The risk of being a Mormon

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I think most members of the LDS faith are Risk Averse.  They are not likely to gamble, they seek steady employment, and generally try to have stable families.

And I don’t think that is by accident.  Much of the church’s philosophies push risk out to after death, or to say that one needs not fear, things are in God’s hands.

And I think this lack of appetite for risk exposes itself as an individual leaves the church. Let me explain

If I were to ask a member how sure they were the church was true they would probably say they were 100% sure.  That is to say, there is no risk that they have made a bad choice.  They might express this as

“I know the church is true”

However, if one talks about any of the details of church history they are less sure.  Even some current doctrines can be skipped over or be less concrete in their minds.  Is Coke against the word of wisdom?

“Didn’t president Monson say it was Okay?  I hear he drinks Pepsi and that is like coke, sometimes I drink a Mountain Dew, I like it better, but not coffee because it is a hot drink, but hot chocolate is okay”

When members learn more about Joseph Smith or church history, they essentially take on more risk.  It’s like doing research in the prospectus for your 401k and not just throwing money from your paycheck into the 401k each month.  “Is Joseph Smith Jr. a good investment”.

And each historical item; Kinderhook plates, 33+ wives without telling Emma, Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, etc. call into question the risk amount there is for following Joseph.

A member may go through periods where they are 50% sure their investment in the LDS church is sound.  Exmormons sometimes make the statement

I am more sure today that the church is not true, than I ever was that it was true

Under what context would this statement make sense?  Well now they’ve done their homework, they’ve read the prospectus, and decided to move their investments to another location.  They are still Risk Averse; trying to find stability, they just found the church is not as stable as it claims.

Dieter Uchtdorf framed the question as

“One should doubt one’s doubts, before one doubts one’s faith”

But once we see the situation as “appetite for risk” this statement (Stolen from a 1920’s Christian Minister by the way) becomes almost ludicrous:

One should remain constant in an investment, even as more risk appears

Imagine you have a portfolio of stocks in the banking industry in 2007.  You look at the earnings ratio, you look at the reserves.  Something doesn’t add up.  But instead of pulling out; you doubt your doubts, and continue to invest.  By 2008, you are a poor person.

Each of us is going to have a financial crisis.  We are going to die.  The question should be “Can the church provide salvation after death for me?”  Given there is little evidence for it, and so many questions about their story and moments were the balances on the books don’t seem to match the actual reserves, a risk averse person should LEAVE the church.

But they don’t; and this is why the Essays and such are so difficult on members.  They want to be Risk Averse.  They are trying to maintain stability; but leaving the church carries with it an immense quantity of “unknown”  It is a challenge.  And so it becomes easier to refuse thinking about the risk; and to fall back on the concept that  “one knows that the investment is sound”.

Maybe the investment is sound, maybe it isn’t.  But it is worth reading the prospectus to figure out; rather than to pretend the risk doesn’t exist.

Similarly, I think the common factor in people I found on my mission is that they were all risk averse; and learned to see the church as a safe investment.

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Last edited by Mithryn on March 31, 2015 at 3:47 pm

1 Response to The risk of being a Mormon

  1. Eric says:

    “It’s like doing research in the prospectus for your 401k … it is worth reading the prospectus [of the church] to figure out; rather than to pretend the risk doesn’t exist.”


    Indeed, especially if the prospectus list a 10% expense ratio …

    But seriously… you’ve started me thinking about my disposition toward risk (or loss) aversion and how that influenced my leaving the church.

    I’m extremely risk (or loss) averse in terms of not gambling ($5 lost in a slot machine in 1992), steady employment (same company for 28 years), stable family (31 years to the same wife – who’s still an active LDS too! (but thankfully capable of loving an atheist). I’m also risk averse 401K-wise, which is OK since I’m a cheap son-of-a-bitch that can save 40% of my gross income every year.

    And yet I didn’t perceived leaving Mormonism as a comparable risk. I went permanently inactive (sacrament- and garment-free) 28 years ago. In fact, the risk almost entirely had to do with family preservation – not my personal salvation – which explains my unobtrusive approach to that.

    That’s not to say I wasn’t concern with making a wrong decision at some points – I just couldn’t muster much real-time motivation to NOT sell my LDS stock. And looking back to those pre-Internet (an unchallenged Nibley-apologetics) days, I didn’t have so strong a case. Perhaps I was just satisfied that I was a good enough person, was going to live another 50 years or so, was going to stick to my wife and kids, and so I wasn’t burning any bridges. I’m not sure how I felt then. Now I can’t imagine believing that stuff again, or manipulating it into some believable form.

    In any case, the point I am trying to get to is that a person must see/feel potential value in an” investment” to have his risk/loss-aversion triggered – and that might depend on the investment “category.” For me it kicks in over family and money, but not religion. Religion feels like a completely different category that tracks my other dispositions.

    Valuing a religion means seeing in it the prospect for rewarding social attachments and status, meaningful and enjoyable activities, and reasonable levels of intellectual and spiritual engagement (though I now think that last item is just a sticky cultural delusion that’s evolved to prop up the others). I think it also requires a need to be part of a group and to subjugate one’s self to something “bigger,” whether that’s a group, some revered authority, or a god (which I think is an abstracted proxy for a group).

    Fortunately (I hope) for me – unlike my 401K – I never could muster much value in my LDS ward-experiences or for the church’s general leadership. With respect to the former, I was quickly ground down (after joining at 19) by the the stultifying day-to-day of scripture study, prayer, meetings and services, and general parochialism. With regard to the GAs, it was was their insipid piety and lame attempts to pass off their hackneyed tradition for profound inspiration.

    Perhaps more importantly, my general aversion to risk/loss isn’t triggered by any a fear of death. Indeed, I find the prospect of living forever disturbing (if not horrifying). Double indeed, eternity strikes me as the ultimate risk with too big a downside, even if it’s expense ratio was 0.0001%. Which I know is beside the point of whether it is true or not. But then I have the facts of Mormon (and Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc) origins and history to comfort me and steer me clear of a Pascal wager.

    So, I think you have a good idea in kernel, but the psychological disposition toward of risk/loss aversion doesn’t – at least for me – seem to translate over to religion … thank god!

    Thanks … I linked here from the Mormon Expositor podcast, the best LDS-related one going right now, in my opinion.



    P.S. I should add while I haven’t yet done the math, I am pretty sure I’m personally ahead with respect to with my Mormon tithing investment. Two of our three kids went to BYU and given what I paid for our other child to go elsewhere, I’ve gotten most if not more of my early career payout back! Go Cougars!

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