William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On The Accusation That "Apostates" Are Guilty Of "Secret Sins"

The comment was made:

"As you can see by my name, FriendlyApostate, I am what you would call a friendly apostate/exmo, or what have you. I am not on this board to pick a fight or mock your beliefs. I live in UT and Mormonism is woven into every aspect of my life including my family and friends. I believe there is a big misunderstanding about most of us ex-mormons by many TBMs (true believing Mormons). I have experienced this first hand. Leaving the church was not easy, and having some of my family, friends, and neighbors treat me like a pariah, or start false conclusions about me is not fun. I would like to clear up some myths about many of us exmormons. I hope you will find this educational.

1) "People who leave the church are bitter, angry, and can't leave the church alone"

I can see how many of you feel this way. There are a few exmormon websites out there that constantly mock and trash on LDS people. I have visited them. Some of these people are very angry and bitter for their own personal reasons. There are 10 times as many of us exmos who are not angry or bitter and do not visit the vitriolic websites. In other words, you are seeing a loud vocal minority, and painting all ex-mormons with a broad stroke. I am very happy. I love my life. I am not angry or bitter at the LDS church. I don't spend time on exmormon websites complaining. I don't approach my LDS friends and try to "de-convert" them. I am not on a mission to destroy the church. I just live my life by the Golden Rule as do many other exmos.

2) "You left the church for a more worldly lifestyle, or to become part of the "world."

Hmmm... I hear this one a lot and it perplexes me. 90% of my family is LDS. Most of my friends are LDS. I am the only non-LDS person at my work. I don't drink or smoke. I am faithful to my wife. I am not out on the lake boating on Sundays. I usually just lounge around the house on Sundays. If I left the church to pursue a so-called "worldly" lifestyle, I don't see it. I have an uncle who is not an active member of the church and he happens to be a college professor. I have heard countless family members say: "He left because it is not kosher to be a professor and religous. He sold out so he could fit in with his "intellectual" friends." I recently asked my uncle why he hasn't attended church in 35 years and it had nothing to do with fitting in with his co-workers. No one in my family has ever bothered to ask him why he left. They just assume.

3) "There must be some hidden sin you are committing. You left the church because you couldn't rationalize your sinful lifestyle with gospel truths."

This one really bothers me. In my case, it usually involves a TBM hurdling an accusation of sexual sins at you. My Dad told me the only way I could lose my testimony after having been through the temple is because I must have some secret porn addiction. My Bishop had the cajones to ask me if I was committing adultery. These accusations are baseless. I have been faithful to my wife all 10 years of my marriage and I don't look at porn. Slanderous rumors get started this way and it is ignorant to assume someone leaves the church because of some deviant sexual behavior. Most of us exmos did not leave the church to rationalize our deviant sex lives or cocaine binges.

4) "People leave the church just because they are offended."

While I am sure there are people who leave the church because they are offended by a member, by and large this is a silly statement. Don't lump us all in with Thomas B. Marsh and the pint of milk, or that dude who left because Joseph Smith spelled his name wrong. Most of us were not offended by a member and it is ignorant to assume this and an insult to our intelligence.

5) "You left because you didn't have enough faith or your testimony was weak"

I really hate this one because my decision to leave was not easy. I was the highest baptising missionary in my mission. I was married in the temple. I had several callings. I paid an honest tithe every month. I prayed daily and enjoyed studying the scriptures. I frequently bore my testimony. I was a strong member. I was not on the fence about my beliefs in any way, nor was I weak in my testimony.

Please don't paint all of us exmos with the above 5 excuses. It really diminishes our struggle and the conflict we went through of deciding to no longer be members of the church. We are good people just like all of you. We are honest in our dealings with others. We still help others in need and give to charities. We are not all out to tear the LDS faith down or protest at General Conference. Most of us still want to be friends with you and be part of the family without you judging us or branding us with a scarlet letter. Just because we no longer believe in the LDS faith does not mean we have leperousy. Is it possible that we studied the same material you did, but reached a different conclusion? YES! Does this make us weak or sinners or evil people? NO!

Without going into details, I hope this has helped some of you TBMs realize the reason we leave the church is a lot more complicated than the pat answers many LDS people always seem to give on why people leave the church."

To which I responded:

Thank you for your comments. I agree with much of what you have said. As for the "secret sin" accusations, I think it is critical that a distinction be made between those people who are simply trying to gratify themselves no matter what, and those people who, through careful contemplation and study have concluded in good faith that certain purported doctrines of self-denial are erroneous and not authentic revelations from God. I fit into the latter category, and I resent the short-sighted, oversimplified, knee-jerk reaction view that I am simply trying to justify myself, although I supposedly "know, deep down" that I am wrong. I think of the story of Martin Luther, a former catholic monk. One of the critical reforms he brought to the protestant movement was the idea that it is an abomination to forbid priests to marry. He got married himself after becoming one of the founders of the protestant movement. If some of today's TBMs had lived in Martin Luther's time as Catholics, they would likely have accused Luther of simply following the lusts of his heart when he left the ministry to violate Catholic doctrine and get married. The anecdotal lesson from this story is that it is not fair or right to automatically discredit a person's beliefs or actions merely because they result in some measure of pleasure or renouncement of self-denial.

Self-denial can be a virtue, and sometimes it can be a vice. In the LDS church, self-denial is usually the subject of much praise and sermon. Rarely do we ever question it, primarily because of the prevailing belief that anything which requires self-sacrifice necessarily builds character and makes us better people. What gets ignored and falls by the wayside is that self-denial can also be destructive and cause great unhappiness and misery. In analyzing the question of whether self-denial is required by God, I think we must consider the benefits and costs. I believe God rarely, if ever, requires self-denial for its own sake. When he requires it, there is generally a purpose which is obvious to the common person, with a clear connection to the benefits involved. In the case of sexuality, it makes sense that fornication and adultery ought to be restricted for the benefit of society, even though refraining from them will involve self-sacrifice. In the case of "solo" sexual acts, in most cases they can be regulated and channeled so as to minimize or even eliminate any adverse effects, while at the same time providing relief and enjoyment.

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