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Borderline Mormons and Doubt

Posted by nebula0 on November 26, 2009


Is it just me or is Doubt a major theme of Sunstone?  Why is it that doubt is such an obsession amongst self-declared Mormon intelligentsia?  Doubt as the root of real faith, Doubt as sacrament, Doubt as grace, Doubt Doubt Doubt.  Why is this?  I suppose my real question is , if you don’t really believe all that much is it worth it or even honest to stick around?  Perhaps this is easy for me, a relative outsider from the start.  I wasn’t born in the covenant, I was a convert.  When I knew my doubts caused me to really question whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet in any obvious sense of the word I became inactive.  When I became a monotheist I simply stopped being a Mormon.  It seemed so well… obvious to me that is what you do.  For many however I suppose it’s not as simple.  What it really appears to boil down to is family and social ties.

As much as certain people want to make romantic serious doubts about the basic truth claims of Mormonism as some kind of ‘dark night of the soul’ I will step out on a ledge here and assert the real problem is fear.  Certain people just do not believe Mormonism is true but fear disturbing their family and social lives.  As a result, their minds construct multiple layers of justifications for sticking around and finding meaning in their inner strife.  I assert that if the social aspect were removed, many of these people would simply quit being Mormons without much further ado.

I don’t think this is a problem of Mormonism alone, by the way, but of religion in general.  Certain sociological studies pretty thoroughly demonstrate that conversion is likely to happen if your social network is primarily of a certain religion and your past social network impaired for some reason (i.e. going off to college, getting a divorce).  Likewise, retention is likely only when the new convert makes lots of new friends in their new faith.  What these studies also demonstrate is that the subjects are typically unaware that their social contacts appear to be the major predictor of whether or not they convert and whether or not they stay.  The subjects typically talk about the merit of the truth claims.

As time has gone by I realize that this is largely true of my story.  I became a Mormon when I went off to college.  I converted and though was friendly with many never managed to make any good Mormon friends.  When I got married to a Mormon he was on the edge of activity himself (actually I was MORE active), so although I gained a  large social network of Mormons by marrying into a family of Mormons that was hardly enough to keep me in.  When expecting our first child I realized that I didn’t want to be a Mormon in part because I didn’t care at all for the culture and didn’t want to impart it to my children.  So while it was a truth claim issue that caused the final severing, social and culture belonging likely played a larger role.

My hope is that those who doubt the very fundamentals of Mormonism honestly think about their motivations for staying and come to a true clarity within themselves.  Trying to maintain the kinds of ‘making doubt meaningful’ mental structures that some erect just takes too much striving- eventually, something will give.

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4 Responses to “Borderline Mormons and Doubt”

  1. Jay said

    While I agree somewhat, as someone that has gone through the “dark night of the soul” I can say it has more to do with sadness of letting something you loved go than fear of family. Personally, family is the reason I stay Mormon, but our difference in belief was only a minor part of what filled me with sadness as I found out disturbing aspects of LDS Church history.

  2. nebula0 said

    Thank you for your reply Jay. Actually what you said is precisely what I intended in my post- those who have fundamental doubts about Mormonism likely stay Mormon because of social factors and in the process often (though obviously not in your case since you are perfectly aware) rationalize their staying by romanticizing their doubts. That is, the intellectual reasons they give betray the core issue which is usually family. If the family issue were gone, I would bet that many of these doubting intellectuals would be gone without much ado. I argue that’s why we see so many of these celebrations of doubt as religiously significant in various ways, rather than entertained as real, persistent clues that perhaps the thing believed in isn’t worth being believed in.

    THat isn’t to say though it would be easy for everyone. I think you’re right to point out that it isn’t easy for everyone to face that something they cherished as true they just can’t believe in anymore. Depending on how much you sacrificed for this belief system in terms of service, money, credibility, identity and so forth will probably determine the sting (which is also why some things are easy to let go of, like Santa, while many Christians become atheists talk about hwo difficult it was for them to decide that God doesn’t exist after all).

  3. Seth R. said

    I would also point out –

    Suppose I lose belief in the faith-claims of the LDS Church. Suppose I become an atheist in internal convictions.

    What then?

    What do I have to gain from no longer going to church? A free Sunday to lounge around at home? A self-satisfied sense of public defiance?

    Those seem like pretty poor compensation for not meeting with friends, spending one day a week in family activity, and losing the comforting familiarity of old ritual living.

    Not going to church gains me practically nothing – except a dubious personal vanity boost.

  4. Sam said

    Nebula, I pretty much agree with you. I would argue that much of the higher leadership in the church are the exceptions though, and I’m sure there are some regular members who serve only in the ward-level. Take away their family, wealth and everything else and they would still hold tight to their testimony. No matter what happens in this world, and in this life, they will continue to hold tight. But, in the end I think most of us figure out where we belong, for better or worse.

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