Why are Ex-Mormons So Angry (and other questions)? Part I
A while back on reddit, aMormon stumbled into the popular (and still growing) ex-Mormon reddit to ask the ex-Mormon denizens a few questions. Many of the questions were quite patronizing (despite the poster’s stated desire to “support whatever [our] beliefs [were] in a non-patronizing way”), and the proceeding conversation was less than pretty. However, it was a good chance for me to formalize some little-known dynamics of the disaffected Mormon underground that explain why some questions come up over and over again from well-meaning (or even not-so-well-meaning) Mormon (or even non-Mormon) outsiders:
- Are ex-Mormons all angry?
- If so, why are we angry?
- If not (or if there is some caveat), then why do weappearto be angry?
In addressing these basic questions, I made comments that I’ve made on many blogs and on many occasions, but recently I realized that I’ve never formally taken the time to post these things.
Until now.This is the first part of what has turned out to be a surprisingly lengthy two-part series, which was originally posted at Irresistible (Dis)Grace in parts I and II.Part II may be found here.
1. Are ex-Mormons all angry?
The simple answer to this question isno. Ex-Mormons are not all angry.This does not mean that there aren’t non-negligible elements of the ex-Mormon community whoareangry.Neither does it mean that the ex-Mormons who are angry are not justifiably so, or angry for no reason. (However short this answer is, it necessitates the next two questions, and the next two questions are where the behind-the-scene dynamics operate.)
2. Why are (some) ex-Mormons (sometimes) angry?
The fact is that there are some ex-Mormons who are angry. And these ex-Mormons would argue that they have valid cause to be angry. One criticism of the Mormon redditor was to raise that “it’s kind of pathetic to get so wrapped up in something that isn’t a part of you now.” In more veiled terms, Mormons talk about people wholeave the church, but cannot leave it alone. Both insiders and outsiders to church affairs wonder why people who leaveallowit to take up so much of their lives. Why give power to the church if you don’t agree with it?
On the surface, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Other churches and religious communities do not have the dynamics that the Mormon/ex-Mormon one has, and people cannot see what lies beneath the surface of the ex-Mormon experience that makes it different from many other community dynamics (but the ex-Mormon, whether he has critically assessed these dynamics,neverthelesslives them.)
To begin to explain,I would raise simply thatMormonism isn’t something that you just leave and then — *poof* — it’s “not a part of you.”Mormonism is an extremely pervasive culture and religion. Many ex-Mormons have friends and family members still in the religion, and their standings with the church have extremely adverse effects to their relationships. They face their friends and family either constantly trying to reconvert them or these same people coming to treat them as if they have leprosy simply because they do not believe. Ex-Mormons may have their children preyed upon (or, at the very least, prayed for…to save them from the apostasy of the parents); ex-Mormons may have family members and friends turn against them. And that’s for the ex-Mormons who can leave. Manycannotopenly reject the church without jeopardizing their relationships.
People are JUSTIFIABLY angry because of these relationship issues.
But think further: the ex-Mormon him- or herself was once devoted to the church. She was (at the very least) taught to trust the church’s teachings, the scriptures, commandments, and so on. So, evenwithoutany threat to relationships, the person who comes to believe that things are not as she was taught is JUSTIFIABLY angry because she put so much time (and money) in the church to find out that she was taught incorrect things. She who comes to believe that the truth was obscured from her is indignant. She feels JUSTIFIABLY betrayed and hurt.
So, in some ways, it’smoreof a surprise to see people who walk away from it without having any adverse reaction. Considering that Mormonism isn’t just a once-in-a-blue-moon thing — that it is a total lifestyle — leaving itshouldn’tbe easy. I don’t want to make assumptions, but when I see people who have little problem leaving the church, I suspect that they were never invested in the first place. (Ironically, this is the claim that many believing members will make ofanyonewho leaves — including the ones who struggle deeply over their exit.) To the contrary, when I see people who are active on ex-Mormon forums, blogs, and websites, what I see over and over again are people who were VERY invested in Mormonism when they were active, and who consequently have an incredible challenge to move away. They essentially have to come to terms with how tore-interpretmost of their entire lives. What did the relationships mean? What did their activity mean? What did their service mean? How could this have happened to them?
To make an analogy, it would be VERY strange if someone who recently divorced a long-time spouse or who recently lost a long-loved loved one had NO adverse reactions, NO grief, etc., We might think them to be cold, or suspect the nature of their relationship to the person. It is far more common to see people having long-running issues that they have to work very hard at resolving over time…and if there are long-running relationship issues (say, protracted custody battle…), then we understand that there will be deeper feelings for a longer period of time.
So, that explains why many ex-Mormons are angry (and why there is methodto the madness[pun very much intended]). I’ll address the final question (of why ex-Mormons appear to be angrier than we are) inPart II, which may be found here.
In my experience, I think this is essentially correct. The one caveat I’d add is that I suspect that they were never invested as an adult. That was my situation.
Personally, I was very invested in Mormonism until my junior year of High School. Though I was always a bit rebellious, never “spiritual”, and never liked attending church, being Mormon was central to my identity, and my LDS ward was my primary social circle. But it wasn’t difficult for me to leave because I left at exactly the moment when I was in the middle of forging my own path and my own adult life. It wasn’t traumatic in the same way it wasn’t really traumatic for me to move out of my parents’ house and get my own place (no matter how much I love them and they’re still important to me in my life).
I think that my history goes a long way towards explaining why I maintain this as a hobby. I was a believer right up until the brink of adulthood, and I feel like Mormonism, ultimately, didn’t hurt me. Overall, I feel like the experience of being raised Mormon did me more good than harm (though that doesn’t mean I recommend is for everybody).
From my experience in Outer Blogness, my impression is that the people who forge their adult lifestyle and identity around Mormonism have more difficulty leaving than those who leave as young adults, teens, and younger.
Wow, that is a really good point of distinction (that I think works for my situation too). Especially when contrasting some pretty terrible stories that simply haven’t and won’t happen to me, because I ‘avoided’ many adult Mormon situations (e.g., marrying a Mormon spouse and THEN disaffecting has a lot more complications than disaffecting when you’re young, single, and untied to anyone.)