If your morality is fragile, do handle with care…

by: Andrew S

March 7, 2013

If you hadn’t already known, post, ex, former and disaffected Mormons suffer from demeaning stereotypes. They “leave the church, but can’t leave it alone.” Perhaps the disaffected Mormon disaffected because she “was offended,” or maybe the ex-mormon left because “he wanted to sin.”

These stereotypes cause folks to raise walls for defense — chances are that if a comment comes about that is even possibly construed as suggesting that an ex-Mormon only has issues with the church because they wanted to sin, then there will be at least someone in the discussion who will vocally protest that idea. As most of the stereotypes about ex-Mormonism tend to focus on subjective factors (being offended, wanting to sin, etc.,) the typical ex-Mormon response is to minimize these subjective factors completely and to highlight objective criticism — the church, its doctrine, and its history have x, y, and z problems that cannot be ignored and that are inadequately addressed by apologists, so the response will go.

A few weeks ago, I provided selected transcripts of John Dehlin’s interview on Mormon Stories and A Thoughtful Faith, and I asked for your opinions without providing much commentary.  I just wanted to see if John’s comments would be as controversial when laid out on a page rather than stretched over 3 hours…but I also wanted to see if anyone had similar thoughts to the ones I had when I was listening to the podcast and reviewing the transcript. In honesty, I did indeed see on several other online venues — especially on Facebook — some people who had similar reactions as I did, but these reactions were far from the most common reactions.

For fairness’s sake, I understand John’s sadness that his words have been misinterpreted so far. Whatever one feels about its statistical validity, John’s research definitely seeks to dispel the common myths about why Mormons become disaffected.

…But.

There were just several points of the transcript of John’s interview that gave me pause. And when I thought about why I paused, I realized it was because I recognized a great complexity in the issue of morality post-Mormonism. I will address my (often conflicting concerns) in three broad strokes. 1) Exmormons aren’t immoral (at least not to the extent that one would inferred by John’s thematic repetition in his interview), but there is something to be said for reevaulating morality when one leaves the church because 2) there are plenty of elements of Mormon morality that shouldn’t be taken for granted and 3) Mormonism itself does a bad job of teaching people how to think about morality.

1) Exmormons aren’t immoral.

Throughout the interview, John cautiously walks a line between trying to speak about his own experience and generalizing to others’ experience. As I excerpted from part 2, he describes thoughts that he experienced after his faith crisis, but his use of the second person implies far more generality to the phenomenon:

I started seeing people — and I was doing it — there’s this weird thing that happens when you lose your faith in Mormonism…you immediately start questioning your morality. Wow! I’ve never had sex before I was married…I’ve only had sex with one person…like, I don’t know anything! What if sex is way better with other people or in other ways…or, what am I missing? Is alcohol cool — like I’ve still never tried alcohol — but what if that’s really fun and interesting? And I just started saying: there’s this whole world out there that I haven’t experienced, and maybe I wouldn’t have married Margi if I had to do it all over again…maybe my family would be better off if Margi and I were to split, because…we’d be getting along better. (Why weren’t we getting along? Because I was totally emotionally disconnected.)

But you start thinking these things, and you start wondering — wow! these other women are attractive…or experimenting sexually…and you start thinking about this whole world and you see these people…it sorta reminds me of Lehi’s dream and the great and spacious building and you start seeing this stuff and it’s enticing and it looks fun. But the good Mormon boy in me and the angel on my shoulder would always say: “That’s dangerous; that’s scary…you don’t want to go there” And you don’t want to lead people there, and that’s what I felt like was happening…all these people were just checking out of the church and then they were dropping their spouse and they were sleepin’ around and drinking and doing drugs and doing all this scary stuff and I just felt irresponsible…I felt like that was irresponsible. So, I started these communities thinking: I’m not trying to create a religion because there’s no theology or doctrine here, and I don’t want to be a prophet — that was a broken model, in my mind — …but somebody’s got to bring these people together to support each other.

Later, when discussing his thoughts on the regional communities of support, he discusses:

But the third thing that’s been really hard is to keep witnessing what happened. And people ended up leaving the church. People that had been believers weren’t, and then got divorced, and again, what would happen after these conferences? In some of these communities, they would hold parties, and they’d smoke weed and wives would make out…

The first reaction I had to sections like these was that these experiences aren’t generalizable. It just isn’t necessarily the case that “when you lose your faith in Mormonism, you immediately start questioning your morality [including fidelity to your wife or the idea of monogamy itself].” In fact, I think many disaffected Mormons have a period of time where Mormon moral sentiments remain residually…it requires intentional and conscious effort to move from habit. If John’s morality is so fragile, then perhaps there should be a way for him and others like him to handle it with more care, but I would think that many people’s moralities are built of hardier stuff.

Fragile Handle with Care

…however, it’s not so simple as this. If you know any disaffected Mormons, then you probably do recognize that they have different moral beliefs than they did when they were Mormon. At the very least, they might not view keeping the Sabbath in the same terms as an active, believing member might…but beyond that, many ex-Mormons do start drinking. If only coffee or tea. As far as sex goes, let’s just think about gay members. If a gay member disaffects and decides to pursue a relationship, isn’t that by default a change in morality (regardless of the nature of the relationship).

That made me think of a second point, though.

2) Mormon morality shouldn’t be taken for granted

There are plenty of rules in Mormonism that simply don’t make much sense when you drop the Mormon context. Tea and coffee, for the vast majority of folks, is going to be a non-issue. Even alcohol, to the extent that it is considered problematic, is problematic in excess, rather than at all.

I’ll relate back to a post I wrote last year in response to some comments by Richard Bushman. Emphasis added:

You know we had this one image that I’m sure is true in lots of instances of people who kind of begin to let up on the standards, they don’t pay tithing anymore, and then they may take a glass of wine, and they may smoke a little bit and maybe have a few brief affairs or what have you. Not that they’re becoming demons, but you just sort of a slackening.  That moral rigor that is required of Mormons and upheld by the sense this is God’s purpose and will.  Once that’s relaxed, you know everything kind of relaxes.  I don’t know whether it ends up that people stop praying or stop thinking of God or not, but that’s one course that I can see people following as a result of this disruption.

Bushman talks about relaxing the “moral rigor that is required of Mormons” — but his examples of the slackening are telling…he lumps in not paying tithing with taking a glass of wine, smoking a little bit…….AND having a few brief affairs (“or what have you”).

It seemed like Bushman was being pretty casual on this interview, so I don’t take much from his stock, but the fact that in his casual discussion, he sees wine, smoking, and affairs all similarly as morality issues is something that most folks wouldn’t do.

If someone leaves, they probably are going to reevaluate whether or not “taking a glass of wine” should be considered categorically similar (if less potentially damaging) than “having a few brief affairs.” So, there are rules like these that I would argue should be reevaluated when someone’s position with the church changes. And in many cases, those rules will be found lacking. And this shouldn’t be called “slackening” — the entire point is that when the reevaluation occurs, one no longer recognizes these things as being sins at all. If you don’t drink coffee or tea, that’s fine, but don’t say people who do are sinners.

Still…these relate to intentional, conscious, controlled changes. Even I must concede the possibility for some folks to really “go on the wild side” at some point in their lives. But to the extent that this happens (and, per (1), I don’t think this happens with nearly as much frequency as to make a huge deal about it), then why is it happening? Are the people in question weak, immoral people who were just barely held back by Mormonism? When religion is gone, do people lose the “checks” on their behavior that they otherwise would not have?

I don’t think so. I think another culprit is responsible.

3) Mormonism doesn’t teach folks how to think about morality

I wanted to end the post with the most pointed statement last. But I’ll point this out — individuals do not exist in a vacuum, and neither are they socialized in a vacuum. A couple of weeks ago, shenpa warrior wrote an open letter to current active Mormons. Within, he links the potential for a member to become an unhinged ex-Mormon precisely to how they lived as members. Approximately quoting Alma:

“Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis [of faith], that I will [be a nicer person]. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this [church], that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that [DAMU] world… For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your [becoming an emotionally developed person with a tolerance for ambiguity along with an internalized moral compass] even until [you leave the church], behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of [everything that makes people nice to be around] hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of [all those who meet the above diagnosis] who leave.”

shenpa warrior ended his post by begging that those afflicted with epistemological certainty and rigidity change their ways. But I want to point something out — people don’t become rigid on their own. This is something that is either cultivated and taught and valued…or it is not.

And for members — especially very active, very involved members, the church is the greatest socializing agent in their lives.

What I would say is that it’s not just disposition that can be imparted. Rather, the church teaches a moral code, and I think that in comparison to many other religions, the LDS church tends to do a good job here.

…the issue is that a moral code isn’t the same as moral reasoning, and on this front, members are left to fend for themselves. The elements of the moral code are moral because they are revealed, or because they come from God. Check out the quotation from Richard Bushman from the earlier section: per him (emphasis added):

That moral rigor that is required of Mormons and upheld by the sense this is God’s purpose and will.

But if that is the extent to one’s moral reasoning, then it’s no brainer that when one questions the revelations of Mormonism, or questions the edicts, purpose, will (or even existence) of God, that one is going to question the moral code built from these foundations.

Fortunately, I think that in the same way that many people are not rigid and epistemologically certain (and thus, aren’t at risk of becoming “unhinged” even if they do leave the church), many people — members or not — recognize that no matter what their rules, there has to be a way of thinking about those rules.

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90 Responses to If your morality is fragile, do handle with care…

  1. daniel parkinson on March 7, 2013 at 8:45 AM

    This is extremely important issue to every person re-thinking their religion. And I agree that the pathology of being an ex-mormon comes directly from the pathology of being a mormon. However, it doesn’t help to deny that their are a lot of people who self-destruct when they leave mormonism. This is especially true for people who leave at vulnerable stages in their lives, and even more especially true for LGBT people. This problem of not knowing how to think about morality leads to pain, suffering, drug addiction, HIV infection and suicide. I am not going to suggest that the answer for these young LGBT people is to do what JD does (stay in the church), but frankly, I really wish it was an option for them. I wish LGBT young people could stay in the church in a healthy way, at least a little bit longer, while they mature and get an internal moral compass. Unfortunately most can’t. And there is a lot of damage. And those who do stay in the church with its current level of homophobia are often doing it for the wrong reasons (guilt and family pressure), and aren’t using it to prepare themselves for when they will have to face these moral issues on their own (and most of them will end up leaving). I really, really hope that a change of perspective can arrive for a lot of people. All of this happens in the gay community, but the same things happen among straights. It is not correct to generalize, nor to judge (unless we judge the religious tradition that is really to blame for this pattern), but does it help to try to pretend it doesn’t happen? John Dehlin’s decisions make perfect sense (for him) in this context. I am ready for his critics to look in the mirror or to look around at their instead of focusing their anger on him.

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  2. jmb275 on March 7, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    Oh man, there are about a million thoughts swimming around in my head.
    1. Really important topic. Great post!
    2.

    people don’t become rigid on their own. This is something that is either cultivated and taught and valued…or it is not.

    I don’t think it’s this cut and dry…or maybe I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying. People MOST LIKELY WILL NOT become rigid on their own, but some will because the proclivity is there.
    3. This post reminds me of the river metaphor Fowler uses in Stages of Faith. People in Stage 3 are in the river with no awareness they are in one. Stage 4 plucks you out of the river and lets you make observations about it and examine it. Stage 5 brings to your awareness that there are many other rivers each of which has “fish” in them blissfully swimming along, and those rivers can also be analyzed. In Stages of Faith, one of the biggest indicators of one’s faith is the externality/internality of their moral compass. Reasoning about morality is critical to internalizing one’s moral compass.
    4. I think overall I agree with you that Mormonism doesn’t teach us very well how to reason morally. But as you alluded to, they do seem to teach it although it is centered on God’s revealed will. You might disagree that that is a good way to reason morally, but it is still moral reasoning it seems to me.
    5. I’d also add to your post that the reason the quotes from John, and Bushman are even noteworthy is because the audience will relate to those things as being bad.
    6. At least in my experience reinventing one’s moral code in the wake of a Mormon faith crisis is very difficult and requires a lot of emotional work particularly if one was “rigid.” As you say, once the “will of God” has been deconstructed, you have no other tools for moral reasoning so everything is okay. Takes work to internalize that moral compass.
    7. Part of the problem, I think, is that Mormonism is kind of locked. We DO try to come up with reasons why the moral code is there. Coffee/tea is bad…because…of caffeine, etc. Sex outside marriage is bad…because…the body is a temple to not be defiled. But a lot of these things ring hollow, so we fall back to it being God’s will (even in the face of scientific evidence that green tea is good for you for example). So we sort of fail in our moral reasoning beyond claiming it’s God’s will. But what should we do? We’re locked into revelation, so unless God overturns the WoW we’re bound to the century and a half old interpretation of it.

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  3. Nick Literski on March 7, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    I’ve had a fair amount of interaction with ex-Mormon gay men and “heading toward ex-Mormon” gay men. Some of my interaction has been online, but for some reason Seattle seems to be a gathering point for them. I’m constantly meeting gay former LDS here!

    The OP above seems to miss the fact that many gay men who leave the LDS church were actually incredibly devout when it came to LDS notions of morality. They only left when it became clear to them that this one aspect of LDS morality, i.e. prohibition on gay relationships, could no longer work for them. The result is that many of them go through an extended time period, during which they seek a very LDS version of gay life. They continue to abstain from alcohol and tobacco. They want a partner with similar values; often they actually want a partner who was also raised LDS. They want to raise children through adoption or surrogacy. They really do want the “white picket fence” dream of Mormon lifestyle, with the sole exception that they want it with a same-sex partner. Some of them never get past that LDS worldview.

    Granted, there are certainly ex-LDS gay men who throw all caution to the wind, immediately indulging in everything that was once forbidden to them. In my experience, those are a small minority, and they get over it.

    Eventually, most of us find a happy medium. As for me, I’m happy with my very old school Mormon value of polyandry, along with my very Joseph Smith Mormon value of loving a good glass of wine. :-)

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  4. Andrew S. on March 7, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    re 1,

    Daniel Parkinson,

    However, it doesn’t help to deny that their are a lot of people who self-destruct when they leave mormonism.

    I agree. Although I am skeptical of the frequency of people self-destructing (per point 1), I think that per point 3, it does happen, so I didn’t want this post to be seen as denying that it happens. (I’m guessing that I should’ve had some of the other permas preview this post before publishing so I could have caught that impression before it went live?)

    Rather, I just wanted to ask: why does it happen? Because if it doesn’t help to deny that it happens, it certainly can’t help to accept that it happens, but then pin it on incorrect causes.

    I also wish that LGBT folks were more able to stay in the church in a healthy way, and probably the most disappointing thing to me is that the church *could* develop the policies and theology for it. I mean, even though the current understanding of many Mormon ideas is heavily set in traditional gender roles, I see the underlying ideas about the importance of companionship, family, sociality, community — and most importantly, that physicality is an essential part to the above — to be something that could be more universal.

    But for a number of reasons, the church doesn’t go that way.

    Instead, on this and a number of issues, they have a position that is pretty unyielding and un-contextual, and if you don’t fit in the proper context, then there is no real alternative. There’s a lot of “all-or-nothing” — the church is either true or it is a fraud; you either abstain from alcohol/coffee/tea/porn/(insert thing here) or you’ll become addicted, etc., So, I don’t think that members get a sense of the space in between the extremes — unless they get this sense from outside the church or from reading between the lines, as it were.

    John Dehlin’s decisions make perfect sense (for him) in this context. I am ready for his critics to look in the mirror or to look around at their instead of focusing their anger on him.

    I am totally fine with John doing what he had to do for himself. I’m totally fine for him speaking about his journey. I’m even totally fine with him discussing anecdotal experiences that made him uncomfortable (although a part of me suspects that some of his discomfort can be challenged…but you know, I understand that it’s tough if someone came up to him and blames the collapse of their marriage on his organization — I would probably only need that to happen to me once for it to impact me.)

    But I also see him and part of his answers as indicative of the “fragility” that seems endemic to strict, total institutions (of which the church is one).

    I think that we should all work to move beyond anger for a number of reasons (not for the other folks’ sake, but because we ourselves are better than to allow ourselves to be emotionally hijacked)…but if we were to use anger, then I agree that it should not be focused on John. He is a product of his circumstances as we all are, and when the circumstances are as they are, this is what we get.

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  5. Jeff Spector on March 7, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    I don’t know. this is a bit of a strange post for me. People are not perfect and are liable to do just about anything, in or out of the Church.

    I’ve always been amused at the double standard the ex-mormon community applies to itself. They can say anything they want about the Church, no matter how offensive it might be to members. But, say anything about their motives for leaving, or behavior afterwards, and they go all nuts on you.

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  6. Andrew S. on March 7, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    re 2,

    jmb,

    I don’t think it’s this cut and dry…or maybe I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying. People MOST LIKELY WILL NOT become rigid on their own, but some will because the proclivity is there.

    I agree. People aren’t blank slates in the nature/nurture debate. However, in a long post, it’s more fun to make certain shortcuts in making statements.

    I could write a lot of posts on this issue (of a person’s own internal orientation, personality, etc., vs. how s/he is socialized), because much of my experience is recognizing that my personality just doesn’t really mesh with the church’s expectations in many ways.

    You remind me that I need to read Stages of Faith eventually…

    I think overall I agree with you that Mormonism doesn’t teach us very well how to reason morally. But as you alluded to, they do seem to teach it although it is centered on God’s revealed will. You might disagree that that is a good way to reason morally, but it is still moral reasoning it seems to me.

    I think I started realizing that near the end of this post. To say, “This is moral because this is God’s will and purpose” is indeed a kind of moral reasoning.

    But this is wholly dependent on believing in God, believing that whatever moral pronouncement is part of his will and purpose, etc., If one’s moral reasoning is based only or primarily on divine command, then we should expect moral collapse if people have faith crisis. And if faith crises are rising/becoming more likely, then we could still say that even if this is moral reasoning, it’s not an ideal kind.

    I’d also add to your post that the reason the quotes from John, and Bushman are even noteworthy is because the audience will relate to those things as being bad.

    Depends on the audience. Of course, I guess it’s good to have at least part of your audience get super ticked off by your comments, in addition to having another part nodding along…

    At least in my experience reinventing one’s moral code in the wake of a Mormon faith crisis is very difficult and requires a lot of emotional work particularly if one was “rigid.” As you say, once the “will of God” has been deconstructed, you have no other tools for moral reasoning so everything is okay. Takes work to internalize that moral compass.

    The fact that this is difficult (or that people come to believe it is) frustrates me. Like, it’s not like you have to “internalize” the moral compass or uncritically follow the “will of God”. These are not the only two options. Rather, even if the moral compass isn’t internalized, if you are not incapable of empathy (which, tbh, some people are incapable of such, so perhaps that’s where unyielding rules come into play…), then you should be able to evaluate based on things like harm. I mean, that this concept is so ‘difficult’ is frustrating.

    Whenever people ask what stops atheists from lying/cheating/murdering/whatever, I am a little afraid. I guess it’s kinda like the people who say sexual orientation is a choice. Like, are we even experiencing the same thing inside where these sort of things are questions? Maybe. Maybe we are such different people in the end.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that Mormonism is kind of locked. We DO try to come up with reasons why the moral code is there. Coffee/tea is bad…because…of caffeine, etc. Sex outside marriage is bad…because…the body is a temple to not be defiled. But a lot of these things ring hollow, so we fall back to it being God’s will (even in the face of scientific evidence that green tea is good for you for example). So we sort of fail in our moral reasoning beyond claiming it’s God’s will. But what should we do? We’re locked into revelation, so unless God overturns the WoW we’re bound to the century and a half old interpretation of it.

    And, for whatever it’s worth, I think that there are some Mormon ideas that *could* be the start of reasonable moral thinking…like, why is caffeine bad? Well, because it has the potential to be addictive, and Mormonism prizes agency above all else.

    This is a good start, but I would say that “abstinent or addicted” fails to consider moderation and the middle ground.

    Here’s the thing, though. And I would want to write more on this (I already started writing about it in my caffeine post a while back). We assuredly are not bound by a century-and-a-half old interpretation of it. Mormon doctrine is certainly not so set in stone.

    I mean, who eats meat sparingly? What is a “hot drink”? Do we tolerate mild barley drinks?

    Really, the evolution of the interpretation of the Word of Wisdom is instructive…it shows that scriptures are really just a canvas upon which to interpret and project new values. As we move forward, the church prunes away certain proposed values and adds new ones (so with caffeine, the newsroom pointed out how caffeine actually isn’t mentioned in the WoW — it’s all just a cultural eisegesis.)

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  7. Nick Literski on March 7, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    #5:
    I’ve always been amused at the double standard the ex-mormon community applies to itself. They can say anything they want about the [LDS?] Church, no matter how offensive it might be to members. But, say anything about their motives for leaving, or behavior afterwards, and they go all nuts on you.

    Is this where I’m supposed to go “all nuts,” Jeff? Or can I save it for later, when I’m better rested? ;-)

    Seriously though, I think you have a good point. Of course, some might say the convese is true–that certain LDS feel they can say anything they want about ex-Mos, no matter how offensive it may be, but they go nuts if someone criticizes their church.

    Maybe the point isn’t to silence either side, which isn’t going to happen. Maybe the right approach is for everyone to simply realize that we’re all humans, each with our own experiences and viewpoints, and that (surprise!) none of us is actually able to crawl into one another’s heads to see the whole story.

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  8. Andrew S. on March 7, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    re 3

    Nick,

    The OP above seems to miss the fact that many gay men who leave the LDS church were actually incredibly devout when it came to LDS notions of morality. They only left when it became clear to them that this one aspect of LDS morality, i.e. prohibition on gay relationships, could no longer work for them. The result is that many of them go through an extended time period, during which they seek a very LDS version of gay life. They continue to abstain from alcohol and tobacco. They want a partner with similar values; often they actually want a partner who was also raised LDS. They want to raise children through adoption or surrogacy. They really do want the “white picket fence” dream of Mormon lifestyle, with the sole exception that they want it with a same-sex partner. Some of them never get past that LDS worldview.

    In a way, my allusions to shenpa warrior’s post were to try to express this sentiment that many folks who leave the church (esp. gay men) were some of the most devout and active when they were in — especially in terms of LDS morality. I guess I did a terrible job of reviewing since that didn’t come through.

    And I think you provide a specific case of what I was trying to get at generally when I wrote, “In fact, I think many disaffected Mormons have a period of time where Mormon moral sentiments remain residually…it requires intentional and conscious effort to move from habit.

    p.s., I think that this is also why the LDS church could really make it easy to keep gay members…all they have to do is provide exactly the same “white picket fence” dream that you describe for gay members…

    As for me, I’m happy with my very old school Mormon value of polyandry, along with my very Joseph Smith Mormon value of loving a good glass of wine.

    still keeping it very mormon, I see ;)

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  9. Nick Literski on March 7, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    #5:
    I think that this is also why the LDS church could really make it easy to keep gay members…all they have to do is provide exactly the same “white picket fence” dream that you describe for gay members…

    Amen!

    still keeping it very mormon, I see

    LOL! Well, we’re all the products of our experiences, aren’t we? ;-)

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  10. Andrew S. on March 7, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    re 5,

    Jeff,

    People are not perfect and are liable to do just about anything, in or out of the Church.

    I guess one thing that gets me about statements like this is that we view the church (and other major institutions like school, the military, prison, etc.,) as being “big” enough to shape and reshape lives.

    Yet…at other times, we say that people are people and they are pretty much going to do whatever they will do, regardless.

    This idea seems to trivialize the socializing potential of institutions like the church…which calls into question the value we place on these institutions to begin with.

    …but that’s really another post.

    I’ve always been amused at the double standard the ex-mormon community applies to itself. They can say anything they want about the Church, no matter how offensive it might be to members. But, say anything about their motives for leaving, or behavior afterwards, and they go all nuts on you.

    it’s not that they can say anything they want about the church. It’s that — just like what happens in the church — they create spaces where certain discourses are allowed and others are scrutinized. But if they switch venues, they get the hammer too.

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  11. Howard on March 7, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    John’s questioning of his own morality in #1 is a replay of the Garden of Eden conversation; to eat of the tree of knowledge or remain naively innocent. His questions and any related experimentation is how personal knowledge and personal morality become clearly defined, chosen and owned.

    Bushman’s That moral rigor that is required of Mormons and upheld by the sense this is God’s purpose and will. Once that’s relaxed, you know everything kind of relaxes. comment addresses what is required to stay naively innocent! But the question is: should you?

    Those who truly walk in the Spirit know that taboo breaking is a part of being personally tutored by the Spirit and becoming more knowledgeable, a necessary step to drawing closer to God. This occurs because many of the rules are given for social control of spiritually and emotionally immature mortals not because there is some eternal magic to them (think WoW and chastity here not murder). The kingdom of God is a path of continuing spiritual growth not a collection of LDS buildings, leaders, manuals, activity, 3 hour blocks and rules. Is God naive? Of course not! So you will never become like God by remaining naively innocent with your hand firmly gripping the iron rod while enduring to the end. The iron rod is just an interim method to get you to the next step.

    The reason for this somewhat unique existential crisis is the church’s indoctrination method of thinking for you and discouraging your probing questions while psychological layering in many conflated concepts into one great black or white ball – the church is ALL or the church is nothing. Confused and conflated somewhere, probably many places within this gooey ball is morality but to your surprise it is not YOUR morality it is a copy of morality that was sold to you as part of a package deal! You never deeply examined it on your own, you just lived it because it was expected of you and your peers lived it or pretended to! It is not compartmentalized and it is not easy to parse out so it tends to be thrown out with the bath water and one starts over. Do you remember your childish excitement of truly believing in Santa Claus? This childish literalness, the discouragement of probing questions, the lack of self examination, the lack of nuance and the desire to believe leaves these people defenseless when the church’s deceptive history or truth claim(s) are rejected the baby is tossed with the bath water. I strongly doubt many adult converts go through a similar crisis.

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  12. jmb275 on March 7, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    Re Andrew #6

    If one’s moral reasoning is based only or primarily on divine command, then we should expect moral collapse if people have faith crisis.

    Exactly, which is, unfortunately, why John’s stereotype isn’t that far off. Frankly, I think if we just were more honest about it, rather than inventing reasons or trying to base things on science it would help. Every religion has things it sacralizes, let sex, the WoW, etc. fall into that category.

    The fact that this is difficult (or that people come to believe it is) frustrates me…

    Yeah, to elaborate though a little, we’re not talking about the care/harm moral foundation, those are strongly enough imbued in society no faith crisis undoes that (plus most of us aren’t psychopaths). But if we’re talking about alcohol, or premarital sex, those are a different ballgame. Those fall under the sanctity/degradation moral foundation, and those are the first to go. Those have nothing to do with empathy but are based on tradition or “God’s will.” They’re still “moral values,” if you will, but under a faith crisis the importance of the sanctity/degradation moral foundation evaporates unless you work diligently to keep it together. (FYI, see Moral Foundations)

    Whenever people ask what stops atheists from lying/cheating/murdering/whatever, I am a little afraid.

    Yeah, I totally hear you, but again these are fairness/reciprocity and/or harm/care moral foundations which have deep roots beyond customs and traditions, and the people who ask those questions are idiots anyway! The worrisome bit in Mormonism is that sexual sins (sanctity/degradation) come close on the heels of murder (harm/care).

    Here’s the thing, though. And I would want to write more on this (I already started writing about it in my caffeine post a while back). We assuredly are not bound by a century-and-a-half old interpretation of it. Mormon doctrine is certainly not so set in stone.

    Agreed…I look forward to the post! ;-)

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  13. Mike S on March 7, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    Nice post. I’ve been thinking about this since I read it. A few comments regarding your three main points:

    1) Ex-Mormons aren’t immoral

    I agree with this 100%. They may have different practices, but the definition of whether or not these are “moral” is up to the beholder. Most cultures, religious or not, consider adultery immoral. If someone decides the Mormon faith isn’t for them, they can still hold this belief.

    However, as in the examples you gave, many Mormons conflate alcohol with adultery as an “immoral” thing. This is where they are wrong. Christ drank wine. Joseph Smith drank alcohol. We would certainly consider them moral people. Conflating “Mormon-centric” rules with “morality” is problematic. Considering someone who leaves the Church as “immoral” because they have a glass of wine makes about as much sense as considering them “immoral” because they no longer do their home teaching.

    We err as a faith when we consider someone “immoral” because they no longer follow current rules or other minutae of the Mormon church.

    Of note, I REALLY failed to make the connection that John implied between wondering about various truth claims of the LDS Church and wanting to go out and cheat on my wife. There is something more fundamental at work there.

    2) Mormon morality shouldn’t be taken for granted

    This is related to #1 above.

    3) Mormonism doesn’t teach folks how to think about morality

    I agree that this is the #1 problem. We have evolved into a check-box religion at every level. As missionaries, we wonder about exact how much we have to teach before it “counts” as a discussion. We wonder what can “count” as a home teaching visit. We nit-pick about length of shorts in non-endowed children. We count earrings and judge on color of shirts. We say that coffee is bad (for some unknown reason) while we down our 44 oz Diet Cokes. We subject our children to 6-month interviews asking lists of questions and all members to lists of questions for temple recommends. It goes on and on and on.

    The result of all this is that people can consider themselves good “Mormons” while they can be immoral and/or unethical. Here in Salt Lake, I know a number of members who would take advantage of you in business for thousands of dollars (or more), yet hold high-leadership callings and meet all the “requirements” of being a faithful LDS. There is a disconnect between developing one’s own morals and following rules that have been handed down from the hierarchy – either officially or more informally.

    I contrast this with what I have learned in my study of Buddhism. Consider the principle: Avoid intoxication. That’s it. It’s then up to each person to develop their set of “morals” as to what that means. Some Buddhists avoid alcohol all together. Some will have a single glass of wine but “avoid intoxication”. Some people avoid caffeine as an “intoxicant”. Some avoid other stimulants or other stimulating situations.

    The important points:

    1) Each person determines for themselves what the principle means. There is a certain value in having to go through the process of internalizing a principle and figuring out what it means in actual actions. It is much more powerful than a check-list where if you are following it, you are “moral”.

    2) Ultimately, Buddha taught that we shouldn’t do things just because he (or anyone else) said it but should naturally follow the results for ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see that avoiding intoxication is a better way of living. We will want to do it as we live a spiritual and authentic life, not because having a glass of wine is on a list of “forbidden activities”.

    For all the good that Mormonism engenders in its members, I think this is the biggest failing. We have evolved into a check-box religion. We seem to be getting to the level of the Jews at the time of Christ who counted how many steps you could take one Sunday.

    And, as mentioned in the OP, when someone finally leaves the Church, without the set of lists, it can sometimes feel rudderless as people haven’t had to develop their own set of morals.

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  14. Jeff Spector on March 7, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    Nick,

    “that certain LDS feel they can say anything they want about ex-Mos, no matter how offensive it may be, but they go nuts if someone criticizes their church.”

    Touche’ and very true. But those are not the folks we want as friends anyway. :)

    Andrew,

    “I guess one thing that gets me about statements like this is that we view the church (and other major institutions like school, the military, prison, etc.,) as being “big” enough to shape and reshape lives.

    Yet…at other times, we say that people are people and they are pretty much going to do whatever they will do, regardless.”

    Actually, this is not exactly what I was alluding to. It is not “regardless,” but “in spite of.” In other words, People can disregard their moral compass and do whatever they choose to do, church teachings notwithstanding.

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  15. Douglas on March 7, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    It’s been my experience that there’s as many “types” and characteristics of ExMos as there are ExMos. It’s neither intellectually honest nor fair to typecast them, especially in a negative light.
    That having been said, I’ll speculate on the “left it but can’t leave it alone” aspect. Keep in mind that unlike Ammon I didn’t get a mind-reader’s license.
    1) Whatever anger or issues that prompted to leave are still simmering. There’s an emotional need to vent.
    2) Deep down, the ExMo know that something is wrong, but rather than confront and resolve, they seek the elusive justification.

    Vader: So, you accepted the truth.
    Luke: I have accepted the ‘truth’ that you were once Anakin Skywalker.
    Vader: That name has no meaning to me anymore!
    Luke: It’s the name of your true self, you only forgotten.

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  16. Ishmael on March 7, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    How should an ex-Jehovah’s Witness develop his sense of morality regarding things like pledging allegiance to the flag, celebrating birthdays, and receiving blood transfusions?

    If he immediately begins to indulge in these temptations upon leaving the church, is it a sign that he has a weak or underdeveloped moral compass? Or that a desire to commit these sins played a role in his evaluation of the church’s truth claims?

    Isn’t it possible that the JW church is wrong, and that these activities are not actually immoral in any way? And furthermore, isn’t it possible for a former believer to come to that realization, and act accordingly?

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  17. Andrew S. on March 7, 2013 at 3:28 PM

    re 11

    Howard,

    With respect to your last line, I always wanted to note the differences between adult converts and people raised in the church…I wonder if there is any research into it?

    re 12

    jmb,

    This actually brings a really good point…

    But if we’re talking about alcohol, or premarital sex, those are a different ballgame. Those fall under the sanctity/degradation moral foundation, and those are the first to go. Those have nothing to do with empathy but are based on tradition or “God’s will.” They’re still “moral values,” if you will, but under a faith crisis the importance of the sanctity/degradation moral foundation evaporates unless you work diligently to keep it together.,

    I have never really ‘grokked’ Haidt’s purity/sanctity (now named sanctity/degradation as you point out) foundation. Wouldn’t it be interesting if much of what is considered to be a loosening of moral standards really reflects a shift in the foundations that one bases their morality on? That would make another great post!

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  18. Howard on March 7, 2013 at 4:02 PM

    Btw, I happened to hear Paul Zak speak at an aerospace conference this week. He indirectly claims that the golden rule when it results in oxytocin release (it often does) increases trust and morality. In other words generally we are chemically wired to reenforce morality but it must be triggered by something like hugs and/or good deeds.

    Andrew, I’m not aware of any research but would love to see some.

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  19. aerin on March 7, 2013 at 4:25 PM

    1 – plenty of active mormons drink alcohol and have affairs – as well as participate in questionable business dealings.

    Some may leave the church but others stay mormon (through the repentance process). For whatever reason, that’s never focused on (perhaps there’s a not speak ill of other mormons thing). So there are some former mormons who self-destruct, but there are certainly mormons who also self-destruct. Is it fully related to mormonism?

    It seems to me that each adult should be responsible for their own actions. Just because one owns a liquor store, it doesn’t force a customer to become an alcoholic.

    There may be some nuance there, but if I don’t own a liquor store, someone else will.

    Just because there were some people that were/are part of a community who made bad choices, doesn’t mean that it was the community’s fault or responsibility (or the creator’s responsibility). I question whether or not the marriages fully broke up because of mormon stories. I suspect that while mormon stories may have been a part of a marriage dissolving, it seems very simplistic to only blame MS.

    And the same goes for former (and current) mormons. Mormonism is certainly a part of the conversation, but it’s not everything.

    3 – I think it is important to teach people about morality and to come up with their own conclusions.

    The flip side of this is that sometime they may disagree with your conclusions. That’s a part of the process. One person (for example) sees sex outside of marriage as no big deal, another person disagrees. Society can support both points of view, and as long as everyone is a consenting adult – where is the harm?

    Which leads me to – inflating the consequences of actions also should be a part of this conversation. While one sip of alcohol may create an alcoholic, all the research shows that’s highly unlikely. Yet I was told this repeatedly growing up – to not try even a sip of alcohol. It was implied that just by trying alcohol, I was cutting myself off from the spirit and perhaps putting my immortal soul in danger.

    When a group exaggerates the consequences outside of what will probably happen, it can lead a person to question other things parents, teachers and leaders may not have been fully honest or aware about.

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  20. Howard on March 7, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    …inflating the consequences of actions also should be a part of this conversation.

    Excellent point!

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  21. Andrew S. on March 7, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    re 13

    Mike S,

    I liked your contrast of Buddhist principles (with a lot of room for interpretation) to LDS bright line rules. Still, I think one thing that is helpful is that the church appears to be changing to allow for more interpretation of rules.

    Of course, this is not an explicit process. Rather, they are selectively pointing out that some interpretations that people have taken for granted for all this time are not necessarily what the scriptures say (see caffeine for the Word of Wisdom), but are ambiguous about what exactly is the intention…so in the end, people have to figure out for themselves anyway. (To be fair, there is still a lot of cultural inertia. When the Newsroom clarifies that “hot drinks means tea and coffee”, there’s enough cultural connotation to infer that that included iced coffee or iced tea and maybe green tea as well. )

    re 14

    Jeff,

    People can disregard their moral compass and do whatever they choose to do, church teachings notwithstanding.

    I guess a question would be…what inspires them to choose to disregard their moral compass? In my experience, I have enough of an acute awareness of how it feels to go against my own moral compass (to summarize: feels bad, man) that I don’t do it unless there’s some really significant outside force. I don’t see ‘choices’ as being made in a vacuum.

    re 15,

    Douglas,

    I’ll provide a different possible explanation: maybe people “leave it but can’t leave it alone” because Mormonism is one of the few things in anyone’s life (and this sort of things is especially becoming rarer as society progresses) that one invests a significant percentage of their life toward. As a result, even if they leave it, they have to assess: what did my previous life mean? Was it all for nothing? What do I replace it with? Can I reintegrate into regular society when before, my identity was based precisely around being “in the world but not of it”?

    Not only that, but it’s not like the church “leaves” plenty of former members alone either. At the very least, people still have families and friends in the church, so concurrent with leaving, they have to deal with changed family relationships, etc.,

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  22. Andrew S. on March 7, 2013 at 6:29 PM

    re 16,

    Ishmael,

    Great analogy…looking at things from a different perspective can often help us to see things differently.

    re 19,

    aerin,

    Great point on the fact that even Mormons break the rules. (and also that there is a big mismatch in what we discuss — not so many topics on those cases.)

    It seems to me that each adult should be responsible for their own actions. Just because one owns a liquor store, it doesn’t force a customer to become an alcoholic.

    There may be some nuance there, but if I don’t own a liquor store, someone else will.

    I’m not 100% sure with the complete point you’re trying to make here, but I still think that choices are not made in a vacuum. However, i do think there can be variations in the environments that we make our choices in. The mere presence of a liquor store, for example, seems very different than a culture of advertising alcohol, a culture of drinking games, linking alcohol with sociality, fun, etc., etc., I would relate it to how prominent cigarettes used to be in movies. The mere presence of cigarettes is one thing — but there can be a lot of cultural associations that go beyond mere presence.

    Just because there were some people that were/are part of a community who made bad choices, doesn’t mean that it was the community’s fault or responsibility (or the creator’s responsibility). I question whether or not the marriages fully broke up because of mormon stories. I suspect that while mormon stories may have been a part of a marriage dissolving, it seems very simplistic to only blame MS.

    I agree. At the very least, I would think that marriages that break up have a number of other issues and problem points — so maybe one factor (such as MoSto) might be the tipping point, but that doesn’t mean it’s the critical factor, or even the major deciding factor.

    In any case, if i were playing the blame game, it wouldn’t be on Mormon Stories. Mormon Stories simply isn’t far enough in the ‘causal chain’ as it were. (that is, mormon stories is already a reaction to stuff that’s already happening in the mormon communities.) So, this means I have to agree with your following point:

    And the same goes for former (and current) mormons. Mormonism is certainly a part of the conversation, but it’s not everything.

    Because Mormonism also is not in a vacuum.

    I think it is important to teach people about morality and to come up with their own conclusions.

    The flip side of this is that sometime they may disagree with your conclusions. That’s a part of the process. One person (for example) sees sex outside of marriage as no big deal, another person disagrees. Society can support both points of view, and as long as everyone is a consenting adult – where is the harm?

    I guess one thing is that to base morality on things like “harm” and “consent” is already begging the question…as jmb pointed out earlier, there are other moral foundations at play.

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  23. postmormongirl on March 7, 2013 at 7:08 PM

    Thank you so much Andrew. It was confusing when I left – and I didn’t have much in the way of perspective – but honestly? I figured it out and I ended up as a quite normal person. One who drinks alcohol in moderation, loves coffee, and who is trying to get past the shame-filled mindset I was raised with.

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  24. Douglas on March 7, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    #21 (Andrew S) – excellent point. Being ever the “Gubmint Bureau-I”, I’ll suggest an acronym: ICLIBICLIA. Let it endure until TEOTWAWKI, LoL.
    I could have simply used the term Cognitive Dissonance to also describe this behavior. Leaving behind a significant part of one’s life and being reminded of it constantly by the presence of active family and friends would certainly produce that! However, there’s a difference between feeling uncomfortable in the presence of same, tiring of having to constantly ‘splain’ one’s “apostasy” (both quite understandable), versus seeking out the Saints (like trolling a blog) and getting combative and nasty. With the former, I can be tactful and friendly, and do my best to it at ease. With the latter, I avoid unless the situation demands the “rebuke with sharpness” per D&C 121 (I don’t forget that the rejionder IS to demonstrate that much greater love to follow up as the situation permits).

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  25. KT on March 7, 2013 at 7:52 PM

    As someone who was a convert beofre joining, I had absolutely no morality problems upon leaving. Honestly, nothing changed, other than that I have an occasional drink with friends.
    But for me, this all sort of begs the question, is it ‘born in the covenant’ Mormons that are the ones that tend more toward having problems upon leaving BECAUSE they were raised in the Church and were always told what to do and how to do it, rather than being taught how to think, reason, and determine morality for themselves?
    The other thing I notice about what John refers to when he discusses ‘morality’ is certain types of morality, like WOW issues (drinking/drugs), and sexuality. To me, that screams typical Mormon thinking. There are SO many ways to be ‘immoral’, other than just these types of issues – lying, cheating, stealing, etc. Utah fraud capitol of the world anyone? (or thereabouts).

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  26. Howard on March 7, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    There are SO many ways to be ‘immoral’, other than just these types of issues… This is a very good point ironically LDS culture seems to breed an unusually large number of hypocrites, people who pretend to live the gospel but don’t and/or people who lie and spin for the Lord retionalizing it with the end justifies the means. In addition I was financially taken advantage of by a High Priest during a very vulberable time. I’m sure it exists but I don’t experience much of this B.S. outside the church.

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  27. Jettboy on March 7, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    “some of the most devout and active when they were in”

    You can’t be that and gay. If they were really devout (I guess they can be active) then they would give up any semblance of gay and become, even if by devotion sake, straight.

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  28. Andrew S. on March 7, 2013 at 10:12 PM

    re 23,

    postmormongirl,

    Thanks for commenting! I guess one issue is that in some ways, “normal” is seen as sinful (or at least, just especially prone to sin.)

    re 24,

    Douglas,

    Leaving behind a significant part of one’s life and being reminded of it constantly by the presence of active family and friends would certainly produce that! However, there’s a difference between feeling uncomfortable in the presence of same, tiring of having to constantly ‘splain’ one’s “apostasy” (both quite understandable), versus seeking out the Saints (like trolling a blog) and getting combative and nasty.

    Please, do tell us all about trolling blogs, getting combative and nasty.

    I think that people are going to feel like they have a right to get their story out on many different venues. And if no one’s stopping them, then that’s what they’ll do.

    re 25,

    KT,

    Thanks for your story — it’s just one person to be sure, but good to hear.

    I definitely now think there could be a real research project for looking at the differences between people born and raised in the church and people who convert.

    The other thing I notice about what John refers to when he discusses ‘morality’ is certain types of morality, like WOW issues (drinking/drugs), and sexuality. To me, that screams typical Mormon thinking. There are SO many ways to be ‘immoral’, other than just these types of issues – lying, cheating, stealing, etc. Utah fraud capitol of the world anyone? (or thereabouts).

    This idea was made apparent to me on a different topic: “modesty.” So, in the church, modesty means something very particular…so you have people checking for what parts of skin are showing, how “form fitting” jeans are or are not, etc., But in a Mormon sense, no one generally cares about modesty in the “of modest means” sense. As an counterpoint to conspicuous consumption.

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  29. daniel parkinson on March 7, 2013 at 10:21 PM

    Frankly, I would prefer to change the terminology. The problem ex-mormons might face aren’t really problems with morality. They are problems with healthy living and judgement. If you spend your entire life never touching alcohol, then when you leave mormonism you might not understand the dangers of alcohol. It isn’t about morality, (even though TBM’s think it is).

    So if we replace all the rhetoric of this post, of John Dehlin’s etc, with the word’s healthy living instead of morality would it seem as perjorative. Morality is about living without hurting other people, and I don’t thing that really changes for anybody when they leave mormonism (although some people might end up hurt unintentionally).

    However, living without former rules can be problematic. We might think we understand a new situation but we really don’t. There are ex-mormons who drink, and there is nothing immoral about that. But some of them don’t know how to manage it and it becomes a problem. Drug use is not intrinsically immoral, but it certainly is a health issue, and smoking pot is certainly very different from shooting heroine, and unfortunately mormons aren’t taught to distinguish the difference.

    So I made the mistake of calling the self-destruction path that some gay mormons choose upon coming out as immoral. No, I do not think these people were making immoral choices. They were making unhealthy choices. The choices were based on ignorance, self-hatred, and a poor understanding of what morality means, but they weren’t making any more immoral choices as ex-mormons than they were as mormons (in general).

    Every religious tradition has evolved a set of rules that become labeled as morality (or god’s will). Even though this is a distortion, there are often benefits to the rules that are established, and the bigger the benefit to the society, the more common it will be in the various religions. For example, don’t steal is ubiquitous, for obvious reasons. Don’t cheat on your wife/husband is also pretty ubiquitous. Health codes and drinking codes also impact a society, and so they find there way into religion. Then, of course, a number of random practices that are neither healthy or moral enter into the religion too, and these serve to strengthen the community by giving them commonality and identifying features (ie garments for mormons or curly side-burns for jews). When we leave mormonism not all of can distinguish which of all these rules are truly beneficial. So people can get into new habits that they no longer see as being immoral, but they might have un-foreseen health consequences or impacts on their spouses or children. It is impossible to be fully informed about all the possible consequences of things like alcohol, drugs, porn, polyamory, but when the restriction against them is moved by leaving the church, it is natural to explore and decide which issues are really moral. I mention those 4 issues because they are not intrinsically immoral, or unhealthy but can be immoral (if there is damage done to others) and unhealthy depending on how they are approached.

    No ex-mormon would have a debate about the morality of murder or stealing so there is no exploration there. The exploration comes with sex, drugs and alcohol, because that is where the “morality” is much more circumstantial, thus, plenty of people conclude that there is not a moral issue with them. This happens. We should face it. And there are perils to sex, drugs and alcohol. And some ex-mormons are going to explore those things upon finding their new found freedom, and some of them will not see the perils, and some damage will be done. I frankly don’t judge these ex-mormons for trying them (I certainly have done my share of exploration), but I do feel bad if they end up in a bad place for having done so.

    In fact I am more likely to judge a mormon who does those things because in the case of a TBM who does it, it is hypocrisy. So I actually judge the TBM’s more harshly for the same behaviors.

    So basically all this rambling is just my reframing of what I have seen happen with some ex-mormons, and why I think it occurs. I hereby officially declare that it is NOT a loss of morals. I hereby officially declare that it IS a consequence of their mormonism, and the blame is really there. I hereby officially declare that THE PROBLEM IS lack of understanding of healthy living in the context managing these formerly forbidden realms with only limited information and no experience. (I just love making official declarations).

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  30. hawkgrrrl on March 7, 2013 at 10:31 PM

    This is a great recap of a very real problem: that Mormonism is leaning toward not teaching moral reasoning. Instead it is currently leaning toward things that lead away from personal accountability for moral decisions: authoritarianism, absolute morality, black and white thinking.

    There is an alternative to the idea that “God says” is the basis for all Mormon morality. Personal revelation is a different version of that idea with a base individuals can own. If you use personal revelation (call it intuition if you will) as the means to determine what is moral, you are essentially doing what Haidt describes – following the elephant, explaining where it went later if you must, but you trust the elephant, and you build on that trust over time between rider and elephant. That’s how personal revelation is supposed to work. The big problems occur when one elephant wants to tell all the other elephants where to go.

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  31. Andrew S. on March 7, 2013 at 10:43 PM

    re 27,

    Jettboy,

    I don’t think you are aware of how sexual orientation works, but this really isn’t the topic for this. Let’s just say that even if someone were to appear straight, be in a relationship/married to someone of the opposite sex, etc., etc., if they are attracted to folks of the same sex, they are still gay.

    But as I said before, this really isn’t the post for this.

    re 28

    Daniel,

    Does morality not in some ways concern healthy living? I mean, obviously, it depends on what we mean by “health”…most people are not going to consider a balanced diet and regular exercise to be moral issues…but on another level, treating people with respect is not only a moral concern but it is also a concern of a healthy emotional life. But I think that overall, I can agree with what you’re saying here:

    They are problems with healthy living and judgement. If you spend your entire life never touching alcohol, then when you leave mormonism you might not understand the dangers of alcohol. It isn’t about morality, (even though TBM’s think it is).

    I think that whether we talk about “morality” or “healthy living,” the concerns that I bring up are still quite relevant. Let’s take what you say here:

    However, living without former rules can be problematic. We might think we understand a new situation but we really don’t. There are ex-mormons who drink, and there is nothing immoral about that. But some of them don’t know how to manage it and it becomes a problem. Drug use is not intrinsically immoral, but it certainly is a health issue, and smoking pot is certainly very different from shooting heroine, and unfortunately mormons aren’t taught to distinguish the difference.

    So I made the mistake of calling the self-destruction path that some gay mormons choose upon coming out as immoral. No, I do not think these people were making immoral choices. They were making unhealthy choices. The choices were based on ignorance, self-hatred, and a poor understanding of what morality means, but they weren’t making any more immoral choices as ex-mormons than they were as mormons (in general).

    I would say that whether you describe it as moral or healthy or whatever, what you are describing here are situations where people are stunted because of their Mormon upbringing. The ex-Mormons who don’t know how to manage their drinking would not be as likely to have that problem had they not grown up Mormon. And I am fully aware that non-Mormons also can and do have problems with drinking, drugs, sex and sexuality, etc., But in the cases of former Mormons, we can directly reasonably point to their Mormonism — and you point out a major reason…not only do Mormons have rules for living their lives, but they aren’t taught to distinguish the differences between various things.

    (I just love making official declarations).

    :) I see. Maybe these can be canonized as Official Declaration — 3.

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  32. Andrew S. on March 7, 2013 at 10:47 PM

    re 30

    hawkgrrrl,

    Great points. I think that the church is — ever so gradually and quietly — starting to allow people more space for personal revelation. I think it’s because they are realizing that trying to micromanage with universal edicts usually is a really unwieldy way to go…so now, more and more, I see the church making broader, more generic, cautious comments, and letting people interpret them as they will. (Unfortunately, the quality of many of the interpretations still isn’t as great as it could be…but that’s a different issue.)

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  33. hawkgrrrl on March 7, 2013 at 10:53 PM

    I have a friend whose brother-in-law became an atheist and then cheated on his wife (my friend’s sister). The friend who is TBM considered the atheism to be the cause of the infidelity. My view was that the guy was an a**hole, and Mormonism (or perhaps a fear of divine wrath) was the only thing holding him back. I suspect there are a few Mormons like that. Whether they are ex or TBM, under the surface, they are essentially the same.

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  34. Jettboy on March 7, 2013 at 11:06 PM

    These are some responses to the different sections:

    1) Exmormons aren’t immoral.
    Mormons are human. We think those kinds of thoughts just like any other person does. The difference seems to be that devout Mormons brush them aside as destructive next to greater blessings. Those who have grown to love God BECAUSE of membership in the LDS Church know we would lose a large part of what makes us happy and who we are by giving in to sin.

    2) Mormon morality shouldn’t be taken for granted.
    You might think that “his examples of the slackening are telling…he lumps in not paying tithing with taking a glass of wine, smoking a little bit…….AND having a few brief affairs” are worth of mockery. The truth is that even the Bible says that God finds the least sins as grievous as the greater ones. They would both keep one out of the Kingdom of God. Again, Jesus argues that the pharisees care too much for the lesser parts of the law while completely ignoring or twisting the greater portions. He doesn’t say they should not be doing the lesser ones. In fact, he tells his disciples to do as they say and not as they do; meaning they aren’t wrong. If you tell a lot of little lies, then eventually you will tell bigger lies even if only to cover up the little ones. A little seed turns into a big tree goes for faith and sin.

    I could go all day explaining why the Word of Wisdom (while not technically a sin) is just as important to keep in Mormonism as to not murder. Its not just because “God said so,” as it is “God, I love You this much.” Breaking the WofW represents a breaking of the Covenants I made with God just as much as a brief affair. It may not damage my health (although it could), it may not be immoral (although it is in a way if there is a promise behind it), but it does effect my spirituality.

    3) Mormonism doesn’t teach folks how to think about morality
    You really haven’t read the Scriptures much have you? At least not as someone who believes in them. My faith in the LDS Church and its leadership is built of the same bedrock as my faith in Jesus Christ. I will respond the way I did with the last similar post: You don’t know me. You don’t know my heart. You don’t know how I, or any other Mormon, comes to the faith that they do. This post is nothing more than straw man and stereotype attacks against believing Mormons and the Church they hold dear.

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  35. Jettboy on March 7, 2013 at 11:12 PM

    “if they are attracted to folks of the same sex, they are still gay.”

    I think my comment recognized as much. You know, even straight married people have the possibility of infidelity. That doesn’t mean (at least for the religious) having an affair is right because its an urge. I will admit it would be harsher for a gay person to live a straight married life, but its not impossible as many have proven.

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  36. Andrew S on March 7, 2013 at 11:34 PM

    re 33,

    Hawkgrrrl,

    In this sense, one question might be: can assholes be reformed, or can they only be kept in check?

    re 34,

    Jettboy,

    Thanks for the response to the post’s points!

    I’ll just respond to a few things:

    You might think that “his examples of the slackening are telling…he lumps in not paying tithing with taking a glass of wine, smoking a little bit…….AND having a few brief affairs” are worth of mockery. The truth is that even the Bible says that God finds the least sins as grievous as the greater ones.

    What I’m saying is that it’s incredible (in the sense of in-credible) to think that God cares about wine at all.

    If you tell a lot of little lies, then eventually you will tell bigger lies even if only to cover up the little ones.

    I would point out that a lie is a categorically different thing than drinking tea.

    I could go all day explaining why the Word of Wisdom (while not technically a sin) is just as important to keep in Mormonism as to not murder. Its not just because “God said so,” as it is “God, I love You this much.” Breaking the WofW represents a breaking of the Covenants I made with God just as much as a brief affair. It may not damage my health (although it could), it may not be immoral (although it is in a way if there is a promise behind it), but it does effect my spirituality.

    I’m 100% cool with parts of this (especially your parenthetical that it is “not technically a sin”). I think that if we framed the Word of Wisdom as an (often arbitrary) offering to God rather than being an intrinsic statement of good and bad, then that would be better.

    I think I came to a similar sort of conclusion in a post I wrote about the WoW a long time ago…like, the analysis of the health or unhealth of anything in the WoW is irrelevant, because the temporal aspects are not the main point.

    I would be cautious of trying to tie spirituality to the WoW in a generalized/universalized sense, but I do agree that it can be one of many ways one can “consecrate” a part of his life in an intentional way — if one is following the WoW in an intentional way, of course.

    re 35

    I think my comment recognized as much. You know, even straight married people have the possibility of infidelity. That doesn’t mean (at least for the religious) having an affair is right because its an urge. I will admit it would be harsher for a gay person to live a straight married life, but its not impossible as many have proven.

    If you meant to imply as such, then I am sorry for misreading your comment. I thought that when you were saying:

    You can’t be that and gay. If they were really devout (I guess they can be active) then they would give up any semblance of gay and become, even if by devotion sake, straight.

    You were implying that being “gay” was a matter of actions rather than a matter of orientation. But if you recognize that someone can be attracted to folks of the same sex (and therefore gay), and yet be devout, active, Law of Chastity-abiding Mormons, then no issue.

    …but I would just say that it is perhaps precisely these Mormons who may come to reevaluate what sexual morality really is all about. And I know — that’s not a universal either…different paths work for different people.

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  37. Just Jill on March 8, 2013 at 7:00 AM

    “Whenever people ask what stops atheists from lying/cheating/murdering/whatever, I am a little afraid. I guess it’s kinda like the people who say sexual orientation is a choice. Like, are we even experiencing the same thing inside where these sort of things are questions? Maybe. Maybe we are such different people in the end.”

    Thank you for the post, very insightful. So many things to comment on. I’ll just speak to the quote above. There are people who do things because they are commanded to do so. There are others who do things because they made a choice based on logic and thoughtfulness. I’m one who doesn’t need a God promising me hell fire & damnation or eternal reward in order to be a good person and not cause harm to another individual. Scary to think there are people that think goodness is directly linked to a belief in God. What would it be like to spend a day in the mind of another so different than myself. I’m also that person who when given a rule I will always need to know why so I can determine my own guidelines and know the purpose of the rule/commandment/moral code.

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  38. Howard on March 8, 2013 at 7:09 AM

    hawkgrrrl 33 wrote: The friend who is TBM considered the atheism to be the cause of the infidelity. My view was that the guy was an a**hole, and Mormonism (or perhaps a fear of divine wrath) was the only thing holding him back.

    I think you are very right here Hawkgrrrl! Of course there are explainable reasons for him being an a**hole but we won’t take the time to go there. Psychologically this is a very good example of how LDS morality works within someone at the a basic level who struggles with the natural man. At the lowest common denominator it is parentally Mosaic in nature. Probably few would want to see themselves this way and so they tend to spice it up by elevating the concept a bit and viewing COMPLIANCE as becoming more God like or viewing COMPLIANCE as being either a sacrifice, sacred or spiritual but BEHAVIORAL COMPLIANCE BECAUSE GOD or THE CHURCH SAYS SO is the basis of it! Not some higher level of social understanding or altruistic motivation or because they have examined and considered moral issues one by one and arrived at their own conclusion. This is parental. It is not mature morality. It is not one’s own morality, rather it is their parent’s morality! Okay technically it’s the church’s morality but it will be experienced by the member as parental, that is the church is psychologically playing a parental role here.

    I’ve had a strong interest in Psychology since the late 70s and today I often coach mystics who are having psychological problems getting through various Eastern enlightenment paths and I coach psychotherapists who have them as clients.

    LDS morality and indoctrination would be experienced as PARENTING by it’s born and raised Mormon members.

    The easiest psychological model to use to explain the potential pathology of LDS born and raised indoctrination and LDS morality is Transactional Analysis. As you might recall it breaks the personality down into three parts; Parent, Adult and Child ego states.

    The child is the *core* part of our personality and based on our early upbringing is either a free and natural or adaptive. The free and natural child is the happy innocent sparkly eyed countenance seen in healthy LDS members and often wrongly associated with “living the gospel”, it is actually caused by the absence of dissonance which occurs when one is praised for obeying their parent! So “living the gospel” (compliance) minimizes dissonance in a properly indoctrinated LDS member. It is important to note; non-compliant behavior like say drinking coffee or alcohol in moderation in someone who is very moral but was not LDS indoctrinated will not create dissonance but it obviously will create dissonance in an active LDS indoctrinated member. So this is trained in by the church as are a lot of other things giving rise to accusations of brain washing.

    Adaptive child has a lot of potential dysfunction that I won’t take the time to go into here but less psychologically healthy members (generally not due to the church) will have complications here and it’s one of the reasons healthy members wrongly extrapolate and conclude that unhealthy members would be happy if they just lived the gospel. Generally they won’t and generally they can’t.

    The Adult ego state simply handles our data processing. Can we cross the street in time to be safe from approaching cars? What is 2 + 2? But our Adult data processing can become contaminated by parental bias (politically conservative thinking) or child bias (politically liberal thinking). The church is strongly parental and conservative so many TBMs tend to have Parent contaminated Adult thinking, that is they will buy into biased ideas without critically evaluating them. So liberals are frustrated by closed minded conservatives who seem to lack critical thinking and conservatives are frustrated by liberals who seem to embrace victim-hood. The great political divide is crossed and soothed by decontaminating the Adult thinking of both sides of the aisle allowing dialog to actually occur for a change and allowing opposite views to be heard with respect. So, teach open minded critical thinking to conservatives and teach the Karpman Drama Triangle to liberals.

    Parent ego states are either nurturing or critical and the church conditionally plays both roles. That is the church systematically applies both in a carrot/stick way to cause compliance. This is behavior modification. This is one place where the church loses sight of the gospel, it is too focused on behavior and perfecting the natural man rather than transcending the natural man which necessarily focuses on a more esoteric spiritual path – learn to communicate with and follow the Spirit who will teach you to transcend the natural man. But this makes sell all you have, give to the poor and follow me disciples out of obedient tithe paying brethren adoring TBMs so don’t expect this to be part of the program anytime soon!

    We are pretty much stuck with our child ego states, they are the core “us”, they can be modified by deep therapy but they cannot easily be rejected without killing ourselves.

    Our Adult ego states are either not very contaminated, adult contaminated, child contaminated or both and can be cleaned up with fairly mild therapy. If you’ve been paying attention you’ve seen me do this many times while blogging on this and other blogs. Think of what could be done with this therapy from the pulpit, the church could easily teach Adult ego state decontamination (if they actually understood it) ending much of the political disharmony that currently exists. But the church depends on Parent contaminated Adult TBM members for their faithful tithe paying base so they’re not going there even though it also means keeping more Child contaminated Adult members on church welfare! Either political party or both could teach it but they won’t because they depend on exacerbating the great political divide to justify their existence. So the church, the Republicans and the Democrats all want your Adult ego state to remain nicely contaminated!

    This brings us to the main reason for this comment; church born and raised indoctrination creates a particularly vulnerable “house of cards” belief system in many members. Our Parent ego states can be and sometimes are rejected and ejected from our personalities! It requires the perception, often the sudden realization of abuse and/or betrayal by the parental figure (parent, guardian or church). This is precisely what occurs when a member who has been struggling with the church in one or more of the many ways the church stresses people (subconsciously perceived by the Child ego state as abuse) encounters reasonably strong evidence of church deception (betrayal). I have seen this occur instantly many times in clinical settings with non-members due to similar types of parental (non church related) abuse and betrayal. Since morality was never critically investigated, weighted and owned by these people, their morality was the type Hawkgrrrl described in 33, that is; what the “natural man” Child ego state wanted to do was only being restrained and inhibited by the guilt, shame and rule oriented Parent ego state, not by the balanced autonomous choice of the entire persona. In other words these people are immature and their lives are guided by indoctrination and social pressure rather than autonomously by themselves. So there is a lot of tension and in worse cases even a war going on inside these people! When the Parent ego state is rejected and ejected from the persona what’s left (sometimes instantly) is an unrestrained child residing in an adult body, so you get a lot of childish acting out for 2 to 3 years while re-parenting takes place. A new generally nicer parent ego state is built to replace the old one by that person hopefully with the aid of someone who is psychologically healthy and after often they experience more peace than they even knew in their lives. What does the church do after creating this disaster? It blames the dysfunctional member (it helped create) for apostatizing and not living the gospel!!! Why? To circle the wagons and protect the other vulnerable but adoring tithe paying members and to not face it’s failing and the fact that if it was what it pretended to be it would have better answers than the devil made them do it!. Close your eyes and hum a nice LDS hymn…there’s nothing to see here…move along brothers and sisters… just another apostate who was offended…who wants to sin…ain’t it awful?…hold tight to the rod now…by the way, have you done you home/visiting teaching this month?

    As an emergency stop gap measure the church should immediately clean up it’s current and past deceptions, this alone (ending betrayal) will stop the Parent rejection in all but a few people buying time to address the rest of the mess.

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  39. hawkgrrrl on March 8, 2013 at 7:17 AM

    “can assholes be reformed, or can they only be kept in check?” Where there’s life, there’s hope. People can learn to take responsibility for their own choices, yes. But it’s always easier to avoid responsibility.

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  40. Jettboy on March 8, 2013 at 7:24 AM

    STOP IT WITH TREATING US LIFELONG MEMBERS AS CHILDREN WHO HAVE NO SENSE OF MORAL CHOICE AND REASONING. It simply is NOT true! Mormonism is a robust and very thoughtful religion built around ideas, theology, and philosophy geared toward understanding God and our place in the Universe. Has anyone even compared Mormon “talks” with sermons from Baptists, Jews, and Catholics? I think the real argument is against organized religion or simply the Word of Wisdom (analogous to kosher), full stop.

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  41. Andrew S on March 8, 2013 at 7:39 AM

    re 37,

    JJ,

    I think one thing that would be really interesting to know is if there’s a shift in how people explain their morals in a post-faith-crisis sense. Like, are there really folks who will, when they are a believer, describe morality ultimately in terms of “because [insert something relating to God]” and when they have a crisis, they answer the questions in different ways?

    [also, I usually take things for granted that even when someone *says* they think something is moral or immoral based on an authority (e.g., god, prophet, etc.,) that they really could make a case from a different foundation instead. But maybe this simply isn't the case.]

    And are there other possibilities? Are people who disaffect more likely to not originally see morality from frameworks of authority, purity, loyalty, etc.,?

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  42. Howard on March 8, 2013 at 7:58 AM

    Jettboy,
    #38 doesn’t apply to everyone and may not apply to you but it does apply to some and they are the subject of this post.

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  43. alice on March 8, 2013 at 8:06 AM

    Let’s face it, if your “morality” isn’t thoroughly engrained in your bones, it isn’t morality. It’s fear of being judged and disappears in the face of anonymity.

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  44. Jettboy on March 8, 2013 at 8:17 AM

    Howard,
    This post and your rant is not about Mormons. It’s about Mormonism and especially the leadership. Don’t be so coy.

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  45. Howard on March 8, 2013 at 8:30 AM

    Jettboy when I consider your #40 plus #44 I have little clear understanding of what you are trying to say except you seem to be opposing and accusing me in some vague way. Care to clear it up?

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  46. Jettboy on March 8, 2013 at 8:42 AM

    Howard, I am “accusing” both you and this OP of simplistic representations of Mormonism as a shallow institution with groundless morality. The thing is, all the arguments that point to this can be used to argue, as #29 states, to all organized religion. Of course, I reject this notion and point to #41 and #43 as at least starting to get at what I am saying.

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  47. Howard on March 8, 2013 at 8:58 AM

    Jettboy,
    Thanks for clarifying. You wrote; I am “accusing” both you and this OP of simplistic representations of Mormonism as a shallow institution with groundless morality.

    Actually I see LDS Mormonism as a religion and an institution with GREAT depth and great morality. My criticism speaks to what is probably mostly subconscious but pathological none the less to many, not all who leave the church and growth stunting from a psychological perspective to many, not all who stay. Please explain what I have represented too simplistically.

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  48. Howard on March 8, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    Jettboy,
    What do you make of a church that claims great morality and claims to literally speak for God but leaves behind an obvious evidence trail of deception?

    Isn’t the Catholic church caught up in this right now? Isn’t the LDS church as well?

    Many members experience this discovery as betrayal! This can echo very deeply and very far back into their childhood particularly if they have early abandonment or betrayal issues. Others will blindly defend the church regardless of the strength of the evidence against it in a kind of blind allegiance or worse Stockholm Syndrome. Both have issues to work through.

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  49. Hedgehog on March 8, 2013 at 9:39 AM

    I’m really late to this conversation.

    Add me to the list of thoe who’d like to see an adult convert v. raised as child comparison.

    Jettboy, I may have been misreading, but I found your #34 para2 frightening. I think we do have to acknowledge a difference between degrees of sin, at least in the severity of the effect they can have on others. Teaching otherwise can leave more literal minded folk believing that a minor infraction does make them equivalent to a murderer, and feel all boundaries of control have vanished – falacious resoning for sure, but I have observed it.

    Howard, I always find your comments thought-provoking, and your #38 does help me clarify what you were meaning in an earlier conversation, different post. As a sentiment I would tend to agree with your:
    “As an emergency stop gap measure the church should immediately clean up it’s current and past deceptions”

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  50. Andrew S. on March 8, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    re 40,

    Jettboy,

    Great comment. (Wow, my own site spammed my own comment…I just fished it out now.) Here are a few thoughts I had…

    Has anyone even compared Mormon “talks” with sermons from Baptists, Jews, and Catholics?

    This is definitely something we could make the subject of multiple posts…but here are a few things I would say here.

    In an informal comparison of sermons with talks, here’s what I notice:

    1) there is of course a difference between “high” church and “low” church. There is of course a difference between professional trained preachers and lay church members who are asked to give talks.

    2) If you look at professional theologians, they have astoundingly thoughtful ideas. And I’m not saying that Mormonism lacks that…but in any given ward, you are playing roulette with who the speakers are, who the teacher is, etc., We could also say that Mormonism’s de-emphasis on professional theological study also makes members pretty bad at thinking *about* theology (to the extent that some people suggest that Mormonism does not *have* a theology, only doctrines, revelations, etc.,)

    I think the real argument is against organized religion or simply the Word of Wisdom (analogous to kosher), full stop.

    Actually, not quite. After all, one thing I would say about most of the Protestant religions that is very different from the Mormon one is that if they suffer from poor moral reasoning, it’s not because they have too many rules and don’t know how to think about them. It’s because they don’t have enough rules, and don’t know how to think about that.

    Like, there are certain religions, denominations, etc., that get the pejorative of being “pharasaical,” or emphasizing “works righteousness,” etc., But you wouldn’t say all religions/denominations/etc., have this issue. But yeah, to say that this is about things like the Word of Wisdom or like kosher is a lot closer, I think.

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  51. Andrew S. on March 8, 2013 at 10:03 AM

    re 43

    Alice,

    But isn’t it true that a lot of the stuff that’s “in your bones” is what you are socialized to have in your bones? So, is that still morality?

    Additionally, if morality is just what is in your bones, then would we someone for whom (whatever moral idea) does not come naturally, but who nevertheless still practices that idea, is immoral?

    re 44 through 48,

    Howard,

    Just from reading Jettboy’s comment at 45 and remembering the habit of how your comments usually go in every discussion on any site that I’ve seen them in, I can guess that your comment at 38 probably fits Jettboy’s description.

    Here’s the overwhelming message I get from nearly all of your comments (for an example early in this discussion, look at your inaugural comment at 11):

    “True spirituality is not bound by an institution or institutional authority and is often antithetical to it. Therefore, things that support and institution or its authority figures are anti-spiritual, and those that oppose these things are spiritual.”

    ^Sorry if you feel this is a poor gloss of your message…but I would not like to discuss the details on this thread (this is really my point, here, by the way). And I’m not saying that this is a bad opinion to have, and honestly, I think that there’s a lot many people could take away from it. But it does seem like this is a message you always come to in any discussion.

    Like, I totally get what you’re saying in comment 48…but this really isn’t the post to discuss this. (Trust me, there will be plenty of posts where these sorts of issues can be discussed.) So, can you tailor your message back to the specifics of how this relates to moral reasoning, as opposed to more general claims about the “deception” or “betrayal” of institutions and authority figures?

    Thanks in advance!

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  52. Howard on March 8, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    Thank you Hedgehog!

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  53. Andrew S. on March 8, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    re 38

    Howard,

    Got some time to read your comment…this definitely makes some of your later comments make more sense in context, but I would still say that for this discussion, I’m not necessarily looking to discuss why people might become disaffected (which I think that your comments on Parent Ego rejection because of betrayal really speak to).

    I see you have written a few guest posts with us…wondering why that stopped..?

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  54. Howard on March 8, 2013 at 10:28 AM

    Andrew,
    I hear your basic message; you’re tired of hearing my basic message even if you don’t quite understand it. Since it would take several paragraphs to bridge the now apparent gap in our viewpoints and given you don’t want to do that here I will simply drop out. Have a nice day.

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  55. Howard on March 8, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    Andrew,
    I don’t recall a guest post with W&T but it might be fun in the future. Thanks!

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  56. Andrew S. on March 8, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    re 53,

    Howard,

    The critical part of my basic message isn’t that I’m tired of hearing your basic message. It’s that I’m tired of hearing your basic message everywhere, in any topic.

    That’s why I think that a guest post would be really good — because that would be a space specifically designed where you could put all of your thoughts out there. They are definitely well-thought out thoughts. But as you note, they probably require more space than comments really should provide to flesh out the relationship to here.

    (also, I checked again…I read wrong — I saw Hedgehog’s posts)

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  57. alice on March 8, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    But isn’t it true that a lot of the stuff that’s “in your bones” is what you are socialized to have in your bones? So, is that still morality?”

    Absolutely! One. Hundred. Percent!

    It has to be ingrained by socialization. But it also has to be comprehended, valued and practiced by choice. …often at the cost of immediate personal gratification. By the time one is an adult, if that hasn’t happened what happens in its absence is coercion or group think. Not necessarily bad but certainly incomplete and more fragile.

    Additionally, if morality is just what is in your bones, then would we someone for whom (whatever moral idea) does not come naturally, but who nevertheless still practices that idea, is immoral?

    Hard to think of a person who is not disordered who doesn’t eventually get the message and choose it as a part of membership in the commonweal if it is properly taught and taught to see the ultimate value for the group AND the individual.

    If someone chooses to operate on the level of coerced self-control, so far as they are aware that that’s what they’re doing, then I think they have exercised a “moral choice”. The question would be how long would that value continue if the coercion became ineffective…

    Meanwhile, I think the internalized value for morality is a reliable thing that a person takes with them from identification with one group and then another. Tho, some situational flexibility is possible and could remain “moral” given the circumstances.

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  58. Jeff Spector on March 8, 2013 at 11:01 AM

    Howard,

    “The easiest psychological model to use to explain the potential pathology of LDS born and raised indoctrination and LDS morality is Transactional Analysis. As you might recall it breaks the personality down into three parts; Parent, Adult and Child ego states.”

    Oh, brother, what a crock. Why is it that explanations always have some sort of analysis bent to it.

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. We are weak human animals. We can be coerced into doing something totally against our morals, judgment and upbringing just because of impulse.

    I suppose you can categorize it to some psychological thing, but it really does not explain why some people throw their lives completely away for a roll in the hay, quick money or deception.

    I certainly do not like the idea that LDS people are just some mindless flock of sheep. Some are, no doubt. But many are quite thoughtful, moral folks who are completely grounded.

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  59. Howard on March 8, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    A crock? Thanks for clearing that up Jeff! Why didn’t I think of that? It would have saved me a lot of time writing it all out!

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  60. Andrew S. on March 8, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    re 56,

    Alice,

    I don’t think that socialization usually includes comprehension, valuing, and practicing by choice. To paraphrase Jared Anderson, “when you inherit [a social institution], you don’t have to buy into it.”

    When you’re raised in a social system, it’s dropped in your lap. You’re thrown into it. Regardless of if you comprehend it. Regardless of if you value it. I understand that plenty of people complain about choices they made in Mormonism that they didn’t feel were truly informed…but in some sense, that’s kinda how the game works.

    (This would be another point to see if converts differ from people raised in the church…)

    Hard to think of a person who is not disordered who doesn’t eventually get the message and choose it as a part of membership in the commonweal if it is properly taught and taught to see the ultimate value for the group AND the individual.

    Given what I wrote above, I think that the message being “properly taught” is a big hurdle…additionally, I think that on some issues, there can just be incompatibility and disagreement. So, if someone really doesn’t see the value of the “modesty” aspects of the law of chastity as is taught in the church (because they don’t buy the “purity/degradation” aspects tied to things like “licked cupcakes”), but nevertheless they are aware that to be a member of the church in good standing, they have to keep up certain appearances…then would that still be moral? This value isn’t ‘ingrained into them’, but they still are following the rules, as it were.

    If someone chooses to operate on the level of coerced self-control, so far as they are aware that that’s what they’re doing, then I think they have exercised a “moral choice”. The question would be how long would that value continue if the coercion became ineffective…

    Yep, I think that is a good question. And of course, I think that gets to the (2)nd point I wrote about.

    Meanwhile, I think the internalized value for morality is a reliable thing that a person takes with them from identification with one group and then another. Tho, some situational flexibility is possible and could remain “moral” given the circumstances.

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is that plenty of worldviews take as their starting place that human beings’ “internalized value for morality” is lacking, and thus we need to act contrary to our natural inclinations (see: natural man) to be moral.

    Of course, there is room to disagree on this point…but I can certainly think of some people who don’t have a good internal moral compass.

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  61. Howard on March 8, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    Andrew wrote: I’m tired of hearing your basic message everywhere, in any topic.

    Everywhere. You seem to be criticizing much more broadly than just this thread or even just W&T which makes it more of a personal critique shall we say? Since you appear to be calling me out bloggernacle wide I have decided to respond. If you would like to move this to email I’m happy to do so.

    Everyone blogs from their own perspective. Yours is quite unique compared to the life experience and the perspective of the bloggernacle in general, as is mine, yet we share with them areas of overlap and they would likely argue large areas of non overlap. The world as viewed by some who seem to be half asleep might be characterized as two dimensional black and white, I sure you know what I’m talking about when you encounter stereotypical race or gender attitudes and the accompanying unexamined thinking. You appear to revere nuanced intellectual analysis and compared to me you seem to like a conversation more narrowly focused on the specifically stated topic. I’m more expansive than that and I prefer to look into the spirituality behind or beyond the ritual and the psychological dynamics beneath the two dimensional reality drama show that many love or love to hate because it adds richer meaning and understanding. The simple version of the parable and the simplest answer to it; a cigar is just a cigar is just mindless and time wasting. Some of the concepts I discuss are foreign to many and require repetition to grasp as evidenced by our different viewpoints regarding my “basic message”. Where would society be today without a lot of race and gender issue repetition and consciousness raising yesterday? Finally my message is derived from my spiritual and psychological belief and frame of reference and it applies and extends to many, many different kinds of topics, it’s how I see things.

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  62. Andrew S. on March 8, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    re 57,

    Jeff,

    Doesn’t a statement like “we are weak human animals” imply some sort of analysis happened at some point? I mean, the reason I say this is because such statements usually do become packaged in psychological narratives (e.g., “natural man” from an LDS viewpoint, “sin nature” from a protestant viewpoint, etc.,)

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  63. Douglas on March 8, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    HawkChick (#30) and Jeff S both drained it (“nuthin but net”) from half court. Jeff, I miss dear “Brother Burns” (nee Birnbaum) but at he and Gracie can pair up with Gordon and Majorie for a round of Bridge (or whatever they do for diversion up there). Both couples shine as wonderful examples, IMO.
    There are times I wonder if, especially in teaching the youth, if we’re not getting Pharisaical and piling up way too many regulations and interpretations thereof. Whatever happened to Joseph Smith’s dictum about teaching correct principles to the Saints and relying on self-Government? We Libertarians should consider him the first LP candidate!
    Andrew S, my conduct on this blog doesn’t meet my own definition of trolling, nor any reasonable definition. Ah resents yoah implying such, suh, and demands satisfaction. Overcooked vermicelli at ten paces will do, and you can pick the sauce.
    Seriously, consider the obverse situation. Would I log onto a blog oriented towards gay ex-Mormons and pick a fight with them? No, I’d consider it a waste of time and bandwidth, and would expect to be run like Albert Belle in his heyday (“Yer outta here!”). So please don’t act schocked that I object to trolling by SOME (but not all or even a majority, in my experience) merely for purposes of spewing virtriol.

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  64. Andrew S. on March 8, 2013 at 4:00 PM

    re 62,

    Douglas,

    Andrew S, my conduct on this blog doesn’t meet my own definition of trolling, nor any reasonable definition.

    Funnily enough, most trolls would think the same, I think.

    Seriously, consider the obverse situation. Would I log onto a blog oriented towards gay ex-Mormons and pick a fight with them? No, I’d consider it a waste of time and bandwidth, and would expect to be run like Albert Belle in his heyday (“Yer outta here!”). So please don’t act schocked that I object to trolling by SOME (but not all or even a majority, in my experience) merely for purposes of spewing virtriol.

    yet, given any post here regarding anything to do with LGBT issues, you’ll be here to pipe in with your disgust and distaste — regardless of whether it fits the topic at hand.

    …apparently, you don’t consider this a waste of time and bandwidth, although the people whose discussion you derail disagree.

    …anyway, if you want to discuss this further, we can take this offsite. You should still have my email address, I trust?

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  65. Douglas on March 8, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    I’m quick to uphold what the Church has taught all along re: LGBT. Others feel free to take undeserved potshots at active LDS and their values. I won’t usually make it a personal thing UNLESS someone is just begging to be made an example of (thank you, Joe Pesci, for how you put it in “Casino”). I typically denounce false ideas and faulty logic. If THAT offends, tough toenails. Still, I’m here to defend the Gospel as I see fit, but it does not gratify to hurt feelings or perch on my self-righteous high horse. I’m a sinner who needs his Savior like anyone else, and I am grateful for His grace.

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  66. log on March 9, 2013 at 12:49 AM

    If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing. . .

    Jeffrey Dahmer, in an interview with Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC, Nov. 29, 1994.

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  67. Andrew S. on March 9, 2013 at 1:02 AM

    re 64,

    Douglas,

    The funny thing is that when you confront trolls on any other issue, they usually say exactly the same thing here:

    I typically denounce false ideas and faulty logic. If THAT offends, tough toenails.

    The one thing is that the troll usually is being disruptive and derailing the conversation on purpose. Other folks are disruptive and derail the conversation simply because they are tone-deaf. In both cases, disruption and derailment is the result, so I guess everyone else can’t really be blamed for not seeing the functional difference.

    re 65,

    log,

    Jeffrey Dahmer — classic symptoms of antisocial personality disorder right there.

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  68. Howard on March 9, 2013 at 5:18 AM

    Log,
    As Andrew began, Jeffrey Dahmer was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder and schizophrenia. Sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar even when you think you learned it was at church. Mentally normal people do not commit murders, rape, dismemberment, necrophilia and cannibalism because of a belief in or a philosophy relating to atheism and evolution. It does bring a different than Sunday School meaning to the word evil, doesn’t it?

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  69. Brian on March 9, 2013 at 7:27 AM

    “I’m quick to uphold what the Church has taught all along re: LGBT.”

    You may want to google Spencer Kimball and church-published pamphlets regarding gays. “New Horizons for Homosexuals” is a good one. It may give you a new perspective what the church “has taught all along”.

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  70. Douglas on March 9, 2013 at 9:18 AM

    #68 – checked it out. Waste of time. The Affrimation.org article on the pamphlet (later retitled “A Letter to a Friend”) is nothing but a snippet of self-serving, self-justify rhetoric. The website, in fact, should be, if “truth in website naming” were enforced, “Gay and Lesbian Apostate Mormons”, for I could find little if anything from these LGBT “Mormons” that indicate that they have a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, wishing to serve Him and do His will. It’s the same tired immature rhetoric: If we don’t get what we want (the LDS Church to consider homosexuality as an “equivalent” sexual lifestyle fully in favor with the Lord), then we’ll have a nice little snit. Well, go off and have your bloody little snit for all I care. I’ll simply turn my back and put my fingers in my ears to muffle the noise. When you’re through with your tantrum, then perhaps a civilized discussion.

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  71. Brian on March 9, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    Douglas–In your earlier post you said “I’m quick to uphold what the Church has taught all along re: LGBT”. The church has taught very little “all along” about gays. The teachings have evolved. If you read church material throughout the decades, it is easily seen. I simply posted the pamphlet to let you know the church has changed it’s message. For the better. But it has changed.

    The only thing uncivil between #68 and #69, is #69.

    If you really did check out the pamphlet, it is amazing that an apostle of the church and that the church itself would stand by such ugly teachings about homosexuals. Teach what you want about eternal consequences, but let’s at least pretend gays are human beings with actual feelings. That pamphlet extended no such sympathy.

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  72. Douglas on March 9, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    Brian – LGBT people ARE human beings with feelings, so are LDS apostles. RU actually old enough to have known SWK? Just because he wouldn’t salute the “rainbow” flag (an insult to the honor of the 42nd Infantry, IMO) does NOT mean that he did not have compassion for gays. On the contrary, one of the few things that he and Hugh B Brown agreed on was the need to work proactively with men struggling with homosexuality; to find alternatives to reflexively treating them as pariahs. You can scathe me to your heart’s content, suh, but don’t you dare to insinuate that SWK was anything less than a loving servant of the Lord. You know not of what you speak. And this coming from a guy that has jocularly referred to his best-known book as “It’s a Miracle if You’re Forgiven”.

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  73. Brian on March 9, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    Douglas–checking out. It seems all you want is a good fight.

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  74. Jeff Spector on March 9, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    Andrew,

    “Doesn’t a statement like “we are weak human animals” imply some sort of analysis happened at some point?”

    No, not really. I am persuaded by the scripture:

    “19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, ….” Mosiah 3:19

    Recognizing our fallen nature and the battle to put off our natural tendency.

    I don’t require any kind of a psychoanalysis, because I simply believe this.

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  75. Andrew S. on March 9, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    re 72,

    Brian,

    Sorry to see you check out, but I do have to say, this is Douglas’s MO. When he’s on his soapbox, it really is best not to try to engage him

    re 73,

    Jeff,

    But that’s what I’m saying…the scriptures feature a psychoanalysis.

    You can’t make a narrative for human behavior without analyzing human behavior. You can’t begin to talk about “fallen nature” if you haven’t done some sort of analysis and determined that there is something corresponding to a “fallen nature”.

    …and of course, whatever analysis you offer is going to be the one you believe in. Otherwise, you wouldn’t bring it up.

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  76. Howard on March 9, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    The natural man cannot be put off through obediance, FWIW speaking from experance the mighty change of heart is a combination of very deep repentance and psychotherapy led by the Spirit!

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  77. Zara on March 9, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    GREAT post! I need to comment while it’s still fresh on my mind, and then I’ll go back and read everyone else’s comments.

    I had similar thoughts while listening to John Dehlin’s podcast. And I like how you framed it–that he’s trying to frame his own personal experience as one that is generalized. I also noticed that he was still very much speaking in terms of morality from a Mormon standpoint. He seemed very uncomfortable with people drinking and having sex and doing things that are taboo in the Mormon world, and he seemed to be worried that he was condoning it or creating a space for it–which, to me, is also a very Mormon concept. In Mormonism, we seem to always keep tabs on the choices of others, sometimes feeling that if we don’t intervene or speak out that the “sins” of others might somehow be also on our heads. Outside of Mormonism, there is more true agency with regards to morality. Adults are allowed to make adult decisions, and intervention is required only when those adults are poised to hurt themselves severely (like having a severe drinking/drug addiction) or others.

    Likewise, Bushman (and I remember that interview; it drove me nuts) is speaking from the point of view given to him by the Church. Not having experienced a crisis of faith himself, and being a faithful practicing member, Bushman assumes that it is “sinful” behavior and laxness that leads to apostasy, or at least inactivity. And that any sinful behavior must be like any other sinful behavior, even if the sinful behavior in question would not be considered sinful in any other morality construct but Mormonism. So sure, drinking = having affairs. A sin is a sin and brings you away from the Spirit and the true gospel. And those behaviors open the door that leads away from the Church.

    Frankly, drinking moderately (which responsible adults do all the time, with no negative consequences) is nowhere near having a few affairs (which can be devastating to the all parties involved) on the morality scale. With or without God or Mormonism, most reasonable people agree that morality must include doing no harm to others. People have affairs inside and outside the Mormon church.

    Mormonism far too often tries to equate any and all sin, and sometimes these “sins” can include wearing extra earrings or a skimpy outfit. We are all subject to a parental morality, rather than developing our own. Many religious people (not just Mormons) can’t understand where atheists get their sense of morality–why they’re not out murdering and raping and robbing if they have no God to tell them not to. Well, the answer is, most people do have a sense of morality, and very often religion prevents them from knowing their own compass. But just because someone leaves the church and decides that there is nothing inherently sinful in having a vodka tonic at the office Christmas party, that doesn’t mean they have slackened in their morality. It doesn’t mean Satan has them in his grip. It means that particular element doesn’t fit with their own idea of what makes a person a good person.

    For me personally, I’ve been out of the church a year, and I haven’t murdered or had an affair with a single soul. I do drink occasionally, but I feel no need to try heroin. ;-) I don’t think tattoos and earrings are signs of immorality. Generally speaking rational people do not go hog wild upon experiencing a life outside the church.

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  78. Ziff on March 9, 2013 at 9:34 PM

    Sorry I’m so late to the party, but I just wanted to say that you make some great points, Andrew. Particularly the last one. So much of Church rhetoric is focused on obedience that there’s really not any focus at all on moral reasoning. You don’t need to reason; you just need to follow!

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  79. log on March 9, 2013 at 11:18 PM

    Mentally normal people do not commit murders, rape, dismemberment, necrophilia and cannibalism because of a belief in or a philosophy relating to atheism and evolution.

    No true Scotsman, eh?

    Let’s just say I have not noticed people leaving the Church (nor faith generally) to become Mother Theresas. Typically, they gravitate to much baser concerns.

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  80. Howard on March 10, 2013 at 6:45 AM

    Log,
    No true Scotsman? How does that apply here? Are you asserting Jeffrey Dahmer was/is mentally normal but commited murders, rape, dismemberment, necrophilia and cannibalism because of a belief in or a philosophy relating to atheism and evolution? Are you asserting his mental diagnosis resulted from his belief in atheism and evolution?

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  81. Andrew S on March 10, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    re 77,

    Zara,

    Thanks for commenting! I guess a question might be — if rational people do not generally go hog wild upon experiencing a life outside the church, then how many people can be said to be irrational?

    re 78,

    Ziff,

    And I guess I can think of some situations where following-without-question might be appropriate, but it seems like these would be emergency situations rather than day-to-day living.

    re 79

    log,

    Considering that I don’t see people joining the church (nor faith generally) as becoming Mother Theresas, I guess this is an improper comparison. Really, most people are just like everyone else — the only major difference is whether they drink coffee, tea, or alcohol, or not.

    But to try to move on topic, suppose that people leaving the church do not become Mother Theresas. Isn’t there a problem that the church isn’t really instilling in people “Mother Theresa-ness”, so that if one leaves it, one doesn’t have that internalized?

    To put it in a different way…if you go to school, you might leave (whether through graduation or dropping out), but you still should know everything that you learned so far in school.

    But, for whatever the reason, the church is such that it isn’t really teaching stuff that sticks with people when they graduate from it.

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  82. hawkgrrrl on March 10, 2013 at 8:41 AM

    Actually within our without the church, not becoming Mother Theresas isn’t all bad. That’s kind of renouncing life. She is a nun after all. Mormons (and ex-Mormons are pretty pragmatic. We have jobs and families and mortgages. We are middle class.

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  83. Douglas on March 10, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    #77 (Zara) – you seem defensive. OF COURSE quite a few ExMos (most, I should think, although my sample can’t by probability alone be statistically significant) nevertheless remain decent folk. As I’ve said before, there would be about as many reasons for leaving the Church as there are those that leave it, so to stereotype is pointless. A pattern that I notice, whether still “in” the Church or not, is that of self-justification. You do, I do, we ALL do it (I just did it, and I’m gonna do it again…). It’s only human to travel up that long African river (de Nile…) when confronting ourselves. Some resolve it by escaping, or so they think….
    To close with another cultural metaphor, think of Star Trek where Spock finds a way to get his former Captain (Pike) to Talos IV, the one with the people with big heads and fantastic telekentic and hypontic abilities. The viewscreen shows an imaginary healthy Capt. Pike with his “love” on the planet surface, and the Magistrate bids the Enterprise farewell with this message: He has dreams, you have reality. May you each be happy in your own existence.

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  84. [...] discussion topics, Andrew S has an interesting take on post-Mormon morality — just look at the helpful moral instruction offered by Mormonism! Another person has noticed [...]

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  85. log on March 11, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    #80: He said so himself. You either believe him as the expert on his own motivations and outlook, or you produce public evidence that you have a necromantic-mind-reading device.

    #81: “But, for whatever the reason, the church is such that it isn’t really teaching stuff that sticks with people when they graduate from it.”

    Nobody graduates from this school. Those who finally learn their lessons try with all their might to get others to appreciate the simple lesson that everything in the church is trying to teach: repent, exercise faith in the Savior, receive the Holy Ghost by fire from heaven, then you will be the miracle workers and teachers of righteousness (2 Nephi 31:12).

    It’s too easy a message, so most people refuse to accept it, and they fail to recognize it in the scriptures, being taught by the precepts of men (2 Nephi 28:26), neither do they apply it (Alma 37:46), and without this great big Church with all its outward performances and ordinances, the majority would not find anything of value in the gospel, it seems.

    But, as the Jews discovered, the outward performances and ordinances cannot save you.

    And when people leave the church, what influence they had by the Holy Ghost is replaced with a like influence of the spirit of the devil… so their last state is worse than their first (Alma 24:30). That’s just reality.

    Denying that the spiritual truths we teach are also factual is why people do not recognize these things when they see them played out in front of their eyes.

    You’re right: most people in the church are just like the people outside of it. The people outside of the church have healings, miracles, and revelations too. The one thing that should set the members of the Church apart, the one thing the Church actually offers that no other church can, is the gift of the Holy Ghost, which ought to be the common inheritance of the Saints. But it isn’t, because we’d rather show off to each other how smarticle we are and how terribly sophisticated philosophically we can be rather than repenting and becoming as little children and being baptized by fire (3 Nephi 11:35-37), because, in the end, most people in the Church are just as worldly and just as ignorant as those outside of it. Only they don’t drink and smoke quite so much.

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  86. Andrew S. on March 11, 2013 at 5:38 PM

    Well, that’s the first time I have heard the term “smarticle”. thanks for sharing.

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  87. Douglas on March 11, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    #85 – had to give the thumbs up enthusiastically! Our own pride and arrogance gets in the way of the simple Gospel message. Guilty as charged.

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  88. Zara on March 13, 2013 at 7:49 PM

    Andrew S, yes, there are definitely ex Mormons who go a little crazy upon the first taste of freedom. I see that as a reaction to leaving the parental umbrella of the church. We’re basically told what to do, and we do it, while we’re in the church. It’s not unlike being teenagers in a strict home, then going off to college. Some folks have not developed their own senses of morality, so that must be done in adulthood. Some of us know that certain ideas are bad ones, regardless of where we learned that they’re bad (like smoking crack), while others take on the rebellious teen persona and have to try everything, learning only by experience. So, yeah, there are plenty of irrational ex-Mormons out there–but I think most of us, at least in my experience, rationalized and evaluated our way out of church, so the “sin” thing is much, much lower down on the list of priorities, and our rational personalities only allow us to indulge insofar as it makes sense and does no harm.

    Douglas, I’m not defensive, but I’m always hesitant to engage with folks who respond to a person’s comments with “you sound defensive.” I was simply responding to the mindset of believing that 1) Mormon “sin” is on the same plane as objective, societal immorality (i.e. wearing sleeveless shirts, drinking coffee) 2) People need religion or objective Truth in order to be good people 3) we are responsible for the adult choices of others. I am not defending or rationalizing my choices in the least. I make no apologies whatsoever, nor did I believe most of these things to be sinful even when I was a Church member–but I obeyed them anyway because I believed in the truthfulness of the church. My point is simply to show how the ex-member perspective is much different from the church’s perception or characterization of ex-members.

    Do I believe that there are people out there who would be terrible people if they didn’t have the imminent threat of judgment and doom stalking them throughout their lives? Absolutely. I think most people have an inherent moral compass, and most people will understand that it’s not in their best interest to harm others, physically or emotionally. But there are some who seem to need the fear of God to make them be good people, and that’s frightening to me. For those people, I’m glad they have religion, even if they’re overbearing about it.

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  89. Douglas on March 14, 2013 at 8:32 PM

    #88 (Zara) – you could simply have said fairly much either (1) I no longer believe and don’t want to be a member anymore; or (2) Don’t want to divulge a reason, I just want out. So WHY explain yourself? If “others” whose opinion should be meaningless presume to judge you, “forget” ‘em and the collective horses they rode in on! There’s a reason I brought up the defensiveness, and it’s not to needle. Think it over.

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  90. Zara on March 17, 2013 at 11:11 PM

    Douglas–

    Seriously? Given the fact that the OP was on morality in and out of the church, I felt my comments were relevant. It appears others did, too. Often those still inside the church–like yourself–seem to want those of us who’ve left to not say anything but “the church wasn’t for me, so I decided to leave.” That, however, would not have contributed to the discussion in any way at all.

    I’d say the fact that you read my explanation as defensiveness says more about you than it does me. I’d wager you’re still thinking, at least somewhere deep down inside, that people leave because they want to sin, and they may as well admit it. Think it over.

    Either way, I’m guessing you and I are not going to see eye to eye on this.

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