Sometime around 1995-96, I stumbled across the old alt.religion.mormon listserv boards. A few of the usual suspects were there: Russell C. McGregor, Charles Dowis, Randy Jordan, and others. That was where I first realized that I wasn’t alone in having rethought my beliefs in response to new information. A lot of the posters there were what Shades would call “Internet Mormons,” people who rejected orthodox teachings because current evidence no longer supports the old views. Back then, I thought we were perilously close to heretical, but these days the views espoused on a.r.m. wouldn’t even cause the major apologists to shrug in disinterest.
But the anger was always there. I don’t think I’d ever met an angry apologist until I met Brother McGregor. Some of us tried to build bridges with secular and religious critics, but he and others of his stripe were having none of it. I could never figure out what made them so damned angry, but it was frustrating to me that they often destroyed whatever good will anyone else may have brought about.
I read my posts from back then, and I see a hopelessly naïve believer, someone who thought that, underneath it all, people were basically good. Then I started posting on the old FAIR board.
Back when I was posting as a believer on FAIR, my beliefs were pretty mainstream, at least to the group that posted there. Sure there were a few uber-orthodox fanatics, but most of us had adjusted our Mormon paradigm enough to make things work, and we were pretty much on the same page. I had some good exchanges with ex-Mormons, some of whom, like Ray A and Polygamy Porter, became good friends. I learned that, even the “vilest” of ex-Mormon could still be a hell of a good guy.
Then I left the church. Suddenly, people who had once been friendly and respectful treated me as if I were the worst kind of degenerate. One poster sent emails around to mutual friends suggesting that I was a sexual predator and perhaps mentally ill. When I reached a suicidal point in my life, one FAIR poster told me I deserved to feel that way, that I really should want to kill myself.
It was then that I realized that most of what goes on in the boards has nothing to do with Mormonism or religion at all. It has to do with personality, with group think, and with an us vs. them mentality. A lot of the pettiness, the hate, the sneering, would have come about even if it had been a board about, say, the Simpsons or bird watching. That the boards are about Mormonism dictates the content of the discussion, but other than that, it’s the same.
What is fascinating to me is not so much that ex-Mormons can be angry and bitter and nasty; I get that. I understand why people would be angry. But it’s utterly amazing to see otherwise normal Mormons spew such rage and hatred (and then say, who me?). I’ve often said that the main difference between RfM and some of the LDS boards is not the level of hate, but rather the absence of overt profanity.
Several friends of mine from way back have likewise left the church. One of the founders of a.r.m. left several years ago; and one of my closest TBM friends from back in the FAIR days is now one of my closest exmo friends. Oddly enough, we’re not really different, though our views have changed. We’re still the same people, even though we’re supposed to be wallowing in despair and alcoholism.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say in this longwinded post is that discussing Mormonism comes down to dealing with personalities. The wisest people I’ve met online don’t take the religious discussion all that seriously but enjoy the exchange of perspectives and personalities. So these days I’m glad I’m still here. I’ve met a lot of good people, and some not-so-good people. Thank you to everyone who has made my stay on the Net interesting.