In my last post, I made the rather unremarkable suggestion that it is investment in a religion and the costs of leaving that make it more likely for groups of former believers to arise in support of each other. Thus, we see support groups for former Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, FLDS, Church of Christ, and other highly demanding religions with high costs of leaving. In response, I have been told I’m just bitter and resentful and have an unhealthy obsession with my former religion. My favorite comment is this rather mean-spirited gem:
Runtu is in the position of someone who has a gay child, but then goes out and condemns homosexuality, creates a blog about how terrible homosexuality is, and does not stop.
And, I’m told, it’s rarely painful for people to leave Mormonism.
A good friend (I’ll call him Steve) called me earlier this evening to talk about my post and the responses to it. He’s an identical twin, and an ex-Mormon. He and his twin brother (whom I’ll call Dave) were raised in the same LDS family, with a father in the military, so they traveled around a lot and never lived in the “Mormon Corridor” of Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and Nevada. He and his brother were baptized the same day, were ordained to the priesthood the same day, and entered the MTC the same day before serving in adjacent South American missions. On returning from their missions, Steve attended BYU, married in the temple, and got a professional postgraduate degree and is a successful businessman in the Midwest. Dave followed in his father’s path and joined the US Army, married in the temple, and has made a successful career as an officer, recently doing tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Around the same time I left the church, Steve was serving in a bishopric and as a veil coordinator at his local LDS temple. He too discovered that the LDS church wasn’t exactly what he had believed it to be, and he had a major crisis of faith. His marriage nearly broke up, and at one point his own mother urged his wife to divorce him simply because he had lost his faith. Fortunately for him, his wife decided to do her own homework and reached the same conclusions he had. Even so, he suffered through an agonizing period of about 3 years when his whole life seemed to be teetering on the brink of disaster. He was asked to leave his all-LDS firm because the partners “did not feel comfortable” having an apostate working for them, so in mid-career he essentially started over and began his own business. His LDS friends and neighbors spread terrible rumors about him, such as saying that he had started a polygamous cult, was engaging in drunken orgies, and was trying to destroy the church. And all the while Steve had done nothing but quietly leave the church without telling anyone but his bishop why he was leaving.
Steve mentioned to me that his brother, Dave, had a much different experience leaving the church. Dave simply walked away and never talks about Mormonism. When people bring it up, he gets very defensive and stressed and doesn’t want to talk about it. He has put Mormonism behind him and doesn’t feel like revisiting it, ever.
Steve sought out support from ex-Mormon support groups, whereas Dave never had any interest. Steve struggled for a few years to get over the feelings of betrayal and hurt, but Dave never gave it a second thought.
I asked Steve what the difference was, and he was quick to say it was the level of commitment. The difference between him and his brother is that Steve was devout and committed; he was what we might call a true believer. Dave, on the other hand, never took the church very seriously, so when he walked away, it wasn’t that big of a deal but was just another change in his life.
I bring this up because these two men are good examples of what I have been talking about: Leaving is easy when you haven’t invested much in your religion; it’s excruciating if you have.