How Mormons Leave: Surveys as Scripts For an “Ex” Culture (repost)

Part One: The New Culture of I Lost Faith

How is a “I lost faith in the church” movement being created, as a culture and not simply a personal badge of triumph?

Having recently taken a look at the preliminary survey results of “Why Mormons Leave,” I offer this interpretation and analysis of the materials.  You’ll note that much of what I wrote about the Pew Survey, and about the process of Correlation, applies to this survey as well.  That is because what we are dealing with is a discourse-dependent entity: Mormonism.  What do I mean by discursive-dependent?  There is no such thing, outside of communities which use language to create, a thing referred to as Mormonism; without language we do not have Mormonism.  This may seem like an obvious fact, but there is much that can be derived from it, for language has its own logic when put into cultural practice.

We can begin to study how language creates new things, like Mormons, Mormons who have “lost faith” and other, new social identities.  Just as there are scripts for performing a certain kind of Mormon, enactable in certain spaces but not intelligible in others (Correlation created one version for use in corporation-owned spaces), so there are emerging scripts for enacting the ex-Mormon, or whatever they may be called (by persons claiming to “be” one, and by persons “outside” that group).   That a name is still lacking, which is used by both insiders and outsiders, this void is important, obviously.  Until LDS Church no-longer-attenders have a name which is used by LDS attenders, as well—just as “Mormon” came to used by the very people named by their enemies—the “movement” will remain subject to cultural forces that derive almost entirely from LDS Mormonism (stereotypically understood), pop culture (politics, consumerism, etc.), and educational institutions.  This is how continuity is created in “new” cultures.  Such formative processes, we’ll see, are at work in the “Why Mormons Leave” survey.

The Data

This survey is produced by “in-group” persons (recognizing that the “group” is still creating boundaries), just as the Pew survey and Correlation work were done by “insiders”.  And that means we can use this data as ethnographic material, not simply to see what is really going on “out there”.  What is going on, is surveys are, as usual, being used to design new things, rather than merely to refer to existing “social” trends.  On the to the analysis, then.

First, take a look at this graphic:

Notice that two columns are given percentages, the first designating moderate to strong as factors in providing a true answer to the question listed at the top (e.g., “If you no longer believe…”).  This assumes that a statement could be “moderate” or “strong” in terms of truth vis-à-vis the question; such gradation doesn’t, however, fit with the original question’s posing of the matter of belief in terms of stark belief/non-belief.  That is, one isn’t asked how strong one’s belief or lack of belief is.  The survey is trying to capture a process, a stream as it were in a box, but still insisting on it being a process (viz., moderate/strong).

But there’s more.  First, the answers are not mutually exclusive: some are embedded in the categories implicit in other replies.  For example, “Joseph Smith” is included in “church history,”  as is anything, potentially, that happened “in church” before today.  In fact, that there is a thing called “church history” distinct from other histories, and distinct from other things connect to “church” is itself something worthy of discussion.

Second, rather than interrelated or sequential (e.g., “I lost faith in Joseph Smith” and so “I lost my faith in Jesus,”) replies are listed as individual “factors” whose impact is to be assessed in terms of “factorness”.  That is, one is asked to identify “moderate or strong,” “minor,” “not a” or “primary” factors; but there is no relationship between adjectival “minor” “moderate or strong” which describe a force’s impact or something; and the other term, “Primary” which names a place in a sequence.  A sequence which one isn’t allowed to identify in the isolated replies, by the way; nor to order vis-à-vis other factors (secondary, tertiary, etc.).  A “Primary” factor is one that the respondent could say and still be speaking the truth, while a “moderate or strong” factor is not really entirely true or false, apparently.  That ambiguity could mean any number of things which are concealed in this survey.

For example, if one picked “not a factor” under “I lost faith in Joseph Smith,” this could mean they still have “faith,” or never did; or, that whatever they believe about Smith, it has nothing to do with leaving the LDS Church.  If one doesn’t expect spiritual edification at church, one probably doesn’t leave because one isn’t edified by Sacrament Meeting.  The expectations and their failure to be found in what is regarded as the domain of the LDS Church—that is what is at issue here, and these expectations are not represented in this survey, unfortunately.  The expectations are often not under the control of the LDS Church, or Correlation, for that matter; but are often generated almost at random by one’s encounters here and there in “LDS” networks (families, roommates, classmates, neighbors, etc.).  There is no thing called the LDS Church which one can call up and talk to; that phrase describes an immensely complex cultural tangle of texts, persons, events, spaces.

Joseph Smith is not testified of in official LDS circles to be a world-class Egyptologist, nor an ardent monogamist; yet, such beliefs apparently contribute to one’s losing the faith.  What isn’t stated by the LDS Church, as we will see, contributes much to Mormons losing faith in what they imagine is the LDS Church, its stance on X, or its teachings about Y.  I suggest, and argue later on, that Mormons aren’t leaving the LDS Church, so much as leaving some imagined church, which is a social convention that fills the many spaces with many voices that speak for a generally silent official voice of the LDS Church.

So, the survey is not something which describes the reasons why actual people cease “believing” in claims made about the LDS Church, and accept other claims made about the LDS Church.  That previous sentence, in fact, gives some sense for how complex “belief” actually is, and how much is lost in using that simple term.  It also allows us to position “belief” as something like “consent to a phrase being true or false” (let us avoid matters of epistemology for now), rather than some psychological entity (which can’t be empirically studied).  So.  Where was I?

Ah, right.  Not descriptive, but a prescription for “joining” an emerging culture.  This ambiguity regarding “factors” is the first matter which begins to give us insight into what the survey is doing, and how.  It imaginatively isolates single “factors” as so many billiard balls; but then realizing this is absurd, particularly when one has relied on hierarchically related phrases, the survey allows one to “measure” not whether a factor is first in a sequence, but rather whether a factor was “”Minor” “Moderate” or “Strong” (in the published results these last two are combined).  Moderate or strong relative to what?  To other factors, of course.  But where did these factors come from?  From the survey designers.  That is, the entire range of reasons, and their relative weights, depends entirely on the picture of the world, as it were, maintained by the survey designers.  They have distinguished “factors” from a pool of phrases common in their not-yet-entirely-realized culture; fished out of Facebook, blogs, and hanging out.  This is one reason they, in this survey, are making a culture out of patches and parts, rather than describing why Mormons leave; or rather, explaining why they’ve lost their beliefs.

The most interesting, and to me humorous, reply is ranked rather high: “I ceased to believe in the church’s doctrine/theology.”  Imagine this conversation:

“What was a factor in no longer believing that the LDS Church is the true church?”

“I ceased to believe in the church’s doctrine/theology.”

“OK, but isn’t that saying basically the same thing, but with a different verb, cease, and a fancier terminology, doctrine/theology?  What exactly to you understand by doctrine/theology, anyway?”

“Whatever, dude.  You just don’t understand.”

This is funny to me, and telling.  Some of the other high ranking replies describe doing something, which leads to a loss of belief.  The exceptions, of course, are those foundational conversion markers: Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the general authorities.  Loss of faith in these is sufficient to bring about loss of belief in the LDS Church.  But this one reply trades on the pattern of doing something and losing belief (“I ceased…”), and blends it with the replies grounded in foundational markers, to give us essentially a restatement of the question itself.   That such a reply was allowed, well, it brings up a basic confusion in a standard mantra: I know the church is true.

What they generally mean is, “I believe certain claims made about, and sometimes by, the collection of texts, persons, and historical events I will call ‘the church’ are true.”  But only I would say something like that (though I wouldn’t, for obvious reasons).  Once the complexity of “losing belief” in a church is actually spelled out, the survey loses a great deal of its explanatory utility, and becomes instead something closer to a script for recruiting Mormons to new claims made about, and sometimes by…you get the idea.  We shall see that one outcome of this survey is to make clear my often repeated claim that there is no LDS Church outside of social conventions, outside of our imaginings.  The question is, then, how does one “leave” something that isn’t really a thing, a place, or an entity; and which doesn’t exist but in the imagination, after aggregating any number of distinct cultural processes into “the church”?  This survey gives some outline to that process.

What the Survey Gives You

What the survey actually gives you is a set of good guesses as to what “factors” you might trot out acceptably, when asked “Why did you leave?” And it gives you a way to imagine, statistically, what it means to others (“I’m like you!”) if you recite these phrases in certain spaces (e.g., blogs, bishop’s offices, Mormon Stories conferences).

These pseudo-scientific factors were derived, not from ethnographic research which would give you the sense of the “native’s categories,” and then a way to pose possible answers in a manner which would give you data useful “outside” that culture; but rather, the factors are from the natives who came up and could themselves answer the survey responses.  That is, what are on the survey listed as discrete “factors” are, in fact, inventions which select out from the world of things apparently grouped under “Mormonism” some few which are regarded (by the designers) as “factors” for one’s participation in the creation of “Mormonism”.  Obviously.  But.

What we have going on here is the attempt to bring life to a new thing, by organizing a series of statements into being as “factors” connected to the “same” thing, or effect: namely, losing “belief” in the LDS Church.   But it’s not actually “belief in the LDS Church,” so much as consenting to a different repertoire of claims made about the LDS Church.   And then, after consenting, one’s enunciating such claims becomes a way to perform one’s in-group identity, among a not-yet-realized group.  First, however, lines around a thing called “the LDS Church” must be imagined, like surveyor’s maps establishing property lines.

Obviously, one leaves “the church” only when “the church” as a culture has sufficiently realized “paths” for one to no longer be a part of that thing; meaning, “leaving” is itself dependent on the church having some imagined distinct “boundaries” for its existence, and for one’s participation in that existence.  Of course, excommunication is a status which marks one as outside the church, officially; but it says nothing about belief or faith.  What is being created is a rite of de-conversion to something experienced as “the church.”  Included in such a rite is removal of name from church records (which merely moves your name to another database, as I shown).  But now we are entering a phase where a positive post-Mormon culture is being created, with its own conversation stories, and signs of them that disbelieve.  This new culture depends on imagining a static, stereotypic “church” which can, in fact, be “left”; just as this survey has all the marks of Correlation in it, even as it attempts to do otherwise.

Correlating a New Culture

This brings up the more pressing matter: what is a “factor” anyway?  Here we come up against “folk theories” of society and belief, which are themselves culturally bound, and yet seemingly given factuality and life by way of a quasi-scientific instrumentality like a survey.   Like all Correlation materials, this survey is posed from a psychological perspective: “I lost belief.”  The absurd image of a bumbling man collecting and losing beliefs shows that one cannot isolate “beliefs” in such a manner as “factors,” so much as provide a script for persons who’d like to identify with the appropriate respondent’s ex-Mormon identity.  A “belief” is perhaps a complete sentence (usually beginning with “I [verb]…”, as shown by the list of possible replies.  That is, we are looking at the scripting for performing new identities, where one could say in reply to “Why are you such an apostate demon?” with the reply,” I lost faith in Joseph Smith.”   One could now suppose after reading this survey (or by participating in the discursive communities from which the responses were taken) that this is a common enough reply (or “factor,” allowing oneself to be a passive absorber of its “force”).

And, just as important, a reply like this also dangerous for believers to probe, for they too might lose their belief simply by continuing the conversation.  A line is drawn with such a reply, but also a selecting out of potential converts to the new creed (which was itself pulled from existing discourse).  Rather than “factors” that really bring “force” of some strength and push one “out” of a culture, these are replies which establish one “inside” a newly imagine culture of ex-Mormons who aren’t just a negative space on the map, but actually are acquiring positive creeds, as with any other American sub-culture.  “I lost faith in X” being the First Article of Faith in non-Faith, the “first discussion” being why “I lost faith.”

Notice that non-belief related replies are grouped at the bottom of the list, as the very question one answers concerns “belief” rather than “attendance” or some such practice.   Do beliefs change because one is unpopular at church?  They might, but that isn’t the standard narrative of disaffiliation.  Moreover, that these bottom three—offense, sinning, no friends—are also the same publicly stated reasons given by General Authorities and other leaders, this second fact also gives one good reason for not selecting them.  The taking up of a new voice as an ex-Mormon begins with rejecting the explanation for your existence, as given by some rejected cultural authorities.

One cannot begin a new culture by using the words of the opposed party, let’s say.  But one must argue with the king using the king’s language, as we see here; that language being drawn from folk psychology, in short, and Correlationism is a king’s subject here just as is this new movement.  Indeed, this “belief” psychologism is also the same position from which Correlation employees began their work fifty years ago; now undone by these same means.  I’ve written like a thousand pages, I suppose, about that subject, and so won’t repeat it here.  But what are these means here?  We’ll get to that in a minute. Now, back to the data.

The replies are mostly first-person subject-initial phrases (“I verb…”), with a few important exceptions.  As first-person phrases, the respondent is asked to “voice” these, and to compare with how such a statement compares referentially to one’s own life.  Hence, a creed.  These are respondent-relative, meaning, one would have to ask every single respondent what they mean by “I lost faith” or “I studied church history,” as it isn’t evident what these actually mean.  It’s not as if one replies, “I ate a banana,” or some such clearly defined, tangible act.  These most popular replies are also the most respondent-relative.  That is the logic of language working to organize speakers around indefinite, but seemingly shared, notions.

The resulting ambiguity in combination with the assumption of a single referent (“church history means church history, idiot!”) allows for seeming “factorness” to emerge, as if every click on “I lost confidence…” means the same thing.  But who defines the answer?  Whoever is the reader, which is to say: Mormons or not-Mormons-anymore, or ex-LDS, or whathaveyou.

Anyway.  Mormon culture is required for one to generate, “read” and interpret these results.  That is to say, ex-Mormonism is itself being created by the same means that Correlation attempted to create its own Mormonism: and both reject stereotypic, previously imagined Mormonisms (as cultures).  Both rely on abstractions which seem to convey shared beliefs, but which are actually defined differently person to person.  What is new here, with this survey, is that one can have a visual representation of the probability (80%? 84%?) that saying,, “I lost faith in Joseph Smith” will resonate with others, and thus, one will find a new community that seemingly shares your beliefs.  These are new creeds, built not from an overt priesthood, but are developed by way of democratic participation in surveys whose responses were pulled from existing discourse, appropriately enough.  But these replies are, of course, generated by some persons who seem, in more ways than one, to be replacing Correlation, rather than undoing it.

Now let us look at the exceptions to the highest ranking “I [verb of thinking/feeling]” and the less popular “I [verb]…” replies:

Church’s stance on homosexuals / Prop 8

Church’s stance on women

Church’s stance on science-related matters

Church’s stance on race issues

Notice that whatever the stance is here, it is not actually stated.  I would wager that if one actually asked what these stances were, one would not get the same reply from person to person, nor would these replies cite some church creed.  What we have here is the list of familiar social topics which are also popular for offering criticism (by way of including “oppressed,” or “disenfranchised” groups, of course).  Such topics organize social space, offering a ready-made posturing or indicating of one’s membership in certain non-church educational and political classes.  The vagueness of the matter actually allows these responses, as with the others, to draw from the sense of unity already “inside” those non-religious classes, to then build this new group seemingly “outside” the church.  Imagine this dialogue:

“Why did you leave?”

“Oh, you know, the church’s stance on X”

“Yeah, that troubled me too.  Let’s hang out.”

But there is no reason to believe these two share the same beliefs about that stance, or even whether the stance, say, on women, should be more “liberal” or more “conservative” (notice my dependence on political culture when characterizing the stance for you, reader!).  This is why a new culture of ex-Mormons is emerging, and doing so efficiently by trading on the same devices used by Correlation for creating a sense of shared beliefs and unity, while also giving new shape to existing non-Mormon cultural forms that obviously overlay one’s identity as a modern American.

The Church

By virtue of real timidity when addressing “problems” thought to divide current membership, the LDS Church has lost its voice on those subjects.   This fact potentially exposes “the church” to unlimited social pressures (and strategies for change!), because all that is required to silence some policy is that the phrase or topic now seems to find, among “faithful” members, something like a 50/50 split among its advocates and critics.  All that matters is the appearance of such a split, of course.  Then the “prophet” falls silent, and any number of “voices” emerge to provide clarity on the “stance” of “the church.”  Such a process was seen in the run-up to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, when Mormons could find anti-war and pro-war endorsements in the words of President Hinckley.

The LDS Church (whatever that means!) is clearly at fault for allowing it to have “stances” which are not, in fact, articulated so much as merely assumed.  How often have we heard, “this is not official church doctrine”?  And yet it is expected, apparently as an extension of the purported mouthpiece of the Lord, to have a stance on certain, seemingly troubling “issues”.  Letting a stance on women, homosexuals, race, and science-related issues simply to develop, of course, willy-nilly allows Mormons to fill in whatever stance they’d like to imagine is the “church’s”.  And this means, in short, that the most vociferous advocates of one stance or another, in settings regarded as “the church’s” (e.g., websites, buildings, landscapes, sidewalks) may be allowed to stand in for, and so define the stance of “the church” on some issue.  In reaction, similarly loud voices can respond by positioning themselves “outside” the church by offering criticisms of that reputed “stance.”  One could hardly say the Lord is the author of such cacophony.

So, where are Leavers (just to simplify things, and give them a name) finding these stances?  By generalizing from a few encounters, a few statements, into a stereotypic policy which can then, thank god, be rejected.  Even the stance on gays could not, I think, be clearly defined at this point, given all the legalism and political two-steps recently engaged in by official representatives of the LDS Church.  So, pick a stance you don’t like, and call it “the church’s,” and see if anyone else says the same thing.  This survey gives you some idea about how successful you’ll be at finding Mormons with similar grievances.  It also shows that there is no LDS Church outside of our experiences with persons, places, texts, and things we imagine derive from or are connected to “the church.”

What I’ve traced out also means that Leavers are drawing boundaries around what “the church” refers to, as a sort of thing; often by some blend of interactions with Mormons, with PR statements, and with their readings of various talks and teachings.  And then, Leavers are staking out territory “outside” those boundaries (by way of online criticism, initially) as a way of “leaving” “the church.”  All of this, remember, depends on (but not only on) language.  We’ve seen how the survey is an efficient tool for scripting conversion narratives, and for generating seemingly shared values among Leavers.  And that is does by trading on Mormon and American culture.

Historical Issues

Despite what I’ve argued is a very interaction-dependent “exodus,” it is interesting that the factors reportedly contributing the least to one’s leaving are those connected to actual people, rather than, say, imagined, historical, or televised beings (God, Jesus, Joseph Smith, General Authorities).  So, while most Leavers leave as a result of interacting with fellow Mormons, and filling in “the church’s” stance; or after hearing about some historical controversy (“Joseph Smith was a polygamist!”); they are rather disinclined to blame or credit friends and neighbors for their leaving.  It was a “factor” which most often is said to have caused it, seemingly.  Which is to say, if a historian teaches X, Y, and Z, she is not blamed for offending one, and causing one to leave (so long as these claims circulate elsewhere, of course; as I’ve learned from my own work).  Rather, it is as if “Joseph Smith” and claims about him existed independent of persons, books, and other media.  This imagining of impersonal factors as the cause of one’s movement “out” bears a very close similarity to the purported reasons for one having faith in the LDS Church: namely, one received (passively) a spiritual force (“witness”), which resulted in a “testimony”.  The Lord giveth and He taketh away.

Let’s turn to the next box.

It describes the various “historical issues” that “negatively affected your belief,” and compiles the results with highest ranking at the top.  Notice that some of the “issues” are merely titles of books: Book of Abraham; View of the Hebrews; Kinderhook Plates.  Others bring together two things, X and Y: DNA and the Book of Mormon; Blacks and the Priesthood; Women and the Priesthood.  A few actually name the apparent controversy: Masonic influences; versions of the First Vision; Anachronisms…; Issues with the authenticity or credibility…; Joseph’s use of peep stones.   A few name a single thing or teaching: blood atonement; Adam-god theory; Mountain Meadows Massacre.  These are four clearly distinct classes of replies.

Now, here is the pattern.  The issues which are summarized in a single name are all those attributed to Brigham Young, and which act as a shorthand for weirdness.  These also are things which most LDS Church attenders know little about, beyond the name; or care little to learn of (because the names are generally tied to usage by anti-Mormons, of course).  As Brigham Young-blamed eccentricities, seemingly, such things can be, judging by the survey, relegated to the background of one’s reasons for joining the non-faith.  When “polygamy/polyandry,” however, is extended to Joseph Smith, this is apparently when it becomes an “issue” affecting belief.

The “issues” which require a more elaborate explanation in the reply are all attributed to Joseph Smith’s biography.  Even if survey respondents were not aware of these particular “issues,” they could by reading these responses learn that these are, apparently, controversial issues among some people.  Moreover, in keeping with the scripting function of the survey, one could simply recite these very responses in conversation, and by explanation simultaneously preach the news of lost faith.

When it comes to single titles, like Book of Abraham, one can imagine there is more than just the existence of the book that is an issue.  But this sort of shorthand is a cue to Leavers that one has apparently done all the same readings, and reached the same conclusions as everyone else (apologists excepted, of course!).  But one need not have done any such reading, so much as be aware that others find the book troubling to their faith, and so might one also legitimately cite it, simply by name, as a factor for one’s lost faith.  Again, explanation, recruitment and conversion coincide in a little name.

The most commonly cited issues are the top four from the different groupings: a title, a word, X and Y; and DNA and the Book of Mormon, which blends a title into the X and Y pattern.   This pattern suggests that there is, as yet, no single definitive “issue” which Leavers rally around, in the way that, say, claims about the Book of Mormon (as a historical text) are used to bring up attendance rates at LDS chapels.  And this is where the survey takes a clear turn away from describing why one leaves the LDS Church, and becomes useful for understanding that there is, in fact, no LDS Church whatsoever (outside of socially contrived imaginings).

Just a note: I’ll return to the “costs” and “disclosure of faith” parts of the survey in a later post, where I examine another survey that describes disaffiliation with the LDS Church over the past ten years, among Americans surveyed.  Right.

So, what a survey like this exposes is that whatever “the church” is, it isn’t something given from the COB, or corporate HQ in SLC, or any such central location.  What is the church’s stance on X?  Make a guess.  Has anyone ever testified that Joseph Smith was the world’s greatest monogamist spouse, or that his understanding of Egyptian surpasses that of the academically trained Egyptologist?  (Alright, maybe McKonkie or Packer has said that, but whatever.)  Did anyone ever convert, gain “belief” and attend the LDS Church Sunday services as a result of these two issues being spoken of and witnessed by “the spirit”?  Yet, here one finds a new culture forming with just that assumption.  Or rather, forming by way of giving that assumption weight as a lever for being accepted into the non-faith.

The other troubling take home is that apparently losing faith in Joseph Smith, and in the Book of Mormon, are only listed as “primary” factors by 40% of the respondents!  That means, potentially, that a great many Mormons sitting at church do not believe in certain claims made about Joseph Smith (that he was a prophet, for example) or about the Book of Mormon (that it is a translation of a historical record of an ancient people); or even that believe the “church’s doctrine/theology”!  None of these is a deciding factor for why one sits in a pew.  There are other incentives, and that is at the heart of the now publicized mass exodus of Mormons from “the church.”  These incentives which were concealed, as I’ll argue in the following post, by many factors, among them Correlated texts, are no longer quite as incentivized as previously.  Why not?  Next time.  This presence of non-believers at church, as a persistent if declining trend, brings us to the next post, and to the discussion of other surveys.


15 thoughts on “How Mormons Leave: Surveys as Scripts For an “Ex” Culture (repost)

  1. Dear Daymon: Your view here is very attractive from what we may call an epistemology of beliefs, but it seems to me that in some paragraphs you are taking deconstruction – more or less “a la Judith Butler”- a bit too far. Of course, the LDS Church as it comes in the mind of its members is just a complex bunch of imaginary figments and projections, all mixed-up into a “box” of wishes, aspirations, illusions, dellusions and expectations, but I think that we may draw a line here, and point concretely to the LDS Church as a legal entity with a legal base at Salt lake city, with very concrete legal representants, and as such, the LDS church is nowadays -no doubt whatsoever-a huge and powerful multinational corporation with secret finances and concealed businesses. And this corporation is still taking a lot of money from its members through a tithing that members are indoctrinated to believe blindly as being not really for the church but for God…Having said this, I am eagerly waiting for your next posting on this issue, because the core of your proposition so far does have indeed a very interesting course, as beliefs are a true semantic and semiological labyrinth, a psycholinguistic maze about which most people is unware of, and therefore, people may be saying nothing at all, or something completely different of what they thought.

    • I do agree about the legal and corporate aspects, and they indeed provide some organizing logic to what is called or imagined as ‘the church’. For sure. This legal property holder would provide the spaces, texts, and so on which stand in for ‘the church’, in many ways; but if I overwrote the social-construction side, it was an error made out of an effort to expose that a great deal that is called ‘the church’ has little to do with the corporation, and operates at a secondary or tertiary level in relation to the legal side. Take away the corp, and you’d still have ‘the church’ functioning in many of the same ways, probably in far less problematic ways. Anyway, thanks for giving it a close reading.

  2. The subject you brought up, and my first answer to it, kept me up until very late burning some midnight oil.
    You are right. I was hasty in my answer. Perhaps because this issue touches a very tender spot. We are leaving the church precisely in these days (my wife and I, that is).
    When I first answered, I wanted, subconsciously, to give my “going away” some sense of “objectivity”. But as I pondered further, I rapidly realized that I was not leaving the church because “it is a huge multinational corporation”…When I came back to the church some months ago, after 40 years of inactivity, I already knew the economical facts about the church. I knew that the Salt Lake city Trust was an immense business with worldwide connections. I also knew about Joseph Smith’s 30 plus wives, his treasure-seeking hunger, his “mediumnistic “ revelation methods ( stones in the hat and all), his dubious business activities, his con-man aura, and the unrealistic pretensions about The Book of Mormon factuality (a knowledge that came not only from very modern sources, buy}t also from B.H.Roberts’ “sad” research and findings).
    Why then did I come back? How could a man who did so much practical research in so many –older and sounder- religious paths come back to Mormonism?
    Now I understand better the strange look in the eyes of some of my acquaintances when I told them about it.

    Did the Doctrine of the church seem more real to me than every other else? Hardly so. Vedanta, Buddhism, the fourth way, Sufism, and Kabbalah, which were the “places” where I stood during the last forty years are vastly superior from a doctrinal point of view, in fact, almost incomparable.

    Why on earth moved me, then, to come back?
    And of course, you were right, not only in what you wrote, but in what you are still keeping, perhaps for later. We are a pure subjectivity. Our pretensions of objectivity are nothing but a mirage.
    I really came back to the church because I, paraphrasing M.Luther King, had a dream, I was dreaming with the United Order and The Law of Consecration…It had nothing to do, not only with the actual “church”, neither with the older one, but with a figment of my own imagination and emotional needs…
    In the morning, I asked my wife: Why are you leaving the church? She answered like a flash:”because I do not believe in the doctrine…” Having done already my own homework, I was unmoved, and asked her, “Did you believe in the doctrine when you baptized in last October? (unlike me, she was completely new to the church and its history) She answered, still unaware, “No”. I told her “You see, it has to do with other things? Tell me now, why you are leaving? And then the emotional stuff popped out: “Because I do not want to pass my life going to a place that makes me feel bad…I don’t feel good at the Sundays meetings, and I will not tied up my will to an authoritarian system at the hands of ignorant people”…
    I must explain this a little, the Bishop in our Neighborhood happens to be a sort of mild Neanderthal … A very unprepared person in terms of knowing how to deal effectively dealing with people and people affairs…Therefore, I asked her, “What could have happened if the Bishop were a nice, intelligent person and the community more affectionate than it is?” She answered, “I would probably like to stay”…
    We are emotional animals, even more so when we come into religious affairs.
    When we entered into the church last year, we were on the eve of the loss of an adopted child (a 6 years old girl) After almost a year of having her at home, we had to send her back because the child couldn’t bond with us. We were absolutely devastated. We sorely needed emotional comfort… And we happened to find a –objectively-cold community in this particular spot in which we live.
    I believe H.G.Wells said something like “Human intellect has the same right to grasp truth as the nose of a pig” (or something like that…)

    Daymon, you putted a Pandora box in front of us with your article! And I opened it up for my own bewilderement!

  3. When I quoted H.G.Wells-above-I was trying to relate it to the fact that our “taking or leaving” the church (whatever that means, as you had so nicely make me see) has almost always little to do with the “truth”. I was reading the long interview in form of book to Sterling McMurrin-“Matter of Conscience”, where he admitted with great innocence that he did not believe in the church (SIC) but he still wanted to remain in! If such a fine intellectual was putting his emotions before anything else, the scenario clears up even more. Who knows what sweet, inner, hidden emotional spots “the church” moved inside Sterling McMurrin’s soul?

  4. Thank you, Daymon. I am doing what I am able to do. It seems to me that you are working in this article within a postmodern conceptual framing that requires an academic training that I do not have -for the last 34 years I’ve been working with practical day-to-day conflicts with concrete people- therefore, I cannot give qualified thoughts in the same vein, but just share what your writing inspires in me. I found you first at Mormon Stories, where I tremendously enjoyed your 4 plus hours conversation with John Dehlin.

  5. Daymon, let me see if I follow your last paragraph. I read the first factor (I lost faith in Joseph Smith), try to parse what it means, and imagine how one who no longer believes that the LDS church is true could say it was NOT a primary factor in their leaving:

    1) I believed certain claims made about Smith previous to my leaving the church, and I still do; I left the church primarily for some other reason.


    2) I never believed any of the claims about Smith, neither before nor after leaving the church, so how could it possibly be a factor in my leaving, right? (can’t lose what I never had)


    3) [Other ways to parse this factor?]

    Is number 2 above why you say the “40%” means that potentially, a great many Mormons sitting at church do not believe in certain claims made about Joseph Smith and the BoM? And I think I missed what is the troubling part?

    A related note. For myself, I see and read the BoM, and I hear some history about how it came to be, and about the man Smith who lived and died over a century before even my parents were born. I have found since discovering this book that there are many who are happy to tell me what it all means; to fill in the gaps of my ignorance. This they call “Mormonism” (and all its variants), and themselves they call “Mormon,” very little of which is meaningful to me. I didn’t wake up one day and say to myself, “Hey! I need to align myself with some church that says I need to be in chapel 3 hours every Sunday.”

    Do I sit in those pews (an ugly, religious word meaning “damnably uncomfortable benches”) every Sunday? Sure. Why? Certainly not because of the strength of my belief in Smith or the BoM, but because my spouse will throw a fit if I don’t, that’s why. In other words, to protect something. Outside that, I have no reason. I was never “converted” to any of that anyway, right? Is anyone, really?

    • I admit the reasoning is probably not very good in that last section. What I think I’m trying to say is that if those stats are close to accurate, it means that belief/conversion to anything said to relate to Mormonism is, statistically speaking, almost irrelevant. Meaning, if one attended church because one believed in such-and-such a thing, one would expect that one would stop attending because one no longer believed it; one would, as you point out, have reasons to continue, however, even if one no longer believed such-and-such a thing. This means, to foretell the next post, that there’s probably going to be a huge exodus from the pews, as a good number (unknown, too) are attending for reasons unrelated to Joseph Smith or the BoM. These reasons are, as you point out, often tied to one-half of a couple. As soon as those who believe drops below a certain threshold, however, the number of folks attending to keep peace at home will also show a huge drop. Thus, mass exodus.

  6. Does any church, Mormon or otherwise, exist in some substantial, non-imaginary way? Aren’t associations, assemblies, principalities, authorities, corporations, kingdoms, nations, etc., etc., all abstractions? To counter Dr, Monasterio’s point, whether or not there is some legal dimension doesn’t matter one bit. You just can’t point to a concrete legal entity. You can point to people and you can point to paper and ink and maps and marbled buildings, but where is the legal? It too exists only as language in our heads.

    In all of these things… so much imagination. There is no LDS Church, univocally; even the legal, corporate version is a kind of fiction. Instead, there is something altogether different and ineffable that we shall now call “the LDS Church!” (It’s a worse fiction than we thought previously, the lines on its map faded; it oozes its being through the gaps and into the void). Oh, and there is no Catholic Church, you see, rather a “Catholic Church.” And there is no United States of America, but only something else called the “United States of America.” Well, what does it matter? These are all accessible to the imagination, we seek to grasp their coherence, and we can think along with them regardless of their substantive nature.

    It’s certainly scandalous, this claim that there really isn’t any LDS McChurch of No Official Position to belong to, but then let us dull the scandal and admit that this is also the case for everything else we might imagine ourselves part of (even the entities that pay us money and grant us “rights” function on make-believes). Something akin to “losing one’s faith” might just as easily happen regarding the job, the citizenship, the political party, or the family; and this just might proceed along similar lines to the ones you describe for the Leavers of Mormonism.

  7. I have a few questions about certain parts of this article…please set me straight if I just interpreted something way off.

    There is no thing called the LDS Church which one can call up and talk to; that phrase describes an immensely complex cultural tangle of texts, persons, events, spaces.

    Joseph Smith is not testified of in official LDS circles to be a world-class Egyptologist, nor an ardent monogamist; yet, such beliefs apparently contribute to one’s losing the faith. What isn’t stated by the LDS Church, as we will see, contributes much to Mormons losing faith in what they imagine is the LDS Church, its stance on X, or its teachings about Y.

    The second paragraph juxtaposed against the first seems strange. If there is no thing called the LDS Church which one can call up and talk to, then wouldn’t it be trivially true that “what isn’t stated by the LDS church” contribues to Mormons losing faith in what they imagine is the LDS church…because by definition, the LDS church isn’t stating anything.

    Instead, the question is whether or not the “immensely complex cultural tangle of texts, persons, events, spaces” testifies that Joseph Smith is a world-class Egyptologist, an ardent monogamist, etc.,

    What would be your answer here? If the answer is no, then why does this become a plausible factor with which people (the “leavers”) can resonate?

    To probe further, if this is discourse-dependent, then doesn’t it matter how things like “truth” and “translation” are situated in the immensely complex cultural tangle of texts, persons, events, spaces (e.g., even if no one says, “Joseph is a world-class Egyptologist…is the social understanding of the term “translator” such that someone might infer that Joseph’s process ought not contradict egyptologists?)? How do these concepts affect people’s perceptions and expectations of Joseph Smith with respect to, say, egyptology?

    I suggest, and argue later on, that Mormons aren’t leaving the LDS Church, so much as leaving some imagined church, which is a social convention that fills the many spaces with many voices that speak for a generally silent official voice of the LDS Church.

    Why would you say “a social convention that fills many spaces with many voices” is “imagined”? Why can’t the performing of the social convention people commonly call the “LDS church” or “Mormonism” reify those things?

    We shall see that one outcome of this survey is to make clear my often repeated claim that there is no LDS Church outside of social conventions, outside of our imaginings. The question is, then, how does one “leave” something that isn’t really a thing, a place, or an entity; and which doesn’t exist but in the imagination, after aggregating any number of distinct cultural processes into “the church”?

    See my previous paragraph. Why would social conventions not count as “really a thing, a place, or an identity”? Why say that social conventions don’t exist but in the imagination, as if that makes it something slight?

  8. I went to a lunch thing with the local Mormon Stories group a little while ago. It was the first sort of event like that I had ever attended. Everyone started out their conversation with my by asking a question that baffled me. It was “Where are you at?” and it seemed to make a lot of sense to everyone else but I couldn’t even begin to answer it. I had no words, no script with which to even process this question. It was only after hearing how others answered it that I could begin to understand how to frame my answer.

    All of which is to say in a circuitous way that I both loved this post and identified with many of the issues you brought up.

  9. Daymon, thank you for the analysis. This survey was sent to me- I am currently active, but I did have a period of inactivity during my divorce. Frankly, there was far too much going on in my personal life to have enough energy left over to field the onslaught of ignorance within that particular ward at the time.
    So many things about that survey were so vague, I didn’t participate for many of the reasons you presented. The nuances of why I left for several years were not to be found in that survey.

    ” …as you had so nicely make me see) has almost always little to do with the “truth”. ”

    On the contrary, leaving (or staying) does have a lot to do with the “truth”- not the truth of the church (which I agree, is difficult to define), but personal truth as we understand it within ourselves. Not always because our personal truth and the standardized truth majority in the relatively closed confines of our particular wards don’t align, but more the level of tolerance, acceptance and inclusion afforded the individual whose beliefs and practices vary from the range of conformity expected.

    Maybe the general term for it is “taking offense”, when your particualr ward uses pack mentality in making it plain someone is “other”… we do “know” when we are marginalized, even if a ward member is smiling at you on Sunday, warmly shaking your hand, complimenting you on your talk… but there is a feral understanding in the subliminal undertones that the distance on either side is the gulf between your personal truths and how much of your personal truth you judge to align with the “church’s” truth. (Which I agree, is patently ridiculous when so much of it is nebulous.)

    Although I am active now, it is more a feature of the community (ward) I find myself a part of. They do tolerate my unconventional outlook and I am incorporated within the fold, outlier that I am. For me, it’s when the line is crossed in trying to impose other choices on me or my family or, in the latest case, Prop 8, the concrete fruits of the church entering into the public sphere and taking a political stance…and we come back to my personal truth and the level of “offense” my own “church” caused me and mine- and I do believe in the case of Prop 8, that there were tangible identifiers of the “church” position made manifest. (I have a gay brother, believe in marriage as a right for every citizen as a civil rights issue, and I prioritize separation of church and state.) Of course it’s emotional- they hit me where I live.

    What helped me stay? The backlash from members who did not donate or contribute, and the “church” backpeddaling in their statements that there should not be any repercussions towards members who did not lend support to the campaign. To me, that signalled a broader openness to some measure of tolerance (or at least an awareness that there are more of us who object to this stance than they thought). But above all that, I want to maintain the human face to face connections within my ward. If and when the tension between the two makes it evident that I cannot realistically straddle the gap… it is entirely possible I will leave. The survey did not capture that essential truth.

  10. I think the authors of the survey were not aware of how manipulative their questions were, as the church correlation has framed their thought. But it’s obvious there is a biased assumption that all points they listed are to some degree disturbing or somehow harmful to LDS members.

    I’m a convert from Brazil and I knew of polygamy long before meeting any Mormons (and thought it was fascinating, by the way) at a time when internet didn’t exist. Now I’m amazed at people who were raised Mormon in the intermountain West and found out that Joseph Smith was a polygamist when, say, they were 30 years old.

    Of course they weren’t happy being fed with church curriculum, they weren’t lazy either. The LDS secret police was controling their minds, preventing them from visiting libraries and bookstores. That’s why.

    This lack of self-criticism really annoys me.

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