“Of Course I Miss It”

Yesterday my wife and I were listening to RadioWest’s interview with two filmmakers about their latest project, a profile of Utah poet laureate Alex Caldiero called “The Sonosopher.” It was a fascinating hour, mostly discussing poetry and the poet, and their place in society.

At one point the filmmakers mentioned that they had been surprised by Caldiero’s discussion of Mormonism. They had asked him if he missed the church, and he had said, “Of course I miss it. Of course I miss the community. I miss worshipping, singing. It’s sad, but the people I hang out with I can’t pray with, and the people who would pray with me I can’t hang out with.”

My wife said what she has said many times, that it’s the sense of community that seems to be the biggest loss for ex-Mormons. She said that many ex-Mormons gravitate towards recovery and post-Mormon communities because they need to fill a void left by the loss of the LDS community. That is an astute and accurate observation. A lot of former Mormons who don’t deal with the church at all in their everyday lives nevertheless still hang out on message boards, go to conferences, and even have picnics and parties with their ex-Mormon friends.

This seems to be a result of the success of Mormonism as a community as well as a religion. It’s difficult to think of a religion that so heavily invests its members in the larger community. The organization of the church mostly around lay members is one of its great strengths. Even on such trivial matters as cleaning the chapel, members feel invested, like the church is theirs. And the programs of the church are designed to foster interconnection of community. Home teachers, for example, come to know families and build ties with them of friendship.

The tight organization also allows the church to do some kinds of service that other groups are not capable of doing. Anyone who was in Louisiana and East Texas a few years ago saw how well-organized the church was to help with hurricane recovery. It really was amazing to walk into a stake center and see rows of new chain saws, pallets of food and water, tents, and fuel. Recently the Houston Chronicle, in an article about lessons learned from Hurricane Ike, mentioned that some private charities were better organized than the state and federal governments. They singled out the 7000 LDS volunteers, particularly the men of College Station (I still claim them as my ward), for their service in helping Galveston residents clean up.

When a person leaves the church, he or she of necessity separates from that community. As Mr. Caldiero said, you really don’t have the same relationship anymore; you can’t pray with the church members anymore, as he put it. There are no more home teachers, no more callings, nothing to tie you to the community. It stops being “your” church because you are no longer heavily invested in it.

It may even be worse for those who are “in the church but not of it.” These people are still connected in a superficial way but may feel a bigger disconnect with the larger community.

So, many people seek out what my wife calls a “surrogate community” (she was always the smart one). Unfortunately, for a lot of people, the new community is defined by being “not” the church community. These folks may idealize their current community while finding nothing good about the church. Hence the constant anger and harsh criticism some people dish out regularly (for some reason, Dan Peterson’s mention of those who complain about Mormon soup-slurpers comes to mind).

Realistically, people who leave the church are not going to find a comparable community because there is no community quite like the church. The trick, then, is to find something positive and uplifting that, although it doesn’t completely fill the void, can give meaning and purpose and, yes, a sense of community.

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5 Responses to “Of Course I Miss It”

  1. Tim says:

    I think we were certainly made for community.

  2. MC says:

    A sense of community is certainly one of the pros of Mormonism, but I think that’s more an indictment of modern civilization than glowing praise for Mormonism. It’s a simple fact that, as Tim says, we were made for community. We as a species lived in tribes for 7 million years–at least 50,000 years as anatomically modern humans. Millions of years of evolution tuned our brains to thrive in such small tribes. It’s no wonder, then, that modern man is plagued with a variety of neurosis. No one should be surprised when a mind adapted to tribal society reacts with anxiety when transplanted into a metropolis made up of millions of strangers. Modern psychology is mistaken when it labels such “disorders” pathological. The problem isn’t the person–it’s the environment.

  3. I was speaking this with a friend just this morning. Pretty much the only thing I miss about the Mormon church is the community. The thought of moving used to never make me nervous, because I always knew that I would have an instant community and instant friends no matter where I went. Now, I get a little nervous at the thought of having to start over completely, making new friends and the like.

    I have commented many times that I wish I were Jewish. I have many friends who consider themselves Jewish, even though they also consider themselves atheists. You can be Jewish without believing. Sadly, you cannot be Mormon without believing. If I could be Mormon without actually believing in the church, I would probably still be Mormon.

  4. Ray Agostini says:

    “Realistically, people who leave the church are not going to find a comparable community because there is no community quite like the church. The trick, then, is to find something positive and uplifting that, although it doesn’t completely fill the void, can give meaning and purpose and, yes, a sense of community.”

    Maybe this applies mainly to BIC? I’ve belonged to several “communities”. The running club community. The rugby union community. And my late teen years the “let’s get drunk tonight” community. I don’t miss any of them, though they were all once a part of who I am. The molecules in my body have changed and adapted to different environments.

    Can’t remember the last time I saw a Mormon in the flesh, probably months now, and before that, who knows? However, I do (sometimes) enjoy online discussions about Mormonism, and that gives me a sense of “community”. Beleaguered by what Australian historian Geoffrey Blaney called “the tyranny of distance”, my community is, of necessity, harboured in my keyboard (though I have Skyped occasionally). Long distance friendships/community also has a positive: When you get tired of them, just press “delete”. Now if only relationships/marriage were so flexible and controllable, it might once again be worth considering. When she says, “the lawn needs mowing”, just press delete.

  5. Bull says:

    I concur with Ray. Being out of the church has allowed me to become engaged with other communities that I’d have never been able to join in the church. Racing and running both usually happen on Sunday, so many Mormon runners outside of Utah can’t fully participate without skipping church to run or race on Sunday.

    I miss the friendships I had, but they were really only one’s of convenience since I haven’t heard once from my former friends since leaving. We were more friendly associates during church gatherings than real friends.

    This also triggered a new connection. Psychologists have observed that human tribes seem to be optimal around 120 (?) people. Beyond that it becomes difficult for everyone to know everyone else. One thing the church got right, probably by trial and error, is the way they constantly split a ward just as it’s finally getting big enough that people don’t need more than one calling and the organizations have enough people to have large activities. It keeps the ward small enough that everyone knows everyone and it’s harder for people to slack off and slip between the cracks.

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