An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Loosening the Faith

Why do Latter-day Saints leave the faith? Active Mormons tend to think members lose testimony because they: a) weren’t keeping the commandments and allowed Satan to deceive them, or b) had their feelings hurt. A more interesting theory is that apostates suffer from ADD which makes them delve into Church History and note the contradictions between the facts and what they’ve been taught at church. But how do you account for historians such as Richard Bushman who have extensively researched Church History and still kept their faith? Perhaps historians without ADD lack the questioning gene that triggers disbelief.

My favorite explanation for why historical research shatters faith for some people but not others, comes from John-Charles Duffy.  He theorizes that beliefs in the historicity of the BOM are influenced more by social than by intellectual environment. In essence—if the LDS Church fulfills our social needs, if our closest relationships are with believing members—we will likely find a way to reconcile contradictory information about the BOM, Church History and doctrines.

Duffy’s theory fits our family to a T.  I don’t need to tell anybody that families with inactive or nonmember fathers inhabit the lower rungs of the ward social ladder. Our oldest son, Wort, was 12 before the light of LDS conformity drew George into the circle. Wort was a good kid and it hurt him that he was never called to be a class president in the YM organization. His social needs were met at school, not at church.

Our oldest two daughters, mentored by wonderful YW leaders, served as YW class presidents repeatedly. Both served missions and married in the temple. Jaycee’s temple marriage was a disaster which finally left her too depressed to attend church. When her husband left, her LDS friends responsed with, “Have you been going to church?” Only non-LDS, divorced associates from work empathized. Jaycee changed friends and church affiliation the same day.

Our youngest daughter told me she had never believed anything she’d heard at church. I don’t know if she was precociously intellectual or if she simply never fit with the kids in her ward age group. The fourth child in a family often gets lost in the shuffle. Our youngest son never fit in at church because his goal in life has always been to piss people off. This limited his acceptance at church as well as most other places.

School, not church, reinforced our kids’ self-esteem. None of them enjoyed seminary. They complained that seminary teachers favored the front row kids who sang hymns with gusto and beamed approval over each breath of wisdom puffed from the teacher’s lips—the “choir queers.” I know our kids’ choice of epithets was wildly inappropriate, but I was too busy telling them to put the toilet seat down and to stop sticking their heads out the car windows screaming, “You look mah-velous!” at passersby to teach them the finer points of civilized behavior.

By the time our kids ceased being cute little tykes who brought their mother self-esteem at church, I was teaching full time and my peer group became my work colleagues rather than ward members. As I participated in  out-of-state seminars and workshops, I met wonderful non-Mormons, several of whom shared spiritual experiences from within their own faith. Their testimonies of God’s love opened my eyes to the possibility that God does not reserve blessings to baptized Latter-day Saints.

George was a temple worker while I underwent my crisis of faith. I tried to save my testimony. I attended the temple regularly, prayed, read the scriptures, but the more I studied, the more inconsistencies I found. Possibly if my peer group had been limited to my ward, I could have found a way to rationalize the problems I encountered. Thankfully that was not the case. My horizons have expanded to include people of many faiths and no faith. I am not an apostate—one who works against the church.   I value what I have gained from my LDS background. I respect the differences in religious points of view of each member of our family. If only they weren’t so damned vocal about sharing their chosen brand of religion when we get together!

 

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Comments on: "Loosening the Faith" (4)

  1. I hope you realize (as Runtu later elaborated) that the ADD wasn’t proposed to be the exact cause or the exact correlation. He didn’t elaborate on his blog, but on a forum post that this was just a kind of analogy (although, to be honest, he does have ADD) or correlation to a curiosity or discontentment with the status quo that causes people to dive more in depth. At best, ADD would correlate higher with such a curiosity.

    And as Runtu also says:

    Now, I’m not saying that exposure to church history necessarily leads to loss of faith, but certainly the jarring disconnect between the sanitized Mormonism of Sunday School and seminary and the messier but real history changes the way one understands Mormonism. Certainly many people find their faith strengthened by their study of church history and doctrine, but I would argue that their perception has been changed forever.

    There is no question in my mind that someone like Richard Bushman’s belief — informed with history — is much much different than someone without any sort of background like that.

    In fact, Runtu does acknowledge that both apologists and ex-mormons have this similar drive for curiosity…the difference is what conclusions each group will allow themselves to take.

    I’d disagree with the hypothesis that social fulfillment has more to do with it, but it would get hairy. I think I’d have to say that you can’t look at outward signs. You can see someone who is very active with the quorum, has leadership roles, seen very well by leaders, peers, etc.,…but he simply doesn’t believe. His social activity cannot change his disbelief. It doesn’t work like that.

    Meanwhile, you can have those who aren’t socially fulfilled, but they have a grounding testimony. Their testimony is actually strengthened because they don’t have social support, not weakened.

    But that gets hairy…because if you can’t look at outward signs, then how can you even measure social fulfillment in LDS groups vs. non?

    • Andrew–Thanks for your comments. Religious beliefs are complex. I agree that more than intellectual curiosity and social acceptance are involved. It’s an area begging for further study!

  2. It’s like motheres who, despite the facts and the conviction, will never believe their son did it. There’s something to be said for loyalty, the tenaciousness of sticking with something, no matter the truth.

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