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A Mutually Loving Impasse

Most religions implant psychological safeguards against apostasy, little emotional bombs of fear, guilt, shame and self-loathing that get triggered by the mere act of questioning. In religious orthodoxy, doubt is the domain of fools. It is the consequence of having hardened your heart like Pharaoh or resenting God’s power like Lucifer. Oh ye of little faith!

So says Valerie Tarico in response to Michael’s story of leaving Mormonism.

I must confess that even though I’ve made my peace with the idea that not everyone will see Mormonism the same way that I do, I still worry about my family’s future.

I attend sacrament meeting most weeks, and every time I do, the reasons that I left reinforce themselves to me. When I was Mormon, I assumed that anyone who attended church enough would eventually soften their heart to the truth. Every time a relative attended church who hadn’t been there in years, I imagined that they would realize what they had been missing and come back into the arms of the church. I enjoyed church, so I assumed that they had simply forgotten how good church was, and with a little reminder, they would remember and return to the faith.

Now I see the LDS church differently, and I finally understand that for some people, attending a Mormon church service only gives them more reason to stay away. It’s not a problem of forgetting; they object to Mormonism on principle. I never imagined as a Mormon that the words spoken the pulpit could be disturbing and repulsive.

As a Mormon, I thought that anyone who disagreed with the teachings of Mormonism was being deceived by Satan, that the antidote was to feel the joy of the Holy Spirit in church. I now see that is too simple. As I continue my life outside of Mormonism, I am generally happier though I have good days and bad. Mormon teachings give me no joy, so attending church services has no hope of persuading me to return—none that I can see.

So I understand why someone else might not find the same joy as I do in the ideals of freethought. The idea of doubting and not feeling certain about our beliefs is frightening for some, even though I revel in it because it feels authentic to the human condition.

I’ve seen both sides, and I see how unhealthy Mormonism (or any other fundamentalist, cultish group) can be. I don’t like the idea of my family being stuck there. I don’t like the idea of that separating us. I hope they can find their way out. I want them to wake up to the toxicity of Mormonism. They want me to wake up to the joys of Mormonism. We are at an impasse.

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  1. Kullervo said,

    March 20, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

    I’m not actually convinced that “most religions” do this, and that kind of broad generalization makes me question whether the speaker actually knows all that much about religion in geenral and “most religions” in specific.

  2. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 20, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

    It certainly is true of some religions, and I think most do it to some degree.

  3. Lincoln Cannon said,

    March 20, 2008 @ 4:01 pm

    You are at an impasse of your own making. Mormonism and free thinking are mutually exclusive only to the extent that you so insist.

  4. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 7:48 am


    I want to add that I admit that applying it as a broad generalization isn’t helpful, and that I included it only because I felt that it was true in the case of my experience of Mormonism.


    I double-dog dare you to get up next fast and testimony meeting and start expressing that the LDS church needs to have equity in church gender structures (e.g. priesthood for the women), equity in marital prospects for all (e.g. homosexual marriage), complete renunciation of racist teachings by past prophets, and a culture allowing members to openly question the teachings of their ecclesiastical leaders. I think you would find that you would be given the choice—more or less tactfully—to either shut the hell up or get out. Any church where I can’t openly express those ideas without fear is not a freethinking church.

    I realize that in general Mormonism and the LDS church are separate, but in this context, I’m using “Mormonism” as shorthand for the LDS church and the community surrounding that organization.

    On second thought, I take back the dare. I don’t want to be partly responsible for the consequences. :)

  5. Lincoln Cannon said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 8:08 am

    Jonathan, if you approach matters with a truly open mind (which is incompatible with dogmatism in antagonism) and with compassion and constructive intent, experiences at church meetings can be better than your comment implies. For example, look at the lesson I taught in Gospel Doctrine last Sunday:

    I believe we all benefitted from the experience of discussing the sins of Zion — our own sins as a Church.

  6. Lessie said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 8:21 am

    Jonathan, I know what you mean. I’ve been missing the community structure that came with the church and attending a Spanish class at the local Spanish branch. It was a confusing experience. On the one hand, it was good for me to remember that in general, Mormons are good people. I think I have a tendency to conflate the organization with the people. On the other hand, it was a little scary to be back in the building and the last time I went to SM with my hubby, I sat there and griped under my breath about the bs coming from the pulpit. I don’t quite know how to explain to people that I gave Mormonism everything I had, and yet instead of having my fear comforted and a confirmation of its truth given to me, I found only more questions and inconsistencies (and these things didn’t even originate in the history of the church–I found out most of that icky stuff after I had already emotionally separated myself from the church). Anyway, I wish I knew what to tell you about your family. Fortunately my hubby has been very supportive of this whole process and actually quit attending when I did. He occasionally decides that he wants to go and sometimes I go with him and sometimes I don’t.

  7. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 8:34 am


    Interesting lesson that seemed to beat around the bush (from what I could tell from the outline). The culture does not accept free thought, free expression, and doubting church leaders. Dallin H. Oaks made that quite clear..

    Even if I had enough energy to work to change the culture, I doubt my family would appreciate me becoming the ward pariah because I asked the wrong questions in class or said the wrong things in testimony meeting. The truth is that I haven’t the heart to play David to this Goliath. A church that can’t take a little sincere criticism isn’t one that I want to be a part of. If a church wants me to walk on pins and needles to avoid rocking the boat too much (please pardon my mixed metaphors), then I want no part of that church. It’s a waste of my precious time.

    If you want to prove me wrong, then take my dare without beating around the bush. Something short along the lines of “President Monson and the General Authorities are misguided and wrong to exclude women from the priesthood. I don’t believe that teaching comes from God. We cannot be compassionate disciples of Christ without also sealing homosexual marriages in the temple. We need to acknowledge the racist evils in our history and strongly condemn the statements of prophets and other leaders which have mingled the philosophies of men with scripture.”

    Confrontational? Yes, of course. If the church is accepting of freethought, then saying this verbatim from the pulpit should pose no problem for you.

  8. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 8:46 am


    Thank you. Mormons are good people, and I wish I could help them somehow, but I’m tired. I feel like I’ve wasted too much of my short life already.

    Perhaps some of my regret for my family is selfish. This will sound horrible. I love my wife and children, and yet I sometimes fantasize what I would do if I wasn’t obligated to them. I feel caged and part of me longs to be free. If I was freed from those obligations today, I would resign my membership in the church immediately and shake the dust from my feet.

    Really what I want is for all of us to walk away together. I know that’s outside of my control, and I don’t want to coerce, manipulate, or force anyone to see things like I do. Life is full of compromises, and this is one I’m willing to make to be with my family.

  9. Lessie said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:01 am

    I’m still debating the idea of having my name removed from the roles. I haven’t mentioned it to my husband because I think that might be just slightly extreme even to his laid back sensibilities. However, I wonder if I do want my name on the rolls of an organization that I ultimately don’t think is necessary for my salvation, and also that I believe still teaches some harmful things in regards to social problems/progress. Sometimes I wish that my husband would figure out the things that I did. However, for him, it’s just a matter of his not needing that kind of searching in his life. His relationship with the church and divinity has always been very laid back and passive. He thinks it’s a little scary that I doubt God’s existence, but he’s certainly not a deeply spiritual person either. He just thinks God is there, and he needs to be a nice person to return to God. I can see how it will be different though considering your wife is much more committed (she reminds me of me before some of my life experiences started leading me in unexpected directions).

  10. Lincoln Cannon said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:08 am

    Jonathan, I disagree with your implied interpretation of Oaks’ talk, and I’m not convinced, as you appear to be, that the LDS Church should be ready for all of the changes you suggest. Morality is more complex than attempting to force one’s own values on a particular community. You write from the perspective of faith in an absolute morality, which faith I do not share. The only morality that makes any sense to me is one that works to account for and reconcile among the indefinite complexity of the wills and desires of varying individuals, and the laws of their varying communities and environments. As I mentioned before, YOU are creating the impasse quite as much as any other person involved, and if you desire to change that then there certainly are ways you can proceed to do so — despite others’ contributions to the situation. You claim you’ve wasted too much of your life in such efforts, but I’ll claim, in return, that there is no possible waste in effort to reconcile with persons you love because there is no enduring meaning beyond love. Waste is meaningful only in contrast with love. Whining and spiteful criticism will change nothing in any enduring way. Only persuasion in enduring compassion will, given enough time, result in sufficient power for the sorts of change that will transform us, together, into the divine persons we can become.

  11. Lincoln Cannon said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:15 am

    Lessie, because of our mutual love, their salvation is inextricably associated with our salvation, despite the extent of our agreement and disagreement with them. These are matters of definition (not hypothesis), within an assumed context of eternity. Faith in anything short of that (in quantity or quality) is, to return to a word used by Jonathan, wasteful.

  12. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:19 am


    I guess we would be most comfortable if we agreed with our spouses on such important (important to us anyway) issues. I am learning that I might have to do without that comfort.


    “It’s wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true.”

    I don’t see any way to make Dallin Oaks’ statement compatible with free expression of dissenting viewpoints. That most members of the church aren’t willing to criticize Oaks for this statement shows that either they are in agreement or they’re afraid to say otherwise.

    I think we may be misunderstanding each other on a small point. I don’t necessarily want to impose my ideas on the members of the church. I don’t think that my beliefs are backed up by some kind of absolute moral authority. For the purposes of my challenge to you, I don’t even want them to accept what I said as a good and true. I just want them to hear and listen to the words without threatening you with marginalization.

  13. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:24 am

    In other words, I would be much more accepting of the church if the members were more willing to hear what I truly think. If there was truly open discussion even if very few ever agreed with me, I wouldn’t feel attending church was such a waste.

  14. Lincoln Cannon said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:27 am

    I think Oaks means only a subset of what you are implying by your interpretation of “criticize leaders of the church”.

    I also don’t think your dare is an example of expressing free thought. Rather, it is an example of expressing antagonistic dogmatism, which no community in the world can accept and survive. For a community to survive, it must insist on constructive criticism, although dissenting constructive criticism is certainly essential. Within such a paradigm, free thought is certainly capable of navigating. Free thought, so far as I am concerned, does not mean apathy or antipathy in our communication of ideas. It means thinking freely and expressing such thoughts in a way that maintains ongoing free thought. Dogmatism, protagonistic or antagonistic, does not maintain a context in which free thought is truly open to expression.

  15. Lincoln Cannon said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:29 am

    I should add that I don’t think the LDS Church environment is even close to optimized for expression of free thought — but such failings do not change my duty.

  16. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:37 am

    I could try to express my thoughts more constructively, and my ideas and the expression thereof would still be ostracized. When it comes down to it, there is no room in the everyday church for me to express what I think, no matter how constructively I approach the discussion.

    Unlike you, I don’t feel a sense of duty to the church. I feel like the church betrayed me long before I betrayed it.

  17. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:40 am

    There are some days that I still feel extremely hurt by the pain the church has caused me. On those days, still being involved with the church feels like I can’t let go of a relationship with an abusive spouse.

  18. Lincoln Cannon said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:44 am

    You are deciding that there is no way, and you should take responsibility for this decision. You should also forgive the LDS Church, more for your sake than for its sake — I don’t say this lightly, as it is something I, too, often struggle with emotionally.

    The duty I mention is not only toward the LDS Church. It is a general moral duty, without which there is no morality at all. For me, the LDS Church happens to be a particularly important aspect of the practical scope of my possible contributions. I supect you are in a similar position.

  19. Jonathan Blake said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:48 am

    This, I think has wisdom in it.

    Knowing myself, I don’t think I have the space to forgive yet. It’s still too close, and I don’t know how to get that distance.

  20. Lessie said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:50 am

    Hi Lincoln. I agree with the gist of your statement. I was raised in the church and taught the doctrine of sealings, salvation, and their interconnectedness. So I am well aware of the potential for pain that a spouse’s leaving the church can cause. As a matter of fact, I was raised in the midst of it. My father is agnostic and my mother is very committed and faithful. My sister and I were constantly reminded of the pain that my mom felt by his perceived betrayal and we were invited to share this pain, sense of betrayal, and lack of full trust in our father. To this day my parents refuse to really talk about these issues. My dad refuses to listen to the spiritual things that are important to my mom and my mom refuses to listen to the doubts that my dad has. They are both fiercely defensive about their feelings.

    However, as for this statement:

    Faith in anything short of that (in quantity or quality) is, to return to a word used by Jonathan, wasteful.

    That is precisely the attitude that breaks up mixed faith marriages regardless of what religion we’re talking about. My husband and I have managed to build a strong relationship in spite of our differences in belief. We are madly in love, we have two wonderful boys, neither of us feels the need to separate based on such an attitude. There is a website out here on the bloggernacle called Facing East where spouses go to talk about building an eternal marriage in spite of differing beliefs. While such a thing may be a contradiction in terms for you, there are many faithful LDS who find that in spite of their spouse’s doubt, they still love who that person is at their base and want to go ahead and spend the rest of their lives with them.

  21. Lessie said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    Woohoo! My first try at html worked! :-D

  22. Lincoln Cannon said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 9:56 am

    Lessie, I don’t think you’ve contradicted yourself, and do wish you continued success in your efforts. To clarify my point, I intended to communicate that anything short of the assumption of eternity (both in the present and future) is wasteful.

  23. Lessie said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 10:06 am

    Lincoln, wasteful in a fatalistic sense? Like if there’s no eternity, then life isn’t worth living? I’m still not sure I completely understand what you mean.

  24. Lincoln Cannon said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 11:19 am

    Wasteful of your imagination and its consequences in reality — wasteful of our faith.

  25. Wayne said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

    Understanding that your journey is only yours, will help you in the long run. You have to give up the idea that your wife or kids will follow.

    Whether it is right or wrong is only for them to decide.

    Just as you experience Mormonism differently, than your family; the same would apply if they embraced “free thinking.”
    And since you want to keep your family together you would have to accept those differences just as you do now.

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