We at Zelph on the Shelf attended John Dehlin’s “Mormon Transitions Retreat” in Park City last weekend, where we were able to learn more about healing and growth after an LDS faith transition while mingling with wonderful ex-Mormons, and even a few Mormons. One of the things that was discussed was how illogical humans are, at least compared to how logical we think we are.
Take conversion to the church, for example. As a convert myself, I can relate to this a lot. Religion provides answers to questions that have haunted humanity since the beginning of time, like “What will happen when I die?” and “What’s the point of all of this?” It swoops in and answers those questions for people, thus providing them with comfort and more purpose in life (typically). Though the price to belong to a certain church may be extremely high financially and in terms of time and effort, it’s worth it to people, because they get to feel like they have answers to life’s hard questions. (You can see this in legitimately dangerous religions/cults where people cling to their beliefs regardless of how damaging they may be. I highly recommend you watch “Going Clear”, an insightful documentary about Scientology.)
It’s not so much a logical process as it is an emotional one. This is demonstrated in the LDS church’s fundamental claim that “you can know it’s true if you pray about it”. For me, following that advice went a little something like this:
Of course, this is a simplified version of my conversion, but it’s fairly accurate overall. Notice that nowhere in there did I study the life of Joseph Smith beyond required (incredibly limited) missionary reading. I didn’t investigate the claims of polygamy I’d heard about, because I trusted the Mormons when they told me it was NBD because everyone was doing it back then. I didn’t conduct a literary or historical analysis of the Book of Mormon to be able to determine whether or not it was legit — I just believed the missionaries when they told me that good feelings were the correct method of determining truth. (Dumb, right? But I was a teenager. What do you expect.)
Now, let’s do another quick overview of my time in the LDS church. It went a little something like this:
Again, a very simplified version. I want it to be clear how converted I was to Mormonism — there wasn’t (to use a popular meaningless phrase in the church) a shadow of a doubt in my mind that it was true! My conversion was continually strengthened/maintained by engaging in rituals, both personal and public — a common part of conversion to any religion.
Now, let’s examine my deconversion process:
My deconversion process was certainly the most logical of the three stages I’ve described, but it’s still not void of emotional decision-making. For example, I was willing to continue living life as a Mormon despite logically knowing the church was a fraud, because the emotional pain of ruining my husband’s (faithful) life was too much to bear, as was thinking about leaving in general. It was also my own emotions and conscience that finally gave me the courage to leave — I knew I couldn’t sleep easy at night knowing that I was perpetuating a lie that was often harmful and even dangerous to others.
It is because of how emotion-driven conversion and deconversion is that stating facts or presenting believers with more information does nothing to affect their testimony. So many church members say things like, “You could present me with anything negative about Joseph Smith and I would still know he’s a prophet”. Though this is clearly illogical and not at all smart to an outsider, it makes sense to a member of the church who has been taught that Satan is out to get the faithful, and will use any tools possible to tear down Joseph Smith and the Lord’s true church. That’s why members can easily dismiss information as “anti-Mormon lies” — it’s not until you actually examine it down to its roots (wherever possible) and start to see a distinct pattern of deceit emerge that you can really comprehend it. It’s easy to dismiss something when you don’t know much about it.
That’s why my testimony was strongest when I didn’t know much “anti-Mormon” stuff. I tried the hardest in my faith when I was presented with negative information, because of the doubling down effect that is very common when people are met with information that contradicts their beliefs. As Dave McRaney explains in the post I just linked:
The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.
The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.
The moral of the story? Don’t try to explain with facts and logic why you left the church, at least when talking with believing family members or friends. Chances are, it’ll either have zero effect on them, or will actually cause them to hold tighter to their beliefs and more fully reject the idea that you have a legitimate reason to leave. Focus more on how you feel, while staying respectful of their beliefs. (As difficult as it may be — I know I’ve wanted to scream at people for being so illogical more than once!)
Good luck. It’s a thrill ride.