I have spent the evening thinking about “ex” folk. I have been reading “ex-Mormon”, “ex-Christian”, and “ex-conservative” sites. I picked these topics because they have extensive enough text to give a feel for the movements. I felt two things when reading these sites, I think. My first reaction was pity. Most of them had in common a plaintive defensive of their actions. Many had entered into a mirror image world of being against what they were once supported. These worlds were smaller with their own intercine conflicts. Private vocabularies flourish. Some had moved on to more mainstream skepticism or liberalism. Could this person have been reached if someone had been nicer to them?The testimony was the standard filler on the sites. Each told how they felt liberated from a stale past. Doubts led to tougher questions which led to leaving the group. This leave taking was painful. The posts were frequently profane, rarely witty, and hardly ever funny. I wished that someone had been nicer to them, given them better answers, related to them. Then I saw that usually there was such a professor or minister in their lives. In their story there would be leftist Professor/Pastor X to whom the tribute, “Really, Dr. X admitted much of (our group’s beliefs) were bunk and was open and honest. Maybe if everyone were like Professor/Pastor X I would still be (our group’s belief system.)” And I saw that Professor/Pastor X was generally a hypocrite serving as a half-way house to unbelief. He glories in his role as the “one good Mormon/Christian/conservative.” It was all self-serving nonsense. Professor X should be fired from his Christian college. . . and Pastor X excommunicated. They help no one but themselves as they continue to draw dishonest pay checks from organizations they secretly despise. Many of the sites seemed trapped at whatever age the “big event” of leaving took place. Students who dropped out of religious colleges were most often like this. They claim to despise their former school, but end up thinking and writing about it more than the happy alum. BYU has the largest group of these students literate enough to write on-line. They are most often self-revealing. You are pretty sure that there are fair number of plagiarist and drop outs in their midst. Many still write as if they were students or young adults, even though their class had graduated. So my second response was simply disgust at how facile most “leaving” stories are. That is why I read Mormon exit stories. . . since I am not a Mormon and could not just pretend that all the testimonies were the result of the ignoring the truth. However, there too it seemed most of the stories pointed to some pretty seriously messed up lives, selfishness anyone but the writer could see, and half-baked philosophy. (The “science led me out of the faith” posts were particularly bad. They read like the worst nineteenth century village-atheist-rationalist tracts.) Anti-Mormon sites were the worst. They were disturbing in their rage which seem disproportionate to their own description of Mormon “crimes.” Prom dresses at Mormon schools that were not “revealing” seemed to draw an odd amount of rage from adults. I can appreciate parody, but there was too much of it and it was just not very funny.Yet disgust seems uncharitable, self-serving, and not good philosophy. My friends who are skeptics think all Christians a bit dim for being Christian. I cannot just be like these skeptics. . . only in reverse. Why do people leave their groups for such bad reasons? How do the groups fail them? Am I setting my own students up for such a fall? Am I equally facile, easy on myself, as a person who retained faith? My faith was saved at great cost. Christianity was hateful to me, but seemed true. But perhaps too an on looker my own justifications for faith are equally lame. Over confidence and self-righteousness are ugly things. And many of my feelings smack of both. It was then I realized the problem with the sites and with my thinking to this point. The sites were too limited, too filtered. The web gives us a feeling of total revelation of a person, but it does not. I am after all aware that you are reading this as I write it. I too am engaged in creating an image. There is just no way to tell from my limited research. My thinking was in terms of movements and groups and not of individuals. My guess is that each individual had a complex mosaic of reasons for doing what they did. . . most unknown to themselves.Can I confidently ask my readers to think my own views true? I can ask. My best reason has led me to very traditional forms of Christianity. It has caused me to strongly reject the liberalism, feminism, and paganism that so strongly appealed to me as a young adult. These reasons are open to public scrutiny. I can still leave. I would still leave if reason and best feeling led in that direction. And that seems a difference from most. The “leavers” seemed utterly sure that going back was not an option. They had closed a door. However, faith lived requires constant seeking. . . constant searching for understanding. The older I get the more sure of Jesus Christ I become: is that ossification or growth? It seems growth to me. My thoughts seem better, more rigorous on topics such as Plato. . . why believe I have stopped thinking about religion? One thing seems certain. . . weak kneed “half-way” house Christianity of the ECUSA sort is the least attractive option to me. The path of Professor X who is a minimalist Christian who has more in common with his secular buddies than with the average layman with whom he deigns to share a pew is plainly wrong. Better a fundamentalist to that. Better a man of real faith who has doubts to a man with doubts and no real faith who confuses his doubts with the faith. So it seems to me.
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