Guest Post: A Mormon-Atheist Marriage

The following is a guest post by “Lehi,” an ex-Mormon atheist who was willing to share his story here. My usual house rules do not apply to guest posts. I allow readers to be pretty nasty to me before I show them the door. I expect a higher level of courtesy to be shown to those who have been brave enough to make themselves vulnerable in a public space. Thoughtful inquiry and respectful analysis are welcome. Nastiness is not. Should any of you have follow-up questions for Lehi, please do leave them below as part of my goal for guest posts is to stimulate the exchange of ideas.

Lehi’s Story

This is my story of the challenges of being an ex-Mormon atheist married to a life long and devoted Mormon. My spouse (let’s call her “Sariah”) and I are both descended from a long line of Mormons. We both grew up very Mormon –- regular church attendance, paying tithing, reading scriptures, and saying prayers. We both graduated from Seminary. I went on a full time mission. We met in college when I returned, and married in the temple. It was a very happy marriage. We almost never fought and rarely even disagreed. It was so easy to be together and we were happy.

The moment our marriage took a turn was in 2008 during the Prop 8 campaign in California. (Prop 8 was a ballot proposition to eliminate the rights of same sex couples to legally marry.) During sacrament meeting, our ward Bishop read a letter from the pulpit written by the First Presidency. It declared that same sex marriage was a moral issue of serious gravity and urged all members to do whatever we could (giving of our time, talents, and especially money) to pass Prop 8 and protect the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.

After church I mentioned to my spouse how troubled I was by the letter. She, too, was upset and agreed it was definitely not something she would like to support. What she said following this, however, has haunted me ever since. She said that even though we disagreed, we should make a financial contribution to the Prop 8 campaign. It was a test of our faith, she explained, and by doing what is asked of us, even when we disagreed — especially when we disagreed — we would be showing our trust in the Lord and His prophets. In many ways that was the beginning of the end of my Mormonism and our happy marriage.

It was at this point I realized I was at a crossroads. I decided that it came down to either the Church was true or not. If it was really true, then I needed to give in 100% and stop questioning things, and turn my life over to it completely. If the Church wasn’t true, well, then what were we doing? Since I didn’t have a nearby grove of trees to which I could go and supplicate the Lord for direction, I took the 21st century approach of anyone lacking wisdom -I delved into books and the Internet. For the first time in my life in addition to reading all the pro-Mormon materials, I also took the forbidden path of reading things that were not approved by the Church. It took less than a week for the Mormon Temple of Cards to crumble before my investigation. It quickly became apparent that an honest inquiry and willingness to accept that the Church may not be true was all that was needed to completely dismantle everything I’d been taught about Mormonism my entire life of nearly forty years.

From my research and pondering it didn’t take long to go from losing my Mormon beliefs to losing my belief in God entirely. With my new beginner’s mind, I looked at not just Mormonism, but religion and faith in general, and observed the absurdity of all religions. Belief in God became so obviously based solely on wishful thinking, following tradition without examination, confirmation bias, and a general lack of critical thinking.

Having made this incredible discovery I was eager to share it with those I loved and free them from this fraudulent religion. I was too eager apparently, as nearly everyone I talked to did not merely disagree with what I had to say, but they didn’t even want to hear what I had to say. The most upsetting to me, of course, was with Sariah. I had foolishly figured she would just evaluate the evidence I presented to her, be as astounded and enraged as I was, and together we would leave Mormonism behind us. That was my own wishful thinking. She had no interest in what I had to say, and in fact, felt threatened. She truly feared for my soul and for our family (we had three young children at the time all under the age of eight). A divide in our relationship was forged. It became something we could not talk about without it being argumentative or leading to hurt feelings. After many discussions and tears, we finally just stopped talking about it. That, in my opinion, isn’t healthy for a relationship either — having a huge issue that is important to both of you and that comes up all the time, but cannot be discussed without it turning ugly. But it seemed like a better alternative than to constantly be arguing. So we just slowly drifted apart.

I recently started attending an ex-Mormon support group led by a licensed clinical social worker and I also began meeting individually with the social worker for therapy in dealing with this issue. The therapy has been incredibly helpful. My wife and I are now to the point that we can discuss religion amiably. It is still difficult, however, and there is seemingly an abundance of compromise on both of our sides, especially with regard to our children.

Even seemingly safe discussions are often polarizing and unpleasant. For example, during the ten-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, Time magazine did a special issue regarding that tragic day. There was a story of a man who survived being in the World Trade Center when it was struck by the plane. He was able to make it down the stairs and out of the building before it collapsed. He credited the choices he made to escape as directed by God. My wife found this story so inspiring. I found it appalling. She said it showed how humble he was to not take credit for his escape, but to rightfully give the honor to God. To me it is not a sign of humility to think yourself so important that the omnipotent Master of the Universe guided your every footstep while allowing a building to collapse with thousands of other people perishing in terror and agony. This is just one of many times when conversations quickly and easily turn into conflict.

The greatest challenge to our Mormon/Atheist relationship, however, has been in regards to raising our children. We have two sons and a daughter that we love dearly and want the best for. Unfortunately, to Sariah that means growing up Mormon, and to me growing up Mormon is the antithesis of a happy life. I so desperately want to get them out of what I view as a toxic environment, but to her their entire eternal salvation rests on their Mormonism.

Because they were already attending church when I stopped going, Sariah continued to take the children with her each Sunday. Then one Sunday morning our oldest son lamented while getting ready for church that it wasn’t fair that they had to go to church while I happily stayed home. I felt guilty and like a hypocrite. He was right, I thought, ‘why did he have to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself?’ In an instant of self-righteousness, without consulting with my wife, I said, “You are right, it isn’t fair. You can stay home with me.” Realizing this also wasn’t fair, I quickly amended it, “You can have a dad Sunday and a mom Sunday rotating every week.” On my Sunday I allowed them to stay home with me or go to church with her, their choice. On mom’s Sunday, they were required to go to church. Like all compromises, neither my wife nor I were satisfied with it. I was unhappy because they were still going to church and being indoctrinated with all kinds of idiocy even if only at half the rate. She didn’t like it because 50% church attendance was unacceptable to the Lord and thus to her. And yes, on dad’s Sunday they never opted to go to church, no matter how much guilt their mom heaped upon them, and like a good Christian, she can lay it on thick.

Church attendance is just a small fraction of the potential conflicts inherent in trying to raise children with two drastically different worldviews. Do we have family prayer? Scripture study? Bless the food? Do we encourage the children to pray and study the scriptures on their own? Do they get baptized? Pay tithing? These are things we are dealing with currently. Upcoming battles include seminary attendance, missions, and temple marriages.

Our home continues to be a Mormon home. There are framed pictures of Mormon temples and Jesus hanging on our walls, and Mormon paraphernalia scattered throughout the house -– pamphlets, church magazines, photos, etc. She has the children pray every night. In an attempt to help our marriage and under the advice of my therapist, the children are back to going to church every Sunday. The oldest two children have been baptized, not by me obviously (nor by their worthy and believing mom, ironically, but the Church is NOT sexist), and our third child will almost certainly also be baptized when he turns eight. I’ve been forbidden to bring alcohol or even coffee into our home. In exchange, my wife would say that she is compromising by allowing me to have atheist and anti-Mormon books such as ‘The God Delusion’ and ‘No Man Knows My History’ in our home. The presence of such books in our home is very distressing to her.

I want to end this with a hopeful conclusion since this is my actual life I’m writing about. And the place I find the most joy and hope are with our children. Although the children seem to be the main source of our religious conflict, they are likely also what keeps us together. We both love them unconditionally and want what is best for them, including having a happy family life. We have come to accept that neither of us will accept the other’s position regarding God and Mormonism, but are striving to work on compromise with respect and love. We clearly have a long way to go, but it is certainly worth struggling for. I guess you could say I still have something that I have faith in –- our family.

Follow-up Q&A with Lehi:

It seems like you approached deconversion with the same sort of missionary zeal Mormons are so famous for. Have any of your Mormon acquaintances grasped the irony of them slamming the proverbial door in their face when you showed up unannounced to let them know about the truth you’d discovered?

It is interesting to think of myself preaching against Mormonism with Mormon Missionary zeal. It didn’t feel like proselytizing when I was doing it, however. I was just so shocked at what I was finding about Mormonism that I felt compelled to share it. It was like I was sitting at a gourmet meal with people I love and discovering maggots in the food. Not just a few maggots either — it was maggot ubiquity. I naturally wanted to tell everyone I was sharing the meal with, ‘hey, this food is not the healthful meal we were told. In fact, it is rotten’. I guess I was naïve to think that my family and friends would listen to what I had to say, observe the maggots, thank me, and we would all get up and leave.

As to if they ‘grasp the irony of slamming the proverbial door’ as you so eloquently put it, well, I doubt it. If they have, they don’t give any indication of it. It is frustrating because I know what they know about Mormonism because I was a Mormon my entire life. They know I know what they know, and I still left. That they aren’t the slightest bit curious as to why I would leave it all behind and endure all the heartache and life-quakes those changes have brought is both perplexing and disappointing to me. Frankly, I feel as if they never even opened the door to slam it in my face. They heard me knocking at the door and ran and hid under with the food storage.

You mentioned that therapy has been beneficial to your relationship and has enabled you to have conversations about religion that are no longer traumatic. Would you say that your spouse now understands the rationale behind your loss of faith and subsequent transition to atheism? If she understands your reasons, what would you say is the main reason she does not consider them valid reasons for leaving Mormonism?

I presume she understands my rationale as well as a true believer possibly can without giving up being a true believer. I think it comes down to wishful thinking and a fear of change. She once said to me that she tried to understand my perspective, but it was too scary and upsetting and that she finds great comfort in the Mormon doctrine and the Mormon lifestyle and she cannot let it go. I don’t think she is foolish though, in fact, she is a very intelligent and highly educated person. I do think, however, she possesses heroic amounts of cognitive dissonance. She would refute that of course.

Your therapist advised you to require that your children attend church every Sunday, even if this is against their will. Has this benefitted your relationship with your spouse without any cost to your conscience or your relationship with your children?

My therapist didn’t advise that I require the children to attend church, he just recommended that I reevaluate if it is worth destroying our relationship over this one issue. When I gave in and allowed her to take them every Sunday things between us improved immensely, but it is always tricky when the children are caught in the middle of our disagreements. I hate for them to feel like pawns in a game of chess between their parents. As they get older I will certainly reassert their ability to choose for themselves. Putting the choice to them, however, is still placing a burden on them: Do they continue to live as Mormons and risk their dad thinking they are making a huge mistake, or do they stop and risk disappointing and upsetting their mom? Not great options.

Letting Sariah take the children to church every Sunday has benefitted our relationship in that she is much happier and doesn’t resent me every other Sunday when the children would opt to stay home and she had to go to church by herself. You are correct that it has taken a toll on my conscience, but I rationalize it by reminding myself that they are smart kids, and they can figure things out for themselves. I admit that I’m banking on the probability that they aren’t thoroughly brainwashed in the meantime. I think back to when I was a child, and especially a teenager, and I wonder if things would have been different for me if I had one person in my life, just one single person, that offered a bit of critical thinking in the ocean of faith I was swimming in. If I had one person that gave me the option to leave, or validated any questions or the doubts I had, I think that would have made a world of difference for me. That is what I want to be for my children.

I should confess that on Sunday mornings while they are getting ready for church, I tell them to not believe everything they are told at church. I actually think it is good advice for life in general –- don’t believe everything you are told. When it comes to church though, sometimes I wonder if instead of saying ‘don’t believe everything you are told ’ I should say ‘don’t believe anything you are told’.

My relationship with the kids hasn’t suffered appreciably since they restarted attending church regularly. They recognize that it makes their mom happy and has brought peace to our home, and so they dutifully go with her. I’m not sure how long it will last though.

For now while your children are young their participation in church does not presumably receive much financial support from you. Down the road, if your children serve missions or wish to attend BYU, how would you feel about funding such activities?

Excellent question. I’ve stewed over this at great length. We live in a predominantly Mormon community. The vast majority of high school graduates go on Mormon missions. Anyone who opts not to go on a mission is looked at in askance. If I refuse to fund a mission I am almost certain this will add to the community belief that I’m an evil apostate and generally poor father and husband. I also don’t want to drive a wedge between my relationship with any of my children by not supporting something they want to do.

Will I pay for my child’s wedding if I cannot attend the ceremony? It isn’t a pleasant thought. I don’t know what will happen in the years to come, but I certainly do not want to pay for Mormon missions, nor to I have any desire to send any money to BYU, but I also do not want to drive my children away. I still haven’t come to any conclusions or formulated any plans. Perhaps your readers could offer me some direction here.

How successfully do you feel your children are being indoctrinated in Mormon beliefs? Of your three children, how many do you think will be orthodox in their faith when they reach adulthood? Have any of them expressed a desire to disaffiliate from Mormonism, or do you anticipate that any of them will?

Our oldest child is 11. He has told me he doesn’t think there is a God, but he plays along to appease his mom and grandparents (and practically everyone else he knows). We rarely talk about it, so I don’t know how strongly he feels. I don’t hide my atheism, however, so the kids definitely know what I think. Our second child is 8. She seems more inclined to Mormonism. Whenever I make light of Mormon doctrine, she asks me to stop. Our third is 5. He is currently interested in Mormonism only so far as there are treats involved. I think that for all three children the conflict between choosing to be Mormon like their mom, or being secular like their dad will only become more acute as they get older. I can’t see into the future, and I don’t want to speculate. My main goal is simply to make sure they know they are loved, and to try to make them feel accepted and secure with themselves whatever they choose.

The presence of atheist literature in your home is distressing to your wife. Is the presence of Mormon paraphernalia in your home distressing to you? If so, does your wife know that or acknowledge that her religious choices are more prominently displayed?

The presence of Mormon paraphernalia in our home is beyond distressing to me, I find it downright disturbing. Take for instance the Proclamation to the Family, it is a clearly homophobic document that is intolerant of anything outside of the traditional husband, wife, and children family structure. Or the Articles of Faith, which tell us what we believe. How is that not a form of brainwashing? My wife hasn’t hung any more Mormon pictures on our walls since I’ve left the church. But she also hasn’t taken any down either. The church magazines, manuals, and other church propaganda are constantly coming in our home. Wow, I haven’t put much thought into this before, and now that you’ve got me thinking about it I wonder if I shouldn’t be more vocal about my disapproval of all the Mormon crap in our house. Hm.

What do you feel is the likelihood of your wife one day leaving Mormonism? What is the likelihood of you going back to the church?

I would like to think she may leave one day, but I have to accept that she very well may not, and I am resigned to the great likelihood that she won’t. She has not shown any inclination of doing so since I’ve left the church. It has been over four years. If anything, I think she has dug in her heels and become more fundamental since my leaving, perhaps to counterbalance my apostasy.

As for me, the only way I see myself ever going back to church is if I develop a brain tumor, have a stroke, or suffer some other kind of brain trauma. In short, the odds of either of us changing are very slim. This is why trying to figure out how to accept and respect each other’s beliefs and make it work for our family seems so vital.

An Embarrassing Revelation

Most people on their way out of the Mormon mainstream and into apostasy or nonconformist practise spend years delving into Mormon history, theology, scripture and doctrine. They waste countless breaths arguing and discussing and pleading with various people such as bishops, spouses, parents, children, friends, strangers on the Internet, and imaginary persons dwelling on Kolob in an effort to sort out the viable and non-viable bits of the religion.

In recent months, I have discovered something incredibly embarrassing. Among atheists, sceptics, and freethinkers, Mormonism is considered to be so transparently fraudulent that it is only considered useful as a punching bag when they need an example of exactly how self-deluded some people are.

It’s true. Where heavy hitters like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are willing to spend many words on the character of Yahweh, they mention Mormonism only as the most sad and unfunny of jokes. As Hitchens put it in God is Not Great:

“The actual story of the imposture is almost embarrassing to read, and almost embarrassingly easy to uncover.”

There’s quite a lot of fuss going on lately about tugging on Salt Lake’s coattails and begging for things that simply aren’t going to happen, such as the ordination of women, or things that are extremely unlikely, such as allowing LDS couples to have public wedding ceremonies along with temple weddings. (As it stands, the only places LDS, Inc. allow this practise are in countries like Britain, where they do not legally recognise secret ceremonies, especially if they involve funny hats, secret handshakes, and oaths to procreate.)

I understand how hard it is to let go of something when quite a lot of time and effort has gone into it, but I have come round to the position that people seeking to force Mormonism into the mold of a hip, modern, secular-values friendly, defanged diet church is a complete waste of time. This church could be reformed, but why would you bother? If you think changing swapping out Wild Cherry flavour for Berry Blast makes a difference, it doesn’t. You’re still drinking the bloody Kool-Aid.

Mormonism is to philosophy what homeopathy is to medicine. Any benefit it has works entirely on a placebo effect, but this marginal benefit comes with a monster price tag, takes up an unreasonable amount of a person’s time, and infuses the user with dangerous misinformation that will cripple a person’s ability to be truly whole and well. There isn’t anything you can get from Mormonism that you can’t get somewhere else for a much better price and with far fewer side effects.

I was recently confronted with the idea that it’s inevitable that each new wave of disaffected Mormons will have to go through their own process of disillusionment. I don’t think it has to be. We don’t let people sell poison and call it food. There are laws against that. And the poisons that we do allow to be sold, such as tobacco, alcohol, saturated fats, and refined sugars, come with warning labels. We have organic labels to indicate that a food is less likely to contain bad stuff, and fair trade labels to indicate that a product was more ethically produced.

Why don’t we have these sorts of warning labels on the things we put in our minds? Religion can never and should never be outlawed, but why is it that as a culture we have this abject fear of identifying true and false faith claims as such? Why do so many generations of people have to go through the same life-crippling process of losing faith when we could have helped them out years ago through some kind of culturally agreed on Bullshit Meter that lets the world know how viable their truth claims are? If we can come up with a bloody food pyramid we ought to be able to sort out which philosophies are mostly harmless and which ones aren’t. It wouldn’t be hard. Just pick concrete, testable truth claims and test them. Is the existence of the alleged American culture described in the Book of Mormon supported by a shred of scientific research? Are Native Americans long-lost Hebrews? Is the Book of Abraham an accurate translation of the Joseph Smith papyri?

I pity those still trapped within the psychological prison of belief, but I resent those who have escaped but then make patronising comments such as “well, some people just need to stay” or “if people want to try to fix the church we should be supportive.” I’m sorry, but I refuse to give my support to an activity that wastes precious years of a brief and beautiful life. I refuse to be so arrogant as to think that freedom is just dandy for us enlightened types, but some silly sods just aren’t bright enough to lose the crutch of religion. Those trying to change the church from within are most likely on their way out. It would be a far greater service to do whatever we can to hasten that process rather than enable their self-torture.

I Am The Church

I had thought things might be on the mend with my family for a while, but there was a big row on Monday over some books I had given my sister to read. I gave them to her a long time ago, back when I believed that because she was an adult, we could discuss any topic she brought to me. The books were part of a larger conversation we were having about anger and how to move past it and see the good in even hopelessly flawed situations. Two were by the Dalai Lama; Healing Anger and The Art of Happiness.

The third was a book by two evangelical ministers that discussed how to overcome a bad experience had with abusive clergy. I had been given that book by a friend when I was dealing with the aftermath of escaping a very damaging marriage. Leaving my ex took immense willpower as I had to finally throw off the controlling arms of priesthood leaders who were scaring me with damnation so that I wouldn’t leave a temple marriage. I had a lot of anger to process, and I made many notes in the margins of the book. My sister was dealing with a lot of similar anger against LDS authorities. She stopped believing in Mormonism long before I did, and she is still living under my parents’ roof whilst attending university. We had several conversations about how to let go of anger, see the good in situations, and I offered her that book so that she could see what I was like at my most angry and hopefully learn to bypass many of the negative emotions I had felt by focusing on forgiveness and patience.

I had made a promise back in October to my parents to never discuss politics or religion with any of my siblings — even the adult ones — and I have held to that. But I forgot about the books.

My father routinely searches my sister’s room, as he used to do to me. He found the books, and had no way of knowing that they had arrived long before I understood the degree of authority they still expected to have over children who were legally adults but still under their roof. The Dalai Lama was scoffed at, but the book on clerical abuse was a cause for outrage. Before even flipping through to see that it ends on a very positive note, my parents took this text as a personal attack on the infallibility of the LDS priesthood. In their view, a book that states that men who claim to speak for God are not always doing so, and that it’s ok to protect yourself from abuse, is heresy.

I found out just how personally my father takes all of this. “The church is not an organisation or a building,” he told me over the phone. “I am the church. Any criticism of the church is criticism of me.”

I was astounded. Never in my most orthodox days did I ever believe that there was no distinction between an organisation and the people that make it up. Perhaps that’s why I was never destined to be a good Mormon? I can’t say. It’s just too befuddling for me to get my head around just now.

He told me that the path I had chosen put an enormous rift between us and that from now on we would have very little in common in this life or the next. He told me that if I was ever to visit his house again he didn’t want me to ever speak about what I think or believe, and that if I could follow that rule “we are prepared to receive you.”

Blimey. What a warm invitation. What I heard him say was:

  • Your rejection of the church is a personal rejection of your parents
  • We are going to heaven; You are going to hell
  • We have nothing in common
  • I don’t want to know anything about who you are
  • If you can play a good little black sheep, we will tolerate your presence

Perhaps that’s just me being cynical because I’m still feeling the sting, but I can’t help but resent the fact that they reserve the right to recriminate me for every past wrong, no matter how long done. And because of those forgotten books and the way they were discovered, that’s one more thing I’ll never be forgiven for.

This is not a cynical question, nor is it a trap. I sincerely want to know: if everything that I am is disgusting and threatening to my parents, why do they want to have a relationship with me at all?

If there are any still-faithful LDS readers out there, or people who remember what it’s like to be faithful, would you take the apostasy of a child this personally? Would you place similar restrictions on the apostate child? Would you realise that the consequence of such a strict response has the effect of alienating your other children from you, making them more likely to reject such authoritarian religious beliefs? How would you resolve the struggle between the bits of LDS orthodoxy that are mandatory and the realities of how difficult some aspects of Mormon belief can be to deal with?

Dutcher Facebook Update: Screencap

Here’s a screen capture of the thread that’s erupted from Richard Dutcher’s comments refuting the standard doublethink that allows some LDS people to dismiss the cognitive dissonance of those who struggle with Mormonism:

Postmortem to follow. The preliminary verdict: Dutcher 47. Pro-LDS minus 23 due to logical fallacies and general silliness.

They Don’t Make it Easy

Dear Sister Molly,

I know that you know that you ceased to be a member of the LDS Church the second we opened your letter, forcing our pure and temple worthy fingers to come into contact with remnants of your slimy green saliva along the envelope’s edge, but this letter is to inform you that you’re not getting off that lightly.

You told us you don’t want to be a member any more, but you can get stuffed. You’ve got to deal with local authorities first. We’ve figured out who your bishop should be, you naughty less-active, you, and we’re sending him over to intimidate you. Also, since we’d like to be patronising and dismissive and pretend this wasn’t a decision you took seriously, here’s a stupid pamphlet with a snapshot of that boring second-rate Jesus statue we keep in all our temple visitors’ centres. It’s telling you to get your arse back to church because clearly you haven’t given any of this much thought.

Love and Kisses,

Gregory W. Dodge
Borg De-assimilation Prevention Team

Apostasy FAQ

I recently sent in my resignation letter. Here’s the FAQ:

What was in the letter?

I copied the text of a sample resignation letter available on many sites explaining how to resign and used that. I chose the briefest and most perfunctory version, which contained all the needed language to prevent any stalling or refusal to comply on their end. There was no point in getting personal, since my resignation is going to be handled by some drone at the COB who has no interest or need to hear my list of grievances. The sample letter is a fitting way to resign, because it treats LDS, Inc. with the same one size fits all attitude with which it treated me.

What were your real reasons?

There are oh, so many, but if I had to sum it up:

  1. The Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price are not historical records. This an essential requirement for the church being true.
  2. Mormonism privileges whiteness over other races in its scripture, culture, and power structure, holding that dark skin is a punishment from God.
  3. Women are barred from leadership and kept segregated from one another through multiple layers of priesthood authority.
  4. The top-down structure of church power leaves no method for correcting abusive or incompetent leaders.
  5. Loyalty to the institutional church is prized over loyalty to family or the gospel.
  6. Homosexuality is forbidden, despite scientific evidence that it is natural and normal.
  7. The church has repeatedly engaged in political activity over the years that is racist, sexist, and homophobic.
  8. The church has changed so much over the years that even if the organisation was the true church when Joseph Smith founded it, it isn’t the same organisation now.

What was the procedure?

I used a letter that contained the necessary language to require them to mark me as no longer a member. The letter was notarised and I scanned it for my records before sending it with a tracking number so I could verify delivery. Now it’s the waiting game. The church usually sits on these letters for a month before taking action, despite the fact that legally I was no longer a member the moment they received the letter.

Does your family know yet?

No. I’m waiting for confirmation that I’m no longer a member before telling them. This is partly because I don’t want to give them false hope that I can be dissuaded during the Church’s waiting period. It’s also partly because I want them to know that my decision was real and final when they learn I’m no longer a member.

What’s your family’s reaction going to be?

Not sure. Either shock, sadness, and withdrawing, or shock, sadness and anger. I shall only inform my parents initially and let them decide who they wish to tell and when. I hope for my granny’s sake they do not tell her. I will happily pretend for her sake. She’s very old and doesn’t need this burden. My guess is that there will be a period of estrangement, but for the sake of appearances they’ll eventually let me back in to family events.

How do you feel?

Not that different. This is just executing the formalities of a state of mind I’ve been in for some time. My membership in the LDS Church is largely symbolic, as I haven’t attended actively for several years. The only anxiety I feel is over how much this will hurt my parents, and I particularly worry about my elderly grandmother should they choose to tell her.

What’s next?

Dunno. Heroin? More likely I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing all along — earning a living, spending time with friends, and looking after the loved ones in my life. Damage control and drafting the letter that will break the news to mum and dad. After all, I want them to get this bad news from me and not from the LDS gossip chain . . .

So Many Questions

This morning I re-read a comment from CJ on yesterday’s post:

The real reason people are leaving: those who consider themselves to be faithful members, but who inexplicably fail to become mindless jumper-wearing, jello-eating drones, are told “faith promoting” things like “you shouldn’t have a Temple Recommend”. If membership has to dictate one’s personality and character, then it’s only going to become less and less appealing. I, for one, like to think that I can be both religious and free-thinking–but, increasingly, I’m being told by church that I’m wrong.

I wonder how many people are leaving due to a lack of belief (there’s certainly plenty of that) and how many are leaving because they prize their individualism?

For me it was a little of both. I discovered the numerous problems with The Church’s historical and truth claims, but the trauma this caused to my testimony wasn’t ultimately what caused me to throw up my hands and walk away. It was the absolute taboo on discussion of controversy, combined with The Church’s willful encouragemwilful”Lying for the Lord.” I soon discovered that facts are not of interest to The Church. If a fact makes Mormonism look good, then it was true. If it casts a negative light on Mormonism, then it is false. My efforts to discuss controversial or complicated issues in a spirit of genuine inquiry were met with hostility and accusations of disloyalty. Ironically, the church that taught me to value my integrity above everything was behaving in such a way that my integrity forced me to leave.

I’m curious to specifically hear from CJ, but if any other faithful nonconformists (people who believe in the basic premise of Mormonism but do not adhere to the culture and practice of Mormonism in a typical active Mormon way) have answers to these questions please do share.

What do you consider the secret to your success in thinking you can be “both religious and free-thinking”? I do believe there are plenty of denominations that encourage this (Reform Judaism, Unitarianism and Lutheranism come to mind) but I agree that the LDS church can suffer from an emphasis on conformity and (sometimes public) humiliation of those who are faithful but different. You said that increasingly you’re told by the church that you are wrong. Who tells you that you are wrong? On what do they base their authority? Does anyone ever come to your defense? Why or whdefence

What do you consider to be “The Church”? Do you think there is any difference between “The Church” as in the list of members maintained by the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop, and “the church” as in a body of believers? What matters more to you, The Church or the church? Do you believe that the employees of the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop (apostles, general authorities, Correlation committee, and other bureaucrats) are right to have complete say over what constitutes a “Good Mormon”? What would the breaking point be for you between your faith in the church and your ability to maintain membership in The Church? How much do you think being a member in good standing of The Church affects your salvation?

Many nonconformists who are still active in The Church feel that their presence has value as a force fighting conformity, but others resent the fact that being different requires them to represent Those Who Are Different, when they’d rather just be accepted as part of the fold. Do you think that the slow drain of nonconformists from The Church is inevitable? Do you think that The Church is happy to see them go, making it easier to guarantee conformity of belief and behaviour? Do you think it would be useful or not useful for The Church to encourage open debate, doubt, and questioning?

If these are too many questions to answer in the comments section, please leave a link to any blog posts that discuss these issues.