Saturday, January 16, 2010

We each have our reasons for staying or leaving

(Cross-posted at Main Street Plaza.)

I posted this elsewhere not too long ago, and it seemed to get positive feedback, so I thought I would share this experience here and get your thoughts about it.

During a conversation with my wife in the car after meeting some fantastic believing/disaffected couples for dinner last week, I realized something that has somehow completely eluded me until now. My wife and I approach the church very differently because it has fulfilled completely different needs for each of us.

I joined the church as an adult convert ten years ago. Previous to that, I had many deeply spiritual experiences as a Christian, but not in the LDS church. I did not join the LDS church because I felt anything special, or because I felt it met any particular spiritual or emotional need I had. If anything, I found the LDS style of worship definitely lacking in the profound spiritual feelings department.

Instead, I joined the LDS church because, based on my investigation, I believed it was true. Many of the beliefs made a lot of sense to me, and as I read much of the material that has been written about the LDS church, both pro and con, I believed I had found something that fulfilled prophecy and had the true gospel. Or at least something as close to such a thing as I was likely to find.

Consequently, as I have reexamined my assumptions and my beliefs over the past few years, I found it easy to disconnect from the church emotionally once I no longer believed in it intellectually. After all, I did not join for the emotional, spiritual, or social aspects of the church. I joined the LDS church because it made sense. Once it no longer made sense, I had no reason to hold onto it, and I let go almost immediately.

My wife, on the other hand, still enjoys being a part of the community and enjoys the good feelings she experiences when she goes to church. As she has learned more about the historical or doctrinal problems in the church, I have sometimes been confused as to why many things don’t seem to bother her as much as they bother me.

But last week I realized that she did not join or stay in the church primarily for intellectual reasons. It doesn’t matter as much to her whether everything makes sense in a rational way, or whether there are problems with the history or doctrine. Those are not her reasons for being there. She feels spiritually connected in the LDS church, in the same way I felt as a Christian before I joined it. That’s why I look back on those times with fondness, and that’s why she stays in the LDS church today. Whether it’s true or not has little bearing on that.

I think a lot of us disaffected folks approach the church in the same way I’ve described my own approach. We see it as failing the test of truth, and therefore try to distance ourselves from it. That’s certainly a valid way of dealing with it. But I realized that there are other reasons people might reasonably choose to stay despite the problems, and I think that’s fine too. After all, I think just about everyone needs something spiritually fulfilling (note I did not say religious or supernatural). While I personally do not find that in the LDS church, and I never have, some people do. And that’s why my wife probably will never have the same problems with the church that I do, and that’s okay.

Now if only we could get the warm fuzzies without the authoritarianism, life would be golden!


atimetorend said...

Wow, that is a very interesting post. It is very similar to the dynamic my wife and I have. We both had the emotional tie to church (conservative evangelical). Over the years I think as I experienced difficulty with some of the intellectual tenets it became less emotional too. Weird that, it became more intellectual in a way as I believed it less. I must have shifted the focus to more believable parts.

For my wife, very much the emotional connection to people and experience. That has really been a struggle for her, because the emotional parts can seem to validate the intellectual parts.

The hard part now for me seems to be how to make the community thing work when I don't have the intellectual belief. Shifting to a church with less authoritarian structure has helped. I guess that is not an option for LDS. Is that difficult having come from a non-LDS Christian background?

Seshua said...

The trouble is that all religions foster a sense of community, of belonging, but ONLY within that religious community. Participating in a community outside the religion is discouraged because it lessens the religion's control of their members.

This is why nearly all religions try to isolate their members from outside influences. They enforce isolation by regulating dress or hair styles, regulating conduct and lifestyle, by conducting communal rituals, and even by encouraging home schooling. They all instill guilt and use psychological manipulation to maintain control, as well as recruit other family members to help keep members in line.

By straying from the church, one not only risks becoming outcast from the church, but also from one's friends and families. Why is that?

Certainly not all religions practice all these methods, but you have to ask yourself, are you insecure about living up to the expectations of your religion? Do you rely on others of your religious community for decisions, for happiness? Is your self-worth dictated by your religion?

Isn't all this basically the definition of codependency? Does any of this sound familiar?

There is no other organization, except maybe the military, that demands such participation and obedience. People need question why that is.

atimetorend said...

I concur whole heartedly with Seshua's very insightful comment. Though I attended a church that would not be considered fundamentalist, it did excercise control of my life in exactly those ways. Combination of the structure of the church (fairly firm hierarchical leadership and stress on submitting to authority) and a high standard for behavior, results in huge power of peer pressure.

Burk said...

All right, it is time to come out and post again. I'm dying to get my next dose of the Saganist. My google reader is weaping.

Come out and play.


The other Secular Humanist Mormons need you.

Saganist said...

Burk, you are too kind! I apologize that I've mostly fallen off the Internet lately. But interesting things have been happening, of course, and lately I've picked up several things I want to blog about. Soon!