I was exposed to this idea on a couple different occasions:  disaffected or disbelieving members share their experiences that led to their de-conversion in a group setting.  It made me really uncomfortable, essentially for the same reasons that Testimony Meetings make me uncomfortable.

Here are a few hallmarks of both testimony and untestimony bearing:

  • Pressure to conform to “norms” in how we talk about our experiences and beliefs (or doubts).  Among believers, the pressure it to overstate, quantify, and provide evidence supporting belief.  Among unbelievers, the pressure is to overstate, quantify, and provide evidence supporting doubt.
  • The creation of a common language to describe our feelings.  This vernacular also reduces our ability to express the full nuances of our experience through a common shorthand, and it also results in cliche.
  • Memories are often fabrications.  We begin to believe the altered versions of events that we imagine at a given time.
  • We imbue meaning into events that are complex or could be interpreted in multiple ways.
  • Our personal narratives crystallize, even if they are misremembered, oversimplified, or misunderstood.
  • Publicly committing to a version of events, a perspective, a personal creed, etc.  I like to keep my options open.
  • Sharing what is deeply personal and subjective and putting it on display for public consumption.
  • Seeking (even unconsciously) to persuade others to our perspective.
  • Comparing our narratives with their own and with their approval of our narratives as a way to bolster our own credibility either in the group or in believing our own version of events.

But given my personal distaste for the above reasons, I should also point out some positives.  When someone is sincere, avoiding cliche or declarations of certainty or attempts to prove the unprovable, we can really feel a human connection that we don’t get through standard preaching, lesson teaching, or “talks.”  We don’t have to take the person’s story at face value or assume it is fully accurate and binding to us in order to develop empathy for the person who is sharing a deeply personal experience and the meaning it holds for them.

In that vein, the testimonies (and untestimonies) I really like are the ones that are authentic, personal, and not hyperbolic in assigning meaning to their memories of life events.

What do you think?

  • Why are Mormons so addicted to testimony (and then untestimony) sharing?
  • Do you see testimony sharing as more positive or negative?  Why?
  • Have you been uncomfortable with someone’s conclusions in their testimony (or untestimony)?  Why?