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Why Argue with Mormons?

[I've recently had an interesting discussion with some pleasant Mormon folk and was up to my usual chicanery trying to loosen the death grip on Victorian era hysteria about masturbation. Not that these guys have stereotyped views, but still a psychology doctoral candidate would generally counsel abstinence from masturbation. 8O Anyway, the discussion elicited a response from me unrelated to masturbation that I thought I would adapt and expand here.]

I can’t fathom the need [of former Mormons] to rationalise to the n’th degree every minute point of church doctrine to justify to members (a) why you left and (b) why they are wrong.

I’ll take a shot an answering this for myself.

I’ve heard that many Mormons find the former Mormons they encounter litigious and combative. My guess is because many of us reasoned our way out of the church. Through weighing the evidence and the arguments, we went through an intellectual exercise that ended with our disbelief in the foundational claims of the church. On the other hand, Mormons come to their convictions through a process that is not rational in the sense of not strictly involving logic and reason. Something beyond reason is involved. I’m not denying that there is some irrational reasons that I have left the church or that there is no reason supporting Mormon beliefs; I’m characterizing the two processes broadly.

So when former Mormons want to justify their beliefs, they resort to logic and reason. This probably frustrates Mormons who don’t base their beliefs strictly on that basis. When current Mormons want to justify their beliefs, they go into “bearing testimony” mode which frustrates former Mormons. We usually talk past each other, but I am evidence that sometimes someone is listening to the other side.

When I debate with Mormons, whether on masturbation or some other topic, I do it for a number of reasons.

On the surface, it’s in the hope of persuading either the person I’m discussing with or the lurkers who read the discussion. Leaving Mormonism has been a positive change for me, so I want to share. I think this may be a relic of the missionary part of me that says that I am obligated to share what I see as the truth with others.

Below the surface, I think my views through and test them against the Mormon views I once held to make sure that my new worldview makes sense to me. It’s very important to me that my views are logically consistent, and discussions with people who don’t share my views helps me to see if their are weaknesses in my outlook on life. In other words, I’m justifying my departure to myself.

Sometimes, I am motivated by a need to refute a system of thought that I feel deceived me. I invested a lot in the church. It’s natural to feel hurt and betrayed when we decide that it isn’t everything that it claimed to be. I want to expose the lies in revenge.

Sometimes, as in the case masturbation, I am moved by compassion with those who suffer in shame and ignorance because of teachings and counsel they have received from their leaders. I want to help them find the light if I can.

In answer to the implied “Why can’t people who leave the church not leave it alone?”, I wish it were that simple. It’s not easy to flip a switch and stop concerning myself about something that had such totalitarian control over my life (control that I granted to it). Further, I still have Mormon family and friends. By virtue of those relationships, I can’t leave the church alone because it doesn’t leave me alone. It is still part of my life and the life of my loved ones, as much as I wish it wasn’t.

I remember all of the things that are said about ex-Mormons. I argue to prove those slanders wrong. (Angry arguments probably defeat this purpose.) I didn’t leave in order to sin or because I couldn’t hack it. I didn’t leave because I didn’t know enough about the gospel or because I was offended by someone. I left only when I became intellectually convinced that the claims of the church were in many cases false. I tried to reconcile myself to that and stay in the church, but ultimately I couldn’t stay in an institution that claimed to be fully true but that I believe to be partly false. Many of the harmful aspects of the church root themselves in the conceit that says that Mormonism is without blemish. Maybe one day I won’t care so much, but unconsciously, I want LDS members to understand the real reasons that I left instead of painting me to be morally or intellectually weak.

Also, when I see the church doing something that I find harmful, such as the church’s pushing of Proposition 8 in California, I feel morally bound to speak out against it. My familiarity with the church and its actions compel me to act as critic. Progress happens when people speak out against injustice and wrong. I want bear my fair share of the burden in making the world a better place. That includes ameliorating the harms that the LDS church does.

I think I’ve exhausted the reasons that I can think of why I have rationalized to and debated with church members about their beliefs. Does that help to understand?

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  1. Lincoln Cannon said,

    March 12, 2009 @ 3:26 pm

    Keep arguing. We can all benefit from divergent perspectives expressed contructively.

  2. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 13, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

    My thoughts exactly. :)

    On a related note, I find that the situation depicted in this comic applies far to often.

  3. Matt said,

    March 13, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

    Mormons know why we can’t leave them alone … in addition to your great points, the best of which was that our families remain involved:

    - The D&C prophesies it: we’re left to kick agains the pricks in the church.

    - Just as the church can’t leave the world alone, neither can we leave the church alone. Is it really so shocking that we might earnestly desire to save the world … from the Mormons?

  4. Jonathan said,

    March 14, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

    They can’t blame us too much for carrying the Mormon savior-complex over into our new lives, right?

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