Where are you going?

Everyone’s talked about this idea of people leaving the church but not leaving it alone. And you can see, depending on which end of faith you stand, different outlooks at the issue. Some might think that it’s petty for people who no longer believe (or who never believed) to put so much time and energy speaking out against what they don’t believe. And just as many others would say that precisely because they have spent so much time in the church, it’s not something one can just “drop.”

I’ve written about this issue on my main blog (especially since I think there is a unique aspect about the *culture* of the church that charges people to it — with fierce loyalty or fierce disloyalty…so for my writing’s sake, I better hope I don’t “leave it alone”); Chanson’s written about it (and actually a few times) — in fact if you want a basic overview of Chanson’s comprehensive (and one that I agree with, which makes my life easier because it means *I* don’t have to write it out again) outlook on the issue, check out this…blogography…from Ray Agostini. Even the Bloggernacle blog Mormon Matters has written an entry about it.

Even though I’ve linked all those links and would appreciate if you read them, the truth is I didn’t want to bring up just that perspective. It has been discussed so much that we already are accustomed to its flavor.

What I wonder is if we are not at a dead end. When I read the faithful members’ classifications of the ex/cultural/New Order/Disaffected community as being rabid, irrational, or even anti, I know that isn’t true. But at the same time, I must acknowledge that just as there is breadth and belief diversity in the church (however much the church may not like it), there too is breadth and diversity in Outer Blogness. So I can find those who are venting (no offense to Recovery from Mormonism — because I can see many of those individuals’ points as well), and those who would say that the only purpose of Outer Blogness is to be grounds for venting. My issue: venting is a reflection and lamentation of the past…it is very poor analysis of where we are now and a poorer compass to tell us where we should go.

So…I ask…where are *you* going? Do you feel that you are now in an interim looking for…something else? Do you feel that you’ve settled into a comfortable viewpoint of life? And to harder hitting questions: do you view Outer Blogness as a temporary stay that you will eventually outgrow after you catch your breath…or is ours a community that will perpetually sustain itself?

I’ve always remarked at advocacy organizations that argue that their goal is to put themselves out of business. A cancer advocacy group obviously wants cancer to be treated, thus eliminating the need for its advocacy. And where do we fit in this equation?

…In actuality, organizations are self-sustaining — they always just find new causes and new values.

What about us? Where are you going? Where is the Outer Blogness as a whole going?

Andrew S

Andrew S grew up in a military family, but apparently, that didn't make much of an impression upon him because he has since forgotten all of his French and all of his Hangungmal (but he does mispronounce the past tense of "win" like the Korean currency and thinks that English needs to get it together!) Andrew is currently a student at Texas A&M who loves tax accounting, the social sciences, fencing (epee), typography, presentation design, and public speaking, smartphones, linux, and nonparallel structured lists.

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18 Responses

  1. Hellmut says:

    Thanks, Andrew. It would be nice to move one, wouldn’t it?
    Much of the discussion is probably circular because new people have to work through the same issues as they are leaving the Mormon Church.

  2. Holly says:

    The reason I continue to reflect on the role the church played in making me who I am isn’t because I care about the church, but because I care about my own identity and spiritual development.

    I know people who leave and never look back. That’s great but I don’t think it means they’re necessarily any more or less developed than I am–merely maybe a little less concerned with monitoring their development.

    I think as long as the church continues to exist and people continue to join and/or leave it, and some of the people who do so care about reflecting on how they go where they are, people will continue to wrestle with the way the church shaped them. Because I do think where we came from affects where we decide we want to go and the route by which we get there.

    An essay I wrote that addresses the topic was published in Sunstone a few years back. I

    posted it on my blog as well
    . An excerpt:

    Primo Levi wrote, “Changing moral codes is always costly; all heretics, apostates, and dissidents know this.” I would add that changing moral codes rarely involves a complete renunciation of one’s old ideology. Often the change comes because a beloved and honored aspect of the ideology (for instance, an emphasis on disciplined religious study and the belief that each person should ask for confirmation that something billed as scripture is indeed a source of spiritual truths) somehow comes into conflict with another aspect of the ideology (such as directives not to probe religious mysteries or question the utterances of leaders). In such a situation, the first belief often is not abandoned; in fact, it is embraced all the more fully.

    There are parts of my Mormon past I shed easily enough, parts I struggle to escape, parts I still embrace gladly and parts so inescapably central to who I am that it takes careful, deliberate scrutiny to tease them out in the first place–and even more work to understand them. How I see the world, what I find meaningful in the world, is irrevocably shaped by my Mormon upbringing.

    I admit I resent people who tell me I have no right to care about my own past.

  3. Andrew S says:

    Hellmut @ 1
    I considered that it might be circular, in which case even as people leave the Outer Darkness (if they do?) we should still have fresh voices over time. It’s not like the church is wanting for ex-members.

    Holly @ 2
    Your comment resonates with me — I particularly find myself on some days looking at the way I think and realizing, “hmm…that’s something from the church.” And then I have to analyze if I still want that to be a part of my identity or if I need to move past that particular way of thinking.

    So I enjoyed your excerpt and your larger blog post, because really, isn’t that what we are all doing? I find it interesting that Sunstone as a symposium works kinda like that — you go to the sessions you are interested, but need not worry yourself with ones you aren’t interested it. As you say, it’s not people telling you what you “should believe.” One series of questions I loved was:

    How, then, do those who are gladly devout and those who are cheerfully inactive or excommunicated manage to share the cultural legacy of Mormonism and the network of relationships forged through Mormonism? For instance, should I cease to care about or pretend not to know people I loved on my mission, simply because I no longer believe what I preached then, that membership in the Mormon church is necessary to salvation? How do those of us who are no longer among the faithful reconcile a view of the world shaped by Mormonism with the sense that Mormonism is not adequate in helping us navigate the world? How do we avoid conflict with those we love who still rely on Mormonism as a moral and spiritual compass?

    Oooh, and I never even thought about the idea of kinship as different from community. Is MSP, like Sunstone, a place of such diversity and different beliefs and doctrines where there may not be much community, but there is strong kinship because of our common backgrounds?

  4. Holly says:

    Is MSP, like Sunstone, a place of such diversity and different beliefs and doctrines where there may not be much community, but there is strong kinship because of our common backgrounds?

    I like to think so. I’m sure some people would lump us all together as just a bunch of religious malcontents, but to me, we seem pretty diverse. There are thorough-going atheists and active (albeit somewhat unconventional) Mormons and completely lapsed Mormons who still believe in some vague religious something (but don’t want to name it because religion seems toxic) and plenty of other categories of people as well, all having conversations about this big thing we have in common and still wrestle with–from a lot of different points of views and in a lot of different ways.

    It’s also pretty fluid. People come and go as they have time and need.

    I think that’s all pretty valuable, frankly.

  5. chanson says:

    I completely agree with Holly (and Primo Levi). I’m interested in self-analysis, and — even as I grow and change — I can see that Mormonism has shaped my early development. It’s a part of who I am today, and that will never change (and I don’t want it to).

    On the other hand, being an active Mormon requires a whole lot more thinking about Mormonism on a daily basis than being a “cultural Mormon” does, so I think it’s perfectly normal and healthy for non-religious cultural Mormons not to be interested in talking about Mormonism as much as active Mormons do. Either way works — putting it on the shelf not to worry about all the time, or taking it down to contemplate it from all angles. So I think it’s normal that a community like this one wouldn’t have as big a following as the Bloggernacle blogs — it’s mostly for people who enjoy this sort of introspection. Keep in mind that Holly is a memoirist, and I’m something like that, having taken up chatting about Mormonism online as some sort of crazy (but fun!) hobby (not to mention my novel).

    At the same time, I’ve found that I really enjoy hanging out with fellow non-religious (ex/post?)-Mormons. Having this shared background (and shared experience with disbelief) creates a connection or rapport that doesn’t come easily with just anybody.

  6. aerin says:

    I don’t have an overarching goal that I’m working towards. I haven’t been an active mormon for a long time. I enjoy talking about my mormon heritage and about mormon history. Partially for the reasons that chanson and holly mentioned above.

    Personally, I think it’s even more interesting because I had been told certain things for so long (or not told them), and then I found out there is a lot of information I didn’t know about. I was also a history major – so I appreciate reading about history where others might not be as interested. And I can’t think of any period in history or literature that I have a right to tell someone else NOT to investigate or study. Just like piltdown man was mentioned in a comment in a prior thread – if nothing else, we can learn from where we’ve been.

    Another reason is that a vast majority of my extended family remains active mormon. If my family were another religion or background, I’d probably try to better understand them as well. A good example is that my FIL is presbyterian. I ask him lots of questions about his faith.

    I’m a big believer in the pursuit of knowledge and in skepticism.

    I like reading different perspectives and points of view. People are at all different points in their journey(s) with mormonism.

    As far as what other people do in outer blogness…well – I have to say, I appreciate when people update their blogs. (you may know who you are).

    Oh, and when they mention if they will be including content that may not be “workplace appropriate” (whatever that means to you).

    But other than that, I find I don’t really care (have a preference of where other people are at in their journey or what they want to talk about).

    If people want to talk mormonism (faith, history, culture, doctrine), that’s great. If they want to talk about other stuff, I think that’s great too. I like reading lots of different people’s thoughts and about their experiences.

    Oh – and I’ve found that former and current mormons usually have great reading lists – so those are nice to take a look at as well. And, last but not least, if people have gone behind logins, if they want to add me as a reader. 🙂

  7. Holly says:

    aerin at #6:

    I don’t have an overarching goal that I’m working towards.

    that’s something else I like about MSP. People often come here to work out ideas and consider different questions instead of delivering firmly supported theses on why they believe this or that.

  8. Matt says:

    I’m definitely in the “hey, only TBMs think ‘kicking against pricks’ is a bad thing” camp.

    I think MSP is an ersatz holy-rollers camp meeting of sorts. A holy-anti-rollers camp meeting, yeah, but why would anyone expect people to stop being people just because they stop being TBM?

    To suggest that those who reject the church but can’t leave it alone are somehow lacking direction, or evil, or fulfilling prophecy of some sort is just pure pre-emptive war on developing or full-blown apostacy. Whatever. The church has this kind of language around every corner.

    Personally, I need a place like this to fall back on and to constantly remind me of things as I continue along the path of solitary apostate in my immediate and extended family. I’m pioneering and hope to set a new course, a new path, an alternative life for my children to chose if they like. I set myself on this course for good reason — but the church knows one thing — we humans often forget about our reasons. We know it too and so we search-out opportunites to mix with other beings who can relate.

    Where am I going? Still trying to figure that out. But a big part of that is coming here and listing to you people. Sharing ideas. Letting it all compost in my mind.

    Something will come of this. Maybe something big. Something none of us could possibly anticipate. I don’t know. But what’s the rush? I think we have time. It’s not like Jesus is coming or something, so I’m okay with slow, incremental, change. Yes, I’d like to see revolution in my lifetime. But I’m okay if its just glacial change. After all, that’s usually how the world works.

    Thanks to you all for sharing.

  9. profxm says:

    Good question and all good comments.

    Why do I continue to fiddle around with all things Mormon? My wife, also an ex-Mormon, asks me this on occasion (mostly ’cause she doesn’t understand it, having giving it all up completely when we left). I have several answers…

    First, it isn’t because I’m working out my new identity. I’m a skeptical, negative atheist/secular humanist. End of story. I’m not “looking” for a new identity, though, who knows, maybe I’ll find one someday. I was never really content or happy as a Mormon because there were so many unanswered questions. Science, skepticism, and philosophy have answered my questions. So, I’m not searching for a new identity; I’m quite content with my new one.

    Second, I post here regularly because I’m easily pissed off by things. Most of my posts are news stories I catch via my Google News alerts. I like spreading the obscure news stories around and seeing what everyone else thinks about them, especially Seth and other semi-active/thinking Mormons (I hope that is a fair characterization, Seth!). Also, sometimes when I see something outrageous, I just need other former Mormons to empathize with me. So, it does offer a sense of community.

    Third, I’m a sociologist who studies religion. One of my areas of expertise is Mormonism. I keep up on the literature in that area and continue to write on Mormonism. As a result, I need to know what is going on in Mormon communities. Yes, I could read BCC or some other faithful blog… Okay, no, I can’t. I have a really hard time listening to believers blather on and on, especially when it comes to theology. So, MSP is an ideal place for me to keep up on all things Mormon among a community of people who are interested in the issues, but much more skeptical.

    Fourth, sometimes I do have honest questions. It’s been years since I was a TBM and sometimes I forget what it’s like. I also have other questions that I’m working out as a sociologist that I like posting here for feedback. I like getting quick and dirty feedback from people who understand a culture, even if they are only loosely connected with it anymore.

    I was going to give a fifth reason, but it’s not really a reason why I visit MSP… I do like to think that at some level my criticism of LDS, Inc. affects people, including Mormons. It probably doesn’t, but who knows. Deep down I’d like to undo some of the “damage” I did as a TBM and missionary by helping others see things with a more skeptical perspective. I don’t know that MSP accomplishes that. (On that note, MormonTimes.com noted the recent blogosphere discussion of the study we discussed over the last week. Does anyone know if we were the first to discuss it?)

    My participation at MSP ebbs and wanes, but it is relative to how busy am I personally and professionally. I find that when I have more time, I spend some of it here. When I have less, I lurk.

    Did all that answer the question?

  10. Andrew S says:

    Sorry I haven’t been around to answer individually everyone, but I’ve enjoyed everyone’s answers so far. Maybe later I’ll go through and comment individually on some parts of responses that intrigued me.

    Or maybe I’ll just stick behind the scenes some more 😀

  11. Ray Agostini says:

    There is a saying, and I’m not sure where it comes from but I know Bishop Desmond Tutu once quoted it: “An injustice anywhere, is an injustice everywhere.” We all have different perceptions of our life experiences, and the Mormon experience may be seen that same way, for better or worse. I don’t obsess about it (I probably spend as much time on history and family history, unrelated to genealogy), but it’s an interesting phenomenon. Even with my brief encounter with Catholicism (i.e., the first 20 years of my life) it shaped many of my perceptions about life, and undoubtedly assisted in my being drawn to Mormonism. My brother, now in his mid-70s says the same, though he has had nothing to do with Catholicism since he was a teenager, he says he still occasionally experiences some guilt because of his religious indoctrination. My sister, in her mid-60s is still a devoted Catholic, and there’s no question that her beliefs have shaped some unwanted “judgements” towards me, in my opinion. So I question how healthy this is, while leaving room for personal idiosyncrasy (and just idiocy).

    The point is, this isn’t only about Mormonism, it’s about life, attitudes, religion, family relationships, the influence of religion on society for better or worse, and even our collective future. What do we want our children to believe, what choices and alternatives will we give them, and how can our own experience factor into that? Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Have we learned anything? And how, where and when are we going to pass it on, if we really believe it’s worth passing on? The heliocentric idea started as an opinion, and not a very welcome one in some quarters.

    I’ve argued that it’s the “liberals” and “cultural Mormons” (and ex-Mormons) who can actually make Mormonism more “acceptable” (not that they will necessarily become Mormons) to the masses (which is kind of ironic when you think about it), because they are the ones calling it on excesses and irrationality. In parliaments it’s called “checks and balances”, or growth through oppositional ideas. Now think of how many changes have been made in the Church in the last two centuries, and think about how many of those changes came about without long-standing opposition, from within ot without (all to the denial of TBMs, of course).

  12. Andrew S says:

    Ray, your last paragraph intrigues me. I thought that it would be kinda straightforward, but then it went into a different direction.

    Do you really think that the church listens to little ole us (or, in a broader sense, those who represent cultural and liberal influences throughout the church?)

    It’s like seeing Affirmation talk with the church leaders every so often…they try to make the church change its positions too, but they aren’t getting anywhere.

  13. Ray Agostini says:


    Do you really think that the church listens to little ole us (or, in a broader sense, those who represent cultural and liberal influences throughout the church?)
    It’s like seeing Affirmation talk with the church leaders every so often…they try to make the church change its positions too, but they aren’t getting anywhere.

    I think they do selectively, Andrew. Sometimes a few level-headed voices can make a difference. I’m thinking here of journals like Dialogue. Rightly or wrongly, I believe Dialogue set the tone for many subtle and not so subtle attitude changes. I believe that the series of articles by Bush and Mauss, as one example, may have had a direct impact on policy, and those articles were later published in the monograph Neither White nor Black. When Mormonism began it had far more “cult-like” tendencies, centred around a dynamic and charismatic leader who demanded fierce loyalty, and made loyal friends, and mortal enemies. These birth-pains are present in almost all organisations that survive to make the vital shift to the mainstream. The shift from charismatic leader to “sacral power structure” also created a balance of power which enabled more authoritative but less fundamentalist voices to be heard, and even enabled Mormons to become “more American than Americans” by the 1950s. They who once opposed the US government, were now supporting it more than most. This shift wasn’t revelatory, it is what has been called the Mormon tendency to accommodation. It would not have survived without this, and that’s the crucial difference between cult leaders like Koresh and Jones, and Joseph Smith. Mormonism didn’t come to a fiery end, but it could only survive through accommodation to cultural and social progress, while imputing change to “revelation”.

    The Gay/Affirmation issue remains challenging because in a large measure societal attitudes have not changed enough to make that possible, but it’s slowly getting there. In my country, Australia, there’s still not a single state that has legal Gay marriage, so the Church isn’t going to rush into making any drastic changes there either. As society shifts, the Church will shift with it. That the Church is even talking with Affirmation, or even acknowledging it, is something that would never have occurred even a few years ago. In Tasmania, which was the last state to decriminlise homosexual relations, one man, Rodney Croome, virtually single-handedly changed that, and now Tasmania may be the first state to have Gay marriage. But these shifts, religious or political, always occur as the public attitude softens and changes. People at the grass roots really count. The opinion-leaders often influence the masses, if their reasoning is strong enough, but it’s at the grass roots where things really change. Catholicism still does not allow female ordination, nor a Gay clergy, so some areas will remain out of bounds for a long time to come. The French revolution didn’t happen overnight, but it would never have happened without the writings of the philosophes. Note how Diderot operated:

    Because it was illegal to openly criticize the church and state in France, many wrote plays, novels, histories, dictionaries, and encyclopedias with subtle messages attached.

  14. Andrew S says:

    I guess I should read the articles by Bush and Mauss, but from reading (informally) about the Mormon tendency to accommodate, it seemed to me that this wasn’t evidence that liberal segments of the church can enact change.

    No, it’s evidence that pressure from outsiders, coupled with the church’s on/off desire to be seen as somewhat normal, can enact change. As a test, we can find instances where societal attitudes may differ from liberal Mormon or cultural mormon or exmormon attitudes…and see with which side the church goes. And I think you recognize that the church won’t necessarily listen to groups like Affirmation when society as a whole isn’t also demanding the same things that they want.

    So, I ultimately agree that *public attitude* can influence the church. But li’l ole us down in Outer Blogness aren’t the “public.”

  15. Ray Agostini says:

    So, I ultimately agree that *public attitude* can influence the church. But li’l ole us down in Outer Blogness aren’t the “public.”

    That’s true, but how does the public learn about Mormonism? Hopefully they’re smart enough to gauge a variety of opinions, and they’re going to be searching blogs and forums and commentary like yours and mine, pro and con.

    I guess I should read the articles by Bush and Mauss, but from reading (informally) about the Mormon tendency to accommodate, it seemed to me that this wasn’t evidence that liberal segments of the church can enact change.

    The book of their collection of articles is online: http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/neither/neithertitle.htm

    You decide whether they had any influence. This book is still to date the clearest commentary and chronology on the development and history of the “fading of the Pharaoh’s curse”. Note in particular the appendix on authoritative statements how the attitude of the First Presidency changed over a 20 year period. That had nothing to do with revelation. It was an internal shift brought about by the changing times, and serious reflection about what was or was not doctrine. That only comes about because people talk, question, and revise opinions and beliefs.

  16. Andrew S says:

    That’s true, but how does the public learn about Mormonism? Hopefully they’re smart enough to gauge a variety of opinions, and they’re going to be searching blogs and forums and commentary like yours and mine, pro and con.

    I don’t know so much about this one.

    I don’t think many people read blogs, firstly, and secondly, I don’t think they are going to be reading Mormon blogs without being Mormon. Both Bloggernacle-type blogs and Outer Blogness-type blogs would be nearly incomprehensible or just plain strange to nonmembers.

    And I know I don’t read blogs (pro or con) for other religions. I didn’t even read blogs for *this* one until very recently.

    I think more likely, they will see things like Prop 8. Or they will see friends who happen to be members. These are tangible and don’t require any searching or googling.

    Thanks for the links; I will read them — however, I am…just guessing…that the shifts in doctrine elaborated upon will have more to do with changes in public opinion *outside* of the church than they will with the opinions members, liberal members, exmembers, etc., But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the data showed otherwise…

  17. Ray Agostini says:

    Andrew, I refer you to the FAIR website which has an article written by Armand Mauss:


    Q : That seems a little late. Didn’t most churches and other institutions drop all their racial restrictions a lot earlier than that?

    A : Yes; generally a little earlier. But Church leaders had the matter under consideration for at least twenty years before 1978.22

    Footnote 22:

    See my account of the long and anguished history leading up to the policy change on priesthood in the LDS Church: “The Fading of the Pharoah’s Curse: The Decline and Fall of the Priesthood Ban against Blacks in the Mormon Church,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14:3 (Fall 1981), 10-45, summarized in All Abraham’s Children, 231-241. See also Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Writing ‘Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview’ (1973): Context and Reflections,” Journal of Mormon History 25:1 (Spring 1999), 229-271; and Gregory A. Prince, “David O. McKay and Blacks: Building a Foundation for the 1978 Revelation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35:1 (Spring 2002), 145-153.

    Mauss was critical of outside attacks and criticism and believed that it was an internal matter. That doesn’t mean, however, that external criticism had no effect. But I do believe that critical scholars like Mauss and Bush had an influence. I think it would be inconceivable that the Church leaders had the matter under consideration for 20 years, and had not consulted Bush/Mauss, if not directly, then certainly through informed advisors.

  18. chanson says:

    I don’t think many people read blogs, firstly, and secondly, I don’t think they are going to be reading Mormon blogs without being Mormon. Both Bloggernacle-type blogs and Outer Blogness-type blogs would be nearly incomprehensible or just plain strange to nonmembers.

    Yes and no. It’s true that an individual blog doesn’t have that much reach, and a typical nevermo isn’t going to just spontaneously start reading Mormon-interest blogs out of desire to learn about Mormonism.

    But because of the way all of blogspace is interconnected, we of Outer Blogness often end up being the “go-to” folks when blogs that aren’t LDS-themed need more info on a given issue. That’s the beauty of the Internet — for any subject, it’s so easy to find more information and/or an expert opinion.

    For example, during the Prop-8 campaign, we had generic anti-prop-8 sites link here to MSP for specifics on Mormons & interracial marriage. And in the case of my regular blog (plus my new stuff on Rational Moms), Mormons (cultural and otherwise) don’t make up the majority of my audience, yet I write quite a bit about Mormonism. Similarly for Exmormon — from the emails I get from readers, it’s very clear that for many readers this story is their first taste of what Mormonism is like.

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