Effects of the Ex-Mormon Lunatic Fringe

August 1, 2004 | 25 comments
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A few weeks ago, Jeff Lindsay posted a humorous discussion of the “Exmo” computer virus that turns otherwise sane people into spiteful, obsessive anti-Mormons. In the comments on his blog, many ex-Mormons offered thoughtful and reasonable discussion, and objected (politely but firmly) to his apparent characterization of all ex-Mormons. This in turn led to a revision, where Lindsay suggested that perhaps a better title would be the “Rare Former Mormon Who Becomes a Raving Anti-Mormon Quite Unlike Most Ex-Mormons Who Are Really Nice and Intelligent People virus.”

I agree with the comments on Jeff’s blog, to the extent that they demonstrate that many former church members are reasonable, nice, intelligent, and happy people. I have friends who are former church members; we’ve got some very nice blog commenters who are former members, and at least one very nice commenter who may be in the process of leaving the church. It is clear to me that many former members are decent people.

Which is why I’m always disappointed to see vivid demonstrations of the lunatic fringe, the ones Jeff Lindsay parodied, the ones who are spiteful, ranting, and clearly uninterested in any sort of intelligent dialogue. We got a slew of comments from one today, with all the usual trappings: Members referred to as “sheep”; glee in the death of apostles; suggestions that church members commit suicide en masse.

I don’t attribute the views of the lunatic fringe to my rational and friendly ex-Mormon friends. Such comments are not an attempt at communication, and quickly and easily placed where they belong.

I do feel a bit for my friends, because I suspect that they are embarrassed about the screeds. They are probably offended as well — I certainly would be, if I were in their position, and the existence of the lunatic fringe made it relatively easy for church members to dismiss any serious or well-thought concerns I had. And that is, alas, one of the negative consequences of rants and screeds: They color all Mormon perception of anti- or ex-Mormonism. There may be a world of difference between, for example, Ed Decker and Mike Quinn — but the existence and notoriety of virulent anti-Mormons like Decker serves to undermine the legitimacy of people like Quinn, who appear (at least to my eye) to be trying to ask serious, thoughtful questions about the church.

I know that rational discussion between members and former members is possible. But I suspect that as long as the lunatic fringe exists, such dialogue will not be particularly common.

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25 Responses to Effects of the Ex-Mormon Lunatic Fringe

  1. john fowles on August 1, 2004 at 11:25 pm

    Kaimi, I very much agree with the sentiment that we need to rise above the behavior of ex and anti-mormons and not participate in ranting or screeding in reaction to their calumnous attacks. After all, Christ admonished his followers to turn the other cheek when beaten down.

    I have a question for you, though. Why does it seem to be okay for ex and anti-mormons, and even Latter-day Saint intellectuals, to be critical of the Church, even through parodies and satire, telling Latter-day Saints all the while that we shouldn’t take it so seriously (“don’t overreact”), that we need to learn to laugh at ourselves, but then Jeff Lindsay’s own criticism/satire on ex and anti-mormons is decried as insensitive, not allowed, and even to be condemned? (I am not saying that you personally condemn it–I am referring to a large extent to many of the comments on Mormanity, and since you seem sympathetic to them, and since they were mostly anonymous posts, maybe you have some insight into this apparent inconsistency.)

  2. ronin on August 1, 2004 at 11:30 pm

    well, when one leaves the Church, it has to be a deeply emotional experience, and I wouoldnt be surprised if some people came out of the process angry, and harboring a deep distrust and anger of the Church they used to ne part of. But, the lunatic fringe is not an exclusively Mornon thing. There are ex-Catholics, ex-Baptists etc, who are as virulently critical of the Churches they belonged to, as possibly the lunatic fringe of the ex-mo movement is.

  3. sid on August 1, 2004 at 11:41 pm

    John, cuz, in these politically-correct times, ex-Mormons like to think of themselves as ‘victims’, and hence it is “insensitive” to “blame the victim”!!! we have to tolerate the misbehavior of such folks, because t hey are “victims” and they “have the right to lash out at the Church that has victimised and oppressed them”. ( I am being sarcastic here – wanted to write about the ‘hegemony of the other”, and other such po-mo explanations, but it sure is a waste of time)
    eitehr way, being that the Church stands up for what is right, it is fashionable for the ex-Mos and antis to use the most extreme language to mischaracterise what the Church is, and what it stands for.

  4. John H on August 2, 2004 at 3:00 am

    I suspect this has more to do with personality types than it does any certain group of people. Most people leave the Church quietly and don’t ever make a stink about it (my father and my brother immediately come to mind). These people are usually forgotten because they aren’t around anymore, and as Kaimi pointed out, they are happy with their choices.

    A handful of people leave the Church and feel it is necessary to go insane about it. They get nasty and expect everyone to feel the same way they do. They cite the reason(s) they left and simply can’t fathom that others don’t want to leave after they share the “secrets” that drove them away. But since they can be so visible, we probably inflate the percentage of people who leave and act like this to something larger than it is.

    But, since I think this has far more to do with personalities, I think the exact opposite is true with some Church members. They are raving lunatics as well, who expect everyone to be like them. One woman in my own ward fits this definition – when someone asked why Korihor behaved the way he did, she compared all non-Mormons to him and insisted they were all miserable people and that misery loves company. Because she is so vocal, I find I have to remind myself that she is hardly representative of all class members or Church members. Yet when I think of Gospel Doctrine – she’s what pops into my head. Likewise, when I think of those who leave, it’s often the most vicious, vocal people.

    The real problem with the lunatic fringes are that they don’t recognize that they are just that – a lunatic fringe. They think everybody is like them. Everyone who leaves is a bitter, angry soul – or they should be. Every Mormon is critical of other faiths, etc. This is the problem with the small group of radicals involved with Sunstone – they think they’re the majority. They aren’t, but they’re so vocal, that sometimes that’s what people think of when they think of Sunstone.

  5. Geoff B on August 2, 2004 at 11:20 am

    I used to be a big Dungeons and Dragons fan in high school. Went to conventions, played until 3 a.m. My whole life for a few years was D&D. Don’t do it anymore. Couldn’t care less about it. For people who want to play D&D, great for them. As for me, it just isn’t anything I like to do anymore. I grew out of it, so to speak. I have never known a single ex-Mormon with that attitude. In other words, every single ex-Mormon I have known is still obsessed with the Church, still wanting to debate with Church members, still emotionally tied, still wanting to hanging around the “D&D players” of the Church. That’s why the exmormon site is so popular: people just can’t give it up. If you really have left the Church and don’t care about it anymore, you’d have an attitude pretty similar to my attitude toward D&D — you truly couldn’t care less. But in my experience with literally hundreds of people, I don’t know anybody like that. They all are obsessed with the Church in one way or another, feel guilty, feel like they should go but can’t give up a bad habit, think we’re all hypocrites or too judgemental or whatever.

    To me, that’s a pretty strong testimony on the power of the Holy Ghost and the difficulty of denying Truth once you have known it.

  6. Mark Bigelow on August 2, 2004 at 11:49 am

    Geoff B,

    In my experience, your circle of ex-mormon friends is pretty unusual. I would say that at least half of the people I know well who were once active members of the LDS church (including two siblings) have simply left the church and now are leaving it alone. There certainly is the other half who don’t seem to be able to let it go, but they don’t represent the way things have to be.

    Mark

  7. Measure on August 2, 2004 at 12:07 pm

    Geoff, some of the ex-mormons have never really had testitmonies. They didn’t have to get over the Holy Ghost. I think it is these people that are more or less indifferent when they leave the church.

    I think the majority of raving ex-mormons are probably people who grew up in the church, indoctrinated with the institution, and when at some point they realise that the church isn’t perfect, they get angry, leave, and then try to show everyone how imperfect the church is.

    They think that if you’ll just listen to them, just see that the church isn’t perfect, you’ll leave too.

    And they know they have a point, because the church certainly isn’t perfect. I think the mistake they make in their mind is that they think the Gospel is the church, and that the two are inseperable.

    So they can’t understand the mindset that some members have, that can stay faithful even when they realize the church isn’t perfect.

    And so these ex-mormons can’t believe that people are hearing them and staying in the church, so they get louder, thinking if they can just get their message out, everybody will leave the church.

    This started as a response to Geoff’s comment, but grew into explaining my own logic on the matter.

  8. ronin on August 2, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    i have run into an ex-Mo or two, despite my few years as a member of Our Church. And it seems there are 2 types of ex-Mos – 91) folks who for their personal reasons have choosen to go inactive or ask to me removed from the Church rolls, and go on with thheir lives, or (2) folks who have left the Church, but just cant let go, and they have madeit t heir life’s mission to try t o denigrate the Church.
    I was t alking to the local Medhodist Minister, who is a client of the retail establishment i used to work at – and he said they see the same phenomenon amongst ex-members of the United Methodist Congregation, and he said, perhaps the same could be said about ex-Catholics too. And he seemed to thinsk when it came to engaging in lunatic behavior, the ex-catholics, especially the group that were formerly nins or priests are hard to beat!!!

  9. ronin on August 2, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    Sorry for the typos in the post above

  10. Renee on August 2, 2004 at 3:26 pm

    There’s a funny/strange thing about the commenters on Mormanity who took great offense at his satire. They insisted how unfair it was because they left the church and weren’t obsessed or nutty about it.

    Yet… there they were, seeking out LDS info online. Why? If they left it, why are they seeking out websites to criticize others who remain? I’m not running around tearing down Lutherans on the Net. If there’s a website where a Lutheran is critical of exLutherans, I wouldn’t know because I’m not out looking for them! I truly don’t care what they have to say because I’ve moved on.

  11. john fowles on August 2, 2004 at 4:00 pm

    Very, very good point, Renee.

  12. Kaimi on August 2, 2004 at 6:16 pm

    Renee,

    I suspect that the ex-Mo tag may be itself a good indicator of attitude. Those who primarily identify themselves as ex-Mormon are identifying themselves in relation to what they have rejected. Meanwhile, former Mormons who identify themselves as Catholic or Lutheran or Jewish or atheist may have moved beyond their break with Mormonism and into some other community which they feel meets their needs.

    John,

    Your question-assertion is very odd, and I’m not altogether sure what to make of it. You ask:

    Why does it seem to be okay for ex and anti-mormons, and even Latter-day Saint intellectuals, to be critical of the Church, even through parodies and satire, telling Latter-day Saints all the while that we shouldn’t take it so seriously (“don’t overreact”), that we need to learn to laugh at ourselves, but then Jeff Lindsay’s own criticism/satire on ex and anti-mormons is decried as insensitive, not allowed, and even to be condemned?

    You’ve framed your argument, such as it is, in passive voice construction and vague generalization. Are you expecting a response? Right now, your argument is that some vague, unspecified person or people are saying that some unspecified types of criticism of the church should not in turn be criticized by some unspecified others (you, perhaps?), but that Jeff Lindsay’s commenters don’t think that he should exagerate the nature of ex-Mormons — and so why the hell would I agree with those commenters, give that the prior unspecified people said unspecified things to other unspecified people at some other time? That’s not a reasonable argument.

    Whose positions, exactly, are you talking about here? Which statements? You seem to be making charges of inconsistency, but you’re omitting any detail and generalizing your complaint to the point of absurdity. Who is it who you have observed saying that criticism of the church is okay, and what kind of criticism is that? Who is saying that criticism of ex-Mormons is not allowed? (Is your only concern with the commenters on Lindsay’s blog? Why?) (And again, what kinds of criticisms?). Is it the same speaker? After all, inconsistency is not a problem if the speaker isn’t the same — it’s perfectly normal for one person to say X while another says Y; that’s the way the world works.

    Finally, I’ll rest on my qualification of my endorsement in the original post (which you did note): I agree with the comments on Jeff’s blog, to the extent that they demonstrate that many former church members are reasonable, nice, intelligent, and happy people. I don’t think that I can answer your question. I’m not sure that I’m a proponent of the position you’ve ascribed to me, I’m unsure what the many unspecified subjects are in your question. If you want it answered, please consider cleaning it up and asking it in a more serious way.

  13. Davis Bell on August 2, 2004 at 7:58 pm

    To be honest, I can understand why people who leave the Church won’t leave it alone. If someone feels they’ve discovered truth, it’s only natural for them to feel the desire to share it with their loved ones as well as those who believe what they used to believe before being enlightened. Thus, if a member of the Church believes they’ve discovered the Church isn’t true, they’re often motivated out of concern for those who are still members to spread the truth as they see it. People who convert from another faith to Mormonism are encouraged to share their new faith with those who remain in their former one; ex-Mormon’s are simply doing the same.

  14. Renee on August 2, 2004 at 8:27 pm

    Davis, I agree with that to a degree and as such, have empathy for some of the protesters at our temple open houses just as I had empathy for my grandmother when she sent me anti literature out of concern for my soul. In fact, it led to a wonderful discussion between my grandmother and I.

    I doubt though, that the commenter here yesterday had concern for anyone’s soul. I saw their comments before they were deleted. They were designed to inflame, nothing more.

    There was a strange commenter at Mormanity who said that she left because of something she “found out” at the church offices but she refuses to tell anyone why she left for fear of destroying their testimony. So she knows something heinous enough that it would cause her to leave yet she doesn’t want to destroy others’ testimonies. Evidently, she hasn’t enough concern for her friends to enlighten them to this awful truth she discovered yet she cares enough to hang out at an LDS blog and reveal all this without revealing her “discovery”? Methinks she really didn’t want to leave at all. Very strange, indeed.

  15. Dave on August 2, 2004 at 9:18 pm

    Interesting topic, Kaimi. Two comments: First, Mormon identity runs deep. By that I mean that to an active Mormon, “being Mormon” contributes a good portion of ones identity: seminary, mission, BYU, temple marriage, busy callings, Sunday meetings, other meetings, yet more meetings, General Conference, temple visits, post-retirement missions, religious observances in the home, and so forth. So an Exmo doesn’t just switch denominational affiliations or redirect their spiritual life away from religion to something else, they turn away from or negate a fair chunk of their former identity. That is, I think, why many Exmos expend a good deal of effort trying to come to grips with their former beliefs and conduct.

    Second, don’t forget there is an active Mormon lunatic fringe. Some or many of these get excommunicated, so the “official Church” can disown them or put some distance between itself and them. The Church, for example, probably does not consider Brian Mitchell or the Lafferty brothers to be in the Mormon lunatic fringe because they were exed, and in fact probably considers them part of the Exmo fringe! Exmos have no such convenient institutional mechanism for disowning their extremists.

  16. Davis Bell on August 2, 2004 at 9:38 pm

    Another thought: Kaimi says, “former Mormons who identify themselves as Catholic or Lutheran or Jewish or atheist may have moved beyond their break with Mormonism and into some other community which they feel meets their needs.” I think he’s right; however, while I don’t have any data on this, I’m inclined to think that it’s probably more difficult for ex-Mormons to move to other faiths than it is for, say, a Protestant, or perhaps even a Catholic. Why? Because Mormonism, in a sense, ruins other religions for its members. Mormonism makes some pretty incredible claims, many of which are very appealing (so much so that some critics of other faiths have accused Mormonism as being a Disneyland faith), i.e. eternal families, baptism for the dead, modern-day prophets, etc. etc. For someone who once believed in these doctrines to switch to another faith that lacks many of these teachings must be incredibly difficult. I would imagine that even if many ex-Mormons don’t think the Church is true, they probably wish it were. Thus, if they’re unable to find another faith, it would only be natural focus on their old one.

  17. gunner on August 3, 2004 at 12:44 am

    Most members are not members alone. The family and friends are also a lot of the problem. When someone leaves there is a nature to either shun them or drag them back by a barrage of testimonies being told to them. This is the main problems. Not the leaving, but how the people who deal with them handle it. Friends may start to avoiding them and worse.
    I feel the leaving is not the main step that defines how they see the church from then on. I think it is how the others act, that defines their ex-member views.

    Just my .02$

  18. Dachpy Arvile on August 3, 2004 at 7:55 pm

    By far the largest collection of lunatic fringe hang out at the Recovery from Mormonism website. One can almost drown in the venom and hate in which the largest whole of the posters float. Were I ever in their position, it would be far more productive for me to get on with my life rather than wasting time posting and wallowing in vituperation and invective. So you’ve got your feelings hurt? You feel betrayed and want to unleash your hatred? Get over it! Why not just let it go and make up for lost time?

    How can one truly recover when one buries him/herself in self-pity and loathing of the institution they claim stultified them? For example, telling the world one’s discovery of the latest use of ‘garmies’ aside from their stated purpose is considerably less effective than going out and participating in something far more worthwhile and beneficial. Would not one rather do something to heal and get on with one’s life instead of preserving, inflaming and continually reigniting one’s hatred? Life is too short for inanity.

  19. john fowles on August 3, 2004 at 8:08 pm

    Dachpy Arvile: self-hate is a large part of what goes on in the anti circles, I would presume. It is the fuel for their persecutory fires.

    Gunner: I disagree that the ex and antis should be able to shift blame so easily as merely saying that it’s all the fault of those who aren’t their friends anymore because they can’t abide the flood of anti-Mormon invective. You say there would be no flood of anti-Mormon invective if people who were these ex-Mormons’ friends before they left the Church would remain so after they leave the Church. I respond to that by (1) noting that it is borders on a fallacy of composition, and (2) asking you whether the feelings of those who remain in the Church are important at all. The antis’ views need to be given creedance and respect, but those who remain faithful are despicable if they cease associating with people who have rejected their views? Those who remain in the Church are just as subject to human nature as those who leave the Church. In other words, it is only natural for those who remain in the Church to gravitate towards those who share their beliefs. If they remain friends with people who have consciously rejected their belief system, then that is admirable but it reveals some extra effort on the part of those remaining; something like that is counter-intuitive and does not come naturally.

  20. greenfrog on August 3, 2004 at 8:22 pm

    No, but neither does loving one’s enemies come naturally.

  21. john fowles on August 3, 2004 at 8:28 pm

    That is true but it doesn’t devalidate my point that it is inconsistent to respect the feelings of those leaving the Church but not of those remaining faithful.

  22. jonathan thomas on August 4, 2004 at 2:03 am

    How one disaffiliates from a Faith is certainly a complex topic (probably as complex as conversion to a Faith). Is disaffiliation from the Latter-day Saint Faith peculiar? I wonder. Outspoken or exhibitionist exmos certainly make it tempting to see leave-taking from our Faith as one particular species of experience; but as already noted, most leave or drift from the Church quietly or at least under the radar screen of the active.

    There’s a small, but interesting, literature from the social sciences on the topic of religious disaffiliation. David Bromley’s Falling From the Faith: Causes and Consequences of Religious Apostasy is a good overview of how social scientists approach the subject. There’s a chapter in that book on disaffiliation among the Mormons by Albrecht, Cornwall and Cunningham.

    Some other publications that directly address disaffiliation among the Saints are:

    Bahr, H.M. & Albrecht, S.L. (1989). Strangers once more: Patterns of disaffiliation from Mormonism. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 28(2), 180-200.

    Ure, J.W. (1999). Leaving the fold: Candid conversations with inactive Mormons. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature

    Launius, R.D. & Thatcher, L. (1994). Differing visions: Dissenters in Mormon history. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

    jonathan

  23. jonathan thomas on August 4, 2004 at 2:03 am

    How one disaffiliates from a Faith is certainly a complex topic (probably as complex as conversion to a Faith). Is disaffiliation from the Latter-day Saint Faith peculiar? I wonder. Outspoken or exhibitionist exmos certainly make it tempting to see leave-taking from our Faith as one particular species of experience; but as already noted, most leave or drift from the Church quietly or at least under the radar screen of the active.

    There’s a small, but interesting, literature from the social sciences on the topic of religious disaffiliation. David Bromley’s Falling From the Faith: Causes and Consequences of Religious Apostasy is a good overview of how social scientists approach the subject. There’s a chapter in that book on disaffiliation among the Mormons by Albrecht, Cornwall and Cunningham.

    Some other publications that directly address disaffiliation among the Saints are:

    Bahr, H.M. & Albrecht, S.L. (1989). Strangers once more: Patterns of disaffiliation from Mormonism. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 28(2), 180-200.

    Ure, J.W. (1999). Leaving the fold: Candid conversations with inactive Mormons. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature

    Launius, R.D. & Thatcher, L. (1994). Differing visions: Dissenters in Mormon history. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

    jonathan

  24. jonathan thomas on August 4, 2004 at 2:04 am

    How one disaffiliates from a Faith is certainly a complex topic (probably as complex as conversion to a Faith). Is disaffiliation from the Latter-day Saint Faith peculiar? I wonder. Outspoken or exhibitionist exmos certainly make it tempting to see leave-taking from our Faith as one particular species of experience; but as already noted, most leave or drift from the Church quietly or at least under the radar screen of the active.

    There’s a small, but interesting, literature from the social sciences on the topic of religious disaffiliation. David Bromley’s Falling From the Faith: Causes and Consequences of Religious Apostasy is a good overview of how social scientists approach the subject. There’s a chapter in that book on disaffiliation among the Mormons by Albrecht, Cornwall and Cunningham.

    Some other publications that directly address disaffiliation among the Saints are:

    Bahr, H.M. & Albrecht, S.L. (1989). Strangers once more: Patterns of disaffiliation from Mormonism. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 28(2), 180-200.

    Ure, J.W. (1999). Leaving the fold: Candid conversations with inactive Mormons. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature

    Launius, R.D. & Thatcher, L. (1994). Differing visions: Dissenters in Mormon history. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

    jonathan

  25. Daniel Peterson on August 8, 2004 at 1:51 am

    I can easily understand those who drift away, and I can understand a sense of betrayal in those who conclude that they’ve been misled.

    The level of hostility and venom among certain alienated ex-Mormons (starkly illustrated by a significant portion of the posts at Recovery from Mormonism), however, is simply astonishing. I hope and believe that they’re a small minority, but I confess to being fascinated, to a degree, by the sheer appalling bigotry of the place. Just in the past day or two, for example, there have been attacks on the brothers of Mark Hacking (who persuaded him to confess to his wife’s murder). It turns out that, according to some of the Recovering, the two really don’t care about Lori or their brother, but are seeking to please the Church because of their aspirations for leadership positions and, ultimately, for endless celestial sex. (Elizabeth Smart, the speculation there once went, might have been stolen for the harem of one or more of the Brethren.) “Morgbots” in general are mindless robots, programmed to lie, who — I’m not making this up — give small tips at restaurants and slurp their soup, besides hating Edgar Allen Poe, etc., etc., etc. It’s a very, very weird place.