[very rough draft]
Those who leave the LDS faith (or other high-demand organizations) are often characterized as angry. Are they angry? If so, why are they angry?
Anger as a stage?
There’s an abundance of anectdotal evidence (e.g., this survey and this collection) to suggest that many former Mormons experience anger as part of their faith transition. This document explores why some former Mormons are angry, at least for a time.1
Moral Foundations Theory analysis
[all of this needs better documentation and specific examples]
Transitioning and former Mormon anger can be understood in terms of innate moral impulses/emotions. Moral Foundations Theory gives us a framework to explore why some former members might act the way they do:
- Caring: former members know that having all the data available is important to making an informed decision about how a person should live their religious life (argued here). They don’t want others to have to suffer the way they did. Those who experienced the most harm often speak out the most.
- Fairness: former members are viewed in the worst possible light in LDS theology and sometimes culturally. They know they are decent individuals, so the treatment and attitude they encounter with some family members and friends seems unfair to them. Demonstrating the problems with the truth-claims is one of the few ways they can achieve equanimity (i.e., once a believing member understands the problems with the truth-claims they can admit that the person who left was justified). Those in mixed-faith marriages are reminded of these attitudes towards dis-believing or former members the most, so they tend to speak out about the truth-claims the most and for the longest time.
- Loyalty: Many former members were fiercely loyal to the organization and sacrificed massive portions of their lives living out LDS narratives (for instance, ending relationships with non-members or women foregoing careers). Then, when they found out that LDS leaders had actively suppressed information, were lying, or were minimizing the problems with the truth-claims, they feel betrayed. Their loyalty instincts now compel them to point out the behavior of LDS leadership that was not consistent with the high values the group claimed to possess.
- Authority/subversion: Most former members were happy to acquiesce to the authority of the Brethren. Once they found evidence that the Brethren were unworthy of following (again, because leaders are viewed as having failed to live up to the high ideals of the group), they seek to subvert the authority structure.
- Sanctity/Degradation: LDS leaders sometimes act in a manner that degrades certain ideals that former members hold sacred. For instance, former members frequently emphasize the dignity of each person, so when leadership acts in ways that de-value LGBT people, former members feel like something sacred has been violated. Similar feelings of degradation are experienced when former members hear about sexual shaming of youth. On the flip side, former members are often no longer compelled by the sanctity of the temple or the deference typically offered to LDS leadership. That means they may insensitively or ignorantly defile the sacred mores of members when dealing with the temple or in how they discuss LDS leadership. In the xtreme case they may even seek to violate a member’s sense of the sacred in a retaliatory way.
Anger as a part of grieving loss
[basic idea good; needs reworking]
Typical grief trajectories are probably best described by Bonanno. But a faith-transition in many ways is more similar to diagnosis of a terminal illness (typical grief is characterized by the loss of another, while a terminal illness is characterized by facing loss of oneself—in a faith transition a person essentially grieves their own death within the LDS worldview), so the Kübler-Ross model stages of grief (not necessarily linear) that many go through during this time seems relevant.
Those experiencing faith transitions experience a huge loss of meaning in their life. Loss of belief in LDS truth-claims undermines a person’s entire worldview.
[way more discussion]
Moral Foundations Theory and the Kübler-Ross model of emotional states the terminally ill experience after diagnosis are both helpful in understanding the anger experienced by former Mormons.
Former members that don’t demonstrate an angry or defensive attitude or have passed beyond that phase are probably not drawing the attention of our pattern matching abilities. It seems very possible that many or most former Mormons are not especially angry for most of the time after their transition. This can be true even if there is some substance to the stereotype that former Mormons are “angry”. ↩