The following is the introduction to an essay that has sat half finsihed (at 50 pages) on my computer for almost a year. I have finally decided to finish it, and would like to invite those interested to read the draft as it now sits and to provide comments, input, etc. If you would like to participate, send me an email and I will send you the draft essay.
Recovery From Mormonism
(Or Any Other Controlling â€œismâ€)
A Guide for the Perplexed
Whenever someone sorrows, I do not say, “forget it,” or “it will pass,” or “it could be worse” — all of which deny the integrity of the painful experience. But I say, to the contrary, “It is worse than you may allow yourself to think. Delve into the depth. Stay with the feeling. Think of it as a precious source of knowledge and guidance. Then and only then will you be ready to face it and be transformed in the process. Peter Koestenbaum
Larry Braithwaite asked me a while ago to write a summary of the â€œrecoveryâ€ process that might be useful to those who have stumbled, groped, reasoned, quested â€“ whatever â€“ to the edge of Mormonism and find themselves devastated by what they there encounter. This was initially for me at least, a dark, terrifying place that I will never forget. Larryâ€™s wife Tammy, with his support, has published her/their insightful story with regard to Mormonism (seeÂ http://www.exmormon.org/journey/journ…), and has been flooded with requests for help by people who have read it. They thought that I might be able to contribute something that would be useful in that regard. As part of my continuing effort to repay the debt of those who helped me along this surprising-in-so-many-ways road, I am pleased to do what I can.
My primary objective as I write this essay is to provide context that will help to dissipate the vertigo and terror many people feel as they discover that the foundations of their spiritual lives â€“ no, their entire lives â€“ are nothing like what they appeared to be. It is difficult for those who have not gone through this experience to understand it. For example, a non-Mormon friend asked me the other day how I had found the time I have spent during the past three years to do all of the reading and writing I have done about Mormonism. I explained that people are affected differently by the kind of religious belief transition I have made, but for many it feels like their world is ending. That is how it was for me. I thought I was likely going to go through a divorce. I contemplated suicide briefly. I experienced enormous trauma in my closest personal relationships.
I felt like I was on a huge ship that suddenly and unexpectedly sunk, leaving me in a whirlpool that was about to drag me under. It was either swim, or die. So I swam desperately, not caring about anything else for a time. Most of my writing is mere froth kicked up by this effort. Eventually, it seemed like the current became weaker and my swimming less panicked, and finally, I felt relatively in control again. Occasionally, the current would surprise me with a burst of energy, and I would have to swim for my life. But for the most part I was under control and became increasingly comfortable in the water while calling out to passing ships for help in hope that I would find a new safe place. Then, to my amazement, I realized that I had been a fish all along and for some reason could not see that as long as I was on the ship. So, I tentatively put my head under the water and began to breathe, and then excitedly swam down into a world that I still find marvellous beyond my capacity for expression.
This essay is about how one gets from raw terror to pure wonder and excitement, and why it is reasonable to expect that to happen. And I note that for many, the transition process is not as difficult as it was for me. The degree of difficulty mostly depends on a personâ€™s biology, how fully conditioned she is to Mormonism, how much her family and other relationships are tied into Mormonism and how easily she adapts to change in general.
For some reason, it has taken a while to find the energy for this task. I think this is because I am now at a stage of my â€œrecoveryâ€ where it is often hard to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak. I spend a lot of my time off running through fields of light so enchanting that they fully occupy me. And my guts still twist when I think about the early parts of the path that has led me to this point. I also know something about my compulsive nature, and could predict that once I opened this can of worms it would absorb a large chunk of time. So, it has now been almost a year since I promised that I would get to this as soon as a few other pressing issues at work were off my plate. I expect that the time will come when the recollection of how I â€œrecoveredâ€ from Mormonism will not cause this kind of discomfort. I look forward to seeing that healthy signpost along the road of my own continuing recovery.
I have organized this essay so that you can get the basics from reading the â€œAbstractâ€ found just below this introduction. Those who are interested in more than that will find it in the body of the essay and other materials to which I refer. In that regard, you will have to put up with numerous references to other essays I have written. That is not because my writing is necessary the best on this topic, but rather because I refer to what I know. Writing has become for me a primary form of therapy â€“ as intimated above, a froth produced as I have done the exercises necessary to form a new worldview and as a result, grow a new brain.
Despite my experience with Mormonism, I still believe in the wisdom of the crowd (see James Surowiecki, â€œThe Wisdom of Crowds â€“ reviews athttp://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0525/p1… andÂ http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article…). However, I choose the crowds with which I associate with great care, and extensively winnow their advice. I have tried to harness the power of the group by posting early drafts of this essay on the bulletin boards atÂ http://www.exmormon.org/andÂ http://www.aimoo.com/forum/freeboard…., as well as sending it for comment to a number of people whose opinions I respect and who have perspectives that differ markedly from my own. The input received from these sources has immensely enriched what you will find in this essay. The awkward or erroneous parts are, however, all mine.
A Broad Perspective on Recovery from Mormonism
Most topics are best understood in the broadest possible context (seeÂ http://home.mccue.cc:10000/bob/docume…). So, I think it is useful to attempt to place the discussion of changing oneâ€™s religious orientation â€“ and in particular moving from the Mormon to the post-Mormon world â€“ in the broadest historical, psychological and sociological framework possible, without writing a book. This is particularly the case regarding religion because many religious people, including Mormons, have been trained to think of their religion as uniquely important and hence not subject to understanding in the same way other aspects of human experience. Hence, much of the recovery process relates to learning how our religious experience is the result of the same psychological and sociological mechanisms that have been extensively studied in other contexts. That is not to say that we understand these things completely. But we do know a lot about how they work, and the work the scholars in various fields have done in this regard is enormously helpful for those who are trying to understand how the world could have seemed to certain for so long, and then suddenly (or gradually in some cases) turned to dust. The perspective gained by standing on the shoulders of the scholars who have done this work can be crucial in different ways. For some, it takes the edge off the terror they feel while moving from one state of seeing religious â€œrealityâ€ to another. For others, much more importantly, it provides the courage necessary to pass through the â€œnarrow gateâ€ and acknowledge reality in the first place. And for yet others, perhaps more important still, it provides the balm needed to heal wounds that have been largely ignored after leaving Mormonism for one reason or another long ago, all the while feeling vaguely deficient and guilty as a result of not having lived â€œup toâ€ the standard set by the Mormon community.
The transition out of Mormon belief was more painful than anything else in my experience, and paradoxically, some of my lifeâ€™s greatest euphoria followed close on the heels of my worst misery. Joseph Smith captured this paradox in his description of how his vision of God and Christ was immediately preceded by a struggle with the forces of darkness. In this he echoed an ancient mythic theme. I do not suggest that this means he was inspired, but rather acknowledge his ability to identify and push important psychological buttons that have been used by countless religious and other social leaders before and since him to attract and hold the attention of their peers. Charisma, power and the ability to persuade are generally speaking what are perceived to be divine inspiration.
So, here are several perspective broadening exercises we will undertake to enhance our understanding of Mormonism and how it affects us.
First, we will set the process of changing belief in what is likely its broadest possible context â€“ that of mythology. That is, people have been going through this kind of thing in one way or another ever since humankind began to record her history. I found this idea in and of itself profoundly comforting and enlightening.
Second, we will review a couple of succinct analyses of the process of spiritual transition. The first is a bare bones description of the process as described by an insightful post-Mormon, and the second is a summary of James Fowlerâ€™s robust treatment of this topic in his well-worth-reading book â€œStages of Faithâ€.
Third, we will focus on the part of the process described by Fowler that is likely of greatest interest to those who will read this essay â€“ the transition from the narrow, group-controlled belief (Fowler calls this â€œstage twoâ€ or â€œstage threeâ€ faith) through the anger and terror of Fowlerâ€™s â€œstage four faithâ€ into the light and wonder of Fowlerâ€™s â€œstage fiveâ€ faith. This is of particular importance to both post-Mormons and those who deal with them because the terror and anger of stage four discourages some people from ever going there, and is frightening to anyone who has to deal with someone who is going through it. Perspective here is of particular importance. We will review some of what the psychological and sociological literature has to say about this transition, what it is reasonable to expect of it in terms of time and energy, and how to try to manage it. This will include an extensive analysis of what might be called the â€œStage of Griefâ€. That is, the literature with regard to how we grieve losses andadjust to them is of great help to those who are going through this process in terms of the removal of Mormonism or any other major ideological pillar from their lives.
Fourth, we will review a variety of the principles that relate to building a new worldview, and why that is for many people one of lifeâ€™s highlights.
And finally, we will wrap up with more mythology since we remember stories far more effectively than we remember theory, and so we will attempt to attach the most important principles we have discussed to one of the worlds most famous and memorable myths that is relevant to this process.