Is apostasy due to blind faith?

Myths abound about why people check out of Hotel Mormonism.  Most devout Mormons dismiss the professed motives of their doubting or formerly believing brothers and sisters as a matter of course.  Principle, rational thought, and conscience cannot possibly have been involved.  No, if a person doubts or leaves the church, mentally or otherwise, there must be a sin somewhere.  One common interpretation holds that coffee and cocktails are so appealing that tens of thousands of us erstwhile tithe-payers have been willing to hand in our exaltation.  Another insists that people leave because some thoughtless member really, really pissed them off.  Others cite laziness, sexual immorality, or a vast anti-Mormon conspiracy.

One cannot help but want to sympathize with the true believers making these rationales, just a little bit.  They really have to tell themselves this.  After all, we “apostates” were just like them once.  It’s easier to imagine apostasy derives from coffee beans, alcohol, or unsympathetic home teachers than to contemplate that there, but for the grace of God, go you next.

But there is another kind of myth about post-Mormon motives.  It’s just as mistaken, if more subtle for being espoused by a fairly articulate, sophisticated group of devout Mormons who can’t afford the luxury of burying their heads in the sand.  These folks, most of whom have encountered the vagaries and inconsistencies of LDS doctrine and history that nearly all believers hide from, often congregate in the self-selecting virtual wards of cyberspace (sometimes called the Bloggernacle, or ‘Nacle for short).

These ‘Naclers at least do post-Mormons the courtesy of acknowledging the reasons we cite for leaving.  They’ve run into and debated many of the post-Mormons who congregate in the Disaffected Mormon Underground (DAMU), so they know the overwhelming majority of us leave over questions of church history, doctrine, and ethics.

Any semblance of understanding ends there, however.  ‘Naclers and post-Mormons are decidedly not on the same side.  ‘Naclers are self-styled defenders of the faith, not questioners.  Their own encounter with the great big grey areas in Mormonism that the church goes out of its way not to talk about leads them to believe that they have superior insight into why people leave.

One quote I read recently represents this concept nicely.  (I’m sorry to say I only have it at second hand, so I don’t know the original source.)  Said one ‘Nacler:  Generally the DAMU were blind faithers who hang on every word, couldn’t handle that the GA’s are flawed people like the rest of us, etc. Had they questioned from the get-go, used the sprit [sic] for discernment and learned to ignore some of the false prophets in our ranks, they’d have been ok.

Here again, it’s hard not to sympathize a little, because ‘Naclers put themselves in an unenviable position.  Unlike the orthodox “blind faithers,” they can’t avail themselves of the conceit of ignoring Mormonism’s more glaring problems.  And unlike post-Mormons, they don’t get the benefit of carrying the contradictions between LDS truth claims and reality to their logical conclusion.

In the ‘Nacle, two conflicting ideas must be held side-by-side in perpetual tension, like matter and antimatter separated by an all-too-permeable forcefield, that could blow fragments of your warp engines to Ceti Alpha Five if you don’t maintain constant vigilance.  One is that the LDS church is true.  The second is that the things that the LDS church harps on to demonstrate its truthfulness aren’t always true.

In other words, the church is true, but the truth claims are sometimes problematic or misunderstood, so we must revise our understanding of the truth claims accordingly.  The fatal flaw of us post-Mormons is that we just weren’t sophisticated enough to see that.  Had we had the decency to see things in shades of grey rather than just black and white, we might have developed a more authentic, enduring faith.

Well, darn me to fetchin’ heck, call me to repentance, and send me back to tithing settlement.  All this time, I thought the problem was with the church!  I thought that claiming to be one thing but actually being something else was its problem.  But, no, the problem is that I took the church’s claims at face value!  Silly me.

Sorry, guys, I don’t buy it.  Let me set the record straight, drawing on my own experience.  I’d bet that many DAMU types will concur.  In my own case, it was the quest for more authenticity, more rational depth, more humanity in my faith that led me to where I am.  I spent years trying to transcend the blind faith of LDS teaching.  I was looking for the kind of “enlightened faith” the ‘Nacle espouses.

And just so we’re clear that I’m not speaking from hindsight, let me quote myself from journal entries written during that time.  You see, I was quite conscious of the journey toward enlightened faith I saw myself making.

“I truly hope that I will be able to apply and teach others about what I’ve learned here,” I wrote near the end of my mission in 1998.  “The members of the church in general need to learn some of the same lessons.  We’re too proud, too traditional, too wrapped up in ceremonies that we don’t try to understand.”  That seems like a funny lesson to learn on your mission.  Apparently blind faith and rote practices weren’t cutting it for me.  Let’s read on.

Late in 1999, thinking about the church in light of 3 Nephi 26:9 and 11, I wrote, “This…seems to indicate that the church is what He has given us now, suited for our time and needs, to try our faith, until He can give us greater things.  Perhaps after this life, as certain church leaders have said, …the organization of the church as we know it will simply not be necessary.”  Some people would say that the church is perfect even if the people are not.  I often said that the gospel is perfect even though the church is not.  I could be wrong, but that’s not a “blind faith” reading.

November 6, 2000:  “History and scripture should complement each other, even if we do not always understand exactly how.  After all, we’re supposed to learn ‘by study and also by faith.’”  I was encountering serious problems with the LDS penchant for scriptural literalism, but here I’m calling for synthesis of study and faith, not blind faith.

June 17, 2001:  “During Priesthood today we were discussing the nature of truth and I made a plug for the idea that truth is truth, regardless of the source, and that while some truths may be universally applicable (I mentioned the Atonement as an example), others are only applicable in a given setting or context, but that doesn’t make them untrue.  I think we sometimes regard ‘religious’ or ‘revealed’ truth as the only real truth, but even those have occasionally changed.”  Yes, I knew quite well that there were some pesky past prophets who occasionally spoke as men, darn them.

July 15, 2001:  “The Sunday School lesson [my wife and I] taught today was on avoiding personal apostasy, and I thought it would be worthwhile to mention LDS ‘inspirational’ books, by General Authorities or otherwise, as occasionally being dubious as to their veracity…”  Am I mistaken, or was I not explicitly saying — teaching in Gospel Doctrine, no less! — that there were “false prophets” among us, that General Authorities were “flawed”?

An entry for December 26, 2001 put it even more starkly:  “Even the great patriarchs were human and made mistakes, even doing ethically questionable things, something which Mormon commentators refuse to allow.  No, we have to invent excuses to protect these men from ever having committed the least wrongdoing, because heaven forbid we should ever admit that our great role models were human.”

And if this horse isn’t dead already, let me kick it once more, with an entry from May 26, 2002 (about a year before a final epiphany made a post-Mormon out of me): “Being a prophet doesn’t make you infallible or even immune to good suggestions.”

That doesn’t sound like blind faith to me.

True, I was raised with, or in a sense converted to (my family was less active throughout my childhood; I activated myself at 15), the kind of black-and-white blind faith we all roll our eyes at.  I’m going to bet that most ‘Naclers started out “blind faithers,” too.  There aren’t many Mormons who have the information to question “from the get-go.”  Considering that most of us got our formative information from the church, it takes a little effort to get the get-go going.

But I came to see soon enough that such faith didn’t work.  When reality came knocking at my door, I didn’t flee from its challenge.  Instead, I reconfigured my beliefs so I wouldn’t have to give up on them.  I took it as a test of my faith.  I confronted racism, sexism, homophobia, failed prophecies, illogical doctrines, exclusionary practices, outmoded thinking, and historical inconsistencies.  And rather than abandoning my faith, I tried to assimilate them with a more expansive view of the gospel under the thinking that it could all be circumscribed into one great faith-promoting whole.  Indeed, as I began to achieve a fragile new synthesis, I turned on my old orthodoxy with the same contempt ‘Naclers hold for the “blind faithers.”

As anyone can see from years of journal entries, I was more than happy to live with “flawed people” as leaders of the church and to turn aside from “false prophets.”  That was not the problem as such.  The problem was that the cumulative weight of the evidence against the church — historical, doctrinal, and experiential — eventually came to tip the scale.  Frankly, it was like stacking lead bars opposite the church’s chicken feathers.  At some point you can no longer ignore it and be honest with yourself.

In any event, what else are you left with?  What does it mean to sustain “prophets” who don’t prophesy, “seers” who can’t see, and “revelators” whose revelations are actually personal opinions?  How do you bear testimony of Joseph Smith when you know your testimony is based on things that didn’t really happen?  The LDS church claims to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:38).  How much can you water that down before the very concept of the church being “true” is just an empty phrase?

For some, this takes only weeks, or even days.  For me, it took years.  It is never inevitable in every case.  For some, it never happens — they find their happy grey area and stake out their position there.  In any event, I was not looking to discard my faith.  I wasn’t even looking to challenge it as such.  I was looking to validate it, to vindicate it, to endure to the end in faith so that the Lord would call me at the last day and say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

So you’ve got it wrong, ‘Naclers.  We aren’t former “blind faithers” who couldn’t handle complexity.  Many of us were “enlightened faithers” who reveled in that complexity until it became obvious that we were kidding ourselves.

We’re not as unlike you as it may be convenient to think.  In reality, we’re almost identical.  All that separates the Bloggernacle from the DAMU is a carefully constructed psychological wall — a remnant, ironically, of long years of orthodox, “blind faith” instruction — that crumbles under the influence of the right concatenation of ideas. 

And coffee.  Don’t forget the coffee.  In any event, you’ll need it to stay awake the long nights reading “all things” in a new light.

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10 Responses

  1. The Sinister Porpoise says:

    Hmmm… thanks for the link to my new blog. I’m afraid my sense of humor doesn’t quite get it, but it seems the old one would be more appropriate as tortoise, at least until I finish the links on the new site and hopefully add a cool “Got Porpoise?” graphic.

    So, how do I get involved with this thingy here?

  2. WendyP says:

    Interesting essay.

    I admit I was a “blind faither” when I got my first big shock, at my temple endowment, but it took another 13 years of experience and studying and grey area, before I had finally had enough.

  3. Hellmut says:

    Great post, Magic. I realized as a teenager that LDS leaders were consistently wrong on biology. I did hang on to the notion, however, that we did not need separation of powers or any other form of holding the powerful accountable, for however flawed LDS leaders might be, they would not abuse their power.

    My issue is not that LDS leaders are flawed. My issue is that we are doing so little about it.

  4. Hellmut says:

    Sorry for messing up your link, Sinister. I hope that I fixed it properly.

  5. fta says:

    Wonderful post, MC. Thank you. I feel the same attitude from ‘naclers, that I should just overlook those fallible leaders, get over those petty complaints about priesthood and women. Once recent commenter on my blog noted that people like him (an ex-jack-mo) overlook the small things, and can handle looking into the history and still stay a part of the church. I’m not sure it was his intention, but I felt like he was criticizing me for “griping” about petty things like garments.

    Believe me, I have perspective on how very petty it is to complain about garments! But part of that complaining, my issues with the church, are not necessarily matters that made me not believe or not want to be a part of it anymore. The reasons I don’t believe and don’t practice are much larger than things like garments or fallible leaders. By “griping” about them I am not trying to justify my disbelief. Rather it is a matter of deconstructing my past, getting into the nooks and crannies of my deeply-held beliefs and trying to figure them out, throwing out what stinks and embracing what works and what makes me better.

    He said, “There’s a skeleton in EVERY closet.” I totally agree. I’ll never find a perfect church, country, ideology, self. Ever. But I feel it is important to talk about our skeletons, acknowledge them, and work past them–but not ignore them, cover them up, pretend they aren’t there. It seems ‘naclers are okay with acknowledging the church’s skeletons exist. But at what point should we say, “That skeleton is just too bad to accept”?

    If I came across a non-profit organization that refused leadership positions to women, discriminated against gays, excommunicated people for writing good history, and hid their financial dealings…Hmm, I’d be very, very wary. In fact, there’s no way I’d ever join or support them financially–even if they only did one of those things. The church does them all. And that doesn’t even touch the truth claims.

  6. chanson says:

    This is a very good analysis. Other exmormons I know describe similar experiences with a long, drawn-out apologist stage before finally saying “That’s it, the contrary evidence is just too overwhelming.” It’s fascinating to see details of this trajectory in your journal entries.

    In my own life, I use the following meta-analysis:

    No cosmology in the world has a consensus or even a majority. So everyone has to come up with an explanation for why so many people (including intelligent people) disagree with them. I know that if someone is a believing Mormon (or a believer from any other faith), that person will come up with some rationalization for why I believe as I do. The reason that person comes up with is for his/her own benefit, and (short of deconverting that person) there is absolutely nothing I can do to make him/her stop mentally using his/her own rationalizations to judge and dismiss me.

    So I don’t worry about it, I just accept it. I’ve posted my deconversion (parts 1, 2, and 3) and leave the reader to judge it however he/she sees fit. Maybe I’m like a post-post-Mormon 😉

    But seriously, I understand your frustration considering the fact that you spent so much time squarely in the category of “nuanced believer” and others in this category are claiming that you didn’t.

  7. TWank says:

    I wish I were a sociologist or psychologist because there would be some interesting studies on the varied and different reactions to the Mormon faith. I have suspect that many of the conflicts you state are simply people reacting out of different levels of involvement in the religion.

    My own separation from the Church came in such a subtle organic way out of my constant questioning, created ironically enough by James 1:5 and Moroni 10:4-5 (if I remember correctly), that I grew right past the rage, anger and betrayal.

    The difference between the Mos, the Naclers and the DAMUs seem obvious and delinieated. The task for a Main Street Plaza is to allow the discussions to be fleshed out and to see what we can all learn from each other. I’m on this self-imposed humility kick, so everyone telling me I’m wrong would be appreciated. I’m going to go have some coffee.

  8. Magic Cicero, I love your writing. It’s interesting to me to read about others and their feelings about the church. I am fascinated by the people who debate with people who don’t believe anymore, and to see in them the mindset I allowed myself to maintain while I was still strong in my belief that the church was true.

    I must confess many times I find that I’m very grateful to be where I am now, because I feel a lot more open-minded and a lot more accepting and forgiving than I was before. A LOT more.

  9. MagicCicero says:

    Thanks, everyone. I wrote this one at Hellmut’s request. It’s a dissertation-sized expansion (I always write too much, sorry) of a comment I originally made at FLAK.

    You know, it doesn’t bother me that people stand in different stages in their journeys in or out of the church. If people want to stay, and adopt an apologetic stance to justify it, I’m not going to argue with that. Been there. Done that. For far too long, I’m sorry to say.

    I only take issue with those who say my journey wasn’t authentic enough, that I didn’t try hard enough. That’s just crap. So many believers want to think that we just bail out at the first sign of trouble. It’s kind of offensive, to tell the truth. It devalues our experiences; it’s just another way of saying we don’t leave on principle.

    And frankly, for the people who themselves are aware of some of the church’s problems, I think it’s partly a defense mechanism. When a lot of ‘Naclers argue with us, I think they’re really arguing with themselves. Don’t you?

  1. March 21, 2007

    […] March 21st, 2007 in Uncategorized I feel that this post portrays a similair experience to my own transition out of mormonism.  Enjoy. […]

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