I have a theory that I’d like to test about the sociology of knowledge and activity in the church. The well-worn cliche in an exit story about one day discovering something about church history that had been “hidden,” and thereby being thrown into a tailspin has some valence. I think there was a paper delivered at some point that these narratives are structurally the same as LDS “conversion” narratives. Just as many LDS conversions perhaps occur too quickly, this “rebellion” upon coming to realize that one’s parents (the church) are not in fact perfect too often leads to drastic actions. With time, one may reach an understanding that one can love and get along with one’s parents in later years in spite of their imperfections. Of course, maybe the parents really are so terrible that a complete break is needed. Or, maybe this is short sighted. What conditions in one’s life inform how that decision is made?
My hypothesis is that the decision to stay or leave the LDS church ultimately has very little to do with any particular knowledge about the past or present, but has much more to do with whether or not one finds community with those inside or outside. When people discover something and leave, it is more the feeling of lonliness and betrayal inside the church than the discovery itself. The shared experiences are often found with others who’ve felt similarly alone and betrayed. Finding a community with whom one can relate inside the church helps to reestablish the sense of trust for other members helps many who have been shaken. When people stay, it is often the community of the saints which makes the experience of testimony possible. When people leave, it is the community of un-testimony, the parallel practice to the LDS testimony of the “exit narrative.” Both sets of practices are nearly structurally identical.
In this theory, knowledge has a sociology, a context which makes certain ways of knowing and understanding possible. Truth only appears to be such based on the understanding that is made possible within a given situation. The kinds of truths that one can accept (or not) is determined not by some objective set of “facts,” but by the conditions in one’s life that make that truth possible (or not). In this view, knowledge and truth are historically contingent and socially determined, at least at the level of “meaning” (hopefully that satisfies the analytic philosophers). It also suggests that those who leave and those who stay have everything in common. Does my theory have any merit?