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. Since my bad experiences with church welfare were 20 years and 1,000 miles apart, I’m tempted to generalize, but I realize that I can’t. But I will say that I’ve never in my life been patronized as much as I was when I had to go to the bishop’s storehouse. And 20 years later when I was involved in helping other people go to the bishop’s storehouse for help, things were so bad that, devout as we were, some of us seriously discussed advising members to skip the church and go straight to DHS because the way people were being treated was so humiliating and damaging to their faith. (We decided we couldn’t do that, more’s the pity.)

    Anyway, like I said, YMMV, and apparently it does, but the point is that secular charities and government can be quite capable of providing support. In my community, people in need are best off going to a religious charity for housing, but for everything else, they’re best off going to a secular charity or a government agency.

  2. What I find interesting is that Seth thinks it’s a well-earned victory for religion when religion has to buy converts via better fellowshipping or community. … not so much which organization is better…

    The dogma isn’t good enough so religion compensates with charity.

  3. What I find interesting is that Chris has such a contemptuous view of humanity that he automatically assumes that any good deeds performed by ANYONE are automatically an attempt to “buy people off.”

    How’d you like that Chris?

    Kinda sucks to be misrepresented, doesn’t it?

  4. So you don’t think it’s a well-earned victory for religion when religion buys converts via better fellowshipping?

  5. I’ll take that as a “not necessarily” then. So when you said that there will be an uptick in people finding religion the primary reason is because of its superior charitable qualities when coupled with an increase in down-and-out folks? But that it doesn’t have much to do with religion’s doctrine – more so the fellowshipping, etc?

  6. Just another quick comment to make myself clear. Post 79 used the term religion, which at least includes Community + Doctrine. So when you say there will be people abandoning atheism (intellectual only, no community) to join religion, it seemed like you meant they would be joining the community as well as accepting the doctrine of religion. This seems like a good thing to you. It is acceptable for somebody to switch worldviews because the other has better fruit.

    The problem first is that atheism isn’t a Church with a capital ‘C’. So if an atheist isn’t getting enough fruit, that’s their own fault not atheism’s. Now we can go back and forth about who has the better social support… LDS Church vs government vs whatever – have at it.

    Secondly, I think worldview conversion via fruit says something non-positively about the convert. I view it as a bit selfish. I hope I don’t re-join Mormonism just because I’m having some crappy luck. I would want to re-join Mormonism because the doctrine is true and for no other reason. The community would be a perk. I say this because I fear emotional manipulation and I don’t like manipulation.

  7. I don’t think perks are the only reason. When things go south in your life, you aren’t just looking for help with meals, you’re also looking for some new purpose and meaning. So the two probably correlate somewhat.

    I also think that the amount of charitable activity might be looked at a one factor of gauging how successful the religious belief in question is at motivating good behavior in people.

    I don’t expect atheism to provide anything because, at the end of the day, it isn’t really anything. It’s a non-position, a non-statement. And can therefore probably be disregarded in most instances at no great loss. All atheism really does is casually walk into the room, declare that plans A, B and C are rubbish, and then walk right on out of the room without saying anything.

    To which I think the proper response of those still in the room would be to shrug their shoulders and pick up where they left off before being interrupted.

    As to the quality of converts, I’m not quite so much of a perfectionist about it. I am just fine with people joining a good cause for less than optimal reasons and possibly finding better reasons as they go along. If you wait for perfect converts… well… you’ll have a long wait. Everyone’s motives are suspect in some degree or other. So it’s not really something I care to dwell too much on, as long as it isn’t an egregious mismatch.

    By the way, one of my fellow bankruptcy attorneys pointed out this article to me:


    Which seemed kind of timely considering my grim remarks about the economy and young adults. Just rough times. And it doesn’t help that politics are overwhelmingly dominated by people age 50 and older – who don’t necessarily know or care about the problems facing this sector of the job force.

  8. If they have anything constructive to say, my feeling is that they are no longer speaking as atheists, but rather as “environmentalists” or “Republicans” or whatever else, but not as atheists.

  9. Ok, I don’t really understand how #111 fits. Maybe it’s because I inadvertently left out a word: But Im still confused why you think all atheists have to lean on is atheism itself.

    So you would be totally cool if an atheist were to join the LDS Church (for social reasons) but secretly remain as an atheist? (Because you’re not a perfectionist.)

  10. I can explain (we’ve been here before).

    He doesn’t think all atheists have to lean on is atheism itself. Atheism is *nothing* to lean on. What people lean on are their various other involvements or active beliefs (whether it be environmentalism or Republicanism, as Seth mentioned, or some other positive ideology.)

    I’d say the most common positive ideologies that atheists use these days are things like empiricism, scientism, or rationalism.

    All atheism says is, “I don’t think there’s a god.” It is only this negating claim. It does not, and cannot provide anything positive or constructive. That doesn’t mean that people who happen to be atheists cannot provide anything positive or constructive…but they do so not because of atheism, but because of some positive ideology they have.

  11. That’s right Andrew.

    This is why when someone rides into a debate claiming to speak as an atheist, I usually just raise my eyebrows and wait for them to expose the REAL ideology they are operating from.

    Facist secularism in Christopher Hitchens case, for instance.

  12. I think it’s important to note that we can say the same for theism. But of course, most people don’t claim to speak as “theists;” they claim to speak as specific KINDS of theists (e.g., Mormon, Catholic, Muslim, etc.,)

    The problem is that people don’t recognize that atheism is in the same “category” as theism is…instead, people try to compare it to specific religions (or the idea of religion itself), but it just doesn’t work that way.

  13. Seth R @ 111:

    If they have anything constructive to say, my feeling is that they are no longer speaking as atheists, but rather as environmentalists or Republicans or whatever else, but not as atheists.

    Have you ever considered that atheism is linked to people actually caring about the Earth, as the planet is not just a temporary, imperfect space compared to Heaven, but is rather all we have from the atheist’s perspective? Ever notice it’s like pulling teeth to get religious people to believe there is such a thing as global warming? (One exception is Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe Earth is the future location of Paradise.)

    Sure, you’re not going to find Atheism, INC, tied to Environmentalism, INC, but that’s because ideas don’t always flow through moneyed channels like they do in churches. But it’s not right to separate someone’s atheism from their environmentalism just because you consider one better than the other; they’re not as disconnected as you think.

  14. Alan,

    I think you’re missing what Seth’s trying to say.

    Atheism is not linked to people actually caring about the Earth…atheism is linked to people not believing in god.

    Now, it may be that many atheists happen to also be naturalists, and as a result they view the planet as all we have. But let’s be clear; this isn’t the atheist perspective. “I do not believe in gods” does not *ever* get you to “The earth is all we have.” Now, if you are a naturalist, then that may lead to you being an atheist *and* in believing that the earth is all we have.

  15. Which is funny, because the LDS doctrines of the spiritual existence of the earth and everything in it ought to incline the LDS to be more environmentally minded.

    Disregard for the earth and mortal life is not good Christianity in any case. Nor is it good Mormonism.

  16. Of course, I’ve seen some members try to emphasize these doctrines to make more popular an LDS environmentalism.

    As long as members think the church must be attached to the hip to a political party that really isn’t about the environment, I don’t think that’ll become mainstream though.

  17. Andrew @ 119:

    I think youre missing what Seths trying to say.

    I doubt it. There’s never such a thing as X qua X (atheism qua atheism). Seth seems to single out atheism because he doesn’t like it. Yet, in the current political and cultural climate, you’ll find secularists/atheist/agnostics more engaged with environmental concerns than religious folk. PBS did a special on “Is God green?” a while back because of how conservatives were annoyed that there is worship of “God’s creation” over worship of “God.” This is not to say that Seth R is not environmentally concerned, or the evangelical down the street, or my Mormon mother who has four recycling bins. Things have changed on this front since even 10 years ago. But there are patterns of thought that historically link various philosophies. Atheism is linked to environmentalism. Athiesm is defined as believing in no God(s).

  18. Alan,

    Theres never such a thing as X qua X (atheism qua atheism).

    That’s news to me. I have frequently talked about “mere atheism,” in trying to distinguish atheism from everything else. I think it’s helpful, because I don’t want to be lumped in with someone else that I disagree with just because I happen not to believe in gods along with them (as many people would like to lump everyone with “new atheists” so to speak or to call “new atheism” a worldview). I believe that atheists come to be for many different reasons, and as a result, people who are atheists do NOT share much in common as *atheists*. All they need share is a lack of beliefs in gods.

    There is no doubt that there seem to be certain commonalities around people who are atheists, but it’s not because of atheism (e.g., “I don’t believe in god.”) So, no, “atheism” is not linked to environmentalism. There is nothing within the lack of belief in deities to latch on to…or to be latched on to, by anything else (especially not environmentalism). No wherewithal to associate.

  19. I’ve read about encounters with hard-nosed businessmen who are CEOs of major corporations despoiling the land who also claimed there was no God.

    And the worst environmental disasters on the planet occurred in the Soviet Union under the watch of men who absolutely and most definitely claimed to be atheist.

    In fact, solely because of the Soviet Union and China, you could probably blame atheism for more environmental harm than Christianity – in the balance.

    Of course, I do not do this, because atheism – as I have been saying – is a non-position to begin with. It doesn’t positively assert anything. Therefore, of course, it cannot be blamed for anything either – ever.

  20. Seth — [Whether God exists] and [whether believing in God is beneficial for humans] are two completely separate questions. It could be that people tend to be happier and more moral when they believe in God, but that wouldn’t imply that God exists. It could also be that people are happier and more moral in general when they don’t believe in God, but that wouldn’t prove that God doesn’t exist.

    I think religion almost certainly has some adaptive benefits for humans, otherwise it wouldn’t have evolved. I also think that since culture changes from one generation to the next, culture helps human society adapt to new situations. The religions that we know now (and know through written history) are likely very different in character than the earliest religions. And since modern society has some dramatic differences from a few centuries past, it’s not surprising that religion’s usefulness changes.

    It may well be that religion is not as adaptive/useful/relevant in modern urban societies as it was in the American frontier or as it was under the feudal system, or when subsistence farming, or whatever. And when I say “less adaptive/useful/relevant,” I don’t mean it as a value judgement. I don’t want to jump to judgemental conclusions about people’s intelligence, morals, selfishness, etc. On the one hand, I’d rather avoid the value judgements because I don’t think that this change really is about those loaded value judgements [it’s more about circumstances], and on the other hand, I think the value judgements turn the discussion antagonistic, which doesn’t help.

  21. Then there’s the additional question of how Mormonism’s situation differs from the general trend of secularization:

    There’s a good discussion of it in the comments of Andrew’s post about Ardis’s dissing him. Kuri points out that Mormonism really does work for some people. I think we can reasonably guess that people are more likely to leave [question and stop believing] when Mormonism doesn’t “work” for them. And I think that the micromanagement from the COB limits the range of possibilities within the Mormon experience, making it work for fewer and fewer people.

  22. I agree with Seth that what people believe about god is secondary. What really matters is whether the powerful can be held accountable.

    That determines whether actions and outcomes will be beneficial and effective or abusive and wasteful.

    It is unfortunate that Brighamite Mormonism is rejecting the lessons of the founding fathers about the nature of power and how it can be used responsibly.

  23. Brigham Young was probably the most environmentally forward prophet we’ve had.

    Seriously, the guy gets blamed for everything it seems. He doesn’t get credit for hardly anything either.

  24. I agree that being classified as an “atheist” says nothing about one’s morals, view on the environment, or just about anything else.

    I’ve studied a lot of Buddhism in the past few years, and in fact consider my thought-process to be “Buddhist Mormon”, although there are some definite ihcoherencies there. In any event, despite NOT believing in God, there are many similarities. There are morals (in many cases more finely developed than in the LDS Church). There are stories of healings through the power of prayer (defined a bit differently, but same principle). There are miraculous stories every bit as powerful as those I’ve heard in the LDS Church. There is a respect for families and parents, again, as powerful as the LDS Church might engender through its emphasis on eternal families, etc. And, when you’ve studied Christ’s words and the Buddha’s words closely enough to have themes and principle infuse through your mind, on a practical basis, they are extremely similar.

    And all this comes, not from a Buddhist’s belief in an external God setting up all of these rules, but from a rational view of what works, what has a positive outcome, what makes for a “better world”.

  25. Brigham Young was probably the most environmentally forward prophet weve had.

    that says more about how environmentally backwards all the other prophets have been than it does about what a wise, decent guy BY was.

    Seriously: climate change and environmental degradation are this huge threat to our way of life, and the leaders of the LDS church not only never saw that coming, they preached from the pulpit that there was nothing to worry about.

    Religion isn’t just useless in a case like this, it’s downright harmful.

  26. Read Hugh Nibley’s book “Brother Brigham Chastizes the Saints” sometime.

    It’s quite startling how socially progressive and foresighted he was on a variety of issues. Radically so, actually. He’d be a hard act for any church leader to follow.

  27. Read Hugh Nibleys book Brother Brigham Chastizes the Saints sometime.

    Summarize or quote a few passages and give some evidence sometime. Give someone a reason to believe you actually know what you’re talking about.

  28. It’s my dad’s book. And he lives about a eight hour drive from me. It’s a book I’ve wanted to purchase myself for a while now since reading it a few years ago. Really opened my eyes about Brigham Young – he really doesn’t get enough credit for his accomplishments.

    So I don’t have quotes for you Janine, but I don’t think it’s my burden of proof here necessarily to prove anything to you. I could just as easily ask you to provide proof that you aren’t talking out of your hat as well.

    You made a completely unsupported assertion in comment #133, and pretty much just expected us all to believe you…. why exactly?

    And now you’re asking me to provide some proof for you?

    Isn’t that just a tad hypocritical of you? I provided you with a reference to a book to read based on my recollections of it. And really, that’s all you can expect – given the quality of your comment. You haven’t given me any particularly compelling reason to give you anything more.

  29. Its my dads book. And he lives about a eight hour drive from me.

    Right. And you remember it well enough to use to counter an assertion, but not well enough to summarize some of its basic points? You can’t google it and see if anyone else excerpts it on the interweb? Ain’t NOTHING from the book you can use to explain why someone should take your advice and read it?

    And now youre asking me to provide some proof for you?

    Oh, I see! My one comment with little support completely trumps your habit of making unsupported assertions. You’re right: it’s hypocritical of me to make ONE unsupported comment, and to ask you for support for ONLY ONE of your unsupported comments.

    So, I withdraw my comment–forget I ever wrote it–and I now ask you to provide support for ALL your comments.

    After all, this is a site where you’re regularly asked for examples, so you should keep a log or something.


  30. Janine, you started it. And I replied in kind.

    You’ve gotten what you’re entitled to on that basis. Unless you’d like to step up and start providing support for what you asserted in #133. Once you’ve done that, you can make fun of me all you want.

  31. Seth R, I most definitely do not need your permission to make fun of you. I also have to believe that if you didn’t want people to mock you, you wouldn’t give them so darn much to work with.

    And you’re simply wrong that I “started it.” Behold your unsupported comment #130:

    Brigham Young was probably the most environmentally forward prophet weve had.

    Seriously, the guy gets blamed for everything it seems. He doesnt get credit for hardly anything either.

    Nary a bit of evidence. Not one.

    That’s before my comment #133, and the model for it. So it is actually you, Mr. Seth R, who started it. And it is I who replied in kind.

    And I at least supplied some evidence for one of my assertions: I went back to an old discussion, found one of your comments, and quoted it. That’s more than you’ve done.

    It’s a familiar sight on MSP to see you refuse to take responsibility for your statements and their content. So nice to see that consistency prevails. And so nice to know that you think you have reasons for withholding support or evidence for those statements: it’s because the people you’re talking to aren’t entitled to it.


  32. Seth R, I most definitely do not need your permission to make fun of you.

    True, but do we really need to make fun of fellow commenters?

    As it stands, Seth claims that BY has gotten a bum rap. So far he hasn’t backed this with evidence, but perhaps he will at some point. As far as who started it is concerned, it’s hardly necessary to debate it. The whole conversation has been logged for everyone to read for themselves. 😉

  33. To provide any more information, I would have to purchase the book and read it again. I haven’t read it in several years. But I do remember the overall message of it pretty well. But not enough to provide exact quotes here.

    I made it clear that where I got my sources, and didn’t think the context of this discussion really required anything else.

    I don’t intend to continue this side argument any further. My computer just deleted an entire client file this morning, and I’m going to be spending most of today reconstructing it. Reading Janine’s most recent comment on top of it just seriously depressed me this morning and I don’t think I have the energy for carrying on as normal.

    I’m not blaming Janine for ending the discussion, just mentioning why I’m not responding further. Normally I’d be game to continue, but it’s been a rough morning. If conversation picks up on other topics of this thread, I might remark on that later.


    And my five year old boy who my wife left with me to watch while she’s at a doctor’s appointment just walked into my office and dropped a jam jar on top of another stack of court papers I’m dealing with, asking me to open it. I just yelled at him. So I’d better leave you guys and go explain to him nicely why daddy sucks today.

  34. You people disgust me.

    Here’s chapter 1 of Brigham Young Challenges the Saints.

    Selected parts:

    A favorite theme of Brigham Young was that the dominion God gives man is designed to test him, to enable him to show to himself, his fellows, and all the heavens just how he would act if entrusted with God’s own power; if he does not act in a godlike manner, he will never be entrusted with a creation of his own worlds without end. So there is risk involved: “The rule over the world is in the hands of God,” says Ben Sirach, “and at the right time He setteth over it one that is worthy”; but if that rule is ever exercised in an arbitrary or arrogant manner, it is quickly taken away and given to someone else.19 God tells Adam, “The beasts, over whom thou didst rule, shall rise up in rebellion against thee, for thou hast not kept my commandment”;20 all creatures are quick to recognize the hand of the oppressor and impostor.

    Some of the profoundest human commentary is contained in the vast and ancient corpus literature of the animal fables, a protest literature in which the beasts bring accusation against the human race for their shabby performance in the days of their probation.21 They are, moreover, responsible for more than their own survival, for by God’s rule for the animals, “if humanity perishes, then all perish; but if man lives, then all may live.”22 What kills men destroys other forms of life as well, and having dragged them down with us in the Fall (“On account of thee,” they say, “our natures have been transformed”23), we are answerable for them: “The Lord will not judge a single animal for its treatment of man, but He will adjudge the souls of men towards their beasts in this world, for men have a special place.”24 A familiar early Jewish and Christian teaching was that the animals will appear at the bar of God’s judgment to accuse those humans who have wronged them.25 “Happy is he who glorifies all the works of the Lord, but cursed is he who offends the creation of the Lord; for nothing will go unnoticed and unrecorded.”26 Jesus referred to God’s intimate concern for all when he said of the sparrows, “not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6), and has declared in these last days: “I, the Lord . . . make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures” (D&C 104:13).

    or how about this part from chapter 2?

    Specifically, the one way man can leave his mark on the whole face of nature without damage is to plant, and President Young ceaselessly counseled his people to do as Adam was commanded to do in Edenwhen he dressed and tended the garden: Our work is “to beautify the whole face of the earth, until it shall become like the garden of Eden.”27 “The very object of our existence here is to handle the temporal elements of this world and subdue the earth, multiplying those organisms of plants and animals God has designed shall dwell upon it.”28

    Where men cannot foresee the distant effects of their actions on the environment because of the vastly complicated interrelationships of the balance of nature, what rule of action shall they follow? Brigham was never in doubt: the one sure guide for him was the feeling for beauty; he knew with Plato that the good, the true, and the beautiful are the same; that what looks and feels and sounds and tastes good is to that degree sound, useful, and trustworthy: “You watch your own feelings when you hear delightful sounds . . . or when you see anything beautiful. Are those feelings productive of misery? No, they produce happiness, peace and joy.”29 We can trust such feelings, for “every flower, shrub, and tree to beautify, and to gratify the taste and smell, and every sensation that gives to man joy and felicity are for the Saints who receive them from the Most High.”30 “Who gave the lower animals a love for those sweet sounds, which with magic power fill the air with harmony, and cheer and comfort the hearts of men, and so wonderfully affect the brute creation? It was the Lord, our heavenly Father, who gave the capacity to enjoy these sounds, and which we ought to do in His name, and to His glory.”31

    To the objection that some people have atrocious taste, Brigham has the answer. If taste, like mind and muscle, is a thing we are born with, it is no less a thing that we are under sacred obligation to cultivate and train properly. “We enjoy because we have sensibility. Promote this sensibility, seek to get more and more knowledge, more wisdom, and more understanding. . . . This will give us greater sensibility, and we shall know how to enjoy, and how to endure. I say, if you want to enjoy exquisitely, become a Latter-day Saint, and then live the doctrine of Jesus Christ.”32 Taste can be cultivated and so must be: “Let us . . . show to the world that we have talent and taste, and prove to the heavens that our minds are set on beauty and true excellence, so that we can become worthy to enjoy the society of angels.”33

    This took literally 20 seconds of googling (and it only took THAT long because Seth made an honest mistake about the title). But, oh wait, I see how it is; no matter how quickly you could’ve done the research yourself, it is quicker still to be a jerk.

  35. Seth R, I most definitely do not need your permission to make fun of you.

    True, but do we really need to make fun of fellow commenters?

    point taken. My apologies.

    Reading Janines most recent comment on top of it just seriously depressed me this morning and I dont think I have the energy for carrying on as normal.

    Seth R, I’m sorry you’re having a crappy day, but given that I’m most definitely trying to get you stop carrying on as normal, I can’t be too sorry about that.

    As Andrew demonstrated, it would have been easy for you to provide evidence if you had wanted to. You just didn’t want to. And that’s every bit as disrespectful as mocking.

  36. we never use to teach that no one knew the time of the second comming not even heavenly father, are you kidding me? I can tell your talking out of your but and dont know what your talking about when you say that. The church does and did teach that ONLY heavely father knew the time of the second comming and it was Christ himself that said that when he was alive on the earth walking amongst us. After he was ressurrected and glorified he also more then likely knows the time of his comming, he made that statement while he lived on the earth and that was a present tense statement. Get your facts right.

  37. Have another beer Jason. You are Mormon sh*tfaced. Your bible is a comic book and the Q’uran is way more believable, sensible and honest. Who in the Christ hell can follow a shite ball named JOE SMITH who said angels left golden tablets in upstate NY??? WTF???
    Then he moved to UT, f%cked every thing in his path and spawns Mitt Romney to take over the world???Get a grip bro…your “religion” is shite!

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