As long as I’ve had this blog, I’ve had commenters (always believing Mormons) ask me why I can’t just “let go” and “move on.” Why, they ask, would anyone define themselves as “ex” anything instead of who they are in positive terms? It’s “unhealthy” they say, to keep talking about the past, and even if it weren’t, being so “negative” is bad for the soul.
It’s pretty clear to me, and I’m sure to most of my readers, where this advice comes from, and it’s not generally from a concern for the wellbeing of my soul. Most people don’t like other people criticizing things they hold dear, and for good reason. It’s easy to take it personally, especially when you belong to a group that in large part determines your identity and worldview.
But why is there an ex-Mormon “movement,” if you want to call it that? Is Mormonism unique in having “apostates” continue to criticize its teachings and practices, and if not, what’s behind such movements?
I’m told that a thorough Google search yielded only a single former Jew (now Christian) blogger that provided anything comparable to what we see from ex-Mormons. If that were true, it would mean that ex-Mormons are unique. But of course, ex-Mormons are no different than any other such group (and there are a lot of them). Everything you might hear among even the most bitter ex-Mormons you will hear in other such groups. A cursory Google search yielded the following topics of discussion on non-LDS support groups for former believers:
“Psychological Torture in the Southern Baptist Cult.”
A long thread about ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses “unwitnessing” to people trapped in the “Borg.”
“I was born. I grew up. I escaped,” which discussed the author’s journey to freedom outside of Scientology.
Several threads about the fear of coming out as no longer believing in the Church of Christ.
And that was just the first result from a few Google searches. There was a lot more, and a lot of it was pretty angry.
Rather than wonder why these people are so unhealthy and obsessed with their former religions, maybe it’s better to try and understand the common denominators. I could probably spend some time researching and come up with a really good analysis, but this is a blog, and I’m home in bed with strep. So, I’ll give you two common factors, as I see them:
1. The level of commitment demanded and received.
2. The costs of leaving.
First, the religions that spawn “ex” movements require great commitment and devotion. People who aren’t committed simply fade away, like most converts to Mormonism and a considerable number of people raised as Mormons. The people you see in “ex” movements are usually those who believed in their religion and gave the commitment and effort demanded. That’s why they hurt so much. You don’t see movements for, say, ex-Unitarians or ex-Methodists because these are not very demanding religions. They don’t ask much of your time, your devotion, or your commitment to dogma or praxis. Unitarians, for example, don’t ask you to spend 2 years away from home on your own dime recruiting converts. Methodists don’t expect you to spend hours in church every week, volunteer a lot of time supporting the church, and require you to be “worthy” to attend rituals regularly.
Second, leaving these religions involves high social and familial costs. All these groups teach that those who leave are sinful “apostates” with evil intent, so leaving tends to cost you a lot in terms of friendships and family relationships. I have a good friend whose own mother counseled his wife to divorce him because he had lost his faith in the church. I know people who have been kicked out of their homes, lost their marriages, and become pariahs in their communities simply because they walked away from Mormonism.
When I went to a therapist in Texas, he was dumbfounded as to why my exit from Mormonism was so painful. He said, “I’m Methodist, and my wife is Presbyterian, so we attend her church. No big deal.” Later, when I ended up in a psychiatric hospital after the religious issues came to a head in my family, the staff psychiatrist asked me what had triggered the episode. I said I had lost my faith, and it was causing problems in all my relationships. “Which religion?” he asked, and when I told him, he said, “Oh, Mormonism. My business partner was a Mormon bishop who went through the same experience. He lost his wife, his children won’t talk to him anymore, and most of his clients deserted him, as he was one of the only Mormon psychiatrists in Houston. I’m surprised he didn’t try to kill himself.”
Having said that, I think it’s obvious that some people are bitter and resentful, and it can be unhealthy. Most people, however, get it out of their system and move on. But that doesn’t mean you should stop talking about Mormonism or whatever religion you left. It’s part of who you are, and it always will be, especially if your family is still as heavily involved in it as mine is.
Am I bitter and resentful about Mormonism? I don’t think so. But it is part of every day of my life, and it would be crazy to force myself not to talk about a major part of my current life. I post here because it’s a good way for me to get things out in ways that aren’t going to affect my personal relationships; I’d rather vent here than have confrontations at home. But truth be told, I don’t think all that much about Mormonism. I post maybe once a week, with months going by when I don’t post, though you’ll see flurries of activities when Mormonism has reared its unwelcome head in my personal life more than usual.
So, I am not going to apologize for saying what I think when I feel like saying it. What’s the point? I understand that most Mormons, were they aware of this trifling little blog, would tell me to shut up and stop going after the true church. I doubt they would appreciate it if I told them to stop talking about their religion because they should just get over it.