Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Guest Post by Juliann: crafted narratives

Most people live their lives by narratives. Juliann writes about the way the narratives of many believers and apostates mirror each other and are matters, at a deep level, of choice, and are not unique nor all encompassing. If grief has made you lose your faith, I hope this helps you in finding it again.

Juror #10: Most of 'em, it's like they have no feelings! They can do anything! What's goin' on here? I'm trying to tell you... you're makin' a big mistake, you people! This kid is a liar! I know it. I know all about them! Listen to me! They're no good! There's not a one of 'em who is any good! (quoting from the movie)

Mormons are an example of a group that has never known a time when they were not on trial or dealing with "angry men." Some Mormons ignore the "Twelve Angry Men", some dispute the angry men but almost all of us are puzzled by the angry men which we see on the web, over and over again.

One of the lures of the internet is that it gives a participant an arm's chair view of the angry personality, a free anthropological romp through the career of a vocal apostate. However, it was not until I was introduced to the sociological perspective that I began to make sense of the dispute and the narratives.

I learned a new way to look at the problem from Sociology. Sociology of religion has undergone a paradigm shift. A quarter century or so ago, to be religious was to be irrational if not crazy. Everyone was certain that religion would soon disappear. But when religion didn't go away, the thinking had to be revisited.

Now sociologists treat religiosity as just another subset of social behavior that drives how humans react with their world of reality. Market theory has been used to explain why some religions succeed and others fail. But the interest for those believers put on trial by angry men is in what the researchers of New Religious Movements (NRM) are finding. The jurors fall on a spectrum. We have the "leave taker" and the "apostate" on opposite ends of the spectrum -- they are not the same.

The "typical leave takers whose responses range from indifference to quiet disenchantment."

Daniel Carson Johnson, "Apostates Who Never Were: The Social Construction of Absque Facto Apostate Narratives," in The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 109.

The apostate role is understood to be one in which a person exits, either voluntarily or involuntarily, an unconventional or "new" religious group or movement (hereafter NRM) and then becomes an outspoken, visible critic of the latter.

Anson Shupe, "The Role of Apostates in the North American Anticult Movement," in The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 207.

What becomes apparent is that believers and apostates are not as different as the apostate wants to believe. Sociology now illustrates that conversion and deconversion are similar processes and we convert ourselves. As a result of that theory, many sociologists have dismissed the Pauline conversion experience in favor of a self-maintained process of converting ourselves.

We can convert ourselves into something or out of something but we make the choices. It is a process with active not passive participants, whether we realize it or not. Conversion and deconversion are not an event, both are a process we choose. The idea of choice seems like a desirable end, but the current science is not popular with "apostates" from any group.

This is because, for many, the sociological perspective removes the heart of the exit narrative in which the ex-member has been "deceived and manipulated by a conniving church so that they were unable to see the "truth"." The narrative usually includes a moment of enlightenment or blinding realization that cannot be denied. It is the so-called "captivity narrative."
The archetypal account that is negotiated is a "captivity narrative" in which apostates assert that they were innocently or naively operating in what they had every reason to believe was a normal, secure social site; were subjected to overpowering subversive techniques; endured a period of subjugation during which they experienced tribulation and humiliation; ultimately effected escape or rescue from the organization; and subsequently renounced their former loyalties and issued a public warning of the dangers of the former organization as a matter of civic responsibility. . .

Emphasis on the irresistibility of subversive techniques is vital to apostates and their allies as a means of locating responsibility for participation on the organization rather than on the former members. This account avoids attribution of calculated choices that would call for invoking the label of traitor. Further, a broad allegation of subversion allows a diverse array of opponents to unite under a common banner and formulate a variety of claims in terms that will mobilize or neutralize a broad spectrum of interests.

David G. Bromley, "The Social Construction of Contested Exit Roles: Defectors, Whistleblowers, and Apostates," in The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers), 37.

Are the plaintiff and defendent so different? Not really. Believers have their own crafted narrative. We call it a "testimony" and Mormons, for example, express it in a very formulaic manner during Fast and Testimony meeting. I continue to think the believer and the apostate can find common ground if the apostate can acknowledge that leaving a religion does not change their worldview or personality and if the believer realizes that defectors are going through the natural process of conversion. Mauss said it well,

[T]he potential recruit makes an implicit cost/benefit analysis of the consequences of accepting the new role and engaging in the activities expected in that role, including the new biographical reconstruction. . .The process is not, of course, irreversible, for on the same cost/benefit basis, a convert might move through a series of counterpart roles (such as "doubter") eventually to the "apostate" role, which has its own demands for the defector, and its own mandatory "account" of the process of defection.

Armand Mauss, "Research in Social Movements and in New Religious Movements: The Prospects for Convergence, " in Religion and the Social Order: The Handbook on Cults and Sects in America, eds. David G. Bromley and Jerffrey K. Hadden (Greenwich, CT:JAI Press Inc., 1993), 139.

Will we ever be able to set aside our differences? I am hopeful that a more scholarly approach to our behaviors will provide assistance.



Thanks for the guest post. I'll be having more guests, from time to time. As for me, in addition to grief and faith and related issues, I'll be writing more on seeing where we are blind (though in a different context completely -- addressing inventories again) and on sudden enlightenment (a reprise from more than twenty years ago).

10 comments:

RoAnn said...

Very interesting post. I was unaware of the current sociology of religion take on the process of conversion and unconversion.

If I understood correctly, it seems that by defining "conversion" as a natural mental process based on individual choice ("Sociology now illustrates that conversion and deconversion are similar processes and we convert ourselves"), God and Satan are removed from the equation completely. Thus social scientists can now be totally at ease discussing the phenomenon.

But if "many sociologists have dismissed the Pauline conversion experience," I'm now wondering if this attitude is actually worse for religion than being ignored as irrelevant. :)

Cal said...

"We can convert ourselves into something or out of something but we make the choices. It is a process with active not passive participants, whether we realize it or not. Conversion and deconversion are not an event, both are a process we choose. The idea of choice seems like a desirable end, but the current science is not popular with "apostates" from any group."

This is what has been so surprising to me. I thought in this day and age of the individual that this idea of personal choice and responsibility would be a given, but apparently not so. I have yet to understand why appearing like a victim is more appealing.

"But if 'many sociologists have dismissed the Pauline conversion experience,' I'm now wondering if this attitude is actually worse for religion than being ignored as irrelevant."

I think there are plenty of other options available. Examining religion without worrying about truth claims has been done in other fields for some time, for example, without creating contradiction with most religious beliefs.

Stephen said...

I think you both make good points.

I see Juliann's post as a place to start talking, not a place to finish talking.

Barb said...

I like to learn why people believe what they believe of various faiths or if they are just going more with tradition of their fathers or for other reasons such as for socialization. It is interesting to have an objective model of looking at conversion process as well as apostasy and seeing how the are much alike in process. I guess for all of us the glass is half empty and it is easy to reconstruct things in favor of one balance versus another. I have been so blessed and yet certain things confuse me and a lot of this is due to bitterness on my part. I don't want to go too much into it. I will say that my heart was softened today as a couple rebuttals or shall I say rembrances of how people did try to help me. I am aware of both sides of an issue even when I am trying actively to be negative. I can wrestle with things long and hard though and sometimes take too much delight in seeking the misery. And in doing so I know that many of those I am so angry at that I have to be so thankful as they treated me with kindness in relation to my disorder when I was so raw and were they not so kind, I may not even be here today.

Kevin Barney said...

An excellent post, Juliann!

Juliann said...

Roann, here is another quote that may explain the concept of the "Pauline conversion". I'm going to quote the sociologists themselves:

"A characterization of common perceptions of the Pauline experience on the road to Damascus should yield some interesting insights into how most people in Western culture have viewed conversion. First the experience has been perceived to be sudden, dramatic and emotional; it had a definite irrational quality to it."
-------
"The Pauline experience is also often interpreted in cognitive terms. It was thought that what happened to Paul caused him to change his beliefs immediately, and that behaviors congruent with the new beliefs then were developed. Behaviors follow beliefs, then, in the traditional paradigm."
James T. Richardson, “The Active vs. Passive Convert: Paradigm Conflict in Conversion/Recruitment Research,” in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 24:2 (1985): 165.

Mauss gives further explanation of those scholars who recognize a

"more active subject “working out” one’s own conversion. They have noted that conversion to new religions often means a series of affiliative and disaffiliative acts that constitute a conversion career, and that individuals are often only deciding to behave as a convert, playing the convert role, as they experiment with or affirm their personhood. These researchers have found that conversion is a social phenomenon, with affection and emotional ties playing key roles in the affirmative decision to negotiate with a group about possible participation and commitment. This new emerging paradigm competes against modern versions of the traditional “Pauline paradigm” that has been dominant for decades."
Armand Mauss, “Research in Social Movements and in New Religious Movements, 172.

What this means to all of us is that we walk ourselves through a process of conversion/deconversion. Nothing comes and "gets" us. I find this very empowering, particulary as an apologist (or mopologist as I refer to myself) who is immersed in the world of anti-Mormonism.

Terryl Givens calls faith a "moral choice". I think he is correct.

Juliann said...

Barb asked: I like to learn why people believe what they believe of various faiths or if they are just going more with tradition of their fathers or for other reasons such as for socialization.
-------------

This is where I think market theory has been used to explain religious choices. Stark uses propositions that explain all behaviors:

"Within the limits of their information and understanding, restricted by available options, guided by their preferences and tastes, humans attempt to make rational choices."
Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley: University of Califiornia Press, 2000), 38.


"Humans are conscious beings having memory and intelligence who are able to formulate explanations about how rewards can be gained and costs avoided." (p87)

"Humans will attempt to evaluate explanations on the basis of results, retaining those that seem to work most efficiently." (p 87)

In other words, we can ask ourselves "why" we do anything that we do. The point is that our choices in the arena of religion are going to be made in much the same way. Some of us may choose to invest in a stock and some in a bond...or not at all. But we should not think the other person irrational for a choice that gives him/her rewards even though we may think there is a better investment to be made.

Barb said...

Interesting! This reminds me of a quote that I read by Ben of Mill. Star Blog before that talks about how if you wonderful how somebody there are intelligent people who are members of all major religions. I tried to pull up the quote who I do not recall who said it originally and my key words in the search engine did not bring up the results. But of all the major religions and major sects of those religions one will find very intelligent people believing and living those faiths.

Barb said...

I messed up my quote-wonderful should be wonder and I was going with a train of thought about how you could question how someone could be "dumb" enough to believe that and so what I said does not really make sense. Maybe someone has the original quote and can help me out. :)

Paul McNabb said...

Excellent post, Juliann!

I would add that there is nothing in the posted statements that denies or affirms the "reality" of spiritual (irrational??) experiences. One can continue to believe in both God and Satan and yet accept the idea that conversion/deconversion is fundamentally a choice made by the individual acting on his/her perception of (1) what is real, (2) what is true, (3) what is beneficial, and (4) what is desirable.

This means that people enter a religion, stay in a religion, leave a religion, and stay out of a religion out of choice, usually rational choice, not because of a compelling supernatural or irrational compulsion.