Unrealistic Expectations are EVERY Mormon’s Problem

By: Andrew S
February 9, 2012
Disney Unrealistic Expectations

If only this were our only problem with unrealistic expectations...

One of the oldest tropes in the Mormon apologetic book is that ex-Mormons, when they were in the church, were too serious about Mormonism. Put in another way, one might say that disaffected Mormons had unrealistic expectations of the church and its members, or that they were too perfectionistic. The idea ultimately is that if only the disgruntled former Mormon could learn to expect less and tolerate more, then they would be able to have a mature, nuanced faith and stay in the church.

First, the Ex-Mormon Archetypical Narratives

A little while ago, Carrie Sheffield wrote an article describing the efforts Mormonism needs to take to reform itself. I’ll paste just a snippet to provide a first exhibit of a representative ex-Mormon experience I would like to discuss:

…Yes, Mormons love families. But the family-values facade applies only if you stay in the fold. Former Mormons know the family estrangement and bigotry that often come with questioning or leaving the church.

The church I was raised in values unquestioning obedience over critical thinking. This caused trauma and cognitive dissonance when I questioned church doctrine and official history…

…While studying at Brigham Young University, I spiritually imploded after learning… facts outside official church curriculum. Disturbed, I met with a high-ranking Mormon leader who told me to quit reading historical and scientific materials because they were “worse than pornography.”

Similarly, in response to the surge in “hipster” Mormons appearing publicly with the I’m a Mormon campaign, Mel wrote of her frustrations:

…I think I’m angry because I worked so fucking hard to be perfect—I sacrificed and hated myself and handed years of my life to that church, all the while feeling like I was a rotten sinner who had their own personal silk-lined handbasket to hell. And when I decided to be true to myself and left the church, my world fell apart. Any post- or ex-mormon knows the costs, and they are devastating and hard to describe without sounding exaggerated. But there are costs. Then I see these ads, and here specifically is a dude who’s admitted to drinking and smoking and he’s all, “I’m a Mormon,” like it’s some wicked cool thing to be now, and it’s totes acceptable to not wear garmies and pay 10% tithing and all those other silly things, and I get so angry I could punch something…

The last post I would like to link with respect to this narrative archetype is Angela from Segullah, and I would like to point out that Angela is not an ex-Mormon (as far as I can tell). In other words, what she writes about the expectations of perfection are what a faithful member can see.

Our LDS church services aren’t super concerned with letting us rest in our non-perfection. Of course, Mormon churches exist for the benefit of non-perfect people just as much as the Protestant church with the banner. Every single Mormon, from the nervous twelve-year-old girl at the pulpit reciting an Article of Faith to any one of the men sitting up on the stand at General Conference, is a non-perfect person, and we all know this. Or at least we should know this. But our slogans don’t tend toward “Perfect people not allowed.” We prefer action verbs (“Lengthen your stride!”) or punchy, motivational rallying cries that also work for tennis shoe companies (“Do it!” — even punchier without the “Just.”) A familiar phrase that’s been important to me since I was a girl, “Walk tall, you’re a daughter of God”? Even that implies effort. Walking, for example. And good posture. “Curl up in a ball on the Love Sac and take a nap, you’re an exhausted mother of four,” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but oh! On certain days I would be tempted to print that out in vinyl lettering and slap it over my entryway.

All kidding aside, though, there are times I wish our church culture allowed us to admit our imperfections a little bit more.

These are just three experiences of people who — for whatever reason — experienced a pressure to believe or act a certain way, and when they felt difficulty in doing so, faced confrontation from others either directly (from leaders, family, or friends) or indirectly (through church slogans or phrases.)

Second, the Faithful Mormon Response Archetypes

Perhaps some thoughts went through your head when you read the previous snippets. With respect to Mel (the second snippet), I could think of the trope that Mel just took church too seriously. With respect to Carrie (first snippet), I thought, “Well, the church/gospel is perfect, but the people are not.” Each of these responses minimizes or discounts the experiences of the person experiencing them as being a fault of the person. It’s Mel’s fault for (forgive the pun) not being more mellow. It’s Carrie’s fault for not recognizing the flaws of the people in the church — both dead and gone, relegated to history; and living and current, the members of our families and wars — when evaluating the church. But you don’t have to take my word for these kinds of responses…I’ll post some of these kinds of responses I’ve read recently.

Jake, right here at W&T, just published an article implying that those whose faiths fall apart from certain historical details do so because they had too much faith. In the following passage, the emphasis is preserved from Jake’s original post:

…we all place people on monstrous pedestals, we place Joseph Smith, the church, and the leadership on these pedestals. We think that we are making them ideals, but the fact is they are only false idols.  Of course, the leadership are complicit in the building up of these idealistic images of the past, and the present, but our belief in them is entirely our own; no one forces us to accept the images and interpretations of others and we must take ownership of the fact that we chose to believe too much. The problem with any form of idealism is that it invariably leads to disappointment.

Carl C. had a post calling on people to leave the LDS cult of false expectations:

…I think that for far too many in the church have set up a false church. They think that their church says science is satanic, that it tells all of its women to only stay home and produce babies, that the prophets and apostles are infallible, never have disagreed, don’t currently disagree, never will disagree, and meet with the Savior weekly in the temple meeting Thursday morning, that all of church history is puppies and rainbows and roses except for when other bad evil nasty people attack the completely innocent and saintly Mormons and maybe the 116 pages incident, that polygamy was introduced and ended without a hitch, that anybody who is questioning the church in any way, shape, or form must be secretly a dirty sinning apostate because why would you ask questions unless you had been completely abandoned by the Spirit?!?, that the Book of Mormon civilizations were every Native American from the top of Alaska to the bottom of South America, that every prophet from Adam to Thomas S. Monson knew exactly everything that every other prophet knew, and that it all corresponds to the current correlated manuals, and that everybody outside the church is not going to end up in the Celestial Kingdom so we should shun them, even members of our own families, too bad for them.

I call this the LDS Cult of False Expectations.

The solution is to leave it.

Now, there are two ways to leave it. You can either (1) take off from the LDS church itself, or (2) you can get Mormonism right.
…I’m so terribly sorry for all of those who grew up or are currently in environments, whether a ward, a seminary or institue class, or a family, or whatever, that adheres to and teaches the principles of the LDS Cult of False Expectations. I’m sorry that many Mormons aren’t what they are supposed to be. In many ways, Sheffield’s article should be a wake-up call to Mormons in general. Nay, a call to repentance! We’re not getting our own religion right. It’s not supposed to be that way. I was blessed enough to be born into, and later to marry into, a family that largely, I think, does get it right. But we have work to do ourselves. Everybody does. The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints

Finally, a Synthesis and Call to Action

What I liked about Carl’s post (but I felt it could’ve been emphasized more, and I think many of the comments at his blog were from people who did not feel he adequately addressed this concern) was that it implied that it’s not just disaffected Mormons who are prey to this Cult of False Expectations. Rather, it’s the perfectionistic family, the hyper-conservative Bishop, the anti-intellectual seminary teacher, just as well. And on and on and on.

See, here’s the deal. Where I disagree with Jake is that I don’t think that beliefs are “entirely our own.” I don’t think that saying “no one forces us to accept the images and interpretations of others” means that we have a perfectly free, 100% unbounded choice in believing whatever we want to believe. Instead, when we grow up, we do so situated in a particular environment…and what our parents expect…what our friends in the ward expect, what our leaders expect…all of these will have an impression upon us.

If we grow up in an environment that Carl C calls “the LDS Cult of False Expectations,” then we are more likely to internalize and perpetuate that environment’s attitudes and assumptions about the church.

This isn’t just a problem for disaffected Mormons. This is a problem for every Mormon. Mormons who are in some way — whether consciously or unconsciously — perpetuating false expectations. Mormons who are burdened by those false expectations. Mormons who have experienced an altogether different church than the cult of false expectations and who, like Carl, want others to get Mormonism right. Each of these groups has to work together to make progress.

Ultimately, the answer is not to divide the church from the people. The church and its people are an interconnected system: after all, the church is perpetuated by people, and even more importantly, the goals of the church are, in some ways, to change people. To put it in another way, organizationally and ideologically, the church is connected to people, so one cannot divide one from the other. So, instead of dividing blame between church and people, perhaps we need to instead discuss…

  1. What is it about the church *and* the people within the church that perpetuates these attitudes?
  2. Why do these attitudes seem more pervasive in some families and not in others? In some wards and not in others?
  3. What it is that could nip these false expectations in the bud, or at the very least, help those who have had these false expectations realize that there are other legitimate ways of engaging in the church without these expectations? W
  4. What is it that could make *all members* — not just the disaffected ones — “mellow” out?

Tags: , , , ,

39 Responses to Unrealistic Expectations are EVERY Mormon’s Problem

  1. Paul on February 9, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    Your last question is, for me, the best one. And I don’t have the answer.

    I would say that it is unfair to assume TBMs will understand the motivations of those who leave. And maybe you don’t have that expectation, but your first section leads me to believe that you find defect in those who don’t understand. Yes, they should be charitable, but they will not understand fully without having had the same experience.

    The leaver who believes he’s mistreated is the same as the stayer who believes the leaver mistreats the fold. They’re both wrong. They both experience what they experience.

    That said, however, I think part of maturing is the gospel is growing from simple zealot to more mellow disciple.

    It would be interesting to understand whether the issue is more acute in high Mormon contentration areas (like the intermountain west). Or if it’s more prevalent in multigenerational families (harking back to those perfect pioneer ancestors whose example we will always fail to follow).

    I wonder if my more relaxed attitude about this is a result of my being a child-convert with convert parents rather than being a fourth or fifth generation member.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  2. Paul on February 9, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    I should ammend my third paragraph. I can’t say that they are both wrong. The best I can say is they perceive what they perceive, even if their perception is innacurate from the other’s point of view.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  3. Anselma on February 9, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    Paul, it seems like what you’re saying is similar to the Buddhist story about the three blind men and the elephant. Each experiences what they experience, and even though it is perfectly valid, it is necessarily incomplete. Would that be an accurate restatement?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  4. question on February 9, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    the “cult of false expectations” is what, in my opinion, the general authorities want us to have. they dont want us to leave it at all. they dont want us to have a nuanced and flawed view of history! its so disingenuous for these last couple of posts to assume so. that just because there are nuanced and negative versions of church history out there to be found, that we all should have found them, and put them in proper perspective.

    i call bs on that. the church intentionally set up the cult of false expectations, and hope that none of us leave it. this is what newt gingrich would call ‘pious baloney’

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 9

  5. Paul on February 9, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    #3 Anselma, I think you’re right. You’ve said it better than I did. In these disputes of “he did me wrong” there seems always to be an element of perception that drives the offense.

    (That doesn’t mean that we don’t offend one another. We do! But sometimes we do it without intending it.)

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  6. Jake on February 9, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    Great post Andrew, I like your perspective on the matter.

    I don’t think that the cult of false expectations is distinctive to Mormonism. I think that you can find it everywhere. Society lives of selling people false hope, it is what keeps the advertising industry alive is selling us false promises of happiness that never deliver. So I think it is unfair to single out the LDS church for it. Although I do agree that I think leadership wants to preserve it. It is a problem for all of society not just mormons the cult of false expectations. We all get sold dreams by Hollywood, the media, and the give us false expectations all the time.

    as to what will help us to mellow out. I think the problem is that the church places high epistemological significance on what we believe. With talks like Bruce R. Mcconkies seven deadly heresies, that states false beliefs will send us to hell. If we just remember as Paul and Moroni taught that charity and loving our fellowmen is more important then anything else, including what our theological beliefs are then we will stop getting worked up about true and false doctrine, and start to just love and help others.

    After all I doubt God will give us a theological quiz when we get to heaven, but will care more about what we have done to help others then our beliefs.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 9

  7. Andrew S on February 9, 2012 at 6:30 PM

    re 1 and 2

    Paul,

    I would make a joke about some sort of substance being key to people mellowing out, but I won’t ;)

    I guess one thing I would ask is: are we supposed to be charitable only toward people whose situations we can understand or only toward people whose situations we’ve also been in? Is that what the religion is trying to help us do?

    ^That question applies both to those with testimonies and those having faith crises, btw.

    So, maybe, the trick is for both sides to come to some kind of “middle ground” regarding the perceptions that each has been mistreated by the other?

    I would also be interested to hear if there are trends from converts vs. multigenerational Mormons, trends from people in heavily Mormon areas vs. people in the “mission field”.

    re 3:

    Anselma,

    Good point.

    re 4:

    question,

    Which do you think the GAs want more, ultimately: for us to have unrealistic expectations about the church, or for us to stay in the church? Assume that these are mutually exclusive.

    re 6:

    Jake,

    Yeah, I’m not trying to say it’s distinctive to Mormonism. But in the same token, I would say that the “solution” is also similar everywhere: it’s EVERYONE’S problem.

    You say it’s unfair to single out the LDS church for it. But I’m relatively sure that this is an LDS blog (which would suggest to me that it would be ok to talk about issues in a specifically LDS context), and I was writing this post in response to several other posts that were about *LDS* people in specific (so it wouldn’t make sense to write about the GENERAL phenomenon of unrealistic expectations), so I guess if that bothers you, then…yeah.

    So, to try to rephrase your last two paragraphs about mellowing out: do you think that the church should move to de-emphasize “knowing” the church is true and instead emphasize charity, etc.,?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  8. Chino Blanco on February 9, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    I tend to agree with FireTag that external societal evolution kinda makes this discussion academic because it means the LDS church is headed for irrelevance no matter what changes it makes, but that said, as long as the weird/unfulfilling temple experience remains secret and central to the Mormon program, I don’t see any workaround for the “high expectations” problem.

    Sorry if that comes off as too blunt or blasphemous, but at least in my case, the seed of my eventual disaffection was planted the first time I went through what I’d been told was gonna be something amazing but walked out wondering what the heck I’d just witnessed. The temple experience *is* distinctive to Mormonism and until/unless that can be pondered/discussed/improved, I don’t see how the institution can thread the needle of maintaining loyalty while lowering the pressure.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 7

  9. Jake on February 9, 2012 at 8:33 PM

    I apologise, I mistook what you were saying, I thought you were implying that false expectations were distinctive to Mormonism. With that in mind and looking at them in an LDS context do you think that there is a difference between false expectations between LDS and non LDS contexts? One difference that I can think of is that we attach eternal weight to the expectations, but then all religions do that. Are we more liable to accept them generally?

    We like false expectations as they are often neater, better then real ones. A disney fairytale romance, is far better then the reality of love which makes it more attractive. So as members its easier to have a false expectation about the church as its easier to believe in.

    Yes, I would say that they should de-emphasize ‘knowing’ it is the true church and focus on charity. Although, I know that this most likely will never happen, as they are too invested in helping people to know.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  10. Andrew S on February 9, 2012 at 9:01 PM

    re 8

    Chino Blanco,

    I’m definitely trying to think more on the idea of external societal evolution making the LDS church headed for irrelevance no matter what changes it makes. At some level, I still keep thinking that there could be radical changes that would make it more relevant…just that it’s unlikely to make these changes in time.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  11. Chino Blanco on February 9, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    As far as I can tell, the Book of Mormon, on its own, independent of its role as a founding text, at its simplest narrative level, is offensive. And the reality is that it’s only going to become more patently offensive as we continue to become increasingly intolerant of 19th century folk/hillbilly explanations for where Native Americans came from (or Mayans or Aztecs or Incas or whoever the heck “Lamanites” are supposed to be these days in the LDS view).

    But maybe that’s what you mean by “radical” changes (and the LDS church disavowing the racist heart of the BoM story would certainly be pretty friggin’ radical — that it would also be the right thing to do is why some of us will remain offended until it gets done). And until then, it’s why some of us don’t buy the liberal Mormon attempt to frame association/disassociation with the Mormon church as some kind of morally neutral, loosey-goosey, vive la différence lifestyle choice. And it’s the j’accuse of righteous exmo indignation that prompts the libs to pooh-pooh and/or police certain discussions with such fervor. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen much in these parts, but I can understand why it happens… nobody likes to be told that there’s no right way to adhere to a religion that promotes a pernicious narrative.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 4

  12. FireTag on February 9, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    “I tend to agree with FireTag that external societal evolution kinda makes this discussion academic because it means the LDS church is headed for irrelevance no matter what changes it makes…”

    That is not QUITE what I said or believe. The attempts to change are irrelevant to its fate, but the Restoration is not necessarily fated to become irrelevant. Societal evolution will determine whether the church becomes more or less relevant, and evolution can take some very strange twists.

    I am very comfortable with a God active enough in history to use either the church’s failure or its success to accomplish redemptive purposes. Who would have thought that there were going to be times in history when the fate of Christianity depended on the faithfulness of the Franks or the Irish?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  13. LovelyLauren on February 9, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    Hmmm. I think the cult of unrealistic expectations is more heavily perpetuated in heavily cultural, Mormon pioneer families, or where people have turned to the church entirely for solace.

    I think the biggest falsehoods that the church perpetuates (or perhaps simply does not dismiss) is that it can be all things for a single person. When you make your life about the church (as an institution), rather than a part of your life, you set yourself up (or some would argue that the church set you up) for disappointment. When my faith crisis happened, I was devastated, but I was ultimately okay because I had other areas to turn to for support while I figured out my relationship with the church. The bitterness expressed by Sheffield about families is a large part of the betrayal many feel at disillusionment with the church. When people are shunned by their families for leaving, it sends a clear message that the church prioritizes membership over relationships and while I don’t think that’s necessarily true, I can easily see how that would leave hurt feelings that could last forever. I also agree with Chino that the temple experience is a huge part of this. I consider going through the temple to be one of, if not the most, significant experience that shifted my perspective on the church, the expectations I had of it, and it’s motives.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 11

  14. NewlyHousewife on February 10, 2012 at 6:38 AM

    I was just talking to my mom the other day about this in regards to parenting. My VT companion and I have drastic takes on parenting and I was asking for advice on why this is and to paraphrase this what she said:

    Sooner or later the rules don’t work. For some people it happens sooner (ie:the beginning years of parenting) and others it happens later (teenage years). Where the organization fails is the support for when the rules don’t work.

    To make it relevant–you can tell people to only look in church approved resources for all their learning, but sooner or later they’re going to find out about the stuff in the ‘non-approved’ library. But sadly there is no support for members for when it happens.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  15. Paul on February 10, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    #7 Andrew, I think we’re in complete agreement — charity on all sides is required, even if understanding is limited.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  16. NewlyHousewife on February 10, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    Make that last sentence in the middle paragraph part of the next paragraph. She didn’t say that.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  17. Jeff Spector on February 10, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    i think there is a ‘cult of perfectionism” as well that is part on Church culture which is a paradox in itself.

    You strive to be perfect, even though you can’t be. You know you can’t be, but expect everyone else to be and you are vocal when others fail to be.

    It’s as if the “staight and narrow path” is but one foot width wide and you must walk the path just by putting one foot in front of the other and there is no leeway on either side.

    This is wrong thinking, driven by too much literalism.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 5

  18. Brad on February 10, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    #6 Jake

    I understand your point. To some extent, our whole society is a cult of hero worshippers. We always idolize fairy tales. So it is not a sole problem with the church.

    However, just to paraphrase what others have said, we have a unique problem in the church. There is no correction mechanism for the lay members. In our society, we can switch jobs, political parties, and other affiliations if we do not agree on their philosophies. In addition, most of society feels free to switch churches if the disagree on doctrines or policies. But there is simply no approved way for LDS members to question authority or enact change from the bottom up. What’s more, the centralized nature of the church doesn’t allow for variation in congregations, so we can’t even look for wards that may be more comfortable for less orthodox members to attend. Add to that all the baggage of ‘eternal consequences rest on everyday choices’ teaching, this is a setup for a member to develop into a ‘cult of false expectations’, as you say. This path, in my experience, is the overwhelming norm in the church. I get that some, maybe a lot, of members can break free of this mentality. But as has been said previously, it is not the norm, nor is it encouraged by the leadership.

    Fan Favorite! Do you like this comment as well? Thumb up 6

  19. Kevin Christensen on February 10, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    “What is it about the church *and* the people within the church that perpetuates these attitudes?”

    I think the culprit has been described accurately as Stages 1 through 3 of the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth. Which means to me that it isn’t “the church” but the nature of human development that is the root cause. So the healthy way forward would be to acknowledge that institutionally and individually, and provide better maps of development so that people don’t confuse a stage of human development, or a leader at a stage of Human Development, or one trying to deal with people whose issues derive from their stage of development with “the Church.” Also teach people how to get clear on how to further their own development and not blame the church for not birthing them as fully developed adults.

    Steps 1-3 (of Nine) for reference:

    PERRY SCHEME OF COGNITIVE AND ETHICAL GROWTH TABLE OF TRAITS BY POSITION AND TRANSITION
    POSITION 1 – Basic Duality. (Garden of Eden Position: All will be well.)
    The person perceives meaning divided into two realms-Good/Bad, Right/wrong, We/They, Success/Failure, etc. They believe that knowledge and goodness are quantitative, that there are absolute answers for every problem and authorities know them and will teach them to those who will work hard and memorize them. Agency is “Out there”. The person is so embedded here that there is no place from which to observe themselves, yet they have a dim sense of there being a boundary to Otherness somewhere that gives their Eden-like world view boundary.

    Transition 1-2 – Dualism modified. (Snake whispers.) The person starts to be aware of others and of differing opinions, even among authorities. This started the feeling of uncertainty. But they decide it is part of the authority’s job to pose problems. It takes hard work to deny the legitimacy of diversity and to keep the belief in the simplicity of truth.

    (It should be kept in mind that in any of the transition states it is easy for the person to become depressed. It takes time for the “guts to catch up with leaps of mind.” When a sense of loss is accorded the honor of acknowledgement, movement is more rapid and the risk of getting stuck in apathy, alienation, or depression is reduced. When one steps into new perceptions he is unlikely to take another until he comes to terms with the losses attendant on the first.)

    POSITION 2 – Multiplicity Prelegitimate. (Resisting snake)

    Now the person moves to accept that there is diversity, but they still think there are TRUE authorities who are right, that the others are confused by complexities or are just frauds. They think they are with the true authorities and are right while all others are wrong. They accept that their good authorities present problems so they can learn to reach right answers independently.

    TRANSITION: 2-3 – Dualism modified

    Now the person admits that good authorities can admit to not knowing all the answers yet, but they will teach what they know now and teach the rest when they have it. They accept that disciplines are divided into the definite and the vague, but that in the end even science fails. Though they have given up dividing meaning into just two realms, they still feel knowledge and goodness are quantitative and that agency is “out there”.

    POSITION 3 – Multiplicity Legitimate but Subordinate. (Snake’s logic considered)

    The person still feels that the nature of things naturally produces differing opinions, but it’s as it should be, because the Authorities will figure it all out and hand on their conclusions eventually.

    ALL OF THE POSITIONS ABOVE FEEL ABANDONMENT IN UNSTRUCTURED LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS. WHEN CHANGES IN THINKING START TO HAPPEN, IT CAN BE A DANGEROUS TIME. (The forbidden fruit has been partaken and one is out of the Garden of Eden.)

    There are seven ways a person can go….

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  20. Chino Blanco on February 10, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    Just a quick apology to FireTag if he felt I misrepresented his position/belief re the Restoration. Sorry. I see now that I don’t really understand where “societal evolution” ends and “God” begins in FT’s world… as terms go, in the context of #12, seems like they could be used interchangeably to describe the same thing.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  21. jmb275 on February 10, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    Re Andrew-

    One of the oldest tropes in the Mormon apologetic book is that ex-Mormons, when they were in the church, were too serious about Mormonism…

    Ugghh, this stuff just ruffles my feathers so much. I wanna punch people in the head when they say this stuff!!

    Re Chino-
    Your comments about the temple are interesting. As a post-faith-crisis member, I actually like the temple FAR more now than I ever did as a traditional believing member. Joseph Campbell’s “Hero Journey” narrative changed my life.

    Re Jeff #17-
    I think this is an interesting point, and the line drawn for each person on “perfection” is different. Do people who leave expect too much perfection? Do people who stay tolerate too much imperfection?

    Quoted from Jake in the article-

    The problem with any form of idealism is that it invariably leads to disappointment.

    I think this point is often overlooked. I’m not yet convinced it’s true, but I do lean toward believing it’s true. The world is messy, and humans, on average, just don’t like that. Where this is most often seen, I think, is in science. We have a very romantic view of it, yet it NEVER EVER EVER perfectly predicts anything. And yet, it’s the best thing so far for understanding our world. But MOST people view physics equations as “laws” (we even call them that). Part of this “romantic” view of idealism really is a maturity issue, and I think Kevin in #19 gives a good description of the destruction of the romantic dualism.

    To Andrew’s point, I think the church shares responsibility for the culture it has created. Members bear some of that responsibility by choice, and some of it is the fault of the circumstances we don’t get to choose. At the end of the day, we do possess the ability to become aware of these things, and that’s when change can occur.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  22. jmb275 on February 10, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Oh, and I wanted to answer the questions posed:
    1. What is it about the church *and* the people within the church that perpetuates these attitudes?
    A. I believe our spiritual and cognitive maturities have a lot to do with it as described by Kevin in #19. We WANT a romantic dualistic simplicity, and are inevitably frustrated upon learning the world is paradoxical. Since we’re ALL on that path somewhere, it’s no surprise that leaders, local and general, and members perpetuate the attitude representing where they are on that path.

    2. Why do these attitudes seem more pervasive in some families and not in others? In some wards and not in others?
    A. I like LovelyLauren’s comment. I grew up in Utah, and those attitudes are FAR more pervasive than in the “mission field.” The church becomes the basis for most aspects of life. You can’t have an opinion on abortion until you’ve examined the church’s official position!!

    3. What it is that could nip these false expectations in the bud, or at the very least, help those who have had these false expectations realize that there are other legitimate ways of engaging in the church without these expectations?
    A. I think we have to start young. We have GOT TO modify those damn youth manuals. They SUCK!!! Do you get it SLC, they SUCK! They’re antiquated, and many times don’t represent even the modern church’s stance on issues. Come on SLC!! Quit with the damn “Teachings of the President of the Church,” quit with the new “Duty to God” program and fix the youth manuals!!!!! Additionally, parents have got be more involved in “deprogramming” their kids from the nonsense they pick up at church.

    4. What is it that could make *all members* — not just the disaffected ones — “mellow” out? The most powerful way we could affect this change would be to hear more talks from Pres. Uchtdorf, Cook, Andersen, and Christofferson and fewer talks by Pres. Packer. I actually don’t mean this to be rude, I just mean we need more of the KINDS of talks the former give, and fewer of the KINDS of talks the latter gives.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  23. FireTag on February 10, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    Chino Blanco:

    No problem. I fully accept evolution as an observable process, so any theological interpretation of the divine I make had BETTER be consistent with processes of evolution.

    But evolution, to be complete, can not exclude the PERSONAL from reality. We, for example, have personal aspects, and interact consciously with the impersonal aspects of reality. We certainly have no reason to think that better understanding of reality will eliminate its personal aspects, or in the ability of those personal aspects to influence everything else. I might have no free will to write this comment, but it’s hardly an economical description of what I’m doing to reduce it to the electronic impulses that caused whole societies to act to produce the materials for this computer and encode the information in language so that you can then agree or disagree with me. :D

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  24. Heber13 on February 10, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    I think if we’re talking about expectations, we’re talking about how to change the culture, which is the below the surface part of the iceberg…the mind-set people have which leads to thoughts which leads to the actions we see above the surface.

    So the 2 pronged approach is:
    1) Leadership training should be giving instruction to leaders on handling historical issues and also mellowing out with people who have doubts. My brother is a bishop, he told me recently a member of his ward walked in his office with a stack of printed pages from the Internet, said, “This is why the church isn’t true. I’m leaving.” He tried to plead with the guy to stay and talk through it, but honestly, he didn’t have any material to refute it. The guy hasn’t been back since. What is a bishop supposed to do? It was that guy’s choice. I don’t think most leaders have time or interest in reading all the stuff disaffected members come across. But the Church isn’t helping by not giving summary material or some of the most common “bothersome” facts. They can do more to train leaders.

    2) Lesson manuals. JMB was spot on with the youth manuals. But I wouldn’t stop there. There is no reason the adults who haven’t been told anything their whole lives shouldn’t be given the blunt facts in context of good lessons, so it isn’t a risk of problems later.

    These are the 2 places to start with changing expectations. Let it raise problems. Let it raise issues for people at church…in an environment where we can actually talk about it respectfully.

    That changes the mind-set of a people so prejudices and ignorance breaks down.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  25. Andrew S on February 11, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    re 13:

    LovelyLauren,

    I think there is definitely something to all the points you mention. With respect to your point that the church perpeutates (or, at least, does not dismiss) that it can be all things to a person, some people’s solutions is to make the church a “bigger tent.” In other words, this would make the church wider, more able to help people in different niches.

    Do you think this is falling prey to the same problem (e.g,. the church is all things for a single person), or do you think it’s a viable way of trying to fix the current inadequacies?

    re 14,

    NewlyHousewife,

    Great point. This has been a common thing I’ve been thinking about recently: who will be there WHEN (not if) people find stuff in the non-approved library. I’m ok if the church doesn’t want to actively teach stuff from the non-approved library. I’m kinda ok with the argument that the church isn’t about learning history. BUT so, say it’s not. Then where is the place where people are supposed to learn it, and learn how to deal with it in a way that can work with faith?

    re 17:

    Jeff,

    Any way to get rid of too much literalism? Where’s the distinction between too much literalism and not enough?

    re 18:

    Brad,

    Great point, amen.

    re 19,

    Kevin

    I like what you say here:

    So the healthy way forward would be to acknowledge that institutionally and individually, and provide better maps of development so that people don’t confuse a stage of human development, or a leader at a stage of Human Development, or one trying to deal with people whose issues derive from their stage of development with “the Church.” Also teach people how to get clear on how to further their own development and not blame the church for not birthing them as fully developed adults.

    But, a few questions:

    1) Who provides the maps? Who marks destinations (and distinguishes ultimate destinations from waypoints)?

    2) Who will teach people how to further their own development. If they are furthering their own development, then maybe they aren’t blaming the church for not helping them in this task, but the question would be, would they continue to need the church?

    re 21,

    jmb

    Just anecdotally, to relate to the questions you asked Jeff, I think at a lot of ex-Mormons and disaffected Mormons have this really high valuation of things like “honesty” and “truth.” Whereas, a lot of people with more nuanced testimonies tend not to have such high valuations of those things. It’s not as if the latter group of people don’t value honesty at all, but that they recognize there are other things (community, sociality, etc.,) that should be weighed against honesty.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  26. Taryn Fox on February 11, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    #15 Paul: Calls for both sides to have charity often fall under the “tone argument,” which is basically where you tell someone whose foot you stepped on that you’re not lifting your foot until she asks nicely.

    I think it’s okay to express anger if you’re hurt or you’ve been violated or your needs are being denied. I think it’s not okay to express anger if you’re mad that another person won’t be who you want them to be.

    I sympathize with exmormons who feel they have been lied to, abused, manipulated, and shunned. I’m angry with mormons who turn someone’s crisis of faith into an excuse to hurt them.

    I hate abusers.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 3

  27. Paul on February 11, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    #26 Taryn — I agree with everything you’ve written except the first paragraph. Charity is always appropriate. But the rest of what you say is absolutely correct, and I don’t think anything I’ve said in early comments disagrees.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  28. Jeff Spector on February 11, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    Andrew,

    Literalism generally comes about when people do not fully understand a particular concept. Let’s take perfection. We are asked to strive for perfection as the Father and Son are Perfect. Well, they are celestial beings so therefore, we can become perfect like them when we become celestial begins.

    How does that happen? Be striving to live the commandments and the follow the example of Jesus the best we can.

    It is not possible to be perfect in this life. Someone who takes that scripture literally think they have to and therefore drives themselves mad trying to achieve something virtually unachievable while on this earth.

    “I think at a lot of ex-Mormons and disaffected Mormons have this really high valuation of things like “honesty” and “truth.” ”

    Really, you are serious about this? Ex-mormons value truth, but true believers do not?

    Do you really mean to say this, because frankly, it is ridiculous.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  29. Andrew S on February 11, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    re 28,

    Jeff,

    Be striving to live the commandments and the follow the example of Jesus the best we can.

    This actually doesn’t resolve anything. because then the issue is: what is the “best we can” follow the example of Jesus? To use different (but hopefully analogous) language, if we are saved after all we can do, what is “all we can do”?

    So I would say that someone who literally believes we are saved after all we can do, or who believes we have to follow the exmaple of Jesus the best we can, is still at risk…because they don’t know what “the best they can” is. After all, if they can recognize a flaw, then that by default is recognizing they missed “the best they can”.

    “I think at a lot of ex-Mormons and disaffected Mormons have this really high valuation of things like “honesty” and “truth.” ”

    Really, you are serious about this? Ex-mormons value truth, but true believers do not?

    Do you really mean to say this, because frankly, it is ridiculous.

    Not really. I think ex-Mormons and true believers are more often opposite sides of the same coin. The only major exception that I can think of off the top of my head is when people start using rhetoric like, “Some things that are true may not be useful.” That generally comes more from “true” believers.

    But absolutely, if you look at the rhetoric of liberal, unorthodox, or nuanced believers, then that’s really what you hear. And in fact, that’s how I originally framed things:

    I think at a lot of ex-Mormons and disaffected Mormons have this really high valuation of things like “honesty” and “truth.” Whereas, a lot of people with more nuanced testimonies tend not to have such high valuations of those things.

    Emphasis added.

    To put in a different way, both true believers and ex-Mormons tend to believe truth is a central consideration in determining actions…they just happen to disagree strongly on what is true. But for nuanced/liberal Mormons, truth is less important of a consideration than things like community, perceived goodness, etc.,

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  30. Jeff Spector on February 11, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    Andrew s,

    “if we are saved after all we can do, what is “all we can do”?”

    Again, too much literalism. This must be viewed in context with other scriptures that speak about this topic.

    I think I wrote a post about this some time ago.

    We can do nothing to be saved, it is solely by the Grace of God and Jesus Christ that we are saved from spiritual death.

    So, then, what is all be can do?

    All we can do is offer a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

    Now it follows that if we truly have a broken heart and contrite spirit, this will trigger other positive actions and responses. but contrary to popular belief, we cannot work our way to heaven.

    The scriptures outline what is expected of us and the judge is Jesus. the “best we can do” is different for each one of us and we are not in a position to judge others.

    That’s what prayer is for. to find our what our Heavenly Father thinks of our “best we can do.”

    “Some things that are true may not be useful.”

    This came from one line of one talk by BKP. There is no proof that it is something “followed” by members of the Church. You cannot paint us all with that brush. There is also no proof that so-called ex-mormons are being truthful about why they leave the Church. History, notwithstanding. Human nature is such that we generally minimize our own responsibility when things happen to us.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 2

  31. Andrew S on February 11, 2012 at 4:16 PM

    re 30,

    Jeff,

    Again, too much literalism. This must be viewed in context with other scriptures that speak about this topic.

    I think I wrote a post about this some time ago.

    We can do nothing to be saved, it is solely by the Grace of God and Jesus Christ that we are saved from spiritual death.

    I don’t see it as too much literalism: rather, I see it as one of the major points of emphasis in Mormonism as opposed, to say, Evangelicalism. Maybe I’m just being too literal ;). So, for example, I could more readily anticipate the answer you have provided coming, almost word for word, as an Evangelical response to Mormonism, but not so much as a Mormon response to literalism. And maybe it’s from my experience with evangelicals from being Mormon (it’s not really all that positive), but I’ve been pretty skeptical of the reasoning in the past. Nowadays, I see it as sometimes a lot healthier, but I’m just NOT sure if it’s *Mormon*.

    But that’s why I like blogging here and talking to people like you and the other permas. Because maybe you can show that there’s different ways to be Mormon?

    The one thing I would ask about further is this. You said:

    Now it follows that if we truly have a broken heart and contrite spirit, this will trigger other positive actions and responses. but contrary to popular belief, we cannot work our way to heaven.

    Why is that a popular belief? Is it popular in evangelical communities, do you think? Is it popular in Mormon communities? Is it more popular in one than in the other? Why do you think that is, whatever the case you think to be? If these beliefs are primarily the individuals’ responsibilities, then wouldn’t we expect pretty similar distributions of this belief (or any other) across the religious spectrum? If we don’t (e.g., if this belief is more popular in one group than in another), then why is that? Are the types of people who become Mormon just different than the types of people who become Evangelical? Or could it maybe be that the community one participates in also influences that person’s development, beliefs, attitudes, etc.?

    Continuing on…

    This came from one line of one talk by BKP. There is no proof that it is something “followed” by members of the Church. You cannot paint us all with that brush.

    I believe I actually said:

    The only major exception that I can think of off the top of my head is when people start using rhetoric like, “Some things that are true may not be useful.” That generally comes more from “true” believers.

    This does not imply that I believe “all” members of the church follow that. This does not imply that I “paint [you] all with that brush.” In fact, it doesn’t even imply that I believe that “all” true believers in the church follow that. Just that, if you were going to ask, “Who uses that rhetoric?” you would readily recognize BKP, a true believer, as the proponent of such a statement…you wouldn’t generally pick some liberal/unorthodox Mormon.

    IN FACT, I noted this statement as an exception, because, for the most part, I would say you wouldn’t hear rhetoric from true believers that de-emphasized truth as that statement does.

    There is also no proof that so-called ex-mormons are being truthful about why they leave the Church. History, notwithstanding. Human nature is such that we generally minimize our own responsibility when things happen to us.

    Similarly, there is also no proof that so-called true believing Mormons are being truthful about why they stay in the church, or about why they join the church. But this is an irrelevant point in both cases. The fact that people may be self-unaware or hypocrtical (and that this applies to everyone…it’s human nature as well) does not change what they state and perceive to be their values. Let my inflection be crystal clear: I’m not saying that ex-Mormons or true believing Mormons are better at actually being honest or truthful — just that these groups are more likely to state that they value honesty/truth to a higher degree than groups like liberal/unorthodox members are.

    And I think that instead of trying to psychoanalyze each group to figure out what “truth” or “honesty” really means deep down in the Freudian depths of their sub-consciousnesses (they just wanted to sin! they just wanted to …), it’s a whole lot easier to take them at their word, if only for the sake of argumentation.

    Human nature is such that we generally minimize our own responsibility when things happen to us.

    I would simply point out that a faith crisis is not an isolated event. So the “us” that it happens to is NOT just the ex-Mormon or disaffected Mormon. It is everyone in the Mormon community.

    With that clarification, I completely agree with your statement. Human nature is such that we (all of us in the Mormon community) generally minimize our own responsibility when things happen to us.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  32. [...] news (about all that apostasy), the exmo/borderland community stepped up with lots of helpful discussion and ideas! Including fun ways to introduce less faith-promoting information. Personally, I think [...]

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  33. Taryn Fox on February 13, 2012 at 2:49 AM

    @27 Paul:

    If you don’t understand why the tone argument is a bad thing, please read up about it. I prefer to regard other people charitably, but this is Not An Okay Thing to tell someone when their toes are being stepped on.

    @30 Jeff:

    It’s disingenious to accuse people of being dishonest right after making it clear that you won’t believe anything they say anyhow.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  34. Jeff Spector on February 13, 2012 at 6:42 AM

    Andrew S,

    “I would simply point out that a faith crisis is not an isolated event. So the “us” that it happens to is NOT just the ex-Mormon or disaffected Mormon. It is everyone in the Mormon community.”

    Of course, I agree with this. some people response to a faith crisis is to understand where it comes from and attempt to reconcile it. Another response might be to run from it. and yet another response might be to give up and abandon one’s faith altogether.

    I think that everyone does experience a faith crisis and we all deal this it the best we can. i worry more about those who do not have a faith crisis in their lives.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  35. Jeff Spector on February 13, 2012 at 6:43 AM

    Taryn,

    “It’s disingenious to accuse people of being dishonest right after making it clear that you won’t believe anything they say anyhow.”

    Are you sure you are reading something I wrote, because what I wrote sounds nothing like what you are accusing me of.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  36. Paul on February 13, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    Taryn, I’m with Jeff. You’ve made a determination about me that simply isn’t true. You’ve assumed I’m engaging in a tone argument when in fact I responded to a comment from Andrew based on my earliest comment in the thread.

    I do not demand charity from anyone. To do so would be uncharitable of me.

    But I think the gospel of Jesus Christ does recommend charity.

    Charity is not, however, allowing an abuser to get off the hook, nor would I recommend such an action.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  37. hawkgrrrl on February 13, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    I’ll take a swing at this pinata.

    “1.What is it about the church *and* the people within the church that perpetuates these attitudes?” Pride. Plain & simple, putting appearance ahead of authenticity.
    “2.Why do these attitudes seem more pervasive in some families and not in others? In some wards and not in others?” LovelyLauren alluded to this. For some families, their whole identity is wrapped up in the church. They can’t let the facade down or they think they will lose their salvation.
    “3.What it is that could nip these false expectations in the bud, or at the very least, help those who have had these false expectations realize that there are other legitimate ways of engaging in the church without these expectations?” This is tough to say. I think it also goes to the type of person you are. Changing that is tough. I suppose if Mormonism celebrated members who had plenty of real flaws without white-washing them or minimizing them, that might help. You get more of what you reward. If we valued authenticity over an idealized image, people would be more authentic.
    “4.What is it that could make *all members* — not just the disaffected ones — “mellow” out?” Drugs? Experience outside of Utah?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  38. [...] My first thought would be to say that this perfectionism or cult of false expectations or whatever is more than just in Mormon “popular culture.” But more substantially, regardless of whether it’s institutionally or (merely) cultural, my more substantial point would be that it’s not just the disaffected believer “projecting” these ideals, and as a result, unrealistic expectations are EVERY Mormon’s problem. [...]

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  39. Kelly M on January 5, 2014 at 7:07 PM

    I am a less active sister who was a child/convert with my parents at the age of 2 and I can say that converts tend to be mellow in their approach to the “gospel of perfection”. I have spent most of my life in the “mission field” with a brief time in Sandy, UT where I witnessed a very clannish existance for the members in UT. I think the UT Mormons struggle with the social/culture side of the religion to the point that it affects their ability to “chill” within the confines of their society. I heard comments while working for a predominately Mormon worker base at the company I worked for that he wished the Prophet would agree to “give us one day off to get totally bombed” suggesting that this individual really needed a day to “let his hair down” and so I have to ask does he really need the Prophet’s blessing to do this? What if he smoked a little weed to unwind then after the experience realized it didn’t give him quite the fulfillment he required do you think he would need his temple recommend yanked by the Bishop? Could he quietly admit his folly and make his peace with Lord? Why do we think we need to put all this pressure on ourselves to be perfect 100% of the time and then when we mess up even a minor bit go running to the Bishop who may or may not be able to relate to our plight?

    I tend to think that my periods of inactivity are just “catch up” periods for me to get my mind unwound from all those sermons on the 100 things I haven’t done right yet. When I use my down time to go to the mountains and mediate and pray I always come to the same conclusion that Heavenly Father has a wonderful sense of humor as well as a keen understanding of the human experience so he’s on your side. What the Stake President said in the meeting was to set the standard or “raise the bar” so to speak doesn’t mean you are expected to meet it the first, second or 110th time you try to. Heavenly Father understands our failings and loves us through them. Only we are intolerant of ourselves and others and that is just plain wrong.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

Archives

%d bloggers like this: