Recently, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, and I started taking medication for it. I had never realized just how much this condition had prevented me from functioning fully. I simply hadn’t know what normal was like. After a month on the Adderall, I am doing really well.
One visible benefit from the medication is that I’m a lot more organized, and my desk at work, which has always been obscured by piles of papers and CDs, is organized and clean. One of my coworkers mentioned that he had thought I had been laid off because my desk looked like it had been cleared. When I explained about the Adderall, he said he was taking it, too, and for him, like me, it has been life-changing. Another coworker mentioned that he too is on Adderall. Coincidentally, both of these guys are closeted apostates in that both of them have lost all belief in Mormonism but stay active and participating for social and familial reasons. One of my apostate coworkers said that it was funny that all three of us unbelievers suffer from ADD. He wondered if there were a connection between our loss of faith and the ADD.
He isn’t the first person I know who has attempted to make a connection between psychological disorders and apostasy. My old friend, amateur apologist and armchair psychotherapist Wade Englund, has long asserted that loss of faith in Mormonism is a result of distorted cognitive processes. Thus, he advocates cognitive behavioral therapy for us apostates. I’d never given much credence to that, but then my cousin, who is a psychiatric nurse practitioner, mentioned in passing that she had “trouble feeling the Spirit” before she started taking ADD medication.
Could there be a link between ADD and apostasy?
In talking to my co-medicated friends, I discovered that what we had in common was a real hunger to learn and discover and propensity to become bored when we’re not learning. In me, this hunger for learning led to a passion to read as much as I could about my religion, its history and its doctrines. At one point when I was commuting by bus from Orem to work at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, I was reading my scriptures for 90 minutes in the morning and then reading the teachings of the modern prophets (LDS church leaders) an equal amount of time on the way home. On my lunch hours I would go down to the Church Historical Library and read whatever I could get my hands on.
Oddly enough, I never read anything that could be considered “anti-Mormon.” I avoided “The Godmakers” and Fawn Brodie, preferring to read pioneer journals, scripture commentaries, and old conference addresses. Inevitably, as the people and events of my religion’s history became more real to me, my perceptions of my religion changed. Now, I’m not saying that exposure to church history necessarily leads to loss of faith, but certainly the jarring disconnect between the sanitized Mormonism of Sunday School and seminary and the messier but real history changes the way one understands Mormonism. Certainly many people find their faith strengthened by their study of church history and doctrine, but I would argue that their perception has been changed forever.
My interaction with apologists and ex-Mormons bears this out. Those who have been exposed to church history outside of official Mormon publications view Mormonism much differently than do those whose study is limited to correlated church materials. The difference is exemplified in the reaction of some to new information. As an example, quite often we hear of people discovering troubling information about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygyny and polyandry. One could grow up in the LDS church, attend meetings, read lesson manuals and scriptures, and yet be totally unaware that Joseph Smith had at least 33 wives, 11 of whom were concurrently married to someone else at the time. I knew growing up that Joseph Smith had taught and practiced polygamy, but I had always been told that these were sealings, not really marriages, and they were mostly to support widows. I know, it sounds naive, but that’s what I was taught. I suspect I’m not unique in having been taught that. But when someone goes to FAIR or MAD with their concerns about these issues, they are uniformly ridiculed, first because they are said to have been “lazy” for not learning about these things earlier, but second because they are clearly not sophisticated or nuanced enough to understand the godliness of Joseph Smith’s actions.
It seems clear to me that, even in their defense of Mormonism, apologists have radically changed their perspective on troubling issues from polygamy to the very problematic Book of Abraham. What separates the apologists from the apostates is the conclusions they allow themselves to reach. An apostate looks at the Book of Abraham, for example, and understands that the papyrus that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated bears no relationship to any story of Abraham, much less to the anachronistic story canonized in the Pearl of Great Price. Apologists, on the other hand, are reduced to sputtering about missing scrolls and redefining the word “translation.” My favorite apologist response has to be the one suggesting that, although Joseph Smith believed he was translating the papyrus, he really wasn’t, but the text is still the revealed word of God.
But in the end, the new information has forced a transformation of heretofore “orthodox” belief. Lamanites thus stop being Native Americans, and the Book of Mormon takes place in an ever-shrinking geographical location. And the apologists got to this transformation the same way we did: they too hungered for knowledge and found it.
That to me is the common ground between apologists and apostates: we all have a natural curiosity, a desire to learn and understand more. Despite the ulterior motivations believers ascribe to apostates, almost without exception it has been the drive to learn, to know, that characterizes the ex-Mormons I know. The same is also true for most of the apologists I know. The difference, I suspect, is in a person’s willingness to consider that the church might not be what it claims to be. One prominent apologist once said that he believed, a la Thomas Kuhn, that it was healthy and necessary to shift one’s paradigm with new information, as long as the center of the paradigm never shifted. That center of course was that the LDS church is true.
In the end, the Adderall hasn’t dampened my natural curiosity, but rather it has helped me to be more focused in learning new skills and new information. But who knows? Maybe a few doses of Ritalin might have kept me on the straight and narrow.