This post is also available with all of the original links and photographs at https://mantarayideas.blogspot.com/
Leaving Mormonism felt like a tragedy, but it has been a godsend
What this post is: something that I wish I had been able to read five years ago. It describes my faith crisis, what I did about it, and where I am today.
What this post is NOT: a huge list of reasons why I left Mormonism.
This post is mainly directed at two types of Mormons:
(a) Mormons who are completely happy with their religion and believe it’s impossible to be a Christian after leaving Mormonism (point: I am one now),
(b) Mormons who no longer believe the Mormon Church is true, are consequently completely heartbroken, and need reassurance that it’s possible for them to be okay again someday.
You will likely also relate to this post if you’ve had any kind of faith crisis.
Birth to second year of college: hard-core Mormon
When I say “hard-core,” I mean it. I genuinely believed all of Latter-Day Saint teaching, everything from Jesus in the Americas to God living near Kolob. To convince Mormon readers of my sincerity, here is a description of my prior "Mormon-ness" (warning to non-Mormons: here comes jargon.)
• I went to the full 3 hours of church every Sunday, even when I was sick with a cold, even on vacation, even if I had just gotten in to a bike accident – the only reason to miss church would be active vomiting due to the flu.
• I read the entire Book of Mormon several times, the entire D&C several times, the entire King James Old Testament once (and sections of it several times), and the entire New Testament three times. I annotated and highlighted all of them repeatedly. I read numerous books by General Authorities.
• I completed all of “Personal Progress” by age 13 (the Mormon female equivalent of an Eagle Scout).
• I went to all four years of Seminary and graduated with nearly-perfect attendance (this is a 6 AM – 7 AM Mormonism class every weekday for all four years of high school.) I memorized all the “scripture masteries” (~50 Mormon scripture passages) verbatim.
• I took notes on all 8 hours of the semi-annual Mormon General Conference every time it happened.
• I gave “talks” (mini sermons) in church on a regular basis, and “bore my testimony” (got up and told everyone I knew the church was true) on a regular basis.
• I was a Young Women “Laurel’s” president and YSA president
• I did my visiting teaching.
• I played the organ in sacrament meeting and played the piano in Young Women’s and Relief Society.
• I sang in the choir for about seven years. Choir practice was one hour long every week.
• I went to Young Women’s activities on Wednesday nights, and in college I went to YSA activities on Tuesday nights.
• I volunteered at the Mormon temple.
• I paid 10% of my income to the church in tithing.
• Overall, for decades, I spent a bare minimum of 4 hours per week doing church activities, and when I was a teenager and older it was more like 10 – 15 hours per week.
• I was so convinced of the truthfulness of Mormonism that I gave away copies of the Book of Mormon to a few people, and genuinely felt like I had to convert everyone otherwise they would be spiritually doomed and it would be my fault.
• I religiously avoided anything “anti-Mormon” and I was terrified of “anti-Mormon literature” or “anti-Mormon websites” or even just talking to “anti-Mormons,” because I knew that stuff was basically straight from the mouth of Satan and would crush me like a possum on the freeway.
Transition: second and third years of college
Reading, Part I
Warning: if you are Mormon and happy with that, you may want to skip this section.
As I stated earlier, I won’t go into great detail about why I left, but I will mention my starting point: the Book of Abraham, which is a lesser-known volume of Mormon scripture that Mormons believe was translated from Egyptian papyrus by Joseph Smith, and contains various stories about (guess who) Abraham.
My smack in the face was learning that the LDS Church still has the papyrus that Joseph Smith used to obtain the Book of Abraham. However, the problem is that nowadays – unlike in Joseph Smith’s time – Egyptologists know how to read hieroglyphics. Long story short, this piece of papyrus with Joseph Smith’s annotations is actually just a standard copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and has nothing to do with Abraham. Furthermore, Joseph Smith obtains whole paragraphs of Abraham-related material out of single hieroglyphic characters, which is fairly damning evidence that he did not translate anything directly from that papyrus as he claimed. For a full discussion of the Book of Abraham, you can read the MormonThink article on the subject, or read the book "By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus" by Charles M. Larson.
From there, in a nauseated state, I went digging. I learned about Joseph Smith marrying teenage girls and marrying women who were already married; I learned about Joseph Smith writing multiple conflicting accounts of the famous “First Vision”; I learned about blood oaths and Masonic elements in the Mormon temple ceremony…etcetera. I read a lot, online and in print, and my new knowledge destroyed my old faith.
At this point I was totally lost. I had spent my entire life as far back as I could remember KNOWING that “the church is true.” But now I was convinced that the church had misrepresented a great deal of its history, and that Joseph Smith was a fraud. I became depressed and atheist. I felt that my life was entirely meaningless because I was just going to cease to exist when I died, and there was no greater purpose for me or the universe. Every morning when I woke up, I had a brief moment of peace and clarity when my brain wasn’t fully awake, and then it felt like someone dropped a block of cement on my chest as I remembered the disaster that was going on in my own head.
I took a lot of walks around the nearby lake, talked a lot on the phone with my family (who, thankfully, were in the same situation as I was), wrote a lot, and ranted a lot (including some rude yelling at the god(s) who I wasn’t convinced were there to hear me yell). I forced myself on a lot of very long runs that were way out of my normal distance range so that physical pain and exhaustion would drown out my mental pain and exhaustion.
I decided to start with the question of God: did I believe there was a God, or not? At the time, I was studying a lot of biology, and I actually found the wonder of life to be the most compelling reason to believe in God. My runs became a way to connect with nature, and the beauty of nature became my primary reason to hope that there was a divine being. My completely secular, atheistic university biology classes ironically provided me with another foothold in spirituality. (E.g., watch "The Inner Life of the Cell." It's a scientifically-inspired animation of a cell that I found so beautiful it brought me to tears the first time I watched it.)
Around this time I had an interesting experience. I was running through a park near campus, and started crying (sad tears...), because I felt very depressed, lonely, and philosophically lost. I prayed to the air, stating that I wanted to know if god(s) existed and if she/he/it/they cared about me at all. I was struck with the strange urge to run across the field into the forest. This was the middle of winter, with two feet of snow on the ground, so I did not like the thought of abandoning the plowed trail and freezing my running shoes in the slush. Still, I felt compelled to run into the forest, so I left the trail and lolloped awkwardly through the snow. Once in the forest, something on the nearest tree immediately caught my eye.
It was a heart. Someone had carved a heart into the tree that I was staring at. You can interpret this however you want, but I took it as a direct answer to my question: a Divine Being "hearts" me.
This experience was encouraging, but most of my worldview was still shattered on the floor, and I needed answers to the rest of my questions. The beginnings of many of those answers came through an atheist-turned-Christian friend.
I had started attending a nondenominational Christian church. I had chosen it because it was a five-minute walk from the Mormon meetinghouse, so I could easily attend both churches (a lifelong habit of attending church every Sunday carries a lot of inertia, and at that point the Mormon meetings were familiar but irritating, so I added on an extra church.) I became friends with one of the members in the new church. After telling him what was going on with me, he recommended some reading, which had originally helped him at an earlier point in his own life.
Reading, Part II
So, I transitioned from reading “all the disturbing things I never knew about Mormon church history” to “all the things I never learned about Christianity or religion in general.” Some books I found particularly helpful were:
“Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis
(quick read but very impactful)
“The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict” by JoshMcDowell
(many hundreds of pages of Christian apologetics)
“Religion for Dummies” by Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman
(concise introduction to numerous religions)
“Proof of Heaven” by Eben Alexander
(a neurosurgeon's intriguing near-death experience)
“The Language of God” by Francis Collins.
(Five-star book. My summary of it: God set off the Big Bang, thereby creating the universe and all life within it. There is no need for a “God of the Gaps.” There is nothing anti-Christian about being convinced that the theory of evolution is accurate, because nothing in the Bible even attempts to specifically describe God’s creation method. We don’t need to excessively over-interpret “from dust thou art” to mean that God molded us out of mud, fired us in a kiln, and then waved a magic wand to bring us to life.)
Slowly, through this new focus in my reading, continued thought, conversations with friends and family, and taking a couple philosophy classes in my senior year of college, my baseline state shifted from lost and angry to curious and intellectually exhilarated. I was no longer afraid that ideas could destroy me, because I’d experienced having all my ideas destroyed and I was still standing and actively forming new ideas.
Officially an ex-Mormon Christian
After I graduated college, I moved. In the new city I attended a couple Mormon meetings, and then finally extricated myself completely: I removed my name from the Mormon Church member roster by contacting the central office, and I stopped attending Mormon meetings. I decided to consider myself a nondenominational Christian with my own personal interpretations on many issues. Currently, I attend a Methodist church down the street, because I like having someone remind me on a weekly basis to be a better human being.
I chose Christianity because I want to follow Jesus’ teachings, because I have hope that Jesus was telling the truth when He said He was divine, and (I have to admit) partially because it is most familiar to me. I also decided that I believe in the broad themes of the Bible (e.g. love your neighbor), and I do NOT believe in highly narrow interpretations of isolated words or phrases in the Bible.
"What They Said Would Happen At This Point"
Now I will mention what Mormons are taught will happen to them if they leave Mormonism, and contrast that with what actually has happened to me in my subsequent years as an ex-Mormon.
· You will become a chain-smoking alcoholic drug addict. (Reality: I don’t use any substances that have any addictive potential whatsoever, including coffee, energy drinks, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and refined sugar, because I care about my health and my mental state.)
· You will become sexually promiscuous, probably with really creepy partners. (Reality: I’m married to an amazing man, in a stable monogamous relationship. It actually would have been a terrible tragedy if I had been Mormon when I met him, because then we never could have gotten married!)
· You will become a vile, repulsive, nasty person, because you have been misled by the devil and are now incapable of “choosing the right.” (Reality: I still believe in moral absolutes, and still try to follow the exact same moral life principles that I did previously. I think I’m actually a nicer person now than I used to be, because I’m no longer smugly certain that I have the One Truth.)
· You may even become a Satan-worshiper (Reality: definitely not)
· And of course, when you finally die after your miserable life, you’ll burn in hell – or should I say, get thrown into “Outer Darkness” which is basically hell on steroids, reserved only for ex-Mormons and possibly Hitler. (Reality: I haven’t died yet, so I’ll get back to you on this one, though if I thought this was going to happen to me I wouldn’t have left Mormonism.)
How leaving Mormonism has helped me
When I was Mormon, I was 100% sure that Mormonism was true. Now, I’m not 100% sure that my beliefs are true, but as I put it the other day to a friend, I’m willing to bet on Christianity. I also appreciate many of the wonderful aspects of other religions, and think that it’s beneficial for people to learn from many different traditions. I’ve also learned that there are a lot more similarities across religions than there are differences.
Similarly, when I was Mormon, I knew I was incapable of being philosophically mistaken, because I was a member of the One True Church. Now I realize that just like everybody else, I’m perfectly capable of believing in something that is false, and I need to be willing to consider all angles of a question before I assemble any answer to it. Furthermore, people from all religions and traditions have pieces of truth and valuable spiritual insights, so it is important to talk to a diverse array of people and learn from them.
When I was Mormon, I was terrified of hearing anything that could be even remotely considered “anti-Mormon.” Now, I’m not afraid of hearing criticism of god(s)/religions/Christianity because I’ve heard or looked up pretty much all of it already.
When I was Mormon, I was mentally much more judgmental when I observed other people making life choices I disapproved of. I assumed that their bad choice made them a "bad person." (Of course at the time, I didn't consider myself harmfully judgmental at all.) Now, I still classify various actions as "good" or "bad" but I don't automatically classify people I barely know as "good" or "bad" on the basis of observing a single action. I realize that only an omnipotent Being can be a fair judge, because they can consider a person’s actions in the context of that person's entire life, upbringing, and inner motivations, whereas I certainly do not have that context.
Since leaving Mormonism, I have received answers to prayers and experienced divine intervention in my life. I am relieved to believe in a God who cares for all people and reveals truths to all people, rather than sequestering truth in an infinitesimal fraction of the population. I do miss the familiarity of Mormonism, but I am never going back, and I am happy with the place I have come to in my life.
If you are struggling with your faith, I hope this post has been helpful, and has reassured you that even if everything feels like a total disaster, there are ways to heal. Don't give up hope. Even though you may feel betrayed and angry, don't give up on God, because She/He will find you eventually if you allow it.
I am reading a book of Dylan Thomas' poetry, and a few days ago I came across this poem, “Within his head revolved a little world” (also called "Out of the pit"). It was actually the inspiration for me to write this blog post. The poem does an excellent job of summing up my experience leaving the "One True Church." Thomas’ work is still under copyright but I was able to find this poem freely available online here, as part of a Google Books preview for“The Poems of Dylan Thomas.” So, here is the poem from that source. You have to read the poem all the way through.
The last line of the poem is "or this or that" so you know you've reached the end (sometimes the scrolling is a little funny and it may claim you've reached the page limit for the book, but scroll backwards and you'll reach the end of the poem.)
I hope this was helpful!