Saturday, June 11, 2011

Double Bind

I remember my mom saying that one of her worst fears was that one of her children would leave the church. At the time, I was sure she had nothing to worry about on that score. I believed in the church with all my heart; for one thing, I'd never known anything else, and for another, I was convinced that it made sense. Sure, I'd had moments of cognitive dissonance with polygamy and misogyny and racism, but they were quickly suppressed. I had learned at an early age that whenever I found something about the church that bothered me, the thing to do was "put it on the shelf" and trust that I would find answers eventually. The idea that I might leave the church one day was inconceivable.

When I did realize that the church wasn't true, the scariest part about the whole thing was the prospect of telling my parents. I knew they would be devastated. I considered never telling them, and just pretending to believe for the rest of my life, but that was a losing proposition from the start. I hate pretending to be something I'm not. For the record, they don't know yet as of this writing. I won't be telling them for awhile for various reasons, but I have plans to do so as soon as it's feasible. But I have absolutely no intention of  pretending for the rest of my life. 

But this dilemma of mine made me realize shortly after I stopped believing that the church was not a benign organization. A healthy organization would not cause a mother to feel that she's failed at parenting if her daughter leaves the church. A healthy organization would not cause someone's "worst fear" to be that a loved one would leave. That is manipulative and evil. 

The church uses family members to create a double bind on apostates. We are faced with a choice between pretending to believe something we don't, or devastating our families. That is not healthy. It is a giveaway sign of a cult. An honest organization does not need to rely on guilt and fear to keep people in. An honest organization can take criticism. 

From a believing Mormon's perspective, there is no legitimate reason to leave the church, ever. Members are taught that people "apostatize" because they have been offended somehow, because they wanted to sin, because they were spiritually weak, or because they were prideful. Ironically, the church actively tries to persuade potential converts to leave their own churches, even if this means disappointing their families. I have heard dozens of converts tell stories about their families being angry with them, being sad, or even disowning them because they joined the LDS church. And the church glorifies these people for their fortitude. But when the situation is reversed--when someone who is already a member leaves the church--they are vilified and judged. 

According to the church, apostates cannot be happier outside of the church than they were in it. People are taught to fear and vilify apostates, and when a loved one apostatizes the believing member is left with an awful choice. Either they must view their loved one as having "fallen from grace," so to speak, or else they must somehow accept that their husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, or sister had a legitimate reason to leave. Like the apostate, the believing member is placed in a painful double bind. It is disgusting to me that the church manipulates and coerces its members in this way. There is nothing of good report or praiseworthy about it. And as members become apostates in increasing numbers, the problem is only going to get worse. 

As I said above, the church's attitude towards people who leave it is one of the major reasons why I consider it to be a harmful and coercive organization. Families are forever, but only if everyone toes the line. The church uses fear and guilt to manipulate its members, and that is wrong. 


  1. You've put all the problems with leaving the LDS church perfectly, all the ways the LDS church tries to trap you and prevent you from making a choice according to your own conscience, by holding your family hostage, by telling them lies about you, and putting loyalty to the institution first, putting it before conscience, reason, and family relationships.

  2. Very well stated. I'm in the same boat--wanting to tell my mother but being scared to death to at the same time. If she has a heart attack, it'd be my fault. Guilt wrapped up in more guilt, buried under a blanket of guilt.

  3. I appreciate your ability to write insightful AND concise posts. I like them all, and this one was no exception.

    However, I think that the more people apostatize from the church, the situation might actually get better. More and more believing members will see people they respect leaving the church. More believing members will have a family member leave the church. And increasingly, they just might realize that it doesn't make someone evil.

    Maybe. Maybe not. I don't really see how it could get worse, though. So it will either stay bad or get better.