Saturday, April 7, 2012

Re: Why People Leave the LDS Church

I recently discovered John Dehlin's video entitled "Why People Leave the LDS Church" on YouTube.  And I watched the whole thing, mostly to see how a faithful member of the church could manage to reach out to ex-Mormons with any level of understanding.  He actually did a pretty good job of it.  I can't say I understand his ability to look some of the church's worst aspects in the face and not apostatize, but at least he makes a reasonable attempt to reconcile some of the problems that people tend to leave the church over.

But what I'd like to address is one of the final slides in his presentation, which he fills with things that he thinks apostates should consider.  These are things that he thinks could influence us to return to the fold:

Wow.  My reaction to most of the video fell into the "okay, let's agree to disagree" territory, but this...this kind of destroys any credibility he gave himself as far as understanding the mindset many ex-Mormons have.  Early on, he preached about not cramming a complex issue into a simple explanation (like "he just wanted to sin" or "he was weak").  Here, however, he shows that he doesn't really understand where a lot of us are coming from...and he performs a similar oversimplification--although I'd admit that his simplification isn't as grievous as those he decried earlier.

The Search for Perfection
Dehlin asks us to consider that perfection is difficult to find in the world.  I don't disagree.  The problem, however, arises when he starts comparing finding the perfect religion to finding the perfect government or business.  That's an absurd comparison.

People don't expect the same thing from a government or business that they do from a religion.  Mormonism worships a supposedly perfect god.  While the men and women who believe in that religion and lead the infrastructure of that organization may be imperfect, the doctrine itself should not be fraught with so many contradictions.  It's not about whether the religion is perfect--it's about whether the religion lives up to its own claims.

Dehlin also points out that pretty much every kind of relationship has some kind of flaw.  Again, I don't disagree with that statement, but I disagree with his approach to what Mormonism means to many apostates.  I don't know that there are many people who consider themselves as having a "relationship" with their religions.  Many people have a "relationship" with God, but not with a religion.  And an imperfect religion is extremely problematic.  Religion addresses a very important concept--the fate of one's soul and its possible destinations in the afterlife.  Why would anyone want to entrust their eternal destiny to a contradictory system of beliefs?  Dehlin suggests that just about any religion will have its problems and contradictions.  That, to me, does not argue for a return to argues for a rejection of organized religion and a life based on one's own beliefs.

I don't think there's a perfect religion.  That's why I don't have a religion and that's why I'm not returning to the LDS Church.

An Obligation to Make Things Better
Dehlin suggests that maybe those of us who have doubts should stay and help out others who have similar questions.  Again, this is an absurd idea.

Do I have an obligation to help make things better instead of leaving?  If I've decided the church that claims to be inspired of God is not inspired of God, I don't see a reason to stick around.  I think the best way to make the church better is...well, dissolving it.  I'm one less person in a pew giving the religion legitimacy and power in the eyes of others.

And I can help others with similar questions.  That's what I'm doing right now.  Early on in the video, Dehlin pointed out that lots of people with doubts will start digging for more information--and often on the internet.  I am a tiny part of the sprawling online ex-Mormon community, which is there to help those with doubts come to a very important decision.

To make things better and help out those in similar situations, I don't need to torture myself by continuing to attend a false church.

Role Models
I'm sure it's different for lots of apostates, but for me, my own opinions became very important during my departure from the church.  I didn't want role models.  I didn't want church apologists helping me rationalize my doubts and explain away my questions--I wanted to decide how I felt about the church doctrine.  So the presence of "role models" would have been useless for me.  I felt like I'd been brainwashed.  Instead of relying on other people's ideas to make my decision, I wanted to--for the first time--make my own decision based on my own ideas and my own concept of truth.

Forget "True" and Consider "Good"
Seriously?  How can you forget "true" when assessing the veracity of a religion that claims to be the only true church on the face of the earth?  You might as well try to decide whether Mormonism is true without ever opening the Book of Mormon.

I can't say there's much "good" in Mormonism either.  There is some, of course, but Dehlin's suggestion to consider the "net good" is pretty useless.  Mormonism taught me to be a nice guy but it also taught me to lie to avoid problems, disregard the very scripture I consider to be inspired of God, maintain appearances at all costs, lie to myself, avoid gay people, and to push my beliefs on others at every opportunity.

The "net good" is deep into the negative side of the scale.

The Church is a Good Place to Serve
Sure.  I guess the church is a good place to serve.  But any place is a good place to serve people.  You don't need an organization to provide opportunities to help humanity.  If service is really your goal, you can find your own opportunities.  In fact, you could argue that it's important for those of us committed to service to spread ourselves out into all corners of society so that we can make ourselves available to a wider variety of our fellow men.

Staying in the church simply because it's a good place to serve is like staying in the shower because it's a good place to think.  What's to stop you from continuing what you were doing once you leave?

Being a Mormon on your Own Terms
This is getting out of hand.  It seems to me that Dehlin is giving these desperate reasons for staying simply because it feels important to him for someone to remain Mormon, even if it's in name only.  Why is that important?  Maybe it's important to him, because as a fifth-or-sixth generation Mormon, he feels it's part of his heritage.  But that doesn't mean it's important to those of us who have left the church for complex doctrinal reasons.

What would happen if I decided to be a Mormon on my own terms?  If I went back to church and told my bishop that I considered myself Mormon, but I don't believe Joseph Smith or Thomas S. Monson are prophets, I don't believe the Book of Mormon is scripture, I don't believe that premarital sex is inherently wrong, I plan to occasionally drink coffee and tea, and I'm pretty sure the church's views on God are at best way off the mark?  Oh, also I don't plan on paying any tithing.  I would be attempting to be Mormon "on my own terms," but I wouldn't be a member in good standing.  I wouldn't have a temple recommend.  I wouldn't agree with much of what was said in church meetings.  I wouldn't have a purpose being there.

The other issue I have with being a Mormon on your own terms is that if you're squashing your identity into a prepackaged brand, you're not actually living on your own terms.  I'm not a Mormon on my own terms, I'm me on my own terms.  I believe whatever I believe, I do whatever I do, and I let whatever labels may apply fall on me instead of consciously trying to force myself down into one.  It's not important to be Mormon so much as it is to be yourself.

So what are your thoughts?  Did Dehlin make any progress toward getting our Mormon friends to understand us and relate to us better?  Did he totally miss the mark?  Is his understanding of apostate motives as shallow as the simplified reasons he disparages?  Is it worth staying Mormon only for the sake of retaining an identifying label?


  1. Congratulations: you have discovered John Dehlin circa 2008 (and actually, I believe that video may be even older...just posted on Youtube in 2008). Since then, people have gotten pissed off at John for much of the same reasons you mention (on both sides of the belief aisle, too), and John has shifted/evolved positions since then.

    Currently, he's at a far less...evangelistic..? place. I think many people will agree that these days he is more critical of the church, but in a diplomatic, code way.

    That being said:

    The other issue I have with being a Mormon on your own terms is that if you're squashing your identity into a prepackaged brand, you're not actually living on your own terms. I'm not a Mormon on my own terms, I'm me on my own terms. I believe whatever I believe, I do whatever I do, and I let whatever labels may apply fall on me instead of consciously trying to force myself down into one. It's not important to be Mormon so much as it is to be yourself.

    By virtue of growing up Mormon, you can't define "me" without Mormon. So whether you say "I'm a Mormon on my own terms" or "I'm me on my own terms," you are never a non-Mormon. You know and have experienced too much to ever be a non-Mormon, even if you're an ex/post/former Mormon.

    1. I think he was referring to staying in the church, continuing to attend and considering yourself a believer. "Me" does not include Mormonism in that sense, despite my heritage.

      Or perhaps that's just semantics.

    2. I may be reading things in to John Dehlin circa 2008 that was anacronistic for that time, but I don't think that he was referring to still considering yourself a *believer*. Or, at the very least, not an *orthodox* one.

      He was trying to make the case that what it means to be a Mormon (and thus have a place in the church) is a whole lot more than what you believe. That's why he says: "Forget true." (I think over time, how he's really changed is that he's recognized that there are valid reasons to think the church is not *good*, in addition to not being *true*.)

      Basically, you put in the time. No one, not even the church, can take that away from you. So why shouldn't "me" include Mormonism, just because you do not currently (or may not ever, depending on your circumstances) have *believed*?

  2. Yeah, thinking back, I'd say you're right about what John Dehlin meant.

    But even though I "put in the time," I don't have much use for Mormonism as part of my identity, except perhaps of a reminder of things I don't want. It's like having a fat, slovenly roommate who watches Jersey Shore and does cocaine--it's helpful to look at it and say, "Okay, just make sure you don't do anything like THAT and you should be all right."