Miscellanea re Adjustments to leaving Mormonism

A friend just forwarded this to me. Since it is relevant to our discussion regarding the merits of different forms of spirituality and belief in God, I pass it along. Click Here For Original Link Or Thread.

I found your discussion of spirituality interesting and useful, and during my trip with my son did some reading that is relevant toit that I will pdf and send to you. The most interesting comes from a phd thesis written at Cornell by, of all people, the lead singer of the punk rock group “Bad Religion”. The guy is a bona fide biologist – anthropologist and did some brilliant work for his phd thesis in the form of a series of interviews with some of the greatest living biologists about their beliefs in god, and how those beliefs can be reconciled to the theory of evolution. He was following up on earlier studies that are reviewed in “How We Believe” by Shermer. Those studies found that a surprising large percentage of scientists believe in a god of some kind. However, the more respected the scientist, the less likely such a belief as to be found. Greg Graffin (the punk rocker/scientist) refined and updated the study by focussing on biologists (including geneticists), making the survey questionaire more complex, and including detailed interviews with about a dozen of the most respected of the group. The interviews are published in full in an appendix to the thesis and were the most interesting part. This work was done in 2004. You can order a copy if you wish at http://www.cornellevolutionproject.org/

Another book that I have not yet read, but will buy shortly, was recommended to me by a friend who teaches pyshcology at a US university. He says that it will become the locus classicus in this field, and is called “Attachment, Evolution and the Psychology of Religion”, by Lee Kirkpatrick. See http://www.guilford.com/cgi-bin/cartscript.cgi?page=pr/kirkpatrick.htm&dir=pp/paci&cart_id= I note that the friend in question is more like you in orientation regarding spirituality than me, and unlike both you and me, he has taken a “soft” approach to Mormonism. His wife is still active, he still attends but has recently begun to decline callings. He is a “dont’ rock the boat” kind of guy, and a serious academic with regard to religious matters. A fascinating character. I ran into him on the internet at a site that had nothing to do with Mormonism, and he has helped me immensely during the past couple of years in terms of finding materials to answer the burning question of the day.

Here are a few other things he recently recommended that I look regarding adjustment to and understanding changing belief in general:



I have skimmed this stuff, and find it useful. It runs along the same lines as much of Martin Seligman’s work (see http://www.authentichappiness.org/) which as you know I have found very helpful.

This friend also recommends Matthew Alper’s “The God Part of the Brain”, which I have not read.

In any event, I think your and my main area of disagreement is that I am no longer prepared to place much weight on the things that cannot shown to be at least probable based on scientific experiment. I understand that I must make many decisions based on non-scientific theories, assumptions etc., and I try hard to be aware of when I am doing that and remain particularly open to changing my views in those areas since they are notoriously unreliable. The comments of SL Slacker in the Foyer thread noted above (he is a medical researcher – microbiologist I think – who will be at the Consciousness conference hosted by Shermer at CalTech next month) regarding the rate at which knowledge is expanding is relevant to that. The more credence we give to non-scientific “knowledge” the deeper the roots things like the confirmation bias will grow, and the more resistant we are likely to be as information that disconfirms our beliefs comes to light.

In any event, I will enjoy continuing to kick these ideas around with you, but am out of time for today. I arrived at the office at 6:30 am after leaving last night at after 8 pm, and the closing we are working on today is starting to heat up. I have not yet read the post I forwarded above, other than to skim the first few paragraphs and conclude that it is worth reading. Slacker and I have corresponded enough for me to take him seriously. When I get the chance to reply to him, I will ask him to be more specific with regard to some of the examples he gives early on re. fundamental scientific problems that have been recently solved. And I would be interested to see how he responds to some of your approaches. [end]

The next is a recent email (the last in a long chain) to a bishop who is trying to decide how to deal with his recent discovery of the reality of Mormonism, is concerned about his marriage breaking up etc. * is the bishop. ** is the pyshcology professor noted above, who is involved in the chain as well.

* and **:

As usual, **’s advice is very sound. **, the presentation notes you mentioned did not come through to me. I would love to read them. And thanks for the book and website references. It has been too long since the last time I looked over your shoulder for some reading material.

About all I can say, *, is that the fear that all involved feel regarding the consequences of fundamental change in belief is likely overstated. Evolution likely designed us to deeply fear getting so sideways with our primary social group and/or family that we might be rejected by them. For most of human existence that likely increased the risk of death measurably. I felt as you describe feeling, and found that when I pushed ahead and did what I felt on principle and a long term cost benefit basis was important, that it was not as bad as I thought it would be.

In ** and me, you have two very different examples of how to approach the main issues related to Mormonism. ** has quietly withdrawn in a variety of ways. I left much more openly, and was ready to leave my marriage if it came to that. I don’t think it would be possible for me, let alone healthy for me, to proceed as ** has. And he might well say with justification the same about what I have done. That is to say that there is no “right” way to handle this. I think one should do his best to assess his own personality and family, and then do what appears best in that context. And, one should try to make the decision based on principles and probabilities, because that is how the best decisions are most often made. When we are emotional and fearful, the part of our brain that works with probabilities shuts down to one extent or another. My observation is that most people who are tying to leave Mormonism exaggerate the risks of things like marital failure, loss of relationships etc. that are likely to result from that, and underestimate both the problems associated with continuing to enable Mormon activity in their children and loved ones and the wonderful nature of the world that can be created outside of Mormonism. The second, in particular, has been a beautiful surprise for me.

As you know, how my seven kids would be affected if I laid low for five or so years weighed heavily on me. By acting as quickly as I did, I caught the then 15 year old in time to steer her into more reality based waters, and the youngest three will all have the chance to make a decision regarding religious belief without being hamstrung with nearly as much Mormon baggage as their older siblings were. One of the many ugly, unconscious untruths told by Mormons is that we should “just let the kids make up their own minds” after handing them over to a highly effective conditioning machine. That is not allowing someone to make up her own mind.

My 20 year old daughter and RM son show no signs of changing beliefs. Had I been able to act three or four years earlier, I think I would have had a good chance to affect them in a material way. It may be too late for that now, and I still have not found a way to comfortably accept that. I am grieving the loss of a daugther and son, in essence.

*, I know a few people who are like **, and a few who are like me. I don’t know you well enough to feel confident which end of that spectrum you are on. Your last email sounded a lot like what went on in my head for a long time. A lot of pain, fear, discomfort with the path you are on, etc. I am not sure how ** would assess that. And it is certainly too simplictic to use ** and me as the ends of the only relevant spectrum.

I shouldn’t say much more than that. I empathize with your situation because I remember vividly what a similar situation felt like, and hope you will find a way out that works for you. If you decide to take the bull by the horns, I think I can safely say that it is probable that most of what you fear will not come to pass, and the fear you feel as well as your unfamiliarity with the alternative ways of living that are open to you combine to blind you to some great experiences that await you, your wife and your family. My wife was as intransigent as yours, and has told me several times lately that she is very happy with our new life, that our marriage has never been better, etc. We still struggle with some things, but I agree with her. We have a much better chance of thriving together now than ever. And I am confident that had I not forced the issue, she would have remained an active Mormon while I did my own thing. That would have decimated our intimacy. It was doing that. I don’t think our marriage would have survived that way. And if it did, that might have been the greater tragedy. There is so much more to life and relationships than we could experience while “unequally yoked”.

Human beings respond in large measure to necessity. As my personality collided with the reality of Mormonbelief and practise, it created some “necessities” in both my wife’s and my lives. I believe that as a result, we are both far better off than I can imagine being had we remained active Mormons while I pretended, or in any of the other possible combinations other than the one we ended up with.

And then again, maybe I am just rationalizing my own choices. As noted above, ** is making something work that I can’t imagine. And there are other ways of doing things as well.

Leave a Reply