Grayer than thou?

Bloggernacle Culture DAMU Objectivity

John C. at BCC published this rather stark post, the basic (and unfortunately familiar) thrust of which is that, if you “lose your faith,” it’s your own fault — not any leaders, GAs, ward members, SS or EQ teachers, Jesus, God or the Holy Ghost. (It was not specified whether you could blame the devil, although Old Scratch’s role would seem to be implicit in any loss of faith. Along with a lack of character. Or will power. Or just not trying hard enough. Or something.) It strikes me that the thought behind this kind of assertion is that there has to be some reason you lost your faith — something predictable and categorical; something that ensures that You Did Something Wrong…and if I just don’t do any of those Wrong Things, then I won’t lose my faith. Especially since I choose not to lose my faith.

This was then followed by a post written by john f., who seems to be at least obliquely responding to John C.’s assertions. John f.’s theme is also not an unfamiliar one — a fairly regular theme in the ‘nacle-vs-DAMU conversations. In a nutshell, this argument posits that ex- or post-Mormons are victims of their own “black and white” thinking. They took things too literally and didn’t have the spiritual flexibility to accommodate new information, so they, being absolutists, took the leap from white to black in a sort of spiritually immature snit. And it is the flexible, shades-of-grey-embracing Mormons, who are very familiar with all the so-called skeletons in the closet, who are the more sophisticated, and perhaps more evolved on some pseudo-linear development scale like Fowler’s stages of faith.

The numerous comments on both of these posts come from all different belief spectrums, and represent pretty widely varying approaches to gaining, keeping, and losing, faith. Which of course in itself puts paid to the idea that any parsimonious theory about losing one’s religion is going to capture even a plurality of what people’s real experiences are. In reality, I’ve seen all “kinds” of people who retain faith in religion; really, what else could account for sites as religiously varied as Bountiful, M*, T&S, ExII, ZDs, etc., all having faithful, active believers regularly engaged in conversation about “their” religion? Likewise, those who “lose faith” also represent a very wide spectrum of personalities and experiences; hence sites as varied as NOM, PostMormon, FLAK, and RFM. Perhaps a more interesting question is, what about all the people who aren’t online or involved in any discussions like this at all? The active Mormons who’ve never even heard of the Bloggernacle. The inactive Mormons, or those who’ve actually resigned, who never have any apparent need to talk religion ever again.

The more I read the ‘nacle and the DAMU (or the sites within each that I prefer, which is likely not representative), the more I believe how similar we all are in terms of one variable at least: We are interested in talking about Mormonism and our experiences with it. We are engaged in our religious life through questions and answers, doubts and beliefs, wide-ranging perspectives, with tensions, arguments, and, occasionally, a lovely emergent moment where we feel a kindred feeling and our humanity is affirmed.

Are there more sophisticated people in the ‘nacle or the DAMU? Is it even possible to discover, somehow measure, who sees more grey? Is seeing more grey in fact equivalent to being more sophisticated, or even something unequivocally Good? I don’t know. I don’t have all, or even many, of the answers. That’s why I love to keep talking about it. And my favorite quote from the john f. post’s comments is this (paraphrased): Without Black and White, there is no Grey. Can’t argue with that.

141 thoughts on “Grayer than thou?

  1. I’ve noticed that church leaders Refuse to take responsibility for ANY of their decisions or actions… With God in charge, why should they?
    “Don’t pay any attention to the man behind the curtain”

  2. Guy Noir: Uh, thanks? I’m thinking that your comment is orthogonal to the OP, though. Maybe you could tie it in better? 😉

  3. I’ve thought about the argument that the people who stop believing are unable to see the subtle shades of gray — it comes up almost as often as the simpler “they just wanted to sin” explanation does.

    I’ve come to the following conclusion about it: I think it’s a fallacy that comes from the fact that people have different root beliefs. Some typical examples would be the following: (A) Mormonism is the best path to virtue and happy families, (B) spiritual witness from prayer constitutes valid evidence for the existence of the divine (C) Jesus lived and was the Savior (D) God speaks through His latter-day prophets (E) something else…

    Someone whose root belief is (A) might be able to disbelieve (D) without (A) being shaken. That person might not understand why someone whose root belief was (D) would give up on (A) after concluding (D) is false. “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!” they cry and “That’s black-and-white thinking!” But for the other person, belief (D) really was the baby and belief (A) was the bathwater. (I hope that makes sense.)

    I have dealt with this fallacy over and over with Christian bloggers. They say things like “just because you discovered Joseph Smith was a fraud, that shouldn’t affect your belief in Jesus!” But “discovering Joseph Smith was a fraud” had nothing whatsoever to do with my deconversion. My root belief was that spiritual witness is real evidence of the supernatural, and once I concluded that was false, everything that was built on it came into question.

    It’s not a question of lacking sophistication or subtlety, it’s a question of different people packaging their beliefs into different chunks. 😉

  4. Chanson — excellent, thanks. Your thoughts ring true for me personally, in that I could never find a real baby in the bathwater. Or, perhaps less confusingly — though I had a strong affection and affinity for Mormon theology and cosmology (and spent many late nights at The Why discussing deep things, which I LOVED), in the end, an underpinning (and totally necessary) belief in God was something I didn’t have and couldn’t acquire.

  5. wc: (I wanted to say this “Gentler & Kinder”, but I guess I can’t.)

    Churches are Clubs. Some good, some BAD. The LDS club does lots of things that are antithetical to its stated goals & thinking & motives.
    While they voice unity & compassion, the policies & procedures they practice… especially with regard to those with doubts/questions or issues of how & why things are the way they are… are targets of disdain & disgrace…merely for asking simple questions. prospective members / adherents are only told the ‘faith promoting’ stuff, the whitewashed version.
    Yes; I agree. LDS, Inc. can’t take any responsibility for the weird stuff,the unsupported claims, OR the fact that a lot if not most of the ‘doctrines’ they teach are distractions from the Basics of Christian practice… so they bounce it back to the individuals responsibility. Unbelievable, but True.
    (more?) Individuals SHOULD take more responsibility for their own actions/choices, but MoCulture leaves ppl so (sorry) brainwashed about right/wrong, and How NOT to be kind to others and Why that’s OK…
    (details on request).
    Once you’ve been STUNG by hateful people, lied to by the church… makes it kinda hard to get along with them, doesn’t it?

  6. Guy — I think I see what you’re saying now. The notion that people should take responsibility for their choices is somehow also impacted by how their potential array of choices to begin with, which has been shaped — perhaps very strongly — by their religious training/upbringing? I believe that could be true of many people.

    And I agree that it is very difficult to forgive and forget when you’ve been deeply hurt or disappointed.

  7. Gray… or Grey?

    It’s just too complicated a world to have a reasonable Black & White, Right or Wrong approach for EveryThing… Yet Mos sing in their hymn: “There is a right and a wrong to every question”…
    In trying to explain that, I once asked a Bp: For many, the choice of (new, additional) electrical power generation is either coal or nuclear. Which is ‘Right’, which is ‘Wrong’?….
    I think that got my point across.

  8. I think the accusation of black and white thinking comes from some of the most visible elements of the ex-Mormon/counter-Mormon/anti-Mormon (whatever you want to call it) movement. And other bystanders get tarred with the association.

    When you’ve got some guy screaming triumphantly in ALL CAPS that “JOSEPH LIED TO EMMA” or “THE BOOK OF MORMON IS A FRAUD” it’s hard to come away from that with any other conclusion than he has the mind of a twelve year old and sees the world in similar absolutes (like most teenagers).

    Not because he’s wrong necessarily. But because of the screaming, wild-eyed, indignant way in which he comes storming onto the scene full of self-righteous indignation, pompously pretending that they are “speaking truth to power.”

    The voice of one screeching in the wilderness as it were.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t help this impression when they inevitably start sharing stories from their past as an ultra-conservative orthodox missionary.

    I don’t say this narrative holds for everyone in the ex-Mormon community (or even most or a majority). But these people do exist and they are quite visible within that community.

    Pisses me off really. These self-important, pompous idiots were absolutely wretched to work with on my mission (the sort who’d report you to the mission president for drinking a Coke), and now they’ve followed me onto the internet and are still stinking up the place. They may have left the LDS Church, but they haven’t left their one true religion – a self-righteous overstated sense of their own importance.

    More or less, Main Street Plaza manages to avoid too much of this type. But you see it an awful lot elsewhere.

  9. AAAAAHHHHH! LOOK AT ME! (Hey Seth, just had to yell for you – damn coke drinker!) 🙂

    There is a huge factor that is being overlooked here both by John C. and anyone else who thinks people leave just because of what the believe. The single best predictor of someone’s religiosity when they are an adult is… Their significant other’s religiosity! If you pause for a second and ask yourself about the people you know who have left and those who haven’t, most of the people who have left are in situations where many of their closest acquaintances are not Mormon (or also left). We know based on a lot of survey data that there are about 10% of people who consider themselves Mormon who don’t believe there is a god. Why are they still going to church? Because their significant other is still going. Social networks are powerful predictors of religious change – sociologists have known this for years (since about the 1960s).

    So, when John C. puts the blame on the individual, John C. (whoever that dipshit is), doesn’t have a clue what actually causes people to change religions.

  10. Belief requires effort because of the unverifiable nature of the afterlife. It takes real cognitive effort to support what can never objectively be demonstrated using everyday standards of proof. Whether we put in that effort or not is up to us. Therefore, I see choice as intrinsic to belief itself.

    This is what’s behind aphorisms like “a testimony is fragile and as hard to hold as a moonbeam.” The sense is that if you don’t work diligently belief will vanish. In other words, President McKay implies that the default state is disbelief and that one is therefore advised to do what it takes to keep one’s testimony intact.

    I guess this means I’m sympathetic to the claim that one chooses disbelief. Disbelief is what happens when you put down the mental and emotional machinery that supports belief. (Although thrillingly rich and detailed, Mormon cosmology is also idiosyncratic. Substantial effort is required to keep it afloat.)

    In my case I’d say I lost my faith when I didn’t have the energy left to defend it. I chose to put this effort to use elsewhere in my life.

    I take responsibility for this choice and the (positive) changes it has brought into my life. The path I followed isn’t for everyone, of course. And that’s why we support the concept of freedom of religion.

  11. I hate to be the overbearing rule fanatic here, but keep in mind that people from the Bloggernacle do sometimes swing by here, especially when we link to their posts. Explaining why another poster is wrong about XYZ is fine, but it’s better to avoid calling them dipshits… 😉

  12. MoHo — Can I infer from your comment that your belief was subject to your own choice applies only to you? I ask, because I know so very many exmos who have felt like it was anything but a (conscious?) choice.

  13. I agree that This “Black and White” thinking leads people out of the church. Take for example when Blacks (I say that instead of African American because not all affected by this were African or American) were finally allowed to hold the priesthood.

    To me, racial equality is an absolute truth. That it took the church until the nineteen seventies to realize this, and stop treating the rule as relative, put into question their whole voice of god claim; for me.

    So, yes, it is a lack of flexibility, You can’t be flexible with rules unless you have an understanding of them. Regarding rules as absolutes is part of learning how they work and if they work.

  14. The real problem with the position that people stop believing the claims of the church because they were too inflexibile is that it commits the fallacy of special pleading. If gray-thinking ‘naclers want to be consistent, they would have to make a statement like:

    If a person becomes convinced by facts or arguments that some of their beliefs are not true, they should change their expectations in order to maintain those beliefs.

    They seem to think that this is true for Mormonism, but false for other belief systems. If a recent convert to Scientology believes that what he’s involved in is a rational self-help program, and then he reads about Xenu on the internet, he should not “shift his paradigm” to accommodate stories of a 75 billion-year-old galactic empire and disembodied aliens on Earth. He shouldn’t take the claims that are provably false and consider them figurative truths because he wants to continue believing the rest. He should use his rational abilities and conclude that the components of Scientology that appear to be false, most likely are false. I think most believing Mormons would agree with this, but if we ask about a Mormon who expects that a prophet should not marry other men’s wives and lie repeatedly and publicly about it, then suddenly that Mormon should lower his standards for what behavior is acceptable from a true prophet of God. If a person thinks that when a prophet claims a papyrus contains the writings of Abraham, that it wouldn’t turn out to be a common funeral scroll, then TBMs will tell her to lower her expectations of what words like “translate” and “by his own hand” really mean.

    The reality we can all agree on is that humans are capable of shifting their standards for belief to amazingly low levels when the personal stakes are high enough, but that in most cases it won’t result in true beliefs. Everybody has to draw the line somewhere for what should compel a loss of belief, and it doesn’t make sense to criticize others for drawing it in a consistent place.

  15. wry.catcher (#12),

    Yes, I would say that I am only speaking personally. I am thoroughly sympathetic to personal accounts I hear of people who feel as if they were run over by the truck of disbelief.

    I guess what I was trying to do with my comment is come to the problem from the other side– it takes tremendous effort to maintain a belief system as idiosyncratic as Mormonism.

    So now you’ve cornered me… what would it have taken, in my case, to keep my investment in Mormon cosmology? Would I have been able to supply that level of effort? Or would it have just come crashing down at some point, in spite of my best efforts?

    I may have to concede the point. :- )

  16. I think my biggest problem is where this whole conversation gets started, which is in the assumptions as set up by Mormonism, that mormonism is right and leaving is wrong.

    With so many people leaving mormonism, believers are having to come up with explanations for why people leave. Those of us who left already know why we leave. But if you decide to stay, either because you are a TBM or because you made a conscious decision to stay despite what you know, then you have to be able to account for those who make different decisions from yours. I know, I know, I’m just being a sociologist here. But it seems to me that this has less to do with specific core beliefs than it does with how those beliefs play out in a social environment.

    Our brains work to make sense of our environments so that we can both function within them and manipulate them. If you’re a believing and/or practicing mormon, you have to make sense of the relationship of mormonism to outsiders in order to explain your own social reality.

    So if you can stand back and see the TBMs dispassionately, they are doing what people normally do in groups, especially outlier groups: They are drawing in/out boundaries and explaining movement to and fro’ across the boundary in order to generate the very meaning of Mormonism itself. What we’re talking about here are the two strategies for making sense of and rendering manipulable (is that a word?) their social environment:

    1) The ‘sinner’ explanation works well for someone who is comfortably orthodox (in the literal sense of “right belief”), but not so well for the doubter or selective believer. For the orthodox, this works in a sort of recursion or positive feedback loop to confirm their own beliefs and confirm their own status within their meaning system. They employ the basic religious rubric by dividing people among the “Sacred” and the “Profane,” thereby confirming their own membership in the “Sacred” camp. This then allows them a whole toolkit of means to deal with real individuals who have left, a sort of pre-determined way to both perceive leavers and to interact with them, which keep the boundaries and identities in tact.

    2) The ‘black/white’ explanation works much better for the doubter or selective believer or “cultural mormon”. Notice that it has the same advantages, but for a different demographic: It offers them the knowledge or reassurance that they are right and/or cleverer than the leavers, intellectualizing the critique to reaffirm their own status as intellectual and fully-aware adherents. Oddly, because most apologists, although open online and in the ‘Nacle, are actually not vocal and have to constantly justify both to themselves and other mormons that they are not apostates for rejecting orthodoxy, those who leave serve as a foil to make themselves feel superior in their Mormonism. And notice that it also has the social effect of reaffirm the in/out boundaries and dividing people up in the Sacred/Profane camps. And it gives, again, a whole set of strategies for dealing with leavers.

    Both options are unethical, because they refuse the humanity and individuality of the leaver. They presume to know beforehand and therefore foreclose the possibility of real understanding with leavers. In some ways, I personally find the “black/white” strategy more insidious than a mere sincere believer, whom I can at least excuse because they’re acting on their beliefs. In a way, it is at best a willful refusal to carry their own thinking to its logical conclusion; and at worst it’s cynical. It allows them to feel superior to those who left without ever having to understand them (understanding them is far too dangerous, of course).

  17. I too appreciate the discussion, thanks wry.

    And I agree that spouse and friends may have a lot to do with it. The same could be said for political affliations, although I know lots of couples (several of my aunts and uncles) who had separate political beliefs.

    With that said, from the original post (by John C) – I didn’t read all the comments, but there’s a part of me that agrees with not being a victim. Before anyone jumps all over me – just that at some point in our lives, we all have to accept the cards we’ve been dealt and move on. I’m not saying that there aren’t people who haven’t had particularly sh*tty things that have happened to them, and they have a right to their anger.

    But at some point, in my mind, you have to be prepared to accept what’s happened, and make what you can of your life as it is.

    As far as choice goes, I definitely made the choice to no longer be an active mormon. I could have gone along with the motions. Plenty of people do. I could have continued to attend all my meetings, temple trips, etc.

    I didn’t feel that would be honest for me personally.

    As far as belief as a choice – that is a difficult question. I never made the choice to be raised in a mormon family. But I was.

    So if the choice in belief is to continue in the belief you were raised in – or to determine your own beliefs – I could see that as a choice. Maybe.

    (I’m not saying that you would have to disagree with the belief system you were raised in – just to examine it for yourself).

    If people didn’t pick and choose what they believed in – things would be incredibly muddy (like that katamari game where you roll around and everything sticks to you).

  18. Apologies for the lack of clarity in the above post. I’m used to forums were I can edit for clarity later, when i realize it doesn’t make sense on the screen. LOL

  19. btw – as far as the victim thing goes, I think that’s a whole blog post for me in itself. Everyone has their own reasons for reacting how they do. I’m not saying that continuing to talk about what happened is wrong, it’s just important to try and live – not constantly dwell on what happened as an adult.

    Again – I’m probably not making much sense here, and I’m thinking specifically in terms of different friends whose parents’ divorced – and who are still having problems (decades later) dealing with the fallout. It’s not just those situations, but that sometimes American culture seems to focus on what has happened to a person – rather than what they can still do despite what has happened.

  20. I’ve actually never heard the suggestion that think in terms too “black and white” is something that causes people to leave the church. Rather, it is my experience that people in the church see those who become “apostate” as not being black/white enough – of thinking in shades of grey (a.k.a. rationalising their “sins”). This is certainly what I’ve been told by many people about myself.

    Now that I think about it, it seems to be that neither “grey” nor “black/white” thinking is a impetus for leaving the church. I think that there is no way to say “If you think or act this way then it will lead you to leave the church”.

    Personally, I think that seeing the world more in terms of shades of grey as opposed to stark white/black contrasts is a more realistic view. However, the are a few things that are either wrong or right, as mentioned above.

    Like MohoHawaii, I also have found that my experience in loosing parts of my faith and certainly loosing my orthodox allegiance to the church was a conscious choice on my part, after living with the cognitive dissonance of being gay and being strictly Mormon for a long time.

  21. Craig, like in the DAMU, it’s the black-and-white folks in church who hog all the air-time and drown out all other opinions. They’re the ones getting up every Fast Sunday to make their take on the Gospel known. So it leaves the impression that those are the only people at church.

    It’s not really the case, it’s just that other opinions aren’t being heard.

    So you’ve got extremists making things hard for the rest of us at church. Then occasionally, one of them has a moment of cognitive dissonance and then feels betrayed and runs off to plague the DAMU with the same stupid thinking they exhibited while within the Church.

    They’re pests. They’re obnoxious. But they aren’t the only people out there – in or out of the Church.

  22. Todd — don’t worry, your comment was quite clear and intersting. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it makes sense that just as the “you’re a sinner” explanation affirms the beliefs of the orthodox, the “your beliefs are as simplistic as the beliefs of the ultra-orthodox” explanation is affirming for the subtler ‘nacclers.

  23. Seth R: You’re RIGHT; the reasonable ppl in Mormonism are so ‘meek & mild’… one hardly knows that they’re around.
    Heaven knows: They’re NOT in ANY leadership positions! (sorta kidding)

  24. What the Two Johns really are saying, it isn’t any different than the “left because of sin” BS. What they really said is, “If apostates had been better at being Mormon, they never would have left.” If they had chosen better or been more flexible in belief, they’d still be in the game. Why do they say this? My opinion is, fear and insecurity and maybe a tiny sting of pride. They don’t want to believe that a loss of faith could happen to anyone, that you could be doing everything right and have your faith lead you out of the church.

    One of the Johns suggested “flexible faith.” I don’t know what that means; it sounds like moving past “putting it on the shelf” into becoming a “cafeteria mormon” (and how much would the loyal internet elites accept the title of cafeteria mormon, let alone the rank and file). And, I tend to think that “flexible faith” like “putting it on the shelf,” I’m not saying this is necessarily the case, but in honest terms, I think this could be described, at least to a small extent, as self-delusion.

    I do think that black and white thinking invites a crisis of faith. I sense that loyal mormon internet writers of great flexible faith had more exposure to the seedy side of Mormonism from corporate-loyal family and friends. That experience is not common. The church I grew up in is black and white. To go grey, you have to venture out on your own, keep your thoughts secret, and hide.

    So those in the church can look down on those who left as inflexible sinners, and those who left can look at those on the in as self-delusioned, dishonest corporate drones. That’s how it has always been and how it always will be. I mean, if everyone was as intelligent and true as I am, they would do exactly what I do, right?

  25. By the way, don’t apologize for your sociologist’s point of view–it’s the kind of thing that is extremely valuable in discussions/groups like this. There’s so much theory and scholarship about religion and social grouping, but laypeople don’t normally run across it, and so sometimes we forget it exists, and that there are actually entire fields of study that just pick apart experiences like ours in a principled, academic way.

  26. Seth R.

    I totally agree with you, and wasn’t trying to imply that everyone in the church (or out of it) thinks in terms of black and white, just that the loudest argument is always against “grey” thinking by those people. In the church it is commonly seen as the most dangerous because it is often synonymous with “rationalisation” which is one of the most loathed words in the church. To some in the church, to rationalise your beliefs is to be in league with satan. The fact that absolutely everyone does doesn’t seem to matter.

    It is very sad that the more moderate, grey thinkers are the ones who don’t speak up as often. In my experience when they (I) do, they get screamed at and told they’re being unfaithful, etc.

  27. (New question for baptismal candidates)
    [like a waiter waiting for your dinner request]:
    “Will that be the ‘Liahona’ branch of tscc you wish to affiliate with, -or- the ‘Iron Rod’ branch?”

  28. chanson, sorry for the dip**it slip – sometimes I just get pissed off by people saying stupid things. 🙂

    Todd, I couldn’t agree with you more. And what you said was clear to me, but that may be because I am a sociologist. I don’t know you, but maybe I should. Are you a former-Mormon sociologist as well (there are a few of us around)? If so, we should talk (profxm -at- gmail.com). If you’re just applying sociological thinking you picked up along the way, that’s cool, too!

    MoHoHawaii, I’m also impressed with your thoughts on the effort required to maintain belief. As I was on my way out I started to notice that I was no longer reading scriptures daily or praying. I was reading books by Quinn, Mauss, and others and finding that they were finally addressing real questions. I moved from the bland, boring, repetitive milk of the Ensign to the intricate and complex tastes of historical and scientific literature and realized I’d spent 25 years of my life trying to find answers where none existed. The effort to believe is hard. So, here here for your thoughts.

    Finally, this issue of black and white thinking is one that Armand Mauss addressed in a podcast and I wrote about on my defunct blog: http://sonsofperdition.blogspot.com/2006/04/church-of-victims.html
    Mauss sees those who were raised in situations where they were taught to think about Mormonism as black/white as victims and argues that the only way to be a critical thinker and remain Mormon is to be less literal, more metaphorical, and gray, gray, gray. He’s right, but that’s not very easy in many Mormon families and congregations, IMO.

  29. The writer is right, he just pulls up short.
    People do decide not to believe. They have studied the evidence, they have prayed, they have pondered their emotions. Its the truthiness thing, wanting it to be true – does not make it true.

    The tone of his article is that of a victim, don’t blame me. He is really a bully.

    Let me give an example of what I mean about pulling up short. Parents tell their children that if they give their word they should stand by it. If they don’t they will lose credibility and have problems in relationships.Most parents pull up short because they do not teach the child that they are to be careful about giving their word. Some people will try to trick them into giving their word. Parents should also tell their children that sometimes they should “get it in writing”.

    Many social critics of his ilk pull up short. They talk about values, but they fail to fully explain them, to fully think them out.

    I could write a counter article that says, don’t blame me for saying the church is not true and publicising the true history and doctrines. If it hurts someones testimony, too bad.

    I liked his article. It is an example of someone that should be avoided. I would not be able to have a healthy relationship with him.

    Sadly in our world, we are not taught about healthy relationships and that unhealthy ones should be dropped.

    All easy to write in hindsight. I can think of a few bad friendships that I wish I dropped.

  30. Wry, you ask “Are there more sophisticated people in the ‘nacle or the DAMU?”

    I would say the DAMU. I have found more people willing to let the evidence and truth take them where it may. The ‘nacle is more sophistry than sophisticate. The DAMU is willing to go the extra kilometer. They will take the next step. The DAMU will step into the unknown, it is a type of faith that the ‘nacle lacks. I will admit that it is not always easy to unmask a ‘nacler, but it can be done. It is always worth looking at what values the ‘nacler or DAMUite are using in support of their position.

    The discussion between the ‘nacle and DAMU have one common theme. Can the DAMUite just stand up and walk out of the church and risk all that goes with it. Abused women face the same question regarding their husbands. Can they find their own way and voice. The ‘nacle is about come back to church and shut-up or leave and shut-up.

    I do not think any of these discussions between the DAMU and ‘nacle are about religion or spiritual truth. It is all about manipulation. Some people like manipulating others, it males them feel good.

  31. Sure, you can choose to believe. You can also choose to submit your opinions to logic and evidence. That would be the humble choice.

    Believing no matter what is not only arrogant but also irresponsible and might have serious consequences for oneself and others.

    It is unfortunate to see so many well meaning young people become complicit in the abuse of Mormon authorities. John C’s intellectually lazy and egocentric approach to Mormon dissent is a case in point.

    In Catholicism, pride is a deadly sin, may be, because arrogance blinds empathy and without empathy there is no charity. Be that as it may, John C’s essay says a lot more about him than about his subject matter.

  32. Great post, wry.

    I don’t know the answers, either. But I think you’re right that a lot of the discussion is similar.

    The more I read the ‘nacle and the DAMU (or the sites within each that I prefer, which is likely not representative), the more I believe how similar we all are in terms of one variable at least: We are interested in talking about Mormonism and our experiences with it. We are engaged in our religious life through questions and answers, doubts and beliefs, wide-ranging perspectives, with tensions, arguments, and, occasionally, a lovely emergent moment where we feel a kindred feeling and our humanity is affirmed.

    Amen to that one, sister. (And not in a D&C 121 kind of way. 😛 ).

    Are there more sophisticated people in the ‘nacle or the DAMU? Is it even possible to discover, somehow measure, who sees more grey? Is seeing more grey in fact equivalent to being more sophisticated, or even something unequivocally Good? I don’t know. I don’t have all, or even many, of the answers. That’s why I love to keep talking about it. And my favorite quote from the john f. post’s comments is this (paraphrased): Without Black and White, there is no Grey. Can’t argue with that.

    I doubt either community has a consistently greater claim to gray. Both excel at finding particular nuances (and those nuances differ from one community to another). Neither has a monopoly on reasoned discussion.

  33. Oh, and I should note that I definitely recommend Kiskilili’s recent discussion at ZD, about how people in general have a tendency to view their own stage of faith (or system of stages of faith) as the best or most enlightened.

  34. This has been an excellent discussion, and some really good points made. Thanks to all for weighing in on this.

    I guess, as they say, we will still all have to agree to disagree on that “final step” that CW alluded to. I’m certainly okay with people who decide to stay at church, for whatever reasons. If some can truly *choose* to voluntarily will faith, I say more power to you. I’ve never been able to do so, I think I was born this way. 😉 And for those who were extremely faithful, and if we want to extremely reductively label them as black-and-white thinkers, and then lost their faith through finding out new information…well, I have so much sympathy and sadness for what they go through in that experience. Anyone of any religious stripe who can hear their stories of anguish and many long dark nights of the soul and still judge them is what is truly mystifying to me.

    The 10% who don’t believe in god, but who are still there, is telling for me. I was in that 10% long ago, but I didn’t have any ties so strong that I couldn’t walk away. For those who do, I understand the complexity and fears and stress, and sometimes also very mature acceptance and spirituality of a sort, that accompany those decisions.

    Thanks, Kaimi, for you kind words about the post. And yeah, I totally read the ZD post — that’s one of my favorite ‘nacle spots. Wielding the Fowler sword at each other really makes me laugh sometimes, the irony of it all. Or something.

  35. re # 9, So, when John C. puts the blame on the individual, John C. (whoever that dipshit is), doesn’t have a clue what actually causes people to change religions.

    Whereas you do, because you have a Ph.D. in sociology, I take it.

    sociologists have known this for years

    How great that sociologists can know things with such confidence!

  36. Interesting post WC. I didn’t see it until now — somehow overlooked it.

    And it is the flexible, shades-of-grey-embracing Mormons, who are very familiar with all the so-called skeletons in the closet, who are the more sophisticated, and perhaps more evolved on some pseudo-linear development scale like Fowler’s stages of faith.

    This quote from your post, as well as the title, which is an allusion to being “holier than thou”, seems to imply that my BCC post on having a flexible faith was outlining a position of superiority. In fact, based on the title, it would seem that my BCC post has been interpreted as code for a statement of being “holier than thou”.

    I didn’t intend my BCC post to imply any kind of superiority for those who have developed a flexible faith. It was just an observation.

    Also please note that the post did not posit a flexibility of faith about the basic or foundational truth claims, as I noted in that post as quoted below:

    God loves us; Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the World; Joseph Smith was a latter-day prophet of God called to restore the Gospel; the Book of Mormon is a tangible fruit of the Prophet Joseph Smith and a powerful witness of Jesus Christ; God calls living prophets to guide the Church today.

    The point about flexibility of faith wasn’t about these items, which seemed to have been missed by many of the commenters on that thread. That post wasn’t about taking a nuanced view of history, which is also a very good idea in my opinion, but rather about letting go and being flexible on matters of policy/culture/tradition/opinion that overlay the basic foundation and that constitute the material Church as it now exists.

    When did you start using a period in your name?

  37. re # 17, Both options are unethical, because they refuse the humanity and individuality of the leaver. This is an interesting statement. Your short explanation is unconvincing as to why it’s unethical for people who hold to certain beliefs to voice observations and speculate as to the factors involved when other people who shared those beliefs no longer share them.

    And as to being unethical, I wonder whether you find the approach taken by many ex-believers, including yourself, here, at FLAK, and elsewhere around the internet, to be ethical as opposed to these unethical approaches taken by those who continue to believe?

    They presume to know beforehand and therefore foreclose the possibility of real understanding with leavers.

    This is astounding in light of the things I have read from you with relation to believers and their sincerely held beliefs. It seems that what you write “forecloses the possibility of real understanding with leavers.” Isn’t it preferable that those who continue to believe are honest and say that it saddens them when others no longer believe?

    In some ways, I personally find the “black/white” strategy more insidious than a mere sincere believer, whom I can at least excuse because they’re acting on their beliefs.

    Since I was the one who wrote the flexible faith post (which you are calling the ‘”black/white” strategy’) I suppose that is the reason why I am viewing your comment # 17 with such incredulity.

    In a way, it is at best a willful refusal to carry their own thinking to its logical conclusion; and at worst it’s cynical. It allows them to feel superior to those who left without ever having to understand them (understanding them is far too dangerous, of course).

    I think you run rough-shod over the arguments with this condemnation and therefore you don’t have to address what is actually being said. Your self-righteous judgment of believers seems to be enough for you here. I’ve seen you make much better presentations against believers at FLAK (and much worse) so I know you can do better but must say that this one wasn’t a slam dunk.

  38. re # 26, They don’t want to believe that a loss of faith could happen to anyone, that you could be doing everything right and have your faith lead you out of the church.

    This just simply isn’t true, at least with regard to me and my post. In fact, it’s patently false. If you’re happier outside the Church, more power to you — you should be out of it. I can hardly expect the same from you and other ex-believers because (1) it hasn’t been my experience so far to have ex-believers (with one or two very rare exceptions — John Hamer seems to be one of them) truly respect me and my beliefs and (2) doesn’t the exact analysis that Todd O. applied in # 17 also apply to ex-believers who talk about and analyze those who continue to believe? Isn’t that what FLAK is?

  39. re # 26, I should note that your concluding paragraph more accurately describes the situation than the rest of your post:

    So those in the church can look down on those who left as inflexible sinners, and those who left can look at those on the in as self-delusioned, dishonest corporate drones. That’s how it has always been and how it always will be. I mean, if everyone was as intelligent and true as I am, they would do exactly what I do, right?

    At least this statement is honest about what many of those who have left are thinking — and it should be noted that this must be seen as every bit as “unethical” as what those who continue to believe supposedly think, according to # 17.

    I must point out, however, that when you say “inflexible sinners” that captures neither what John C. wrote in his post about those who have lost faith chose to lose faith and what I wrote in my post observing that many Mormons who stay in the Church their whole lives benefit from having developed a flexible faith that allows them to keep their faith in the basic fundamentals of the Gospel despite the messy everyday life of having to live with other believers.

  40. re # 31, you note that Mauss argues that the only way to be a critical thinker and remain Mormon is to be less literal, more metaphorical, and gray, gray, gray. He’s right, but that’s not very easy in many Mormon families and congregations, IMO.

    It seems like you must agree with my BCC post based on this statement. Did you read it?

  41. Re: (1) it hasn’t been my experience so far to have ex-believers (with one or two very rare exceptions — John Hamer seems to be one of them) truly respect me and my beliefs

    I’d like to link again to my famous If there’s no solution, there’s no problem post, just in case there’s anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

    And how come my brother always gets all the accolades? Just sayin’. I can’t even get a simple nomination as “Nicest Evil Villain” in the Niblets. No respect, I tell ya… 😉

  42. re # 32, The tone of his article is that of a victim, don’t blame me. He is really a bully.

    circus watcher, in defense of my friend John C., although I thought his post was harsh, I do believe that what you write at FLAK fits much more into the role of the bully than that which John C. characteristically writes at BCC or elsewhere. To be sure, John C. makes fun of people far more than I am comfortable with, but it is truly nothing compared to what I have read from you at FLAK.

    What I mean by this is that is seems ridiculous for you to call John C. a bully considering what you yourself frequently write about believers and their beliefs. I understand you probably do not agree that your ridicule of beleivers and their beliefs counts as bullying, but objectively speaking it is much, much worse than what John C. says or writes.

  43. look, chanson, you’re nice and everything but I don’t get the same sense of genuine respect from you of Mormons and their beliefs as I get from John, even if you are in favor of being nice to the random missionary. (I’ve read your short stories, for one thing.)

  44. re # 38, Anyone of any religious stripe who can hear their stories of anguish and many long dark nights of the soul and still judge them is what is truly mystifying to me.

    Who is judging whom here? I suppose this goes more to John C.’s post than mine but if it is meant to address my post on having a flexible faith, I must stress it wasn’t judging people. As I told circus watcher, if you are happier not believing the truth claims of Mormonism then by all means you should be out of the Church and where you are happy. Wishing them well doesn’t mean we have to take the continual abuse from them, though, does it, and if so, please explain why? Reciting facts and the chosen inferences from those facts is a far cry from the ridicule, manipulation, mockery, and verbal abuse that we see here and on FLAK.

  45. Hi john f! I was wondering where you were.

    In case it’s not obvious, my tone is not one of taking the “grayer than thou” thing seriously, that is definitely tongue-in-cheek. Which is emphasised in my closing paragraph a bit more.

    I think the “black-and-white” vs “shades of grey” paradigm in general is kinda silly and reductive, from either side of the belief line. That is why I mocked it generally. I wasn’t making hay off your post, or John C’s really (though his lent itself to it more 😉 ); rather, just springboarding into a metadiscussion of the entire silly notions of who has the more “sophisticated” approach to life.

    I think, re: FLAK, which you mentioned a couple of times, you should keep in mind that it’s a support board. People are emotional and ranting, and giving unquestioned (a lot of times) support to the ranters. It’s not meant to be like the bloggernacle in terms of covering topics with any depth of thought (generally speaking). I think it’s fair to say that FLAKers “ridicule and mock” but I find “manipulation” inexplicable. And “verbal abuse” implies speaking directly to someone, in my book. So there isn’t any verbal abuse there generally either, except for the odd spat of in-fighting.

    I also wasn’t talking to you (or John C) with my “long dark nights of the soul and still judge them” comment. That’s why I talked about “anyone” in that comment, I really didn’t have you or John C in mind at that point.

    I didn’t notice my name displayed with a period in it here till you just said. I had to change my profile to take it out. 🙂

    Chanson, I dig you the MOST! So John Hamer has to take a back seat to you. 🙂

  46. Thanks Wry!!! I think you may be the first person who has ever said that… 😉

    I have made a sincere attempt to understand the perspective of others — recognizing that the hard questions in life are hard — while being completely direct and forthright about my own conclusions on such matters. If others don’t see my position that way, so be it. I can’t please everyone. To John F. — thanks for taking the time to read my stories, anyway, even if you don’t think highly of my perspective. 😉

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