Honorable Reasons

A few days ago, someone made the comment to me that (full or partial) Mormon disbelievers sometimes choose to stay in the church and the community for reasons that are both honorable and dishonorable. This, to me, is a provocative thought. Many, both among believers and disbelievers, assert as a matter of principle that there can be no honorable reasons to stay in the Mormon world for those who are not full believers, or at least believers in the core tenets of standard Mormon testimony. Others claim that there are a range of such honorable reasons. Who is right?

The problem, I think, involves deciding about the word “honorable.” One perspective on honor raised in these discussions is that of Moliere’s misanthrope. In this view, honor involves full and unguarded candor at all times and in all places. Any omission, polite equivocation, or simple silence can constitute dishonesty — or, in the overheated language of the internet fora in which this account of honor finds its most congenial contemporary habitat: fraud, self-deception, delusion, cowardice, being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Of course, this view is so problematic that it is only just barely worth spelling out the central problem. Absolute and total disclosure of the self is impossible. We do not know ourselves that well. Even when we do know some aspect of our thoughts and motives with great detail, it is difficult and exhausting to keep up a steady narrative of even the main highlights of our internal stream of consciousness. Finally, if we self-disclose as constantly and thoroughly as possible, we effectively shout down the rest of the world. So to live well, we must all, and almost always, fail to disclose.

Yet some failures to disclose are obviously dishonorable while others are not. If I have stolen your money, it is clearly dishonest for me to keep my peace. On the other hand, if I think your new haircut is unfortunate, no dishonor attaches to silence or even equivocation (“It’s so striking,” said with a warm smile). Where, on this spectrum, should we place failure to disclose religious doubts or disbelief? Views will certainly vary — but it is clear that an additional argument is needed about why these particular thoughts are especially honorable or dishonorable to withhold.

So perhaps the most common argument for why it is dishonorable to stay in the Mormon fold while doubting or disbelieving is incomplete, at least. No doubt there are other arguments to be made in this direction. But are there also honorable reasons for someone who lacks full belief in the key claims of Mormonism to remain in the church and community? It seems to me that there are several possibilities, some of which are quickly sketched below.

  • Epistemological modesty. In the presence of uncertainty about the best course of action, one might argue that a viable path forward is to retain all affiliations, behaviors, and identities, until or unless a powerful and hard-to-contradict counterargument is offered. Hence, a disbeliever may remain an active and committed Mormon because she has doubts about her own disbelief and therefore chooses to perhaps err on the side of personal and family tradition until those second-order doubts are clarified in one way or another.
  • Love of family. For Mormons, family and faith are profoundly intertwined. Because eternal family sealings are conditional on faithfulness, the decision to leave Mormonism also often reads to believing family members as a decision to abandon the family. If doubting or disbelieving Mormons silence their views and stay in the fold, they may sometimes do so as a way of communicating (after the manner of Mormon language) their love for and commitment to their family members.
  • To be a better and more loving person. For lifelong Mormons, the rituals and rhythms of Mormon worship often become an incarnation of the moral themes of Christianity. Sacrament meeting serves as a moment of communion, of course, but also as an institutionalized reminder of the importance of seeking to understand others on their own terms. Sunday School and other classes both remind us of and enact the fact that the moral insights of the group both emerge from and shape the values and perspectives of the constituent individuals, even those we tend not to like. The undervalued ritual of the church foyer and hallway is a tutor in the virtues of charity and unity. These aspects of Mormon life, I think, have the potential to make believers, doubters, and disbelievers better and happier people.

Not, of course, a comprehensive list — if such a thing were possible. In any case, I eagerly await a wave of helpful and friendly comments explaining why my proposed reasons are in fact dishonorable, as well as any loving clarifications of why all doubters have the moral obligation to loudly and immediately declare their state of mind in all particulars.

Comments

  1. Cynthia L. says:

    Well, this comment is not explicitly “eagerly await[ed],” but I just wanted to say that these all seem reasonable to me.

    I think dishonor may attach more to particular insincere acts while staying, e.g. bearing effusive testimony, tears and all. I don’t see attendance and run of the mill participation as insincere if not done in complete belief.

    I have eagerly awaited your return to BCC, JNS.

  2. JNS – great list of reasons. I have to think most Mormons fall into the first camp on some level anyway, although most may be unaware of the same. It’s unlikely most of us will have so many demands placed on us (e.g. Polygamy, move to Missouri, etc) that our level of belief will prove insufficient through testing.

    A “dishonorable” reason, I think, might be simply fear. However, it’s hard to judge that one harshly when all communities (Mormonism is no exception) dislike the authenticity that contradicts its views. We are uncomfortable with the certainty that contradicts our own certainty. I suppose I see a distinction between doubts and strongly held opposing beliefs.

  3. I am told that one of my grandfather became and remained a Mormon the rest of his life because he believed the Mormon church was “better” than his church or others that he knew about. He died when I was 2, so I never had a chance to become acquainted or probe his beliefs.

    I have a good friend in another faith tradition who is very observant, and yet does not completely subscribe to all of its truth claims. He explained to me once that he was observant, and that he rarely shared with others his intellectual doubts, because he believed that God had created or called him to be a part of that faith tradition.

  4. Unlike a sudden unfortunate haircut, belief (faith, testimony) is seldom a sudden, all-or-nothing event. Your beliefs about anything, not just aspects of the gospel, are constantly strengthening and weakening and becoming more or less important as other aspects take center focus, and I would hate to see anyone driven out as “dishonorable” over something that could in the natural course of life change again as new thoughts and experience and perspective take hold.

    There is no dishonorable reason for retaining activity or membership in the church. There could be dishonorable actions in connection with that — making positive statements contrary to actual belief, seeking to influence others to adopt your doubts, or assuming that all believers secretly share your doubts — but participation isn’t dishonorable.

  5. First off, I see nothing to be gained by classifying reasons as honorable or not. Anyone who wants to stay connected on whatever level should be welcome. No questions asked.

    And no way do I see this as “honorable”:
    “If doubting or disbelieving Mormons silence their views and stay in the fold, they may sometimes do so as a way of communicating (after the manner of Mormon language) their love for and commitment to their family members.”

    This is just being spineless and lying to your family. Family concerns sure as heck would not be considered an “honorable” reason for NOT joining the church (e.g. Matthew 10:37, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”), even though many converts lose their families upon conversion. Talk about a double standard.

  6. I think the epistemological honesty you describe is closely and fundamentally connected to self-honesty and, therefore, to the possibility of repentance—not necessarily formal penance and/or recompense for a specific bad act, but of being a repentant person (in conjunction with your # 3 here). One of the questions I ask myself, when I confront my own doubts or frustrations (whatever they might be at any given moment) is, Would leaving the Church over this really just be some sort of cop out on my part? So far, the answer has always been yes. I would think that a “yes” answer to that question, in connection with the reasons you’ve articulated here, constitutes an honorable reason for continued membership and fellowship in the Church, regardless of the specific content of any doubts we might be experiencing.

    It’s good to see you, J.

  7. I spent most of my young adult life in in number 1 with the guilt of number 2 (a non honorable spin on #2 if you would). But, over time, I’ve transitioned into number 2 and number 3. I’m very explicit with certain understanding family members (including non-member spouse) and friends about this but spare the greater family.

    Naismith #5 –
    If you believe that Mormonism – not particularly the culture especially if you grew up outside of Utah, but the rituals associated with membership – is your heritage and choose continued participation to extend that heritage to generations before and after you, how is that being spineless?

    Example: I am not particularly comfortable with the blessing/naming ceremony. If it were just up to me and my non-member husband, we wouldn’t have done it for our child. When I felt the waters about skipping it all together, I realized it means a great deal to my father – that he views it both as a ceremony (I don’t) and a way to ask God to bless this child’s life (I can be ok with that). So, we set up parameters where all could participate and feel ok with the outcome. I said no to having my child blessed by a non family member and no to parading the child through my parent’s ward (that ward has no connection to the child, we visit 2 times a year). Instead, I did the work to get permission for an at home blessing when we visited over the holidays. My father allowed my non-member husband to participate by holding the baby during the blessing in my parents home. How is that spineless and/or lying?

  8. Put me down as spineless. My family is more important to me than The Church, the Truth, my country, God, and even John Rawls.

  9. anon today: Just curious. How is a blessing/naming ceremony not viewed as a ceremony?

  10. I think that, inherent in Naismith’s label of “spineless” is the idea that the doubting/disbelieving person is entirely silent/secretive about those doubts/disbeliefs–not even sharing/disclosing them to a spouse, children, church leaders if asked, etc…

    While I disagree with her label, and think she has misunderstood what the original intent of the statement was, I think that clarification is important.

  11. Latter-day Guy says:

    In my (limited) experience, reasons that seem dishonorable or “spineless” in theory become much, much more acceptable (if not “honorable” per se) when the doubter in question is a member of one’s own family.

  12. Mommie Dearest says:

    I don’t see how honorable and dishonorable can be accurately assessed, much less judged, except by the individual and God. Even the people who are close enough to be privy to (some of) the pertinent details can’t always know everything needful, nor have all the wisdom necessary to assign honor or dishonor. And for what purpose would we do this for anyone but ourselves?

    Maybe we shouldn’t be about the business of honor or blame quite so much. And maybe we should just tend to our own spines.

    Threadjack: What is the opposite of spineless? All I can come up with is spine-endowed, which sucks pretty bad.

  13. Spineful.

  14. Spiny.

  15. Fine post, JNS, it’s very … striking.

    Seriously, the folks who talk big about establishing a high testimony hurdle for activity in the Church are very rarely those who serve in leadership positions and who are actually responsible for ministering to less active and inactive members of the Church. When bishops invite inactive members to return to church, they don’t qualify that invitation by adding, “Of course, we only want you back if you have a 99.9% pure testimony of the Fundamentals of Mormon Belief. If your testimony is weak or wavering, go to church somewhere else.”

    No, bishops don’t say that. Which means the folks who are proposing or supporting that approach are severely underinformed about how the Church actually operates.

  16. I totally agree with Mommie Dearest that nobody can judge another. And as I stated earlier, I see no value in assigning those labels because everyone should be welcome to stay for any reason.

    I object to Mormons who slap down the family card as being somehow more “honorable” because it seems to make light of the sacrifices that converts make all the time. Like it’s more important for Mormons to stay with their families than other people.

    I put my parents through all kinds of humiliation and embarrassment when I joined this cult. They didn’t tell their neighbors and some extended family for years. I had gotten their hopes up with my investigations of being a nun, then dashed them when I left the church. I turned my back on so much of what they taught me, making a mockery of their scrimping and saving to send me to excellent church-run schools in a city where public schools were unaccredited for years at a time.

    My parents were devout Catholics. We had a small holy water font at the door to every room, a crucifix above every bed. We did not eat meat on Fridays, and fasted during Lent, and attended Good Friday services. We knew the Holy Days of Obligation and attended Mass then. My brothers were altar boys and my father was the president of the ushers, which was the highest office to which a non-ordained male could aspire in an era before lay deacons. My mother was pregnant at least 11 times and had 8 children because of their devotion to the church teachings on birth control. And of course they weren’t there when I married in the temple.

    In many ways, it pains me that my own children do not share that heritage. They went to public schools when there was an amazing Montessori Catholic school run by nuns near us. I am sad that my children have never had their throats blessed with candles on St. Blaise Day, nor ashes on their forhead for Ash Wednesday.

    I do share some of that heritage when it seems appropriate. My kids are some of the few LDS kids who call that February holiday St. Valentines Day. But there are limits.

    We did go to mass with my mom when we visited, but of course I didn’t take communion. And I know that I committed an latae sententiae excommunication (chose to separate myself) when I was baptized LDS.

    All through the New Testament, there are so many quotes about Christ coming before family. I didn’t see how I could remain a Catholic just because I wanted to pass that heritage to my kids.

  17. StillConfused says:

    I attend services because my husband does and I am supporting him. I like that he says prayers for me and the family. I avoid having real or deep religious discussions with him as my personal beliefs are well outside of typical mormondom and I think that frightens him. But if he asks me a specific question, I answer him honestly (as to my feelings). He deserves not to be lied to.

    So maybe it is dishonorable to stay in the church and be dishonest with people about it. As long as you are honest, I have no problem with that.

  18. People, in our fallen natures, don’t always know what to do with honesty- and as JNS pointed out, are we even capable of knowing fully ourselves? I think if we are being meticulous with ourselves and our relationship with God, that trumps strident honesty to everyone we come into contact with.

    Sometimes blatant honesty is self-indulgent and narcissistic- who wants to know everything about everyone they know? There is a reason we have social norms and agreed-upon manners- and part of it is to protect ourselves from ourselves.

    That said, I can see what Naismith was trying to say, and agree that Scott’s clarification is important. Everyone who reads the blogs knows I’m a convert and gave up a lot of earthly harmony regarding my family to be so. However, I would never imagine telling someone else where on the continuum they should plant their stake of faith. If a person wants to attend, for any reason, let them, welcome them, and ask no questions.

    JNS, seriously delighted to see your name on my reader this morning.

  19. The only dishonorable example of continued church membership was that of my mother in law. When my husband came home from his mission, she made it clear to him that she was leaving the church because she had serious issues with church history… but she maintained activity for ten months after that so she could see us married in the temple. She hasn’t darkened a church doorway since.

    It upset me a lot, because my parents, who are non-members didn’t even have the chance to attend, and it felt like a lie and an abuse of her church membership for her to be there.

  20. There are many reasons for attending church. I don’t think in terms of honorable or dishonorable reasons. I think in terms of the day of judgment when the Lord, whose judgment is perfect, will evaluate each of us based on our experiences, works, thoughts, and desires.

    Nearly all of us will receive a kingdom of glory.

    I like what J. Reuben Clark, Jr said about judgment day:

    I believe that in his justice and mercy he will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose.

    President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report, October 1953

    It’s Sunday, I think a scripture is in order.

    1 HEARKEN, O ye people of my church, to whom the kingdom has been given; hearken ye and give ear to him who laid the foundation of the earth, who made the heavens and all the hosts thereof, and by whom all things were made which live, and move, and have a being.

    2 And again I say, hearken unto my voice, lest death shall overtake you; in an hour when ye think not the summer shall be past, and the harvest ended, and your souls not saved.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 45:1 – 2)

  21. Naismith (#16), thanks for that.

  22. Tracy,

    “Sometimes blatant honesty is self-indulgent and narcissistic- who wants to know everything about everyone they know? There is a reason we have social norms and agreed-upon manners- and part of it is to protect ourselves from ourselves.”

    Good to see that studying Kant paid off, even if in rejecting him.

  23. When I was talking about family in #8, I was writing about my wife and kids. I blew my parents off long ago when I decided to wear sandals and to pursue leftist politics. I am not worried about passing along any religious heritage to my kids. I only care about them.

    The idea the we would put our religion before our family is one of the creepiest elements of religion.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with Ardis no. 4. If someone wants to participate with the Saints, she’s welcome AFAIC. I don’t care what private heresies she may hold to.

  25. Chris, Kant and I have a complicated relationship. :)

  26. Neal Kramer says:

    This is a very challenging post. On my worst days, I seem to require absolute doctrinal purity and absence of all vestiges of sin from everybody but me. This assumes my clarity and near translatability, which is demonstrably not the case.

    But I think my mission experience is more honest. Anybody who wants to come is welcome. All missionaries want every contact to be accepted and loved by the ward or branch.

    That said, I have enjoyed the honesty of all the posts.

    Let me share an (apocryphal?) anecdote.

    When Marriner W. Merrill was president of the Logan Temple, he used to walk past my great great grandfather’s flower garden every day on the way to his office. Grandpa was an early riser and loved spending hours among the flowers.

    Many times they would greet each other and chat briefly before getting on with their day’s work.

    One day Grandpa commented that he would like to spend all day in the temple like Pres. Merrill, because he thought he would be protected protected from the influence of the adversary.

    Elder Merrill reputedly replied that was not the case. He smiled and then said, “He comes in every day with the patrons.”

    Trying to keep ourselves from being polluted by others seems to preclude the idea our own pride may be the actual culprit.

    I think the Church has enemies who creep into the sheep fold all the time. But as Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy, and s/he is us”

  27. Can I just say the last sentence of #23 is something I know with every fiber of my being?

  28. anon today says:

    9 – Left Field –
    I chose the word ceremony because a blessing is not a saving ordinance which is part of the reason I feel conflicted about it. Perhaps I should have been more clear. I see little value in the ceremonial part of a newborn naming blessing – at least the part that requires it to be in church and done only by male priesthood. Perhaps that is because I have no belief that it is required nor am I as a woman able to participate nor is my nonmember husband able to participate. My father is insistent that it is an ordinance. But it certainly isn’t a saving ordinance (which, quite frankly, I’m not sure I believe exist either) so for whom is this ordinance being performed? Is it just pomp and ceremony to show off your newborn to your (or in my case, my parents’) ward? To have some official way to track a marginally active child?

    I recognized the good that comes out of my father being able to participate in blessing my child. Personally, I would have been more touched if both my mother and my father would have written out their “blessing” if you would for my child to keep and have a hands on something to know of their love for him. But, that wasn’t nearly as satisfactory to my father, so I acquiesced for the greater family as long as we took out as much of the pomp that made me and my nonmember spouse feel uncomfortable.

    End threadjack.

    I understand where Naismith is coming from. My own mother is a convert; I married a nonmember. I know first hand what it is like to balance that. It is tough to draw the line… and sometimes a line is needed. But I will second or third the notion that we err greatly when we put any religion – LDS, some other, or even a general agnostic view – over family.

    My own relationship with the church and a testimony is very conflicted – so in order to have a spine, I should make a decision and hurt my family along the way? I don’t think so. It has taken a lot of courage and self introspection to walk down the middle while remain authentic to my own core beliefs and faith. I guess that is why I bristle at the spineless/lying characterization.

  29. They should have titled a certain proclamation revealed over a decade ago “The Church: A Proclamation to the World.”

  30. faith is such a continuium …at what point is someone no longer worthy to go to the temple or participate in an ordinance? It’s odd that if they drink I feel awkward seeing someone in the temple, but they could have all manner of doubt and fears and I would never know or may feel the temple is the perfect place for them to be….huh

    the God before family thing is challenging. It reminds me of reading about the signers of the Declaration of Independence who made many sacrifices that affected their family after signing. Are some things worth the sacrifice? Is there a way to put God that doesn’t offend family? Will some people always be offended no matter what? Could some things we do be done differently so the principle is met, but the family is respected and loved?

  31. I think the core question is what does “dishonorable” mean. In my earlier comment, I was thinking of dishonoring oneself or not being true to one’s own interests. It could be said that “dishonoring” the community is possible, but I think we need a very high standard for that, probably someone intentionally doing harm to others’ faith. I don’t believe in apostacy by association.

    Naismith – While I respect your personal experiences and willingness to share them, I find your use of the word “cult” (comment 16) offensive and hyperbolic.

  32. If you truly don’t mean any ill-will to the church or its members, and you don’t misrepresent yourself, I don’t think there’s any dishonorable reason to stay. And by misrepresent one’s self, I mean lie to get a temple recommend or accepting a calling one lacks the faith to act in honestly.

    Nevertheless, I really appreciate Naismith’s comments. Somebody had to say it.

  33. Latter-day Guy says:

    A question vis-à-vis temple recommends: if a member is active in the Church (that is, attends and keeps the commandments, etc.) in spite of serious doubts, is it not fair for them to answer the “faith in, and a testimony of” questions in the affirmative? My personal opinion, harking back to the epistle of James, would be that if they are doing what faith demands, even if they lack the interior elements, it’s still enough to be getting on with. I suppose that is why many of the comments on this thread––and Naismith’s in particular––have left me utterly nonplussed.

  34. Naismith, I’m just confused because it almost sounds like you are encouraging people to leave the church if they find something else they think has more truth (including no church).

    From my perspective, it seems we should encourage all to stay in the church, even and especially those with doubts. We need them — they strengthen us by their presence. Perhaps through association with the body of the Saints their doubts will subside. Perhaps not but we will enjoy their company and we will hopefully be mutually edified.

  35. Because my belief is all about the fruits, anyway, and because I see so many good fruits resulting from my membership in the church and particularly from my learning of the restored gospel, then your list in the OP practically constitutes my testimony!

    Good fruits don’t come from a bad tree, do they? Aren’t they evidence of the truthfulness of …. something?

    There are many, many reasons for someone with doubts to continue to participate. They are the same reasons those of us who are true believers benefit from the church.

    1. Opportunities for service, when rendering loving service to others is the most important path to human happiness that exists.
    2. Opportunities to teach good character qualities, when teaching others is the very best way to learn.
    3. Emphasis on family relationships, when those are the foundational relationships that give us the mental and emotional basis from which we connect to others. In people whose birth families have problems with relationships, the church gives us access to substitute father figures, mother figures, children to cherish, brothers and sisters in our fellow ward members.
    4. The ward is a larger family, and so we’re all able to reap the benefits of having a large and loving family.
    5. We have a little laboratory in character in each ward. There will be those families whose family life you deeply wish yours had been like growing up, and those other families you feel for who have to struggle harder. Seeing all those examples from the inside, as it were, gives you models after which to pattern your own behavior. Most people in the world don’t get that opportunity, unless they go to a different church.
    6. We all are reminded of our Heavenly Parents and our Savior at least weekly, and encouraged to work on our own failings, improve our characters, and give thanks and glory. All these things are healthy for human spirits to do, and allow us to enter a positive spiral of existence, in which we can become better and better people over time.
    7. True fulfillment, the sort of happiness that brings real lasting joy, comes from cultivating attitudes of gratitude, affection, humility, patience, kindness, empathy, and compassion. These are the exhortations of the scriptures and lessons. Truly. The chaff is so miniscule compared to the solid food of the gospel. If we take a big double handful and just puff a bit to let the chaff float away, we’re left with a solid spiritual meal for our delectation. Nothing here on earth is perfect. Yet we can, if we cultivate that mindset, simply ignore the things that annoy, that fall short, that tend to carry us in the wrong direction spiritually. There’s so much wealth of understanding left, of abundant life.

    Sometimes I think people have to grow up in a non-member family to truly appreciate what we have. Partnership with a living God. Continual access to the Holy Spirit. A community of good, hardworking people who are trying their best to learn to become exalted, to become like Christ. Freedom from some of the most disasterous mistakes that are frighteningly common in our larger society: drug abuse, alcoholism, unchecked anger, children born out of wedlock, gambling, etc. Not that we’re 100% immune from all those things, but it’s so much easier for kids to grow up and not have to learn every single thing the hard way when they are part of a community of people who avoid those things as a group, and know better.

  36. if a member is active in the Church […] is it not fair for them to answer the “faith in, and a testimony of” questions in the affirmative?

    If faith is a principle of action and dragging yourself off to your meetings is an action, then I certainly think so.

  37. If Jesus was willing not only to associate with but actually seek out adulterers, lepers, Samaritans, publicans, sinners and otherwise despised people, I don’t think he would ask those who just have doubts, don’t understand fully, or even disagree in some ways to get lost. He preached doing and becoming more than “believing” anyway, and I’d rather have a smoker who is striving to be Christ-like at church than a Stake President who is beating and in other ways abusing his wife and kids regularly. I want the first to remain in the Church and enrich my life; I want the second to be excommunicated, lose his temple recommend and begin to repent of those egregious sins – all the while worshiping with me in church while he does so.

    I love Elder Wirthlin’s April 2008 General Conference talk, “Concern for the One”. I think it’s crystal clear that he would welcome those with doubts to remain in the Church.

    I also think we try to judge others’ reasons too much.

  38. It's a series of tubes says:

    28 said: “But I will second or third the notion that we err greatly when we put any religion – LDS, some other, or even a general agnostic view – over family.”

    What are your thoughts on Christ’s statements in Matthew 10:37 (more broadly, 10:32-38) and 19:29?

  39. #38 – The official statements of the Church say that it is secondary to the family. I don’t see religious affiliation and Christian discipleship as the same thing. I believe there is a difference between choosing to reject Christ in favor of family (which is the central message of the passages you reference) and putting family over denomination – especially when it comes to denominational activities and not Gospel principles or general discipleship.

    Iow, if I am convinced serving daily in the temple or magnifying a calling will harm my wife and/or children in a serious way, I will choose my wife and children every time.

  40. People’s relationships with Mormonism (identity, heritage, traditions, community, faith, etc.) are so complex. It’s hard to judge another person’s reasons for wanting to be a part of it.

    That said, it would be nice if it were easier for people to participate the LDS faith community without implicitly supporting the political actions taken by the corporate wing of the CoJCoL-dS.

  41. Perhaps the scriptures clearly say put God before family and some confuse that to mean put the church before family…which is never in the scriptures? Saying that some put religion before family is confusing..it may mean God or church.

  42. The phrase “Mormon disbelievers” is an interesting one.

    Just for the sake of a hypothetical, I’ll make up a Mormon disbeliever named James. James doesn’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, doesn’t believe there were gold plates with engravings on them, etc. – but James does find certain aspects of Mormon culture and lifestyle to be aesthetically pleasing and wholesome and good and also wants to stay close to his parents and siblings who are Mormon believers and who might not understand him if he leaves the Church.

    In some ways, I could see how that could happen. I’m sure that kind of decision is faced by a lot of people.

    I think, however, that a serious problem arises when James has children. What does James teach his children?

    If someone feels the church isn’t true but is willing to invest the time, means, etc. that are involved in being a member of the church – that’s an individual choice. But if James doesn’t believe the Church is true, how does he go about explaining to his children what his beliefs are and what their beliefs should be? Does he teach them to be believing Mormons or disbelieving Mormons or disbelieving non-Mormons?

    Does James teach his children to accept callings, pay tithing, to serve missions, etc. and etc.? Does he tell them not to be Mormons and still maintain his own Church activity?

    It’s a lot to take on, a lot to invest, if someone doesn’t believe the truth claims. It’s a greater step still, for a disbeliever to instruct others to make those major investments.

  43. Children are pretty smart, Danithew–they tolerate a good deal of theoretical ambiguity if the patterns of expected behavior are clear. Also, they frequently believe different things than what their parents teach them.

  44. Kristine, I know children are smart.

    I also know that children will frequently believe different things than what their parents teach them. That’s a pretty obvious point.

    But in regards to raising children, as a principle, the phrase “theoretical ambiguity” sounds a bit ominous.

    Growing up I had a good friend who was a Unitarian. She told me about an experience she had as a child. She was attending church and asked one of her church leaders/instructors if there was a God. Instead of answering the question, the church instructor simply asked her “what do you think?” Essentially the church instructor was refusing to provide an answer. Many years later, she found this experience perplexing. I think in her own mind she was sort of asking, “Why did I bother to go to church if they were going to be that ambiguous about the subject of something as basic as a belief in the existence of God?”

    I think it might be even odder to have a parent who takes a person to church where a strongly non-ambiguous message is being given on such subjects, only to come home and find that the parent(s) are less than clear on what they think about these things.

  45. Does James believe that if his kids grew up and accepted the Mormon truth claim that that would be a negative outcome? That is, some disbelievers think that accepting the Mormon church is damaging. And others think it is untrue, but that living as a Mormon is “wholesome and good.” And is James married to a believer or a non-believer? Those dimensions make it very different.

    If James is married to a believer and thinks Mormonism is benign or even a force for good, he spends most of his FHE lessons and teaching time on things like service and honesty and compassion, rather than tithing. He might even go with the WoW and talk about drugs and alcohol issues.

    When his kids start thinking about missions, he tells them that he is sure they can make the right decisions, but that it ought to be their decision. Ditto on questions about testimony–he can say that what he believes is not as important as what they believe.

    I’m not sure that is all that different from how my parents–who are true blue believers–raised me.

    But if James is married to a non-believer and thinks that Mormon culture leads to sexist/homophobic individuals, even if they are awfully honest–well, then that’s a different kind of investment just to have kids who can relate to their cousins.

  46. But Kristine, the question danithew seems to be posing is counter to your scenario–it’s one where there are not clear expectations of behavior, but are potentially opposing views are competing with each other.

    If the question is one of differing views on some point of doctrine regarding grace and works, or Trinity vs LDS godhead ideas, then maybe it is really somewhat meaningless to a 7 year old child. However, when one of the views is “prayer is important” and the other is “prayer is foolish because God doesn’t exist, and your other parent is silly for believing otherwise,”* (again, kids are smart and quite able to make those connections, even if unstated), then I doubt your reasoning holds up so well.

    *This is the current state of affairs for a couple my wife and I have been friends with for years, where the husband left the belief, and the Church, shortly after their son was born.

  47. Scott B–I think Danithew is saying that it is very hard for James to maintain his church membership because of his child–attending becomes hard to do because of the message to the child. See your friend.

    I also know many other couples where having a child makes it _easier_ to keep attending in spite of disbelief if the other spouse is a believer and if the person thinks the church is essentially benign. If it is important to their spouse–well heck, I do a lot of things just because they are important to my spouse.

    I think the main issue is not the presence of children but (1) how important it is to the spouse that the kids are raised Mormon and (2) how much the disbeliever thinks raising kids Mormon is not benign, but actually damaging.

  48. But I also know lots of Unitarians who also don’t believe in God but get something out of church attendance.

  49. Scott, I think JN-S covered this in his paragraph about epistemological modesty. In the presence of uncertainty about the best course of action, one might argue that a viable path forward is to retain all affiliations, behaviors, and identities, until or unless a powerful and hard-to-contradict counterargument is offered.

    In the example you offer, it sounds like the husband is well beyond uncertainty now.

  50. What if the unbelieving spouse said “prayer helps your mom but I don’t find it helpful”? Would that be dishonest to not include–“I think it’s as helpful as praying to the spaghetti monster”?

    If both parents are not respectful of their differing opinions there will be more problems than confusion on the part of the child.

  51. It strikes me as possible for some parents not to have an agenda of instructing their children what to think or believe in religious terms. For parents who want to maximize the odds that their children don’t grow up to be Mormons, though, it would obviously be a good idea not to practice the faith.

    To those who welcomed me back, thanks very much! I also appreciate the large majority of the other comments — which I see as helpful and hopeful.

  52. J, are you really back for good, or is this post a lone blip, to be followed by another in a year’s time?

  53. Mark (49),
    JNS did in fact deal with that element of the situation, but that’s not really what I was responding to. I was responding to Kristine’s argument that children are resilient in the face of theoretical ambiguity, and what I am saying is that I don’t really think that such a generalized statement is very meaningful. This is not because of our uncertainty about our own beliefs (JNS’s post), but because of our uncertainty about what our children will infer from, and how they will react to, our theoretical ambiguities.

    In my example, you’re right–my friend is well beyond uncertainty. However, he and his wife reached an agreement whereby he would not actively protest or obstruct religious instruction so as to not interfere with his wife’s desire to teach her faith to their son. In many ways, he seems very amenable to the beliefs being taught; in other ways, it’s very clear that he thinks it’s all nonsense and absurd, even though he never says such things out loud in front the children, and it has caused a wedge to grow in spite of the agreement. This causes a problem, in my mind, because the clinching part of Kristine’s comment (clear expectations of behavior) does not exist.

  54. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks for the post, JNS, and not just because I’ve missed you terribly; these are good questions and, I suspect, important to people no matter where they may fall in the spectrum of faith. I wonder if honor here is more a question of establishing a sort of spiritual bona rides, in a way.

  55. The Mormon church is somewhat unique among religions in its insistence that all members possess a testimony of the truthfulness of the church and conform their live to that conviction. Mormonism is not just a broad category like “American” or “Asian-American,” in which philosophical diversity is unavoidable and expected. Even categories like “Democrat” or “Republican” leave a lot of wiggle room for internal disagreement, and certainly the degree of devotion to either of those categories ranges widely across the spectrum from “rabid” to “apathetic.”

    Mormonism isn’t really like that. It requires a consecration of heart, might, mind, spirit, money, time, and even wardrobe (a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference to modesty and garments). Sure, there is a spectrum of devotion within Mormonism, but the life of a Mormon involves teaching, preaching, living, and breathing Mormonism… and on top of that sharing Mormonism with friends and trying to get them to do the same thing. You kind of have to buy into Mormonism. It’s almost take it or leave it.

    … And yet… On a personal level, I admit that there are things in Mormonism that I don’t buy into. There are things that I simply don’t believe. I don’t talk about those things with hardly anyone, because that would complicate my interactions with my friends in unnecessary ways, and while it wouldn’t change me if they knew my doubts, I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that it would change their perceptions of me and their acceptance of me. I have told a select few people, and don’t anticipate telling many more in the near future. I don’t look forward to having those discussions with family members, but I know it will come up at some point.

    So here I am, an active Mormon with only vestiges of a once-vibrant faith in the church’s truth claims. Sometimes I feel dishonest or dishonorable for continuing my association with the church, and sometimes I feel richly rewarded by it, and I am able to contribute in meaningful ways.

    I don’t claim that my own viewpoints are necessarily right or true, so I can lay claim to the “epistemological modesty” reasoning. I love my family and worry about causing deep pain if I were to disassociate myself from the church, so “love of family” is definitely one of my reasons. And the core of the gospel is love, which I think anyone with a conscience — religious or not — can agree with, so I can also lay claim to the third reason, “To be a better and more loving person.”

    I do worry about what I will teach my so-far-nonexistent children. First, though, I have to find myself a so-far-nonexistent wife, and my theological position in the church is a huge barrier to marrying a faithful Mormon, not because they have rejected me on those grounds, but because I am cognizant of the disappointment I could engender in someone who had always planned on marrying not simply a paragon of virtue, but a believing Mormon paragon of virtue. I guess I can’t really claim to be a paragon of virtue in any case, but my lifestyle is pretty closely in line with the expectations of the church. I just don’t happen to believe everything that the church is built on.

    No matter how you slice me, I’m still Mormon. It’s as inextricable from my being as my race or gender, despite whatever doubts I may have.

  56. anon today says:

    38 – what Ray (#39) said pretty much explains my take on those scriptures.

    So, I was going to be done chiming in, but it seems my experiences might be a relevant example to the discussion trajectory.

    My non-member husband, as much as he finds much of the institutional SLC church distasteful (heck, I find it distasteful at times), recognizes my links, whatever form they are in, as something important to me. That means, in real terms, that he attends church with me, says nothing when I tithe my income/spending money, supports me in my callings, and doesn’t belittle my beliefs. In turn, I respect him when he says the existence of a God makes no difference in his everyday life and he prefers to act because it is the right thing to do rather than be beholden to an institution. In real terms, that means I don’t badger him with “do you really not believe in God” questions and protect him from obnoxious missionary projects (and we get them)!

    A lot of people suggested that we would run into troubles with this arrangement once children came, but I’m not finding it to be all that troubling. We are raising our son to be a humanist. This essentially means that the expectations are “treat all living things, including yourself, with respect.”

    Even though he is still a child, he understands that Mom and Dad use different tools to get to the same place. It helps that we both agree that religion is a path (not THE path) to exploring our personal relationship to the rest of humanity. We both agree that we are neutral as to whether or not the child needs to be a religious (LDS or some other) humanist or a non-religious one. If he finds religion a helpful tool in treating all human beings with dignity and respect, great. If he wants to do so without religion but with some other set of tools, that is ok too.

    The expectations are clear: treat humanity, yourself, and the earth well and live life with thought and purpose. The ambiguity is that we acknowledge there are lots of different ways to help us do that. But, like any parents, we still set up choices of how to live a good life – it is just his choice set is a little different (I’d like to think more diverse) than those of his traditionally LDS peers. Children handle that ambiguity fine if you are truly OK with how they choose to live a good life. For instance, I could care less if he gave 10% of his allowance to the church or to the soup kitchen. If he came to me with another project to share his allowance that was selfless, than we would do that. When he is a young adult, we don’t care if he serves a mission or does something more like peace corps; either are service and help you “discover yourself.”

    We believe that this approach allows both of us, as parents, to be authentic in our beliefs with our child. So far, he handles it just fine.

  57. Aaron, the empirical record shows it was six months and four days between my next-to-last post and this one. So if I were you, I’d set my alarm clock for March 9, 2011…

    Or, alternatively: I have no idea.

  58. JNS,
    It could be argued that you’re roughly a month off in your calculations, since a certain post could easily have been in your name as in mine…

  59. I try to raise my children to live according to the dictates of their own consciences, let them worship how, where or what they may. Obviously, my wife and I take them to church with us, and we hope they find the same kind of joy in the “Restored Gospel” as we have, but, ultimately, what they become is up to them. We will support and love them no matter what they choose religiously.

    I talk openly in our house about things we hear at church with which I disagree – especially cultural things, but even normative doctrinal things. My children know there are things I believe that most other members don’t, but they also know I don’t belittle those other members for believing differently than I do. They know I care far less about orthodoxy and much more about orthopraxy – being united in service and love more than specific belief.

    One of my daughters takes notes during Fast and Testimony Meeting – a practice she certainly didn’t get from me. Last Sunday, her note about my testimony included something like, “Dad mentioned Elder Wirthlin’s orchestra analogy — again!” They know I joke about playing my saxophone along with the piccolos, but they also know that I am dedicated to playing with those piccolos. They know I will respect them no matter what different instruments they might choose to play.

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