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Wednesday, February 02, 2005 

Nice Meeting You, Faithless

Because I'm a teacher, and it's known that all teachers are college graduates, I am frequently asked, "So, what school did you go to?"

I dread being asked this because assumptions will be made and conversations will become far more personal than I wish for them to be. The following is a typical example.

Them: So, what school did you go to?
Me: BYU.
Them: Oh, that's cool.

If the conversation moves on from this point on to other subjects, I'm usually okay with that. I know that the person probably assumes that I'm Mormon (presuming they're not just covering up ignorance about what BYU is). Sometimes I don't care because the social situation won't ever involve me doing any of the "Mormon No-Nos" (like drinking, cussing, wearing a halter-top).

If the social situation will result in me setting a bad example of what a Mormon "should" do, the conversation will go more like this:

Them: So, what school did you go to?
Me: BYU.
Them: Oh, that's cool.
Me: Yeah... I'm not so Mormon anymore, though.

That usually goes over well enough, and I'm comfortable with it because I was the one to bring it up. Sometimes the new acquaintance is more curious, though. That's where things get fuzzy. Here's what that conversation looks like:

Them: So, what school did you go to?
Me: BYU.
Them: Oh, that's cool. *Pause* So... are you Mormon?
Me: Used to be.
Them: What happened?
Me: .......................

There's no good answer for this question from a stranger. Sometimes I answer, "I just lost faith," but that's simplistic and still feels very personal. Sometimes I say, "A lot of things," as an effort to display my discomfort. Sometimes I'll tell them it's a personal issue that I don't really feel like discussing. I simply cannot answer that question without feeling awkward or making them feel awkward. (This may be because they have fault in asking an overly personal question.)

By no means am I ashamed of having BYU as an alma mater. I am proud of myself for getting in, graduating and I enjoyed my college experience there. It is an excellent school.

But by telling people I went there, they automatically learn a huge part of my life history and its upheavals. Instead of talking about the basketball team or culture of their school, we talk about my personal issues with faith. Basically, it's an uncomfortable position for both of us to be in as strangers.

When people ask about my religious beliefs, I tell them I'm a "former Mormon" but I'm agnostic, now. I use the "former Mormon" label because although I have renounced the religion as my own, I still have a history with it and respect it and those who practice it.

I've become accustomed to telling people that I'm a "former Mormon" but I still feel strangely violated when they ask, "Why?" Maybe I'm just too sensitive.

I don't think you are too sensitive. I think it is that people are always curious, and curious can get old. There are moments when I don't mind the curiosity and moments when I do... my own desire to continue the conversation often depends on the person's reaction to my answer, but really why people don’t want to talk about the Cougars sports teams a little more (or at all?) is a mystery.

Great post K.
 

Posted by Rebecca

Would it be less annoying if the person were an investigator, trying to find answers?? I mean, I know that if I were to go to the Church missionaries, or "higher ups"...they would give me all the "good" answers...but there are "former Mormons" for a reason, right?

You are too sensitive...people are just nosey (myself included).

Sandy 

Posted by Sandy

Just answer it like a 7th grader would:
Them: So, what school did you go to?
Me: BYU.
Them: Oh, that's cool. *Pause* So... are you Mormon?
Me: Used to be.
Them: What happened?
Me: "STUFF"

I've also heard that a good way to handle all of these questions is to answer with a question.
Them: So, what school did you go to?
Me: BYU.
Them: Oh, that's cool. *Pause* So... are you Mormon?
Me: Used to, what school did you go to? Did you bust your butt to achieve this high standard to enter and then afford a private school like BYU? 

Posted by Jess

I agree that people are normally just curious and might not realize what a personal question that is. I think it's because most people have struggled at some point with their faith (in whatever they believe), so they're automatically drawn to ask about yours.

It's still an awfully personal topic to discuss with anyone and I actually think you handle it well.
 

Posted by Lizzy

Jess...you KILL me. Good answers, though.

I have to say that I find it interesting that in this "bloggin community" there are at least three BYU attendees that are now "former mormons" or "recovering mormons" or whatever. Yes, I know even more Mormons that attended BYU and are still active. I just find it interesting...that's all. 

Posted by JP

I agree that people are normally just curious and might not realize what a personal question that is. I think it's because most people have struggled at some point with their faith (in whatever they believe), so they're automatically drawn to ask about yours.

It's still an awfully personal topic to discuss with anyone and I actually think you handle it well.
 

Posted by Lizzy

Sorry, no idea how I posted a double. DARN! 

Posted by Lizzy

I have a suggestion. Just tell them you are obsessed with cofee, and couldn't be hypocritical. So you gave it all up.They won't know how to respond right away, and you can excuse yourself. If they ask questions that are really none of there business, you can give them a none of their business answer. Oh, it must be said in a super perky, smiley manner. 

Posted by herevilsister

Kaycee,

It depends on the person, of course, but that kind of question seems like a definite invitation for a wise-ass answer.

E.g.,

"I gave it up for lent."

"I left after BYU's losing season in 2002."

"Polygamy just isn't what it used to be."

"I got booted for killing people who asked me about my religion."

etc. 

Posted by Kaimi

I'm a former Lutheran. If I shared my opinion on Martin Luther (a very favorable opinion, btw) with someone and they asked, "Are you Lutheran?", I'd say "No" unless I really wanted to get into my theological history. Now if the question was "WERE you Lutheran?" Then I'd respond, "Yes."

By answering that you were Mormon when they are asking if you are, it sounds like somewhere in your mind, it's important for you to make sure they know about your Mormon history and severed ties. That would probably be the more interesting thing to ponder about yourself. Why not just say "No" or "I'm agnostic"?

I find it interesting how people (not just Mormons but it is a significant group) leave churches and still cling to that part of their life either as anti's or in some other way. People rarely do this in any other facet of their lives. Adopted kids usually don't have blogs dedicated to their pre adoptive life. People change careers and don't refer to themselves as former machinists or former plumbers. Even within religion, a current Christian rarely calls themself a former atheist. A Buddhist doesn't refer to herself as a former Jew or Christian. Etc.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing. I'm saying it's something worthy of self consideration when someone is compelled to bring their past into their present in such ways. 

Posted by Renee

My comment meant to say you are NOT too sensitive....

Sorry about that...
Sandy 

Posted by sandy

I hate to rebuff a person who is asking a too personal question, because they might have a good reason. Like Sandy mentioned, they could be an investigator looking for answers.

I do find it necessary to say that I'm a former Mormon if the topic of BYU preceeded it because if I were to say that I wasn't, the conversation would go to "What was it like being surrounded by Mormons... Did it feel wierd?" And then the former Mormoness just comes out anyhow, but it's more awkward.

I meet people and have this discussion in all types of circumstances (the dog park, educational conferences, parties, etc.). I don't want to offend them because they're curious.

Maybe after time it will feel less awkward. But... it's been 4 years, so, how much time will it take?
 

Posted by Kaycee

Renee… great comment. I think that is the real point of this whole post. I don’t think the point is “so what do I say, but why do I say what I say.” – Although maybe I am wrong.

I just know that it took my entire post for me to figure out why I say I am Mormon when I don’t practice. It is because I feel that some how part of me will always be Mormon, and I don’t want to deny this part of me… this part of me is my family, many of my friends and many wonderful people who have influenced me. I also don’t want people to ever think that I am embarrassed by the church.

It is just funny how often an inevitable first topic with people you just meet does turn into religion because you did go to BYU or because you are from Utah…

Kaycee… I think you should have fun with the conversations… I often love them, I often tell untrue stories… I don’t mean to, they just spill out of me, but at the same time I am also willing to reveal many of my deep secrets or lies at the simple, “hello my name is.”

What a great topic! And it seems everyone has something to say.
 

Posted by Rebecca

Kaycee,

After indulging in my enjoyment for wise-ass remarks, I actually made some (I think) constructive suggestions on the first post in this topic (see http://variousstagesofmormondom.blogspot.com/2005/01/no-im-faulconer.html#c110736663619687250 ). Some possibilities might be "secular Mormon" or "lapsed Mormon" or maybe "reform Mormon."

(I'm borrowing from how I hear those terms employed by Catholic and Jewish people I know). 

Posted by Kaimi

Ok first of all it is extremely rude to ask a stranger such personal questions. IF they are an investigator and you say you are not a practicing mormon OR a former mormon there are better ways to ask about it and in non-social setting. I just think it is rude and ridiculous and I would be very offended.

As for the question of why do we cling to things like Mormonism and Catholicism...it is easy. These are not JUST relgions. It is a way of life, there are more prayers then I can count that I could recite on command. I constantly explain misconceptions about the Catholic church and am now Agnostic. Fish on Friday, giving up something for Lent, Guilt. These were not just religious beliefs it was my life as simple as that. So while I may be agnostic I am also always going to be Catholic.

I hope all the Mormons (those who practice and those who do not) do not mind my explanation. 

Posted by EJ

Mind your explanation? Love it, encourage it.  

Posted by Rebecca

Are Mormons uniquely asked "why"? I know several lapsed Catholics and non-practicing jews. A few of my best friends are Christian, but don't attend church.

I never ask them why. Why do people as me? 

Posted by Kaycee

There seems to be another standard for Mormons on this issue. I never asked my lapsed Catholic or non-practicing Jewish aquaintances about this. I don't even question my Christian friends who don't attend a regular service about thier reasoning.

Is there some reason that I, as a former Mormon, am asked "Why"?  

Posted by Kaycee

(I guess I know how Jess feels about the double posting.) 

Posted by Kaycee

Kaycee,

It may be your phrasing -- "I used to be, but I'm not anymore" may pique curiosity more than just "lapsed Mormon" or "secular Mormon." After all, "I used to be, but I'm not anymore" sounds vaguely like you just got out of a (religious) break-up, and everyone knows that the first thing you do when you find out that Sally down the hall just broke up with her boyfriend is to dig up as much juicy gossip about it as you can.  

Posted by Kaimi

Kaimi brings up a good point. When you're even semi-vague with any type of personal answer, human nature is to ask for more. We're nosy creatures (some of us more than others) and the "natural" think to ask is "why?"

Just like a child that continually asks why, they just HAVE TO KNOW! The curiousity gets the better of them and it goes from there.

Great post...great comments. 

Posted by JP

There is a girl in our book club who doesn’t drink, but does smoke. We always serve appetizers and wine for book club. Whenever she arrives someone inevitably forgets and offers her a drink, every time she responds, “Oh, I don’t drink” and that is all the information I/we get, yet I want more. Does she not drink because she takes medication? Does she not drink because she has alcoholic tendencies? Does she not drink because she becomes really crazy? Of course in the end none of this is any of my business, yet my curiosity is still peaked. If she would just reply, “oh no thank you I am on a medication that doesn’t allow me to drink” I might not be as interested… although maybe I would want to know why she is on medication.

It isn’t a crime to be fascinated by people; it is human… isn’t this why we (I) read one another’s blogs? Maybe there are more polite ways to brooch a topic, but people are fascinated by other people, I am fascinated by the girl that doesn’t drink at book club, the stranger at the dinner party is fascinated in why I grew up in Provo, the other teachers at Kaycee’s school are fascinated in why she went to BYU, Sarah’s single ward is fascinated in why she would reveal her perfect breasts. We can’t escape curiosity, fascination, right? So then what are we left with? We can either come to terms with others curiosity, however out of line it may be at times, or avoid it completely by never letting them into who you really are.
 

Posted by Rebecca

Oh Becca... bless your heart. I have the LEAST perfect breast in the world. Really... truely I do. Someday I will remedy that though. I think people in my singles ward are probably more interested in why I yell the F word when I am upset. Maybe. 

Posted by Sarah Marinara

I hate reading all this at the end of the day because all the good stuff has been said. What a great post and what great comments! 

Posted by Carrie Ann

.I know I'm commenting at the end, but I wanted to bring up an issue we have touched on briefly before.Is there a difference between being something and believing in something (and then passing it on)?

In the Jewish religion, you are passed on your religion by your mother. So if my grandmother was Jewish, then my mother would be Jewish, and then I would be Jewish. Now, this is a belief. A belief that is particular to this faith. Now, as I am not personally a believer of this faith, am I still Jewish? Anyway, both my grandmother and my mother might think I am, but I do not. It doesn't make sense that if I didn't believe in the religion, I would adhere to it's "passing of the faith" right? (sort of like if you don't believe in hell, it's hard for you to go there?)

Judaism, as perhaps Mormonism, finds itself deeply attached to a place. Maybe that's why there is more confusion (from others) about being mormon/jewish, and/or believing in those religions.  

Posted by marta

Work is extra hectic and I can't check in with you guys during the day. I feel so left out. Poor me.

I loved Kaimi's suggestions!

I'll solve all your woes:
Just go back to church already!=)
Ok, ok, not the suggestion you were looking for.
I wish it were that easy. 

Posted by Jess

Religion or what you *believe* in is so closely connected with who you *are* and the legacy you pass on. As far as I understand mormonism, or any form of Christianity, there is no difference between who you are and what you believe in. "Standing as a witness of Christ" is something that touches every aspect of your life. Isn't that the definition of integrity? Consistantly acting upon what you believe? I feel like I believe the religion/doctine as far as I live it. This is true, if belief = faith, because faith IS action.  

Posted by Suzie Petunia

I'm not routinly asked the why question. I haven't been to church for years. I'm extreamly good with this.Maybe because I haven't truly been active since I was about 16. I went to church as a courtesy to my parents in adherence to their rules. Suzie is right about faith. It is action. Each person must choose the action in which they must live their lives. If you have a belief in something, to not live to that ideal, is not having faith in it. It is simplistic. As, for the rest...well, it doesn't really matter. People will ask, do, and say as they please. Remember, the only person you must please is your inner you. Everthing else is just fodder. Do what you think is right, and the rest will take care of itself. 

Posted by herevilsister

Suzie Petunia, I've been strugging to say just what you said. Thank you! Your comment describes some of your attributes that I love and adore about you best! I also love your perfect legs.

I have been asked some truly unbelievable questions in my lifetime and act all shocked and offended until someone gently reminds me that I am the ULTIMATE ask the blunt questions person.

I am just so, so fascinated by human nature and the individual experience. I am constantly trying to figure people out in light of the "nature vs. nurture" debate and to understand where they have come from and how they arrived at all the many places I meet them at. Forgive me in advance for all the odd, blunt questions I may ask all of you in the future. I'm not TRYING to be tacky...I'm afraid it just comes so naturally to me.  

Posted by Amy

Maybe....to let people know you no longer practice, but not denying your love of family and respect for the religion ....you could just say "I was raised Mormon". I think that statement could explain alot.

sandy 

Posted by sandy

In Judaism, it is not just a religion, it is somewhat an ethnicity, right? People often "look" Jewish and it's not due to a yarmuelke (sp) and earlocks. Same goes for Hispanics, Italians, etc. So I suppose in that sense someone could say they were Jewish even if they aren't praticing the religion. However, people outside of Jewish heritage can and do convert to the faith and can also refer to themselves as Jewish.

Regarding the bookclub comment, back in the days when I drank, I asked a friend why he didn't drink (no, he wasn't mormon nor on medication). He replied that a better question was why I drank. I said something like it felt good or was fun. He raised an eyebrow and said something like, "If you need to chemically alter your state of mind in order to have fun, maybe you ought reevaluate what your idea of "fun" is."

He had a point. 

Posted by Renee

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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