How to talk to an apostate, a beginners guide

Notes from a presentation based on a post to /r/LDS[1] that was deleted with the subreddit a long time ago:

Common sayings that members repeat without thinking that can be harmful, with why they hurt illustrated and the “Reverse” phrase to illustrate:

“I know the church is true”

Reverse

“I know the church is false

Why it hurts

Because by saying your beliefs are true, your are implying that all other beliefs are false. You may not see it this way, but trust me, anyone you say it to, who does not agree with you, totally sees it as a put down.

Especially if they just witnessed about their own beliefs.

What could be said better

“I have my convictions, and I am dedicated to them.” This removes any superiority play in the wording, and it implies something very similar to what I think most members mean when they say “I know the church is true”. Further even an atheist can make this statement and have it be true. It removes the emotional baggage and the implied put down of every faith but yours.

You left because you wanted to sin

Reverse

“You joined the mormon church because you wanted to eat bacon” – for a jew.

Why it hurts

It slanders the individual at the same time as, again, trivializing a spiritual journey into some base action. And to the person who left, it is as ridiculous a question as accusing all Mormons of not being Jews because they want to eat bacon.

People alter their beliefs, and then alter their behaviors. “Wanting to sin” also places the definition of “Sin” in the hands of the believer. Coffee is not a sin to 99.9% of the world’s population. Leaving the church to drink coffee would not be leaving to “Sin”, it would be “leaving to take part in something no one else acknowledges as sin except the strict dietary requirements of one sub-sect of one faith”. Not exactly the same thing.

Even further, everyone can think of a practicing LDS member who continues to attend for “appearance” but still commits any number of LDS sins on any given weekend. Certainly, staying in the faith, for appearances of family, friends, or social groups is far easier than actually taking a stand for new beliefs and being vocal about it. Sinning and repenting in the church is far easier than revising one’s core life view. This kind of revision calls into question all the motives, all the actions, all the memories of the individual and leaves one lonely, depressed, and uncertain of his/her future. Anyone who tells you to take such a deeply moving spiritual experience and simply align it with a “sin” motive is probably someone who has ulterior motives of their own.

How you can say it better

“This used to mean a lot to you, it must have taken a lot to change your mind. Tell me about the journey.”

No one can know history

Reverse

“Why should I believe your testimony? I mean it is based on a history and no man can know history”

“Why it hurts”

It is made to take any number of faith-threatening claims based on good evidence and to sweep them all away with a simple statement of vagueness.

This is one the most puzzling one to me as the entire religion depends upon the claims of a “History written upon gold plates”. To say you can’t know history is to imply that one cannot know the church is true. It is usually followed up with a testimony that the person claiming no one can know history bearing testimony that they know the church is true.

This is a one-two punch of ignorance that demeans the individuals entire understanding of actual facts, events, circumstances, etc. as well as replaces good historical research with shallow emotional conjecture in rebuttal.

Certainly the individual who was presenting history against the church could simply reply “I know my beliefs are right” and the discussion would devolve into simply “I know”, “no, I Know”, “no, I know”, like a kindergarten argument over batman or superman being better.

Historical, scientific, anthropological, biological, and other studies are meant to remove emotional statements based on little fact, and replace them with objectivity in as much as is possible. By waving away all of history as an unknown, one effectively shuts down all communication with the apostate, and sends the signal that your emotional feelings trump any amount of factual data.

how to say it better

“I’m not sure I’ll buy every historical piece of data you might present. I’ve been bitten by bad data before, but let me hear you out on what you think is important”.

This statement conveys the same information (History is difficult to be sure of) but invites more conversation, and the person to present his/her case.

It allows the individual making the statement to take each statement on its own merit, instead of discouraging conversation entirely.

“They leave the church but they can’t leave it alone”

reverse

“Mormons are brainwashed. They don’t think for themselves.”

Why it hurts

It assumes that everyone is forced into a predictable set of actions and removes the decisions and experience of the individual. In either the typical statement by the member or my reverse example, it ascribes the motives, thoughts, efforts and focus to a power beyond the individual, trivializing their own thoughts and reasoning.

It’s not kind.

A better way to say it

“So many people, when they leave, go through a rough period of bitterness. That’s understandable, considering they probably feel cheated. I hope that this phase is short for you, and that you can move on with your life.”

This acknowledges stages of grief, and gives the person room both to be upset, as well as encourages progress to move on. It disarms the frustration and need to vent to just “yeah, moving on would be nice” in the mind of the apostate.

You don’t have a religion, you have a non-faith/anti-faith

Reverse

“Mormonism is just an anti-campbellite tract” (As was claimed by Alexander Campbell, Sidney Rigdon’s assistant

Why it hurts

No one likes to be told their belief system is a false one, and valueless.

Odds are the person left mormonism because of some historic fact, or current issue that goes against their morals. It is, in fact, because of their beliefs, they opted out of an organization.

This particular line mistakes having an organization for having a religion. It comes across as hallow as saying “you’re not in my water polo club, ergo you have no beliefs or morals” to the person who has left the organization.

A better way to say this

Just don’t. There’s no good way to make yourself feel bigger by putting down another’s belief system. Some things are best left unsaid.

This entry was posted in Current issues. Bookmark the permalink. Last edited by Mithryn on June 2, 2014 at 6:31 pm

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