It seem many who are still in the Church can leave those who left alone. When somebody says that I left for being immoral I’m going to refute that claim and explain why I left. But then I’m the one who can’t “leave the Church alone” …

  23. I think in asking the question they are being hypocritical . I still have Mormons trying to weasel their was into my personal life and the way I raise my children. I was recently told by a co-worker that I had the truth and I rejected. In many ways it is like the jilted lover asking me “why did you leave me… I love you so much.” It doesn’t matter how rational my reason for leaving were they still try to get me to return and accept their world view.

    As a result I spend time here, writing my blog, at Postmormon.org and when confronted telling them why I left and why my family is no longer in play. Do I dedicate a bunch of energy to it… yes. Do I take the fight to them… No! In fact most of the time it is brought to me. The question is smug and disingenuous at best.

  24. We talk about Mormonism for the same reason we talk about rape, STD’s, and taxes: To understand how we were screwed, the consequences of being screwed, and how to avoid being screwed in the future.

    It’s not because we believe in rape, STD’s, or taxes.

  25. Why still discuss Mormonism?
    1. My family is still deeply Mormon and I care about my family.
    2. Should I forget my childhood and most of my adult life?
    3. Ex-Mormons helped me, and I want to stick around and help the next generation. It’s the perpetual-re-education fund.
    4. It’s still my culture. Thomas S Monson does not own Mormonism. His version is no less apostate than mine (just ask any fundamentalist).
    5. I have friends among ex-Mormons.
    6. It takes many, many years to unlearn everything you learned as a Mormon. So it’s still relevant.
    7. Mormons keep knocking on doors and putting ads on TV, reminding me.

  26. I had doubts several times and id exposed many times and if the doctrine is pure and perfect if you feel alone its not a problem of the doctrine. The church as institution is another thing, men can fail but thye doctrine follow being perfect. But if your point of view is in the opposite side of the doctrine or to cause of a behavior that break a commandament anybody will feel alone. Something taht Iearned alone that men are not perfect, that may be you dont find the right priest to clarify ideas or doubts. In that case search a real man worthy of your trust. A real Priest of our Lord. Generally we can find a big mediocrity or even ignorance in some leaders, and we abuse of criticizes them. God choosed weak for some reason, imagine intellectuals leaders directing the church. Forgive my english

  27. Easy answer. 2 reasons: My family is still deeply Mormon, but I am almost done dealing with them, so that will soon be resolved. It is simply not worth the pain my relationship with them causes me. Second reason: Prop 8. When the Mormon Church leaves me and my family alone, and when we have won civil equality, Mormons will never hear from me again.

  28. My relationship with the church was an abusive one. I believed I had no right to protect myself, speak up for myself, have wants and opinions of my own. I believed that the only reason I didn’t have a testimony like my friends was because I wasn’t obedient enough, kind enough,… good enough.

    Now, as I find me, I also find the need to use my voice. I speak up. I have opinions that are MINE. I protect myself. I don’t believe that I have to be obedient to what someone else tells me in order to be called “good”.

    This has been an INCREDIBLY painful and hard journey. I am very grateful to the people that spoke up and shared their journeys out of Mormonism. Without their willingness to speak up, I would still be trapped in that very dark place. (If I was still alive, the depression and pain that came with my belief in the church also made me very suicidal. Since leaving, I no longer dream of or hope for death to end my misery. Life is worth living!)

    I talk about leaving the church, so that I can make sense of my own life, and I hope that by sharing my journey maybe I can help someone else on theirs.

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