Why are we leaving the LDS Church in droves? Why? Why? Why?

I think that Kevin Barney was sincerely interested in finding answers when he first posed the question. The trouble is that when you ask a question on the Internet, there’s a danger that you’ll get responses from people who have actual, first-hand experience. Then the double-trouble is that it’s hard to answer that question in a reasonable way without, y’know, pointing out things that might possibly be wrong with the CoJCoL-dS. Which, in Mormonland, is not kosher. Those are the kinds of truths that aren’t useful — unless you want to actually address and solve the problems. But that would require acknowledging that the CoJCoL-dS may not be already perfect exactly the way it is. Just imagining such a thing makes some believers respond with la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you-anymore-because-I’m-bearing-my-testimony-at-you-now (which Chino argues may be the root of the problem).

But, to be fair, the responses that Andrew calls “cringe-worthy” (about how obviously bad and wrong the church is) don’t really answer the question either. We’ve hardly scratched the surface of the main mysteries:

  • Why now? Why was the LDS church growing a few decades ago and now heading into decline? (If it’s not true now, it’s not as though it was more true thirty years ago…)
  • Why is religion in general losing ground throughout the industrialized world? Are Mormonism’s problems just a part of that trend, or is there something more going on in Zion?
  • Why is it that the more liberal/laid-back religions seem to be losing ground faster than the more extreme/all-consuming religions? (Is that actually the case, and is Mormonism a counter-example?)

Now, I have my own theory about this, but please formulate your own theory before reading it.


OK, remember how they used to teach us in Sunday School that nobody knows when the exact time of the Second coming will be, not even Heavenly Father? Well, naturally that causes some coordination and planning problems. HF had saved up a whole bunch of choice, valiant spirits for the last days — but He used them all up a generation ago, and now in the latter-latter days, He’s left scraping the bottom of the spirit barrel. Meanwhile, Jesus is still in the bathroom doing his hair for His return in clouds of glory.

But, seriously, any ideas?

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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!!

530 thoughts on “Why are we leaving the LDS Church in droves? Why? Why? Why?

  1. You know, it also could just be that the current generation generally sucks.

    Just to keep all options on the table.

    Sorry about the rough sailing Andrew – I think corners of the bloggernacle seem to have gotten a lot more ideological, rigid and hostile since I was a regular there a few years back.

    I’m only half serious with the first remark. And I don’t really blame it on just one generation. Honestly, I think just about every generation we’ve had since the moral trainwreck of the “baby boomer” generation has been a bit on the selfish side.

  2. …the option that maybe the current generation sucks was already brought up. By chanson pretty early on, no less. One thing I’d emphasize is that generations don’t grow up in a vacuum…they are, after all, raised by previous generations.

    I actually deserved what was coming to me. I just feel like it’s not “corners” of the blogernacle that have become more hostile…it is the very core. The central personalities.

    But I can’t really blame them completely, either…

  3. I have a few ideas about why people leave the Mormon Church: They believe it is false, they find out that the Church lies regularly about its doctrine and its past, and they learn from hard experience that the Mormon Church is about money, far right wing politics, and has almost nothing to do with any teaching of Christ. How could an organization that claims to be the sole representative of Christ commit a crime like Mountain Meadows, lie about it for decades, hide the perpetrators from justice and never, never never issue a full apology’? Add to that, not a shred of historical evidence to back up the BOM–JS lying about his marriages to other women to Emma, marrying women married to other men—it is just too much. Icing on the cake: most Mormons are smug, self righteous, arrogant and totally dismissive of everyone not in ‘the Church’. Like my family, for instance. With a few exceptions, it it hard to imagine anyone more hateful and self righteous.

  4. Love this post! You phrase things in a way that cracks me up.

    Also, you did a very good job of focusing the discussion. Yep, it had gotten off track. Obviously, the fact that the church has significant internal problems (to say the least) is relevant to this question, but you are absolutely right that it’s not the question. People have gotten off topic from the question of “Why now?” and instead are getting tangled up in whether or not people *should* leave the church, aka, whether or not the church is “true”. But that’s not the question.

    Let me take a crack at answering, though. I think the answer is pretty obvious. There’s two things different about this generation compared to past generations.
    1) the internet
    2) the wider american culture

    And I think the first is the most significant. Apostates from previous generations had to be extremely studious at reading between the lines in church materials made available by the official COJCOLDS, and considering how immensely boring most church material is, very few people had the studious nature to really dig that deep. The church could do a much more effective job of covering up and sweeping under the rug, all the glaring inconsistencies and embarrassing anachronisms from Mormon history, by just not talking about them. And they could realistically expect that the membership would never otherwise find out, especially once you sprinkle in a little “spiritual pornography” rhetoric to keep them from looking at the occasional exmo pamphlet passed out on the sidewalk outside temple dedications.

    But now that we live in the information age, where any question you have is readily answered at the click of a button online, it’s impossible to keep anything under wraps. The tidal wave of information is overwhelming, and there’s nothing that the church can do to suppress contradictory information. Not in the age of Google.

    Related, though, is where the culture is at overall. It used to be that religion held a very privileged place in society, and everyone was expected to be affiliated with some sort of Christian denomination, or else risk deep suspicions about their character. And this is still true to some degree, but we’re rapidly moving in a more liberal direction.

    It’s not just the mormon church, but religions overall are hemorrhaging members left and right. The culture is becoming much more secular. This is a generation poised to legalize Gay marriage, to approve medical marijuana if not outright legalize it soon, to strengthen pro-choice women’s health issues, etc etc. Whereas christianity used to be the most enshrined cultural value, now tolerance has become the most widely recognized virtue.

    And it bleeds over. The mormon church doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the disparity between Mormon positions and the culture by and large is becoming too great to be ignored. Young mormons have choices, and the more tolerant, accepting, compassionate, secular world is much more appealing and feels right in a way which the rigid and constrictive arbitrary limitations of Mormonism don’t.

    But out of the two, internet vs culture, I think the internet is the biggest factor. When your church has been disproven, and those facts are so widely available to everyone, you just can’t hold it together any more.

  5. I challenge the premise of the question. The Church is continuing to grow. We just topped 14 million. We are continuing to build temples all over the world. There are 10 temples under construction and 13 announced. When I joined the Church in 1978, there were approximately 6 million members and 15 temples in the whole world. Today there are 134 operating temples. So, in my lifetime, that’s a net gain of 8 million members.

    I’ve encountered apostate former members who are in the “misery loves company” state-of-mind. They want to think that the Church can’t do without them and that their leaving had some negative impact. The negative impact may be felt by the immediate family members and those on the other side of the veil who mourn for the loss of one of their precious ones. But the Church rolls on.

    It is an immature notion that the Church is simply about getting everyone baptized. The mission of the Church is to invite all to come unto Christ. Some will accept the invitation; some won’t. Some will accept and then back out of the invitation. The mission is to find all those who, in the premortal life, made sacred covenants with God to the effect that he would bring them the gospel and give them the opportunity for exaltation. We know that there will be people who will reject. It’s all about getting the message into the ears of every person. What they do with it after we’ve accomplished that mission is between them and their Maker.

    We also know by prophecy that there will come a moment when the “times of the Gentiles” will be fulfilled. At that point, the Gentile nations to whom the gospel has been directed (that the first might be last and the last be first according to the commandment of God) will reject the gospel. We will have gathered out all the elect from among them. The focus of the Church will shift to taking the gospel to the children of Jacob. The prophets will know when that time has arrived. I suspect that it might be very near. We also know there will be a period, as prophesied by Daniel, when a secular government will “wear down the saints” and exercise authority over them for a brief period. That time may also be near.

    We are rapidly nearing the time when the gospel will have been preached in every nation. The gospel has already been taught in the early part of this dispensation to nations that are now closed to us. There are congregations of saints worshiping in China presently, because the Church has fostered good relations with the Chinese authorities and because we do not have a history of being seditious. The gospel is blossoming throughout Africa.

    I think the premise of the question is biased and doesn’t reflect the reality that the kingdom of God is expanding and growing in power and influence.

    I know by the Holy Ghost that the Church is “connected to the home office” in heaven,that God directs it through living prophets, and that the prophetic utterances of ancient and modern prophets will all be fulfilled.

  6. janelle, good point – the question of “is the Church true?” keeps tangling up the issues.

    I think active Mormons would be a lot more willing to field criticisms of the LDS system and honestly look at solutions if they weren’t always paranoid that every flaw threatens the “TRUTH” of the LDS Church in an absolute sense. It seems that every time someone points out a problem that everyone suddenly goes into seizures about whether the “Church is true” – and the defensiveness, denial, and coping mechanisms immediately get rolled out.

    The Mormon underground, DAMU, and exmormon (and of course – anti-Mormon) communities feed into this and enable this kind of knee-jerk defensive reaction through attempts to exploit every weakness in attempts to discredit the entire movement. Suddenly even a local Relief Society President throwing a bad Saturday activity becomes “proof” that the whole operation is a fraud.

    It’s a vicious cycle where both sides are raising the stakes so high that faults and flaws simply cannot be admitted or even considered.

    Both sides frankly need to get it into their heads that flaws in one area (even serious ones) do NOT necessarily indicate that the founding core raison d’etre of Mormonism has been overthrown.

  7. Good to meet you, Spamlds. If you collect the membership data from the general conference reports, you will find that they do not add up.

    Try it. Pluck the numbers into a spreadsheet. You cannot reconcile them.

    Among demographers that’s a well known fact.

    By every objective indication, from polling data to national censuses, it is well established that Mormon membership numbers are a lot lower than the Church reports.

    Elder Bateman has reported that the membership numbers that you are quoting include among other things individuals without addresses. In this case, they remain in the membership database until they are 110 years old.

    There are no 14 million Mormons. Study the research. That number is an illusion to make us feel better about ourselves. It’s not real.

  8. Is there a good analysis of the claims made by the Church regarding membership? Anybody know? Yeah 14 million divided by 30,000 wards comes out to about 466 members per ward. Every single ward I have ever been in has never topped even 150 active members. 14 million members yes. But definitely not active.

  9. I Believe that it’s all buried in the comments to another post, but some groups took data about the number of men who ever reach melchizedek priesthood in the church as a proxy for activity rates…they found that a great part of the church would be considered inactive by this measure (I wish I could remember what the link was…)

    And of course, that estimation has problems. It doesn’t account that women may become inactive at different rates than men, or that someone may become inactive after getting the Melchizedek priesthood or that many people stay in for family reasons (and therefore are “active”,) but do not believe.

  10. I imagine you could make similar critiques of how sociologists do head counts for “Muslims” or “Catholics” or “Buddhists” as well. Plenty of people get counted who arguably shouldn’t be.

    I don’t really care honestly, and you’ll note that the leadership isn’t really touting numbers as an emphasis these days either. So it seems like a non-issue.

  11. When the leadership just “doesn’t tout (x) as an emphasis these days anymore,” that still doesn’t get anyone off the hook. Because in their silent de-emphasis, they aren’t rejecting or renouncing what was said previously…they just scuttle it under the rug by not mentioning it any more.

    And you know what happens next? I understand that the Seth R’s don’t care about membership numbers, BUT the Greg W’s of spamlds (and many other members) will still tout faith-promoting rumors and myths because they DO believe the numbers are important. And because there is no official refutation, we can’t say, “Did you get the memo?” Because there is no memo. They are completely free to believe in old data that isn’t emphasized by leadership anymore.

    So yes, there is still an issue.

  12. They don’t need to officially refute it.

    Because it was stupid and trivial to begin with.

    I can think of half a dozen better things for the brethren to spend their time on. No apology needed. No refutation needed. You get jack squat.

    And that’s just peachy.

    Now, if you want to call for apologies – try doing it on something that actually matters – like past LDS racism or something.

  13. It just doesn’t make sense for people who think their lives will be happier outside the Church to continually keep watching it in the rear view mirror. It doesn’t make any sense for them to turn around and keep throwing rhetorical stones at it.

    It shouldn’t make any difference to them what becomes of Mormonism and those who choose to adhere to its precepts. But somehow, it just bothers them. Every new temple that is announced makes them wince. Every time there’s a hurricane or an earthquake that the Church sends humanitarian aid to, they grumble about the Church not being “transparent” with its finances. There’s always a disquiet that grinds away in their guts.

    Kabir, a Sufi poet, wrote the following verses 600 years ago. Somehow, they seem appropriate here:

    We sense that there is some sort of spirit
    That loves birds and animals and the ants;
    Perhaps the same one who gave a radiance to you
    In your mother’s womb.

    Is it logical you would be walking around
    Entirely orphaned now?
    The truth is you turned away yourself,
    And decided to go into the dark alone.

    Now you are tangled up in others,
    And have forgotten what you once knew.
    And that’s why everything you do
    Has some strange failure in it.

  14. @Spamlds
    I have to agree with your point that “it” doesn’t make sense. A lot of things humans do, “don’t make sense.” Then again, what makes sense and what doesn’t all depends on the perspective you take.

  15. spamleds wrote: “It just doesnt make sense for people who think their lives will be happier outside the Church to continually keep watching it in the rear view mirror.”

    It certainly does if they’re being followed. In my experience, mormons like to parrot the line that ex-mormons “left the church, but can’t leave it alone.” The TRUTH, however, is that the mormon church doesn’t leave US alone.

    Don’t believe me? You came to an ex-mormon’s blog and told him that he was wrong. You showed up and ‘bore your testimony’ about how you KNOW something without any form of supportable evidence for it. And you know what? That’s disturbingly common.

    When I left the mormon church, I decided that I wasn’t going to be ‘one of the “angry” ones.’ I was going to simply go on my way, and out of respect for my family and other people’s beliefs I was going to keep my criticisms quiet and constructive. So I shrugged off the annoying little remarks about my exit; I refused to rise to the bait that was repeatedly thrown out in front of me by my family members, and I kept my criticism of the mormon church mostly private.

    That lasted a whole year before I had somebody hunt me down online in a blatant and flagrant attempt to reconvert me. I was ‘called to repentance’ on my blog for saying that I didn’t believe in mormonism. I was accused of being lazy, prideful, offended, ashamed, addicted, and several other common ‘excuses’ that mormons use to dismiss the legitimate criticisms of those who have left. When my own personal missionary made himself look like an idiot and gave up, he called in a professional from SLC to pick up the argument in his place. That’s right, I had a professional mormon apologist show up on my blog trying to argue the veracity of the Book of Mormon.

    So the reality of the matter is that “live and let live” often doesn’t work. It DOES make sense to keep checking your rearview mirror when there’s a black SUV with Utah plates that’s been following you for miles.

    But aside from that, the mormon church seems to actively SEEK this kind of attention. They poured milllions of dollars into California to pass homophobic legislation. Their top leaders make bigoted and GROSSLY inaccurate statements from the pulpit; statements of the kind that have helped fuel the continuing tragedy of suicides among gay teenagers. And then there’s the arrogance and indecribable disrespect involved in their goal to posthumously baptize EVERYONE in history into their faith, with or without consent, and with absolutely no regard for that individual’s wishes.

    So it makes PERFECT to watch the morg in my rearview window, because if the organization had its way they would commit acts that directly affect me. The only thing that DOESN’T make sense is how you could express belief that someone is still paying attention to the mormon church when your very PRESENCE on this blog clearly demonstrates that there’s no such thing as a clean escape.

  16. Seth,

    I can think of half a dozen things for the brethren to spend their time on as well. I know nothing is going to be done here. But I’m so glad you recognize that this isn’t even about the numbers. This is just one example that mirrors the way the church operates in other areas (e.g, racism). And that’s why it’s a big deal. It’s not the numbers; it’s the fact that this is the same way the church reacts with everything.


    It just doesn’t make sense for a church to try to legislate what is acceptable for people who are NOT members of it do with their lives (as the church has done through political involvement with Prop 8, the ERA, etc.,). It just doesn’t make sense that the church creates an environment where many families think it ok to make a condition of good terms that one of its members be a member of the church. It just doesn’t make sense tha the church creates an environment where, when this kind of shunning doesn’t take place, it’s only because instead, the person’s family or friends within the church believe they can cow them back into the church.

    It doesn’t make sense that someone who has realized a truth — and more — sit by idly while he watches others being misinformed or deceived. It doesn’t make sense that someone who has found a sense of freedom and joy sit idly by as some organization or person or people aim to take away that freedom, bring him back down into bondage and misery, or take others down the path of misery.

    I can guess what you might say. You don’t see it that way. You see it as caring. You see it as sharing something that could bring happiness and joy. But then, if you’re not myopic, then the other side shouldn’t be a mystery either.

    The caring person speaks out. The caring person will speak his truth.

    I’m sure you sincerely believe you do the same, even though your methods of harrassment are despicable.

  17. Personally, I don’t wince and grumble at the Church — I did that in my early 20s. Now I’m all grown up and take pride in calling myself a “cultural Mormon.” I’m happy to push on boundaries where “Mormon” meets “rest of the world” and “rest of the world” meets “Mormon.” In some ways I find the Church to be broken, but perhaps in many more ways, I find the rest of the world to be broken, too. I’m comfortable where I’m at; I believe the Church appreciates and welcomes its watchers — whether they’re ex-Mormons or never-Mormons — so long as they are respectful. I don’t think the Church is actually interested in bringing everyone into its fold at this moment, as that would create a correlative crisis. So there’s a creative tension the faith has with its surrounding culture, which is kinda neat to watch and talk about. Other times it’s disconcerting. Depends on the day.

  18. I don’t think this conversation (about why people or young people leave) is possible. No matter what anyone says who has left the church, it doesn’t matter (for the most part). They (we) were either weak or deceived by Satan.

    Of course not all LDS believe that – but most of these discussions devolve into that. So in the end, it goes back to your post (chanson) about how if there is no solution, there is no problem. I’m happy to read the discussion, of course, and not all conversations have to be productive. I just don’t think we could come up with any reasonable, well argued, factual opinions or arguments that could be remotely accepted.

    There is no legitimate reason to leave the LDS church, from the mindset of some.

    As far as young people leaving, I can’t say. As I mentioned in the last post, we don’t have any data. I think if there was data, it might make a difference in this discussion. We could actually say what percentage of people left, at what age, and for what reasons. But we don’t have that. So we can just guess. My guess is that the reasons mentioned so far are pretty good reasons. For me personally, I usually say that it wasn’t right for me.
    But again, since there isn’t a legitimate reason to leave, that’s not a legitimate reason. But in our society, particularly for younger people, doing something that doesn’t work for you for no other reason than some in authority said so or said to trust them (it would get better); it just doesn’t cut it any longer, for many people. There needs to be more of a reason.

    The mormon church, and seemingly other churches are not very good at making this argument. Perhaps some of it is an unwillingness to join or maintain communities. I just think traditional (bricks and mortar) ways of interacting are radically changing, and will continue to change.

  19. PS. In response to Ardis’ post, studying history is important. And being open and honest about history is important. If there are people who have studied LDS history, and are comfortable with it and stay with the church, I tip my hat to them. I’m serious. I think everyone should have the opportunity to study and research anything they want. I think it does a disservice to everyone to leave out the facts. Two key points that have changed in my lifetime – 1 whether or not Brigham Young had more than one living wife and 2 whether or not all native americans were descended from the lamanites, or just some of them are the descendants of the lamanites. Why not be open and honest about both issues?

    It goes back to this notion of, if you stop believing, it’s your fault. It’s not the church’s responsibility to be honest, forthright and to give its members the benefit of the doubt. Most mormons (I think) are like Ardis and other faithful people I know. What happened in the past can be understood, and what is happening now can be seemingly more of a focus.

    But would the LDS church still be able to say they were the only true church on earth? It’s either all true or it’s false. Again, speaking of social norms now – this doesn’t work any longer. Most people accept that some things are flawed, even good, upstanding institutions. But it’s much easier to be involved in a good, upstanding institution that is open and honest, and moving in the right direction (publishing financial data to the membership would be a great start) than one that is not willing to be open and honest – and believes their membership would leave if they found out the truth.

  20. @spamlds, so when a democrat decides to become republican and thusly takes time and energy to criticize Obama, does that give Obama more credibility because he’s persecuted more?

    Is there anything in your life that you have left that you continue to talk about?

  21. I imagine you could make similar critiques of how sociologists do head counts for Muslims or Catholics or Buddhists as well. Plenty of people get counted who arguably shouldnt be.

    Sure, no count is perfect but that does not mean that all methods are equally deficient. The most exact estimates are random samples such as applied by Pew or in the CUNY Religious Identification Survey.

    Many other churches also maintain better records than we do. The Seventh-day Adventists, for example, publish summaries, which are impressively comprehensive.

    Among demographers of religion, the COB has become a laughing stock because the numbers have obviously been manipulated to validate our identity. It’s cheap salesmanship, I am afraid, and it was only a matter of time before it would become an embarrassment to us.

    Efforts to establish equivalence between our and other people’s shortcomings usually do not withstand empirical scrutiny because Mormon authoritarianism does generate extraordinary problems, which the founding fathers, among others, predicted fairly accurately.

    But even if it were true that our managers are no more abusive or ineffective than others that still wouldn’t justify incompetent and inhumane behavior. It’s a slippery slide analogy.

    I do agree with you that it would be unfair to expect perfection from the brethren or the COB. But if that’s the case, then we should also treat them as mortal instead of demanding superhuman respect for them.

  22. I like Alan’s comment, I’ve referred to myself as an ethnic Mormon at times, it’s an identity I carry that is in some ways independent of belief. My daughter does not feel the sense of identity the way her parents do, and I will not be surprised if she leaves the Church when she comes of age. All churches which have become associated with right wing politics are losing their youth, though that may be less of a factor since we’re not behind the Zion Curtain.

    In her mind the church’s positions on gay and women’s issues are simply unacceptable. The emphasis on silly things like tattoos and piercings makes no sense to her. And the lessons can be stultifying.

  23. Regarding the question of why we’re still talking about Mormonism if we don’t believe: that’s our FAQ here at MSP: If you dont want anything to do with the LDS faith, then why allocate so much of your time talking about it??.

    If you have further answers to that question or if you’re LDS and are confused about it, please add your questions and comments over on that thread. It doesn’t matter that it’s an old thread. I feel like somehow it will always be relevant. 😉

  24. I agree with Aerin that we’re probably not going to solve the problem of young people leaving the CoJCoL-dS (not that I was really trying to solve it — I just asked the question out of curiosity). I also agree with ProfXM that this is part of a larger trend of secularization. Of course that doesn’t really answer the question as rephrase it: Why are mainstream religions losing ground? What is driving the trend towards secularization?

    I think several people have pointed out that religion plays lots of roles in people’s lives, and a number of them seem to have moved into the secular arena. The most extreme/engaging religions aren’t losing people as fast because their appeal isn’t based on things that have secular alternatives. Mormonism would normally be in the category of “more extreme/engaging,” except that the COB has shot itself in the foot with correlation.

  25. The suspicion that has been growing on me for a while is that secularism/materialism is largely a luxury good. It’s an ideology that thrives well in a complacent, risk averse, culture – experiencing a surplus of unoccupied time.

    I don’t expect this will last much longer.

    Right now, the age 20 to 30 crowd hasn’t necessarily had to deal with the full fallout of the recession. The main reason for this is that they are being insulated from the full implications of unemployment or underemployment by coddling parents from the “baby boom” generation. Lots of people are moving back in with mom and dad. As such, they are still insulated from the economic realities out there (namely – you don’t work – you don’t eat). But that’s not going to last – even the most enabling parent is going to run out of money eventually. I’m seeing a lot of these people as a bankruptcy attorney – moms and dads who blew everything supporting their idle children.

    But thing is – the money tree otherwise known as “dad” is running out. The artificial buffer is disappearing. And when it does, the 20-30 crowd is going to have a rude wake-up call. It’s just going to be them and a wretched economy that doesn’t give a damn about whether they are “personally fulfilled.” Additionally, there’s a limit to how long America’s young adults can hide from reality in worthless graduate programs. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to graduate and face all those student loans they stacked up. And the likelihood is that they aren’t going to get a job sufficient to cover it.

    At this point, I imagine the secularist fantasy of unending human progress will take a bit of a beating, and we’ll probably see an uptick in people finding religion.

    Existential moping is a luxury good. Once the full implications of the recession take hold, I imagine the tolerance for these kind of luxuries will disappear to some degree.

  26. The problem with your argument, Seth, is that people don’t return to religion, for the most part, once they leave it. Secularization, according to all the leading theorists in the field, and based on the data (primarily from Europe), suggests that secularization may not be linear and inevitable for all societies, but once it occurs, it is irreversible.

    You can think about it this way: What good would it do these young 20-30 year-olds to suddenly decide to return to religion when faced with an economic crisis? Some religions may offer some help (e.g., job service, some handouts), but those rarely continue long-term. Secular government is able to continue those services long term, but religions don’t have the resources to do that. Additionally, as soon as these people start making some money, the religions put their hands/baskets/collection bins out and ask for it. So, what’s the benefit?

    Ireland has, over the last few decades, undergone a rapid wave of secularization. The current economic crisis is unlikely to fill up the churches, though that data is not available yet. However, plenty of pastors in the US will tell you that, in past economic recessions, religions did well – people attended more. But in this one, they haven’t fared so well – people are using the logic I outlined above: Why turn to religion since I’ll just have to give them money I don’t have. Ergo, religions aren’t going to prosper out of this. The mass exodus out may slow a bit because of anxiety (and religion helps with that), but it’s not going to reverse.

  27. Seth — I tend to agree that luxury is a big part of it. People who feel like they are in control of their own lives have less need for religion. However, if you’re going to call it “existential moping,” you’ll surely note that you can spin this same argument the other direction: When people are desperate and don’t think there’s anything real that they can do to solve their problems, then doing something (even something totally ineffectual like praying or wearing a good-luck charm) feels better than doing nothing.

  28. Seth, I think you point out something true about human nature. Personally, I wouldn’t make such a grandiose prediction but I think the “Pride Cycle” does have some truth to it. However, I like to call it the “Humility Cycle” because it’s at the humbling stage when I think people’s emotions cloud their rational thinking and then they decide to turn to superstitions to solve their problems. But there’s something deeper going on – instead of a deity blessing them for obedience, it’s human’s natural drive to solve problems and overcome adversity that will get them out of the hole. But many will mistakenly attribute their success to their imaginary deity when in reality it was nothing of the sort.

    The “Humility Cycle” provides some interesting insight into human nature. I think it says more about human’s tendency to resort to superstitious behavior than it does the existence of a deity or truthfulness of a religion.

  29. I think that there is something to say for secularism being a “luxury” good, but at the same time, I don’t see how religions really become a staple…

    After all, suppose people hit the real world and it sucks.

    Religion doesn’t help here. At best, someone will believe God can help, find out that God skimps out on the rent payments too, and then realize that they can’t really start trusting the supernatural to solve completely natural problems.

  30. Actually Andrew, religion does help. A lot more than atheism does (which makes sense, given that “atheism” isn’t really an organization). People tend to band together in times of hardship and turn to others for help. Religion tends to provide mechanisms for this currently better than secularism does. As financial clerk in our ward, I could tell you exactly how much “help” is being provided to people. And contrary to profxm’s implication, the benefit is not just financial – it is also a matter of social community support. Moral support, the feeling that you yourself are helping other people… that kind of thing.

    You yourself blogged about this once, as I recall, noting that atheism has no real unifying community concept, and no possible basis for one. So I don’t think this is a particularly controversial point.

    profxm, actually I remember reading a study that people tend to actually go BACK to religion as they get older, but since I’ve long since forgotten the source we’ll have to leave it there.

    Chanson and Chris, I didn’t say anything about religion being true, or better necessarily. At best I only implied it.

  31. Seth, these studies says that:

    Stolzenberg, Ross M., Mary Blair-Loy, and Linda J. Waite. 1995. Religious Participation in Early Adulthood: Age and Family Life Cycle Effects on Church Membership. American Sociological Review 60:84-103.

    Argue, A., D. R. Johnson, and L. K. White. 1999. Age and Religiosity: Evidence From a Three-Wave Panel Analysis. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 38:423-435.

    Mostly has to do with becoming parents. Even so, most studies that look at age and religion find that its a generational issue: kids are less religious than their parents. Thus, if you just look at religiosity by age, it looks like older people are more religious and that younger people, who are less religious, turn to religion over time. Actually, most of that is simply people from older generations staying and not young people returning, per:

    Crockett, Alasdair, and David Voas. 2006. Generations of Decline: Religious Change In Twentieth-Century Britain. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

    Hoge, Dean R., and J. L. Hoge. 1984. Period Effects and Specific Age Effects Influencing Values of Alumni in the Decade After College. Social Forces 62:941-962.

    McAllister, Ian. 1988. Religious Change and Secularization: The Transmission of Religious Values in Australia. Sociological Analysis 49:249-263.

    Wilhelm, Mark O., Patrick M. Rooney, and Eugene R. Tempel. 2007. Changes in Religious Giving Reflect Changes in Involvement: Age and Cohort Effects in Religious Giving, Secular Giving, and Attendance. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46:217-232.

  32. Seth,

    But the question is: why would people in a secular society continue to view religion as the best mechanism for “banding together in times of hardship and turning to others for help?”

    You frame it as religion vs. secularism, but as I’ve mentioned (and as you’ve alluded), secularism isn’t a unified community or front. But that doesn’t mean secularists don’t have communities. It’s just — I think the communities are better founded by something *other* than secularism (because secularism doesn’t necessarily give you a lot in common). So the question isn’t “religion vs. secularism” — this makes little sense because you’re not comparing like kinds. The question is “religion vs. non-religious community options.” These non-religious community options need not be explicitly atheist or secularist organizations, but by virtue of not being religious organizations, they are implicitly secular.

    Also, I agree that the data I’ve seen shows that people go back to religion as they grow older *in non-secular societies*. I also don’t remember the source, but I do remember other news articles summarizing that the impact of this data is to suggest that America may not becoming secular any time soon because it simply operates on a different model of religious affiliation and disaffiliation than most developed countries.

  33. But religion doesn’t have a monopoly on fellowship or community. What makes religion unique? – the dogma right? So you weren’t you saying that it would be the ideas/dogma of religion that people would find attractive when times are tough? not just the fellowship or community?

  34. Actually Chris, it’s quite possible that religion DOES have a near monopoly on those things. Take out the holy books and prayers and think about all the things your local synagogue, mosque or chapel does. Then ask yourself if there are any other prevalent and accessible secular organizations in your community doing all that.

  35. Seth,

    when you say “prevalent and accessible secular organizations,” do you mean “secular” as in “non-religious” or “secular” as in “a corporate branch of The Atheist Establishment”?

  36. My immediate and extended family, for one – they are religious but I don’t have to pay tithing to be part of the family. Also government, two. I’m sure there are others but I haven’t really bothered to look yet.

  37. Also, I know no one is saying this, but I don’t think the social exit-trends here can be viewed as a victory for atheism, or whatever brand of secularism you personally happen to subscribe to.

    A lot of people who exit do so in a very halfhearted “I’m tired of this” sort of way. Some people don’t even have a particular beef with religion at all, but would just rather be waterskiing on Sunday. Personally, I think these kind of exiters are much more common than those who blog about their disaffection.

    It’s a diverse group.

  38. No Andrew, that’s not what I meant.

    Chris, unless you’ve got a freaking HUGE family with a lot more resources than normal, I doubt your family can emulate what local churches are doing.

  39. Seth (91), already duly noted.

    But please note that “waterskiing on Sunday” groups should count as a secular alternative to religions. And any waterski support group that spills over into other things (“hey, waterski buddy, can you babysit my kid? OK, no prob”) counts as a secular alternative. And waterskiing on Sunday isn’t “existential moping,” (although I will concede it too is a luxury).

    Seth (92), so are you saying you didn’t mean it in *either* of the two ways I mentioned? Because it seems like you’re still talking about “secular” as some kind of corporate branch of the Atheist Conspiracy.

  40. To Seth (91), is it really a victory for religion when people are just using it for its non-religious services like fellowship, food, and maybe help with rent money? I’m not sure what’s the point of this discussion then unless you are saying that the dogma of religion is what will help contribute to religion’s converts.

    Religion can take the moochers. I’m fine with that.

  41. Chris, I guess in a “by their fruits shall ye know them” sort of sense, it is a victory for religions, if anyone is keeping score.

    And I can tell you right now that there a lot of personal, economic, etc. crises that just your own immediate family are definitely NOT able to cope with. This is the reason people do communities in the first place. And communities have always entailed a loss of freedom and restrictions. The more freedom we seek out, the more isolated and vulnerable we become. One comes at the expense of the other.

    And I’m probably not the best person to ask about government assistance – considering that my own state of Colorado ranks about 48th in the nation in terms of public unemployment and other social assistance.

    Andrew, I don’t think atheism or secularism – as such – provide any of the support structures that religion does. By definition, I don’t think atheism is meant to – it’s an idea, not an organization. And “secularism” is too broad a notion to be useful in this context – it could include anything from your local chess club to your state unemployment bureau.

    I just don’t see anything aside from government providing the package deal that religions do. So if you don’t think government is adequate as a safety net, what are you left with if you have no religious group?

    Family, I guess. But religious people have that too – and then some.

  42. Seth,

    But that’s my entire point. You are using atheism and secularism as these corporate or organizational structures when they are *not*. So, to say “I don’t think atheism or secularism provide any of the support structures that religion does” makes no sense…because atheism and secularism are not comparable to religion. They are not like terms.

    However, when used as ideas, things start changing. You say secularism “is too broad a notion to be useful in the context.” I disagree, for precisely the elaboration you mention. If your local chess club and your state unemployment bureau can outcompete your church, THAT is an example of secular (read: non-religious) organizations answering your question from 88.

    There isn’t going to be a community of people talking about a lack of god. You’re just not going to find a corporate form around that. So if that’s the only context in which you view a “secular organization,” then your premises define out a secular organization taking the role of a church. BUT that still doesn’t make the case for religions, because there will be people who realize they don’t have to spend their Sundays going to church. There will be people realizing they could play chess, go skiing, spend time with their families, whatever. These are the real secular alternatives to religion.

    Secular nations get that way not because of a corporate campaign from The Atheist Headquarters…they get that way precisely because nonreligious organizations (like the government, ski clubs, or chess clubs) become more compelling options for community, shared aims, and social nets.

    But the thing is…the government isn’t the only option. There could be and are civic groups that are not religious. The fact that Americans may return to religion when they grow older is not an indictment of secular options or a praise of religion…it’s a sign, instead, that American government, non-religious civic organizations, etc., are simply not where European government and non-religious civic organizations are.

    The only thing to address here, finally, is whether all of these social functions must be provided in one area. Must it be a “package deal,” or can different groups specialize? It seems like the second thing you’re supposing with your question is that if ONE secular group does not do EVERYTHING, then religion wins out. But what if it’s more efficient for social functions to be divided among different organizations? Just because churches tend to be totalizing institutions, does that make that the best way to operate?

  43. Andrew, I just don’t share your confidence in these groups. I don’t think they are performing and coming through for people.

    Government helps people a lot, and then churches help people a lot. Aside from that – goose eggs.

    Hellmut, I think the tangible social, economic, and spiritual benefits (though the last may not count in present company) are worth every penny of my regular ten percent.

  44. Seth,

    In my community, If people need housing, then the St. Vincent de Paul Society is probably the most helpful place to go. But people who need food go to the secular food bank for food and to the government for food stamps. If they need cash, they go to the government for TANF. If they need health care, they get Medicaid (if they’re children or if they’re adults who are poor enough; otherwise, they’re screwed) or to one of several secular clinics (if they’re not too sick). Women who are battered by their spouse or equivalent can seek refuge at the secular shelter.

    Also, comparing the couple of months I once spent on TANF and food stamps with the couple of months I once spent on “church welfare” (as well as my experience helping other church members get church assistance), I found the government workers to be far more respectful, helpful, and supportive than the church people involved (especially compared with the people working at the bishop’s storehouse), and I found the people I met through the required class for TANF recipients at the Department of Human Services to be much more accepting and much less judgmental than people in church. (And it was a tip from somebody in that class, not from the church employment office, who helped my wife find a job.)

    Your mileage may vary, but my point is that secular communities and government are quite capable of providing support structures when the conditions are right.

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