So, are you enjoying your exmormon despair and unhappiness yet?

So, I recently had a fun escapade in the comments at a post at Feminist Mormon Housewives. It was a post from a guestposter, Jon, on whether or not the church might be a hostile place. Who ever could have thought of that?!

…I’m still freshly reeling about the “hostile” horror stories thanks to the church that I’ve read recently here at MSP. The one joy I can find from so much pain in Jill’s story is that fortunately, she was able to leave and move on with her life. Yet, some aren’t able…

Well, back to FMH…I guess I didn’t know what to expect from Jon, but he came out early on with the punches swinging. (CAVEAT: It certainly seems that the Jon who wrote the post is different than the Jon who has written the comments…but I can’t check IPs at FMH.) A particular comment he had made, likening atheists to murders, piqued my interest:

Here’s a very interesting article I read last night about “the worst missionary apostasy in the history of the Church.” In short, a group of nine missionaries chose excommunication because their personal beliefs didn’t match up to the modern Church and its modern leadership.

Were they better off after severing ties to the Church? No. The ringleader (once a very spiritual person) became an avowed atheist within 20 years, one of their number became a murderer, but luckily several of them chose to be rebaptized later on. I’ve heard a statistic that more divorcees are more unhappy a year after their divorce than they were while married, and I think this is true for the Church that we’re also “married” to. Instead of trying to change the Church, we should try to improve our relationship with it, because we’d be more unhappy after we’re cut off.

I made an off-hand parenthetical comment, vocally suggesting that I wished I hadn’t seen such a comparison (off-hand comments always start messes though, of course). And after a chance which I thought Jon might redeem his position, he actually continued further into what I suspected: I guess he thinks that atheism is just as “tragic a turn” as becoming a murderer is.

While I was glad to see that many of the commenters at FMH thought Jon’s position was extreme…and they noted that atheists could be good people (something that John at mind on fire wrote about recently as well…), Jon continued in his position:

Lots of assumptions are being made about the virtues of atheism. Atheists can of course be great people, and Christians can be horrible people, but LDSaints reverting to atheism is a step backwards. It is certainly tragic when a man who once believed in and prayed to God severs that tie. To paraphrase Brigham Young: the Church is like a ship in a stormy sea, and people want to jump off because they don’t believe that there’s a storm. Generally speaking, people who distance themselves from the Church seem to be worse off later down the road.

Interestingly enough here, he starts with just a general idea that atheism alone is a step backwards, but by the end of this message, he takes a stab at all ex-mormons. So, for all of you readers at MSP who aren’t necessarily atheist, watch out, because you’re going to be “worse off” too!

Later on, he reasoned that his ideas were based on evidence of his apostate family members:

In my family, those that have distanced themselves from the Church have universally developed harmful addictions, never raised families, or even committed suicide. When members of my family started to apostasize in the 40s through the 80s, it ruined their lives. It’s not arrogance, but sad fact.

When he brough up his own anecdotal evidence, I alluded to evidence of when the church goes wrong against its members — cases like those of Jill’s which affect me greatly. And all he could say was:

Any kind of abuse is horrible and has no place in the Church, so anyone practicing it is doing so in opposition to the Church. How is that a valid argument?

I don’t even. In the end, his final position remained that it would be impossible to genuinely be an exmormon and have joy and happiness in life. You would either 1) quickly be on the path to repentance and reconciliation with the church or 2) would be on the path to addiction, suicide, or “family-less-ness” (it’s amusing that he places this at the same end of the other two.)

This was such a perplexing series of comments that I had to make a few posts about it. How is it that this person cannot see the many exmembers who are much happier with their decisions to leave? I mean, even if I grant that the church is a good fit for some, I’m not going to suggest that one size fits all — and for the members it doesn’t fit, they most certainly should try on something else.

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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13 Responses

  1. chanson says:

    Any kind of abuse is horrible and has no place in the Church, so anyone practicing it is doing so in opposition to the Church.

    Well, that’s awfully convenient. For the church, that is…

    What about stories like Jill’s where the bishop sends people back to an abuser? I thought we’d run another such story here at MSP a while ago, but now I can’t find it. If the bishop tells a wife that she’s to submit to her husband’s priesthood authority (even if she describes abuse from him), then it hardly seems like the husband is acting “in opposition to the church.” Indeed, the wife in such a case is forced to act in opposition to the church in order to leave the abuser.

  2. bloggerancleburner says:

    I am extremely confused at that post at FMH. I know Jon and the Jon in the comments sounds more like Adam Greenwood than the Jon who wrote the post. I think their being subtly trolled.

  3. profxm says:

    To answer the question posed at the end…

    Jon can’t do anything other than assume apostates will be miserable. He has to believe that, else why continue to be Mormon? If he really believed you could be Mormon and miserable or be non-Mormon and happy, his whole worldview would collapse. So, Jon has to delude himself into believing people like me don’t exist (I’m an apostate with a happy marriage, good job, and a child on the way). If I exist, that means Mormonism isn’t the only road to happiness. So, Jon has to insist that, somehow, in some way, I must be unhappy. It’s self-delusion to maintain his worldview.

    Now, just to put this into perspective, most of us do this to some degree – we have to convince ourselves that how we are living holds the potential of happiness. If we didn’t, we would change, right? It isn’t just Mormons who do this, but Mormons and other members of strict religions do it to a greater degree because their religion claims their lifestyle is THE correct one, not A correct one. Those who don’t adhere to a strict religious lifestyle can be more accepting of the idea that many lifestyles can lead to happiness because accepting them doesn’t threaten your own.

  4. Andrew S says:

    re 1:

    I was particularly disturbed by the comment response, but then, I didn’t link directly to Jill’s story, so I don’t know what he would say after reading the first person report. It seemed incredibly convenient, as you said.

    re 2:

    That’s really the weirdest thing about it, bloggernacleburner. The Jon who wrote the post *definitely* sounds different than the Jon who wrote the comments, but then again, there are no links on the name, so it could just be someone with an alias, two different Jons, etc.,

    re 3:

    I can see what you mean, especially the last part about whether we can recognize that many lifestyles can lead to happiness vs. only being able to recognize that our own lifestyle leads to happiness.

    It just seems intuitive to me to trust others when they say they are happy already…which is why I’ve always been wary of missionary work, the “one true path” reasoning, etc., From a practical, empirical standpoint, you can *see* that people of other lifestyles can have happiness, so it seems that if you do believe that your lifestyle is THE correct one, I am at a loss for words at how you can maintain this position!

  5. Eugene says:

    I developed a theory about this on my mission, based on Darwin’s observations about how a single species can evolve to fit all the available environmental niches. Having grown up in New York, many of the happy people I knew were non-Mormon, while many of the miserable people I knew were Mormon. Not cause-effect, just selection bias.

    But this struck many of Mormon-corridor companions as unbelievable. Because they had been raised in mostly or all-Mormon environments, they had observed Mormons filling all the dysfunctional social niches. So by their reasoning, non-Mormon behavior must of course reside even outside those.

    At the same time, people who define themselves primarily in terms of kicking against the pricks are probably going to have problems playing with others, no matter what the circumstances. This episode of This American Life matches a Mormon example against two examples unrelated to organized religion (click the orange Full Episode button).

    This is why revolutionary movements–long after the actual revolution–spend so much time obsessed with destroying the “counter-revolutionary” elements.

  6. Hellmut says:

    There are reasons why Jon encounters unhappy ex-Mormons.

    First, people who are unhappy have a motive to change. If they were happy, they would not have to look for alternatives to the LDS Church.

    Second, Mormonism may be a suboptimal maximum. If you are located on a local maximum and need to get to a higher maximum, you will first have to march through the valley.

    As there are no guarantees in life, there will be casualties along the way.

    Having said that, Mormons have no monopoly on happiness. All kind of people enjoy the full spectrum of emotions.

    In fact, the ability to enjoy all sorts of emotions instead of feeling permanently compelled to appear happy and blessed, may well be among the greatest advantages of surrendering Mormon orthodoxy and its conventions.

  7. Andrew S says:

    In fact, the ability to enjoy all sorts of emotions instead of feeling permanently compelled to appear happy and blessed, may well be among the greatest advantages of surrendering Mormon orthodoxy and its conventions.

    That was a low blow. even my kidneys hurt. D:

  8. chanson says:

    That was a low blow. even my kidneys hurt. D:

    I dunno, I kinda get what Hellmut is saying (even if he could perhaps have put it more tactfully 😉 ). There’s a certain pressure in Mormonism to always appear happy and successful. Plus, the standard solution to various problems is to pray harder and study the scriptures more, which kind of implies that if you’re unhappy, it’s because you’re not doing a good enough job of living the gospel.

    This can have positive effects (people who will themselves to be happy may actually succeed) or negative effects (people who are unhappy may compound their unhappiness by feeling guilty and ashamed of it).

  9. Jill says:

    See, this was the other thing I had heard many many times in church, “If you leave, you may find temporary happiness. Not Eternal”. That’s what keeps many of its members indoors. Thats what kept my mother indoors. Think about it.

    According to the Church, this life is a test filled with hardships that we must overcome. “Difficult marriages” being one of those tests and challenges. So of course people are going to say, “Well, if I make it past these years of hardship, I’ll have ETERNAL happiness.”

    Happiness is an the ultimate gift to persuade anyone. I know all I want is to be happy.

    However, in the church, I was miserable. I was told that I wasn’t spiritually good enough, I wasn’t paying enough tithe when I could barley feed myself and my brothers and sisters, I was told I was a sinner twice a week (activity days and Sundays sometimes even Saturdays), and that I wasn’t smart enough because I didn’t know ol’ Joe’s birthday and all the names in the Book of Mormon. I was told that I was sinning because I was having inappropriate thoughts of boys upon hitting puberty.

    It’s awful going through something so natural and necessary only to be told that you are going to Hell for experiencing feelings that you literally can’t control.

    After having my revelation (or lack there of) from reading and praying for weeks for God to tell me that it was all true and that I wasn’t wasting my one shot at life, I left. Why, Because I wasn’t afraid to put my head up high and tell everyone what I knew wasn’t true and I wasn’t afraid of telling my family and neighbors that God did NOT, in fact, give me that “warm fuzzy.”

    At first I was pissed. I was soooo angry at God because he obviously didn’t think that I needed to know. Then I came to terms that is wasn’t true and that I was free!

    Some people tell me I didn’t fast enough, I didn’t pray enough, I haven’t read the scriptures all the way through. They said this regardless to the fact that I have read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover five times, I was one of the few mormons that prayed every night. I actually had reason to pray, mostly to get me out of the Hell hole I was in. And I fasted. I didn’t have a choice. We never had food, so it was easy.

    So I would ask them, “Did the Pharaoh of Egypt, the one who wouldn’t let Moses’es people go, go to Heaven?” When they replied no, I said, “Okay, so Pharaoh went to Hell for something he didn’t do. It says in the bible that God hardened his heart and wouldn’t “let them go.” That is to say that he would have “made the right choice” by letting them go if God hadn’t have interfered. MANY times, he would have let them go if God were not just trying to teach a lesson and to test his children.

    So Pharaoh went to Hell because he did things that God made him do. This means that we have no freedom of choice according to your church because God is going to make us do things anyway no matter what we ourselves decide. Therefore negating the most important part of what you believe.”

    Then they would say, “So Pharaoh went to heaven.” My reply being, “Right, so if God has ‘hardened MY heart’ enough to ignore me my entire life and put me through shit even though I was one of the most devout “saints” then obviously, this is where I’m meant to be. If I’m meant to also be a test to your faith, then I also have no control over my beliefs because God doesn’t want me to. So, then I’m still on the right path because I have no choice and will also go to heaven. See ya there!”

  10. Hellmut says:

    I understand your concern, Andrew, but I do think that my remark speaks to a real phenomenon in Mormonism.

    It is quite common to hear from ex-, post-, and dissident Mormons that they felt compelled to put on a happy face.

    To a degree, that is an implication of the enlightenment delusion that we can be in charge of our life and therefore are responsible for our happiness.

    In Mormonism, this pathology may be amplified by the assertion that we have the one, true church.

    Jay’s claims about unhappy apostates makes sense within his paradigm. How can anyone be possibly happy without the one, true church?

    To some people, that statement implies that they cannot possibly be unhappy if they have the one, true church.

    The need to be happy all the time can be a burden.

    There all sort of emotions that are part of life. It’s nice to have the blues occasionally.

    Do enjoy the full range of emotions. They mark a healthy human being.

  11. Bull says:

    I loved Hellmut’s comments. Mormonism seems to work for some people. I didn’t feel it worked for me. Surprise. I left. If it had been working for me I probably wouldn’t have wound up considering that it might be false and started on a journey elsewhere.

    I think that Mormons confuse cause and effect. They see unhappy exmormons and assume it is due to their apostasy. It is just as likely that they were already unhappy as Mormons and are searching elsewhere for something that works.

    One other thing that I’ve observed is that Mormonism’s answers don’t work particularly well in dealing with issues such as addiction. In fact, my own reading on the topic has made me think that Mormonism’s teachings actually make addiction problems worse. It’s almost a recipe for how to create a addict. So is it a surprise to find exmormons who are addicts? Let me ask a simple question: What does the church do to reach out to and help addicts and how successful are they? It’s difficult for me to imagine how a struggling alcoholic would fit into or be helped by any ward I’ve been a member of.

  12. Hellmut says:

    Thanks for the compliment, Bull. I wouldn’t know how to help an addict either even though my dad was an alcoholic.

    I wish that we would do more to train officers at the ward level. There is a lot that one can learn in a weekend seminary.

    There are certainly enough experts at BYU to create and teach a volunteer curriculum. The labor movement still provides quite a bit of training to their rank and file.

    The results appear to be mixed, mostly because many elected officers don’t avail themselves of the opportunities.

  1. July 1, 2009

    […] people away from the church, it must be a sign that they are miserable, right? And there have been many people who have talked about the “bitter fruits of […]

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