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).