I have left the cave
September 24, 2007
One of the things I have noticed during my religious odyssey is that believing mormons and disaffected mormons describe the process of changing one's religious beliefs in very different terms. To a believing mormon, one who no longer believes "fell away", and that's if they're being nice. Sometimes the more clinical word "apostatized" is used. While arguably technically correct, there is a connotation about that word that I don't like.
I have come up with a new phrase that I think more accurately describes my process. I have left the cave.
In the Mormon Matters Episode 15 podcast, Mayan Elephant talked about the term "anti-mormon" and how when it is used to describe questioning and disaffected mormons, it effectively shuts down the discussion. Similarly, I feel that when a believer says that I have "fallen", or "fallen away" or "fallen into X", where X could be sin, disbelief, apostasy, or whatever, when the term "fallen" is used in any way, I feel that it similarly shuts down meaningful discussion, and betrays their lack of compassion for what I have gone through.
Whenever someone uses the term "fallen away", I mentally ask myself how one falls up out of a pit? Because that is how I sometimes describe it to myself. I didn't fall down so much as I fell up, or even crawled up. Another phrase that I like to use instead of "losing belief" is that I say "my beliefs have evolved." I like that because it describes a continuation, or elevation, or even building up of my beliefs. I didn't throw away or destroy my beliefs. Instead, my understanding behind my beliefs has deepened and expanded to include new truths.
But, since many believing mormons don't think of evolution in positive terms, since many of them don't even believe in it, I have tried to find a term or phrase that is as value neutral as possible, yet still describes how I feel. I think that "I have left the cave" works for me.
It works for me because there are several levels of meaning. I like Plato's Allegory of the cave. From Wikipedia, it is summarized as:
Imagine prisoners, who have been chained since their childhood deep inside a cave: not only are their limbs immobilized by the chains; their heads are chained in one direction as well, so that their gaze is fixed on a wall.
Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which statues of various animals, plants, and other things are carried by people. The statues cast shadows on the wall, and the prisoners watch these shadows. When one of the statue-carriers speaks, an echo against the wall causes the prisoners to believe that the words come from the shadows.
The prisoners engage in what appears to us to be a game: naming the shapes as they come by. This, however, is the only reality that they know, even though they are seeing merely shadows of images. They are thus conditioned to judge the quality of one another by their skill in quickly naming the shapes and dislike those who play poorly.
Suppose a prisoner is released from his cage and turns around. Behind him he would see the real objects that are casting the shadows. At that moment his eyes will be blinded by the sunlight coming into the cave from its entrance, and the shapes passing by will appear less real than their shadows.
The prisoner then makes an ascent from the cave to the world above. Here the blinding light of the sun he has never seen would confuse him, but as his eyesight adjusts he would be able to see more and more of the real world. Eventually he could look at the sun itself, that which provides illumination and is therefore what allows him to see all things. This moment is a form of enlightenment in many respects and is understood to be analogous to the time when the philosopher comes to know the Form of the Good, which illuminates all that can be known in Plato's view of metaphysics.
Once enlightened, so to speak, the freed prisoner would not want to return to the cave to free "his fellow bondsmen," but would be compelled to do so. Another problem lies in the other prisoners not wanting to be freed: descending back into the cave would require that the freed prisoner's eyes adjust again, and for a time, he would be one of the ones identifying shapes on the wall. His eyes would be swamped by the darkness, and would take time to become acclimated. Therefore, he would not be able to identify the shapes on the wall as well as the other prisoners, making it seem as if his being taken to the surface completely ruined his eyesight. Although there are difficulties with this part of the tale, it is vital for Plato's political theory because it is the 'freed prisoner' who must rule the people. He must be the one to do this because he has a higher-level of knowledge from seeing the true reality above the cave (the world of the Forms and the Form of the Good).
I think Plato aptly describes what I have experienced.
I like "I have left the cave" because of the sense that like a mythological caveman, I have left the cave and have attempted to enter the modern world. I no longer believe in the literal truth of bronze-age myths.
I like "I have left the cave" because of the idea that a cave is like Mother Earth, and I have left the gestational womb of my development, and have been figuratively born anew.
I like "I have left the cave" because it describes leaving a safe, but confining environment, to venture forth into the real world. The world may not be as safe as a cave, but it will be immensely more rewarding of an existence. It will be genuine.
Finally, like many good metaphors, "I have left the cave" is open to subjective meaning. I'm not trying to enclose my status into a small box that can be summarily dismissed as a polemical "anti" raving. I'm not trying to dismiss my earlier experiences within mormonism. I'm not trying to degrade or insult the beliefs of my family and friends who still believe in mormonism. I'm trying to move on and redefine my life according to the new reality that I have discovered. I have left the cave.
Wow, E. This post is very, very good. I'm glad you emerged from the cave too.
Posted by: SML | September 24, 2007 at 02:49 PM
I think the topic you bring up here is important. Members whose spiritual journey leads them out of the Church are also often referred to as having “lost” their testimony, which clearly puts a negative spin on what is often a positive, forward movement.
I can see why you like the phrase you suggest, although members might perceive it as portraying them as primitive. (I also keep hearing “Elvis has left the building in my mind!”)
That said, I haven’t come up with anything too useful yet. One phrase that often comes up in my mind is having “outgrown” the Church. Even Paul speaks of “when I became a man, I put away childish things,” and I think this is a useful concept here.
My $.02 anyway.
Posted by: Questions | September 24, 2007 at 04:33 PM
What's wrong with the less condescending "I have changed religions" for those who have parted ways with their former religion? As long as both sides of the fence lob pot shots at each other ('apostate!' 'cave-dweller!') for a patently irrational choice (whether you stay or go), it doesn't give me much hope for humanity.
Posted by: dpc | September 24, 2007 at 05:25 PM
SML, I am flattered that you equate me with E. Thanks.
Questions, I also sometimes think "Domo has LEFT the building!" in my mind, but thought it best to not make that little bit of self-parody publicly known.
dpc, but I haven't changed religions. That would be like exchanging one cave for another. I gave up religion. I have left the mormon cave, and don't intend on finding another one to replace it. Instead, I'm enjoying sleeping out under the glorious stars at night and basking in the bright sunlight of truth during the day. As Questions put it, I grew out of the need for religion. I fell up out of the pit. I crawled out of the cave. I didn't lose my testimony of Oz, I discovered the truth of the man behind the curtain. As long a believing mormon still believes in the black/white false dichotomy way of thinking, in the good/evil false duality, then a believing mormon will never accept a positive result of apostasy. I never called believing mormons cave-dwellers, you did. This is all about my own spiritual journey. I'm rather solipsistic that way.
Posted by: -Domokun- | September 24, 2007 at 07:03 PM
I hate it when my blonde hair becomes evident. Love your post, ya square, brown, cave-dweller dude. :)
Posted by: SML | September 24, 2007 at 11:11 PM
Finally, like many good metaphors, "I have left the cave" is open to subjective meaning.
LOL. One such meaning I take away is that you think I'm a caveman. Oh, well.
Posted by: Jordan F. | September 25, 2007 at 09:21 AM
Jordan, I plan on being in DFW for a few days in November, perhaps I can buy you lunch and we can talk about things face to face? You'll see that I harbor no ill will towards most mormons. For the few that I do think are idiots, their religion is tangential to their being idiots, for the most part. My favorite people, the people that I love most in the world, all happen to be mormons. Again, I have to repeat that this post was about my own spiritual journey, and if you want to read an insult into the subtext, I'm not going to stop you, but I don't intend for it, either.
Posted by: -Domokun- | September 25, 2007 at 10:36 AM
I was mostly kidding. I actually am kind of a cave man. Let's have lunch with Eric.
Posted by: Jordan F. | September 25, 2007 at 05:26 PM
hit him over the head during lunch and steal his wallet, tell him it is from me.
Posted by: Mayan Elephant | September 26, 2007 at 09:52 AM
then hand his wallet back, check to make sure his head's all right, and tell him it is from me.
Posted by: SML | September 27, 2007 at 12:37 AM
Great, now I'm picturing Gordon B. Hinckley (played by Christian Bale?!) hanging out in the batcave while Equality and Mayan escape in the batmobile. Can I be the Riddler? I want to be the Riddler!
Posted by: Randy | September 27, 2007 at 04:16 PM
Very interesting post, Domo! Silly and I often say that we have "evolved" or "outgrown" the Church.
I think the terminology of "falling away" implies that those who leave the church are somehow less-than--unable to "endure to the end". It is a self-congratulatory judgment on the part of those who are proud that they can name all the shadows.
Posted by: Figaro | September 28, 2007 at 07:59 PM
I kinda like the metaphor of awakening. But honestly, my experience was more that after a long time, I finally stopped averting my eyes. I was already more or less awake--just trying really hard not to see the picture I was actually seeing. When I finally let myself look, things began to make sense. It was both a sad thing and a relief at the same time. The relief is what has endured, though.
Posted by: belaja | September 29, 2007 at 08:15 PM
domo- I understand you on the metaphor. I also have thought a lot about the terms Mormons use to describe us, and how negative they are. I've made a short list of metaphors exmos use to describe their movements out of Mo'ism. It's amazing how different everyone experiences it.
But with the cave--I can't help thinking that if we've left the cave, Mormons are still in the cave. If I used this metaphor to a devout family member, for example, I can see them feel insulted by it.
With "I've evolved," it at least doesn't deny them an evolution of their own. Maybe their own spiritual evolution kept them in the church, it was just different. But, like you said, evolution has negative connotations to many Mormons.
The "changing caves" metaphor is interesting. Why would one go from the confines of one cave to the confines of another, rather than stay out in the world?
Posted by: from the ashes | September 30, 2007 at 08:32 PM
The reason you can only change caves is because as Nietzsche said, there is no exit to the cave. The is no 'outside world'. Even Plato's last work (the Laws) indicates that he backed away from the metaphor. You either watch the shadows or you make the shadows. There is no outer world where the real 'truth' is. I challenge anyone to tell me what 'truth' is. I may have part of it, but I certainly don't have enough of it to say that I have evolved or left the cave or compare myself to others in any way. Those who have left the Mormon church have done nothing but look at another part of the cave wall and say that they have been liberated. The picture's different, but it's the same wall. You can make up all the metaphors that you want, but it doesn't change the unavoidable fact that leaving the Mormon church entails a choice that fundamentally is no different than choosing which pair of socks to wear in the morning. Perhaps a shoe metaphor is more apt. A post-Mormon is someone who changed shoes because they felt the ones they had on didn't suit them.
Posted by: dpc | October 01, 2007 at 07:13 AM
"Truth is the fairest gem to which mortals or Gods can aspire."
Interesting thought, though, about the cave. Maybe another metaphor would be a hermit crab outgrowing its old shell and putting on a new one.
Posted by: Equality | October 01, 2007 at 09:11 AM
fta, I've thought long and hard about it, but I can find no apt metaphor for describing what we've been through that doesn't seem insulting to a still-believer, whether intended or not. I think it's especially true of mormons, who think they already have all the answers, not only for themselves, but for everyone else, too. Which brings me to...
dpc, You can believe what you want. As I stated earlier, this post is not comparing me to other people. It is a solipsistic exercise in describing my personal growth. You are displaying the common mormon thought pattern that you must continually compare yourself to others. Or that any expression that doesn't match your own pre-conceived notions is at best false, and at worst an evil conspiracy against you and your co-religionists. That's not my intent at all.
But, it's interesting to me that the still-believing mormon comments here seem to take umbrage and offense, while the post-mormons find it interesting, and suggest their own versions or extensions of the metaphor. You probably can't conceive of the idea of leaving the cave because you never have. Until you experience it, you'll never understand what I'm talking about. You can couch your religious beliefs in phrases like "putting on a pair of socks", but I have found the process of re-examining and changing my core religious beliefs to be much more profound and encompassing than that. And I don't think that your opinion is an "unavoidable fact".
As for me, I have left the cave.
Posted by: -Domokun- | October 01, 2007 at 02:56 PM
You said, "But, it's interesting to me that the still-believing mormon comments here seem to take umbrage and offense, while the post-mormons find it interesting, and suggest their own versions or extensions of the metaphor."
Hmmm... That is interesting. I can't understand why people who are classified as simpering, blind idiots in your metaphor find it insulting while those who are glorified as liberated free thinkers find it appealing. I guess I am limited as a result of my ‘common Mormon thought pattern.’ Most Mormons that I have come in contact with describe those who have left the church as “people who left the church” or “people who have asked to have their name removed.” I object to your use of a metaphor that at its very core (even as a solipsistic exercise) is insulting to a group of people who may not share your views. I’m not trying to discount any spiritual experiences you may have had as a result of changing your core religious beliefs, nor am I trying to defend those who may arrogantly look down upon your choices.
You also have to remember that religious affiliation is only part of your personality, just like your shoes are only a part of your outfit. Sure, there are those who change religions and go completely haywire, but for the most part, the only differences before and after are changes in outlooks and attitudes. A part of you changes, but for the most part your personality remains as it is. A person who was a good person pre-change is not suddenly going to become a horrible person post-change. And a jerk will always be a jerk despite being Christian, Jew or miscellaneous. If the shoes don’t match what you’re wearing or if they pinch every time you take a step, and you want to change them, that’s a personal choice dictated by taste or emotion. I just don’t see reason as a big part of it. Feel free to disagree with my conclusion; I make no claims to exclusive truth in the matter.
Posted by: dpc | October 01, 2007 at 03:52 PM
Posted by: Equality | October 01, 2007 at 05:49 PM
I'll get it reversed on appeal...
Posted by: dpc | October 01, 2007 at 06:07 PM