Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Rise and Fall of a Testimony: Why I'm no longer Mormon

The following is an essay I've written on my journey out of Mormonism. 






“Tell me about your testimony.” 

I was 24 years old when my bishop asked me this question and I thought back to the origins of my testimony. 

My parents were and are as faithful Mormons as ever you'll meet. They had raised me and my ten siblings in the Church. We went to church every week and read scriptures every day. When I was 14 years old, I decided that I wanted to know for myself that the Church was true instead of just believing. I decided to test the promise of the prophet Moroni, found in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10: 4-5).

I spent a weekend and shut myself up in my room and read all 531 pages of the Book of Mormon. I fasted during this time, interrupting my reading only to attend church Sunday morning. I finished the book late Sunday night and knelt beside my bed, giddy with anticipation for the testimony I was sure God would give me. “Father in Heaven,” I prayed, “Is the Book of Mormon true?” 

I waited. Nothing happened.

I looked at the verses again, scouring the instructions like a recipe; perhaps I’d forgotten an ingredient. Hmm, well, it says to ask if these things are not true. So I asked again, “Is the Book or Mormon not true?” Silence.

Again and again, I reread those verses and prayed, asking myself, Do I not have enough real intent? Enough faith in Christ? Is my heart not sincere enough? But no matter how I tried, I couldn’t make any kind of revelation come.

I walked through the dark house to break my fast and wept alone in the kitchen, eating a peach.

When the Church’s semi-annual General Conference convened a few weeks later, apostle Robert D. Hales related the story of how David O. McKay, the ninth president of the church, as a boy had wanted to know for himself regarding the truthfulness of the Gospel, and decided to pray about the matter:

“I dismounted, threw my reins over my horse’s head, and there under a serviceberry bush I prayed that God would declare to me the truth of his revelation to Joseph Smith” (New Era, Jan. 1972, p. 56).
He prayed fervently and sincerely with as much faith as he could find within him. When he finished his prayer, he waited for an answer. Nothing seemed to happen. Disappointed, he rode slowly on, saying to himself at the time, “No spiritual manifestation has come to me. If I am true to myself, I must say I am just the same ‘old boy’ that I was before I prayed” (ibid.).
A direct answer to this prayer was many years in coming. While serving a mission in Scotland, Elder McKay received a powerful spiritual manifestation. He later commented, “Never before had I experienced such an emotion. … It was a manifestation for which as a doubting youth I had secretly prayed most earnestly on hillside and in meadow. It was an assurance to me that sincere prayer is answered ‘sometime, somewhere.’ ” (Francis M. Gibbons, David O. McKay, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986, p. 50) (Hales, lds.org).
This story comforted me. If even a man who had gone on to become the prophet hadn’t received a testimony the first time he had asked, then maybe there was hope for me too. I would have faith and patience and trust that God would show me the truth in His own time and in His own way.

When I was 18, I was hanging out in a Religion and Philosophy chat room when a user asked if there were any Mormons online. I responded that I was Mormon and he began sending me private messages, asking for help in clarifying some doubts he had. Although I hadn’t had any dramatic spiritual experiences, I now felt that I had a testimony. As I put it in an email message that I composed to this stranger, “I know because of the sweet peace I feel when I read the Book of Mormon. I know because of the happiness that enters my life when I abide by the Church’s commandments and the sadness that enters when I don’t. I know what it is to have doubts and to study and to seek and to ask God and have him show me answers that wiped all doubt from my mind. I know the joy and love and conviction that swells up in my soul every time I sing, ‘Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!’” (Hymns #27)

I repeated analogies I’d heard over the years. “The Gospel is like a jigsaw puzzle. When you’re working a puzzle and you can’t fit in all the sky pieces right away, you don’t toss out the puzzle and declare, ‘This puzzle isn’t true!’ Everything has to come in the right sequence and sometimes you can’t fit certain pieces in until you fit others in first.” Or, “I don’t have the slightest idea how a computer works, but that doesn’t change the fact that it does work.”

I ended my message to this man with: “Don’t feel alone in your doubts. They come to everyone but if you study and ask Heavenly Father he will give you answers as he’s given to me and millions of others. I know this Church is true and it will prosper and conquer any man or devil that attempts to hinder its progression. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will roll forth and fill the earth whether you go with it or not. I hope you will, because you’ll be happy. And I’ve yet to meet or hear of a happy apostate.” Our leaders taught that anyone who left the Church did so under the influence of Satan and that they spent the rest of their lives miserable, angry and tormented, and I believed it.

Ironically, even as I testified about the Church’s power to bring happiness, I was myself being treated for clinical depression. But I attributed my depression to one of the trials of mortality, part of the Refiner’s fire that would help me grow stronger, or because I was allowing the influence of Satan into my life, whose sole aim was to “[seek] that all men might be miserable like unto himself ” (2 Nephi 2:27).

I began college and remained faithful to the teachings of the Church. I attended services every week; abstained from coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco; took classes at the Church’s Institute of Religion and dutifully handed out Books of Mormon to my non-member friends. I was even preparing to serve as a missionary.

That all changed when I was excommunicated at the age of 22. My sin? I gave my virginity to the man who would become my husband three months before our wedding.

I loved the Church and had devoted my life to its teachings. To be stripped of my membership because of one mistake was devastating. D. Michael Quinn describes excommunication this way: "For a believing Mormon, one who sees Mormonism as the true church and believes in the priesthood and the revelations that have been published, Mormonism is their whole life. All their hope, all of their anticipation is connected with that. Now, to be deprived of membership in the LDS Church is to lose all of that. And for a Mormon who is an ardent believer, that is a kind of death."

       Yet even with the underlying trauma, the year following my excommunication was actually fairly happy. The letter from the Church informing me of the bishop’s decision to excommunicate me had said that it was the will of our Father in Heaven to release me from my covenants.

All my life, I’d lived with the pressure that I must be a good example to those around me. Along with this wonderful blessing of the fulness of the Gospel came the responsibility to be a light to the world. If I slipped up, others might judge the whole Church based on my actions. Now I was no longer a member and no longer under covenant. I took the opportunity to see what it might be like to just be like everyone else. My foray into Babylon included taking a job that required me to work on Sundays and wearing tank tops on hot days. I didn’t look for ways to work God into conversations, hoping it would segue into an opportunity to share the Gospel. I rented R-rated Erin Brokavich and let cuss words slip.

One morning, I was sitting in the hall waiting for my French class to start, shooting the breeze with my classmates and I smiled as I thought, I’m not the weird one anymore.

My first year away from the Church was also my first year of marriage. Creating a bond with my best friend wove a security and contentment like nothing I’d ever experienced before. When I got married, I went off my anti-depressant medication by default; I couldn’t afford it now that I was no longer under my parents’ health insurance, but somehow I wasn’t experiencing depression anymore.

I recognized that I was happier outside of the Church, but deep down I still believed that it was true. What else could account for the peaceful feelings I had when I read scripture, or the happiness I felt when I sang at church, or the synchronicities that sometimes followed prayer? 

When I became pregnant with our first child, the question of what to do about God and the Church weighed more heavily. I believed that I’d be held accountable in the next life if I chose to ignore what I knew, and doubly accountable if I didn’t teach my son what I knew. I wished I could honestly say that I didn’t believe it so that I could be at peace about turning my back and walking away, but years of indoctrination ran deep, and no matter how much I wanted to uproot my testimony, I couldn’t.

So when the bishop asked me to tell him about my testimony, just weeks after my son’s birth, I replied, “I’ve had a testimony for years. I’ve tried to forget. I’ve tried to explain it all away and convince myself that it’s not true, but I can’t. I know it’s true.”

“That’s a pretty strong testimony,” he said approvingly.

I told him that I struggled to understand why excommunicating me had been necessary.

“Does that seem harsh to you?” he asked.

“Yeah, honestly, it does,” I said.

To my surprise, he said that he agreed with me. After reading through the proceedings of the disciplinary council, he couldn’t understand why my previous bishop had come to the conclusion that I must be excommunicated. Furthermore, he could see no reason for me to remain outside the Church any longer and he wanted to see me re-baptized as soon as possible.

It didn’t quite make sense. If it was going to be so easy to come back, why the violence of excommunication? So far as I could tell, the only penance I’d done was to start showing up at church again. Well, that and Ray and I had gone to the county offices and gotten a piece of paper, and this document somehow magically turned sex into a beautiful gift from God instead of an abominable sin. But I’d just had the biggest scare of my life. During labor, my baby had gone into distress and had to be born via an emergency c-section. That was all the wake-up call I needed. God had wrought a miracle and brought me and my baby both through that ordeal healthy, and as a token of my gratitude, I would follow the counsel of His appointed representative, take it on faith and try.

The morning after my re-baptism, I wrote in my journal, “I actually don’t feel very different. I’m disappointed because even though I’ve been given the gift of the Holy Ghost, I still don’t feel him and I thought I would.” But, I reminded myself, “I didn’t feel any different when I was baptized and confirmed at age eight, but I certainly did feel the Spirit during my life. I didn’t lose the Spirit all at once so I shouldn’t expect to regain it all at once.” The Book of Mormon teaches that faith is like a little seed. It takes time and nourishment to grow (Alma ch. 32).

So I kept going to church and started reading my scriptures again, though it reminded me of exercising or eating vegetables, something you do not so much because you want to, but because you believe that it’s good for you. Had church always been this excruciatingly boring? I hoped that if I kept going through the outward motions, eventually the inward emotions would return.

Every now and then, I did feel a familiar flicker inside, but my new awareness of all the flaws within the Church smothered any sparks of a re-burgeoning testimony. My two-year absence gave me my first opportunity to look at my religion from an objective standpoint. My beloved Garden of Eden was overgrown with thorns, and I wondered, Have these thorns always been here? 

Every week the gender gap glared at me. I’d always known that women were expected to be mothers and homemakers and that they couldn’t hold the priesthood, but motherhood also held such a special place of reverence as the most holy calling of all. Men and women had different roles, but they were both equally valued. At least, that was the party line. I realized that the bishop or one of his councilors would sometimes sit in on the women’s Relief Society meeting, checking in and presiding, but knew that it would be unheard of for the Relief Society president to visit the men’s Elders Quorum meeting. Women were only allowed to preside over other women or children. The bishops, stake presidents, apostles and prophets--all of the positions that had any real authority--all had to hold the priesthood, and therefore all had to be men.

All my life, I’d been tom-boyish because I knew no women whom I wanted to emulate. Most women at church acted unintelligent, incapable and dependent, and it made me angry. A female religious instructor that I had admired and loved was an exception. The Church allowed her employment only because she wasn’t married and didn’t have a family. She was intelligent and charismatic, fit and attractive. Seemed any man with half a brain would have snatched her up, but she was in her early forties and still single, and I suspected that it was because she was too independent and confident. Most Mormon men want a wife who is more submissive and less questioning.

One incident in Relief Society particularly troubled me. A woman--I’ll call her Sister Jones--announced that her son and daughter-in-law were moving to the ward soon and she hoped we would be welcoming to them. “Now,” she said, with a smirk, “Susan’s last name is Bennett, not Jones, and she’s very particular about that, but if you can just get past that--” she threw her hands up in the air and rolled her eyes, as if to say, What can you do? “--she’s very nice.” Laughter erupted all around the room, and I felt sick at the derision for this woman who had the courage to keep her name. The middle-aged woman sitting next to me muttered with contempt out the side of her mouth, “She didn’t take his name?” What kind of sisterhood was this?

Talks and lessons about homosexuality now troubled me. I had believed it when I’d been taught that homosexuality was a perversion and a gross sin, but my younger brother had since come out. This person that I knew and loved did not fit the Church’s picture of a subversive deviant. My brother was one of the sweetest and gentlest people I knew. How was I to believe that he was among the vilest of sinners? 

The issue of same-sex marriage was just gaining steam in the media. I never dared say so at church, but I couldn’t oppose gay marriage. Even though our priesthood leaders--the appointed mouthpieces of God Himself--preached that gay marriage threatened the nuclear family and the very fabric of our society, I couldn’t see how allowing gays to marry would interfere with my right to be married to a man and to raise my children in a traditional family.

Ray and I are both intensely introverted, and we did not fit the Church’s social expectations. Mormons equate being friendly and outgoing with being Christlike, and becoming like Christ is the ultimate goal of our existence. Having to go to church and make meaningless small talk every week was torture. I knew the adage: “The members may not be perfect, but the Church is,” and so I tried to smile and be nice, but my tolerance for annoying people evaporated faster than rubbing alcohol without the warm, fuzzy “feeling the Spirit” experience that I’d had before my excommunication.

My depression returned. Others brushed it off as a postpartum symptom, but I recognized it as the all-too-familiar despair of knowing that no matter how hard I tried I would never measure up. I hadn’t realized how much the Church bulldozed me until I’d been out from underneath it for a while.

For almost as long as I could remember, I’d been aware of certain gaps in Church doctrine or history, but I wasn’t going to let the pieces of the puzzle that didn’t fit bother me. I had a testimony from the Holy Ghost and I had faith that one day, everything would be clear. For eight months now, we had been going to church and trying to do everything right, trying to have faith, and the pleasant, peaceful feelings on which I had previously based my testimony still would not return.

I made a decision: If I was going to devote the rest of my life to an institution that made me miserable, it had damn well better be true. So I began to write. Despite my current doubts, I knew that I had “known” it was all true before. I figured all I had to do was get it all out on paper so I could sort it all out and then everything would be okay.

But that’s not what happened. The more I wrote, the more questions I had and the less any of it made sense.

I remembered bits of doubt that had crept in since I had been excommunicated. One evening, I had watched a documentary called The Journey of Man. Geneticist Spencer Wells presented DNA evidence that proved that the native peoples of North and South America descended from a group that came over from northeast Russia about 10,000 years ago, not from the Middle East in 600 B.C., as claimed by the Book of Mormon. My seminary teacher had accounted for the lack of archaeological evidence by explaining that the Book of Mormon was not a history of all of ancient America, but rather the proceedings of the lineage of one family, but this DNA evidence troubled me. Right there in the book’s Introduction--written by the prophets of the Church, whose words are considered scripture--it stated that the Lamanites who remained at the end of the Book of Mormon were “the principal ancestors of the American Indians” (1981 ed.) (Though, interestingly, in the 2006 edition, this was altered to say that they were “among” the ancestors of the American Indians.)

The story of Adam and Eve is taken very literally in Mormonism and plays an integral part of the temple ordinances that they believe are necessary for salvation. Church doctrine teaches that the Fall occurred about 6000 years ago, and no human beings were on our world before then. I had heard of evolution, but we didn’t believe in it. I didn’t worry about all the fossil records because my mother explained that carbon dating was flawed and geologists and paleontologists had their dates wrong. Why wouldn’t I believe her? My mother is a very intelligent woman, and scientists get stuff wrong all the time. They’re mere men who used to think the world was flat, for crying out loud. Our prophets, on the other hand, were talking directly to God. What more reliable source could there be than that?

About a year after my excommunication I took an art history class. The paleolithic cave paintings didn’t faze me because I knew those were all misdated. But then a slide came on the screen of a human skull with restored plaster features found in the city of Jericho. It was a ghostly image, but it haunted me because of its date: about 6000 B.C. The next slide was of the Turkish city of Çatal Hüyük, dated between 6000-5900 B.C. I didn’t have any qualms dismissing dates that were too far removed, but it seemed less likely to me that a date that recent could be so far off. It didn’t fit with the Church’s official history, that everything had started with two people only six thousand years ago. Furthermore, Joseph Smith placed the Garden of Eden in present day Missouri. Here was an entire civilization on the other side of the world two thousand years before their first parents had supposedly walked the earth.

I put it in my notes: Çatal Hüyük, Jericho skulls, 6000 B.C., and I felt like I was driving a straight pin into a dam.

Later in the semester, we studied the ancient Greeks. I saw sculptures of Zeus, Aphrodite, Apollo, Athena. I saw the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, temples to Hera, Artemis, Demeter and other deities. I had always thought of Greek mythology as just that: mythology. But I couldn’t imagine that the Greeks were building these structures just for fun. I realized that they must have believed in their religion then just as fervently as we believe in ours now.

I remembered further back to my first day of classes as a music major, just four months after I’d been excommunicated. In choir, we rehearsed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the same arrangement that made the Mormon Tabernacle Choir famous. It was the sopranos’ turn to come in with the “Glory, glory, hallelujah,” but tears welled up in my eyes my voice failed me. I hadn’t attended church for about three months, the longest absence in my life at that point. Nothing communicated the love of God to my soul the way music did. Never did I feel the Spirit more strongly than when I was singing. I loved singing sacred music and I missed it. “If anything can bring me back to the Gospel,” I wrote in my journal that night, “music can.” 

And yet, at the back of my mind crept the thought, The ancient Greeks must have had hymns to their gods, too, that were no less powerful and moving to them. Maybe I didn’t love music because of God. Maybe I just loved music because of music.

  I thought about what my current bishop had said about how he felt my previous bishop had made a mistake in excommunicating me. In a way, it had been a comfort, but it raised a disconcerting question: Is everything the bishop does subject to second guessing? If these bishops disagreed, they couldn’t both be right. Supposedly our priesthood leaders were all working under divine inspiration to carry out God’s will, but if that were so, how could my bishop have made such a big mistake? And if he could make a mistake, what made him any more special than any other man?

If you believe in Christ--and I did--then the premise of Mormonism that the true Church that Christ established when he was on the earth was lost and corrupted through the ages and needed to be restored makes sense. But I looked at the Mormon Church and thought, Can that really be it? Look at how they treat gays. Look at how they treat women. Is that really the way Jesus would have wanted things? 

Nowadays, we think the Greek beliefs are absurd, but if I thought about it, were mine any more plausible? Even if I took Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates and the Lamanites out of the equation and just looked at the Christian story: A virgin conceived a child, who was God, and somehow when this child grew to adulthood and underwent a form of execution that was fairly common at the time, this act somehow saved all of humanity from...

Saved from what?

What about neanderthals? They were a separate species from humans, but still intelligent. Were they intelligent enough to be capable of sin? Were they among the children of God that Christ died to save, or mere animals?

The theory had too many flaws to any longer hold validity. I couldn’t justify the risk of a leap of faith across this ever-widening chasm. I couldn’t believe it anymore, and it was like I had taken off a corset and suddenly I could breathe.


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60 comments:

  1. Perhaps it is the greater meaning and satisfaction of breathing, having once been so restricted by the corset.

    God works in mysterious ways, so I hear. Perhaps "The Church" is where the true test lies...

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  2. I can't imagine growing up in such a strict religious environment. I find it quite impressive that you threw off the emotional shackles that brought you so much misery. Hopefully you will continue this search for the truth in the same manner you have shown; logical, clear thinking will never let you down!

    -a fellow truth seeker

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  3. Beautiful story, thank you for sharing. I also de-mo'd at about age 22 after a year of intense cognitive dissonance and am now an Atheist. In my experience all religion pretty much reduces to cognitive bias. Still, I've been looking for a lifting of the weight as you've decribed for yourself. Is your family LDS? Between my whole family being mormon and living/schooling in Utah County I feel like I cannot escape 'The Church'

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  4. Leah,
    Beautifully expressed! I find the hard part of being an ex-Mormon is discerning what is, or 'if' there is, such a thing as "the Truth".
    My thought process is always coloured by Mormon doctrine. I'm fortunate though because I was a convert and I don't live in Utah! All the best to you as you live a truly authentic life - be all that you can be!

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  5. Amazing story and recollection, what you have been through is so important. I can relate but only slightly, I grew up in a strict Sabbath observing nondenominational Christian home. Here's a little bit about that, I hope you can also find it interesting like I did your story. I think it's worth checking out, considering your background.

    You can read the whole post here:
    http://humanism4ever.livejournal.com/1314/html

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  6. @draxus99, yes, I do think I appreciate the liberty of freethinking more after having been so restricted in my thinking growing up.

    @Abe, thanks! Learning to think for myself has been an amazing adventure.

    @Jacob, I have lived in Utah County and can't imagine living there as a non-Mormon! I do know some ex-mos in Orem who probably wouldn't mind getting in touch if you're feeling alone. Email me if you're interested: whoreblog (at) gmail (dot) com As for my family, my parents are still very faithful and believing Mormons. Of their eleven children, only four are still practicing Mormons. Six of us have left completely and one waffles back and forth.

    @Beth, It was almost five years ago that I concluded that it was all false. It does take a while to completely cast off the "Mormon worldview" glasses. After I left, I spent quite a while wandering, searching for "the Truth." I still don't think I have all the answers, but I feel like every day I'm learning a little more and getting a little closer. I don't live in Utah either. I have family there and I love to visit because of the mountains, but I can't imagine ever living there again!

    @humanism4ever, I tried the URL, but it said page not found. I'd love to read your story if you want to try commenting again or send me a message.

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  7. This sounds like an amazing journey!

    I was christian (not mormon), raised as the wishy-washy "Let's focus on the new testament, and don't take everything literally" kind - so compared to you I had it pretty easy.

    It's very reassuring to see someone reason their way out of a delusion.

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  8. Found this via reddit.

    Very heartfelt, sincere, and well written! Definitely going into my google reader.

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  9. Powerful story, Leah. I think it's especially interesting to look at the connections between being in the Church and depression. Something that, in theory, should provide comfort can actually eat away at people's very core.

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  10. Thank you for your story. I have a roman catholic background (the one and only true church, they told me!). It has been "less hard" for me to grow out of it, for example because I had two loving parents who encouraged me to think and doubt and ask questions... but I recognize something in your story.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  11. That was a beautiful and empowering account, I have to laud you for being so strong.

    The best thing I've discovered from growing up without any religious pressure is this: spirituality and religion are two separate things. To me, it seems religion exists to explain the things that science and logic cannot. If you let go of the need to explain everything, 'religion' fades away and only spirituality will remain. Then you can smile at the blessings you know have been given to you by the world, without the doubt that goes along with everything religion has made up to fill the gaps.

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  12. Hi! I saw your link in The Friendly Atheist's blog comments, and decided to have a read.

    Very powerful story. I'm glad you've decided to share it. I've never heard the viewpoint of an ex-Mormon before. The things you meant through- I can't imagine how horrible you must have felt, but I glad you came through strong.

    I just recently wrote up about my path to atheism from Christianity (Baptist flavor), and put it up on my LJ today. If you'd like to read it, here's the link: http://captainbrittany.livejournal.com/5322.html

    Thanks again for sharing your journey! :)

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  13. Thank you for sharing this. Our stories are very similiar. Unfortunately it took me nearly forty years to come to the conclusion that the church is not true. I'm making up for lost time, though, and am grateful every day that my husband came out with me and that our children won't be raised under its influence.

    Atheism naturally followed my progression out of the church, and I find myself a much happier, peaceful person now. My still-believing family and friends can't figure that one out :) .

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  14. "Having to go to church and make meaningless small talk every week was torture. I knew the adage: “The members may not be perfect, but the Church is,” and so I tried to smile and be nice, but my tolerance for annoying people evaporated faster than rubbing alcohol without the warm, fuzzy “feeling the Spirit” experience that I’d had before my excommunication."

    Lol! I hear ya on that one!

    I'm an ex-christian who went through a very similar process as yours at 22... seems to be something about that age.
    Thank you for sharing this story; it's always good to hear about other freethinkers who've gone through the same painful-but-ultimately-liberating process.

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  15. and wept alone in the kitchen, eating a peach

    That's one of the most painfully beautiful phrases I've read in a while.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

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  16. @netcob, I sometimes wonder if the "wishy-washy" religions aren't harder to leave. If I had been raised in a happy-go-lucky, middle-of-the-road faith I may not have had motivation to start questioning in the first place.

    @mikasaur2000, Thanks so much for reading and for subscribing!

    @Liz, great to see you! For the longest time I thought my depression my fault. It was such a relief to realize that it wasn't me; it was my situation and that I was free to leave that situation.

    By the way, Liz is a friend and a fantastic writer. Anyone interested in writing and/or parenting should check out her blog.

    @Fabiooltje, thanks for reading, and how wonderful that your parents were open and loving. Glad you enjoyed my story.

    @eevee818, thanks. I have been exploring various "spiritual, but not religious" paths and still have some interest in it, even though I don't believe in a personal god anymore.

    @Brittany, loved your story! Thanks for sharing.

    @Kristen, better late than never! Life on the outside is good, isn't it? I still get email testimonies from my mother a couple of times a year, urging us to return, since she can't comprehend how we can possibly be happy without "the Gospel." I, too, am grateful that my children won't be raised in the Church. Once I realized how much it was harming me, wanting to protect them became a huge motivation for leaving.

    @JohnFrost, perhaps it is the age. :) I've heard from many people who went through very similar processes. Glad you found your way out.

    @Efrique, thank you!

    Whew, I think that's everyone. :-) Thank you all so much for your comments. It really means a lot.

    Leah

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  17. This is a fantastic story! Would you be willing to let us re-post it on Main Street Plaza? If so, please email me: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com.

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  18. Great story! I came here through Main Street Plaza, and have already become a follower!

    My short-version story is here: http://realmc.blogspot.com/2009/01/my-quick-de-conversion-story.html

    I don't post at that site anymore, though. My regular blog is at http://leavingthecocoon.blogspot.com if you're interested in stopping by!

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  21. Leah, I am a recent convert of almost 2 years to Mormonism and my wife was born into the church. SWe have been married for almost around 7 years and she wants to get married in the temple and have me bless my son and numerous other Priesthood holder things. Now I don't necessarily believe anymore, but she doesn't know this. I know I need to tell her this eventually but don't have the heart to. If I did it would break here heart. With you being a Ex Mormon you know how big of a deal this is. Are there any tip you can give me to help out my situation? My blog spot is here if you have any questions. Thanks for your time.

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  22. Very nice story, welcome to the light (pun intended :o) ).

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  23. Great story Leah. I am often fascinated by deconversion testimonies of ex-Mormons. LDS seems like such a all-encompassing mind and life controlling religion that I think an extra three cheers is due to anyone who gets herself out. I hope your blog will be an inspiration for any Mormon, particularly women, who are struggling as you once were.

    cheers - cheers - cheers

    and an extra

    cheers - cheers - cheers

    ReplyDelete
  24. I found your story fascinating, yet similar to the stories of other deconversions of those who grew up in highly-religious homes. In a book titled "Atheists, A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers" (by Bruce Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer, 2006) the study of atheists in America confirms that most atheists, like most religious people, form their beliefs from their upbringing.

    Yet more than 10% of the participants in the study had come from homes that emphasized religion to an “appreciable extent.” The members of this latter group were dubbed, in the study, as “Amazing Atheists” because despite coming from very religious homes, they rejected their religious training.

    The authors interviewed 46 “Amazing Atheists” in depth, to determine the cause of their dramatic change. Their conclusion was that the indoctrination didn’t fail completely, but instead worked rather well. The “Amazing Atheists” group overwhelmingly stated they gave up their faith because they could not make themselves believe what they had been taught. They decided that the religious dogma was not true. This adherence to the truth came, ironically, from their strong religious upbringing. As children they had been taught to do the right thing, to be ethical and have integrity. However, when religious questions were not answered to their satisfaction, religion took second place to truth.

    I am one of those atheists, like you, who came from a highly religious home. I started to have doubts at about age 12 and was an atheist before I graduated from high school. I've been a nonbeliever for nearly half a century now.

    I often hear from Christians who assume I must be a sad person with no meaning in my life. But as you have indicated above, being free of the guilt, the expectations, and the fear of not measuring up and knowing that one bases his/her thinking on reasonable assumptions about the world, not myths, superstitions, or fantasies, makes for a very happy life. Just pick the ten things in life (other than those needed for survival) that you would not want to live without ---and there is your meaning. With the exception of god or Jesus, everything else will be similar for religious or nonreligious people: spouse, children, friends, freedom, nature...

    You can read more about the above study on my blog post here:
    http://tirelesswing.blogspot.com/2008/12/why-are-there-atheists.html

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thanks for sharing your story. I was terrified that I would be even less happy and more depressed if I left the church. It turns out that I was wrong, I much more happy and less depressed since I said good-bye to the LDS church.

    If anyone were to ever ask why I left, I would tell them that I just tired of always being wrong.

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  26. Wow. That is a very compelling account. I thank you for the telling of it. I think that many independant-minded folk who are raised within restrictive and highly-structured worldviews (whether religious, political, or ethnocentric) have an analogous experience. I was fortunate, I suppose to have been raised by parents who made sure I was able to observe and learn about many religious traditions as well as rational empiricism, while they personally endorsed none of it.
    I have tried to follow that same path as a parent. I do not hide my religious perspective from my children (I an neither an atheist, nor a follower of any monotheistic faith...I have my own comfortable peace with my Gods); my daughters must find their own path on such matters, and I must make peace with it. They are smart, strong-willed, and good-souled...their father will surely be pleased with what they may teach him as they come to adulthood...if he is wise :)

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  27. Thank you for you story. You have a great blog. When you were excommunicated, did you already go through the temple?

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  28. Great blog. It is so nice to find people who have a similar story and to think "yeah, that's exactly how I feel/felt."

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  29. Masterful post filled with incredible depth. I thoroughly enjoyed reading what you had to say.

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  30. Dear Leah, your story touched and moved me strongly! I admire your ability to use logic to overcome the strong indoctrination of your childhood!
    I have always been an atheist. I was born in Israel to a Jewish - Atheist family. (The Jewishness of the family was not from the religious aspect but rather from ethnic, cultural, and social aspects). Therefore my acquaintance with Christianity is limited.

    (a) I am very curious: How did the Church find out about your losing your virginity? - Did you feel it was your duty to confess this so-called "sin" to your priest? Isn't the content of a confession supposed to remain strictly confidential?

    (b) I would like to make sure you understand that you are and will always be sensitive to depression. You'd better always be alert to the slightest symptoms of depression and start taking the appropriate anti-depressants with no delay!

    Aryeh Shomron

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  31. I know this is an old post but I just discovered it today. Are you willing to share how the bishop found out you were "fornicating"?

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  32. Leah,

    I'm just becoming familiar with your blog. I love deconversion stories, because they seem to have parallels. Your story reminds me of comedian Julia Sweeney, whose withdrawal from Catholicism (my own former religion) ironically started with the visit of two Mormon missionaries. She said she felt smug in now her religion was superior to theirs...until she put herself in the other person's shoes and thought, "Now, how would MY faith look to an outsider?"

    Anyway, keep up the excellent work.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Leah - just found/read this (part of my lunch break). Thank you for your thoughtful post. Although sometimes as I read I wanted to respond with "yeah, but did you consider ________________?!!!!!!?????" I was more moved by your openness, authenticity and articulation of your experience.

    My experience is so different it is difficult, to an extent, to connect to those such as yours (I use "such as" in a broad sense). As the previous commenter noted similarities in deconversion stories, I note the similarities in conversion stories (and reconversion stories, too). One common thread in all three: the clarity and sincerity of the writer/blogger.

    I would be happy to share with you my story, if you're interested (and not at all offended if you are not).

    Thank you for posting this! And yes, this DOES answer my question posed earlier today in a Facebook message, although if you have any more to elaborate I am happy to read.

    --Sid

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  34. You have my sympathy for what sounds like a difficult journey. I hope you won't be distressed by a couple of thoughts.

    First, the Adam and Eve from the endowment are almost entirely allegorical.

    Second, it isn't a requirement of LDS doctrine that anyone be a wierdo.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Thank you for sharing your story.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Hi. I'm RhialtotheArchivist@gmail.com. I would like to take issue with Retief who commented on 2 August. First, you are mistaken. There is, indeed, a requirement that a mormon be a weirdo. With the theology espoused,
    the only people who could possibly be mormons are weirdos and those too brain dead to know what they are doing.Really the mormon tenets are so bizarre they make roman catholicism look reasonable. Second, what are you doing appropriating the name of the chief character in the fine Keith Laumer novels?? You have some nerve!

    ReplyDelete
  37. Beautifully written. You have inspired me to start writing my own "coming out" story. Just awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Thanks, Foxy. I'd love to read your story if you write it!

    ReplyDelete
  39. Leah, I enjoyed your write-up, and I happy for you if you feel you can breathe again. As a believing Mormon who has struggled with some of the things you've mentioned (plus a whole lot more -- there's a lot of tough stuff to deal with), your story makes me feel sad, even though that makes no sense if you're happy. Some of the tough stuff does have explanations that I find adequate. Some of it doesn't -- yet. When it comes right down to it though, I've found I'm happier believing. My belief is a little more nuanced than some, but I'm absolutely convinced God exists, loves me, and is involved in my life.

    Best wishes to you on your journey.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Martin, thank you for your comment. I've actually written up a post in response to you and some others.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Leah, this is a great story. I can identify in so many ways. I love the part about how you started to feel like "I'm not the weird one anymore." I used to feel that way at work. (Not in college, because I unfortunately went to BYU.) Like you and your husband, Mark and I are introverts, and never fit in with the culture, which led to an examination of the doctrine, which led to an overall disenchantment. In my case it was the differing versions of the first vision ended my belief. But the crazy thing is that even then we kept going back! For a while, anyway. Then we went inactive, but still lived "gospel standards." Every little step was an agonizing decision. Can I order coffee? A glass of wine, perhaps? Mark had a heck of a time giving up his garments. First the bottoms, then the tops. An image of him in his garment top and cowboy boxer shorts just flashed in my brain. Wish I'd taken a picture. But you know all about this! Thanks for sharing, and I'm very glad your corset is off.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Similar to my experience and reasoning. Great stuff!

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  43. Thanks, Donna! I have a friend who did a study of exit patterns for people who leave the LDS Church. It's very typical to leave in starts and stops and baby steps at a time. I guess we're all being led carefully down to hell! Haha! Still remember the first time I tried alcohol, at age 25!

    Divulgatus, thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  44. Leah,

    this was an interesting and beautiful read. You are a fabulous writer.
    I am living in cognitive dissonance at the time, I honestly don't know where my path will take me. I'm still hoping for a testimony that in fact it is all true, which would be easier than if it wasn't. A nonmember (how I dislike this term) friend has said to me that being Mormon seems similar to being a Jew, as in the religion being a whole cultural identity and encompassing all aspects of life. It would be hard to leave completely. There are many things that I love about the church, but I am having to go through increasingly frequent mental gymnastics to have some sort of peace....

    Anyway, if you have time, come by my blog www.mollymormonseviltwin.blogspot.com and check out my post "Walk the line". It's not a deconversion story, but a disillusionment story, I guess :-)

    ReplyDelete
  45. This sounded familiar...
    Thank you for writing this.

    ReplyDelete
  46. I'm not even done yet, and I have to comment! I did the same thing you did, and was not excommunicated. Thats just garbage. I'm so sorry you were put through that harsh, horrible, undeserved experience.

    ReplyDelete
  47. I'm not even done yet, and I have to comment! I did the same thing you did, and was not excommunicated. Thats just garbage. I'm so sorry you were put through that harsh, horrible, undeserved experience.

    ReplyDelete
  48. I found your story fascinating, yet similar to the stories of other deconversions of those who grew up in highly-religious homes. In a book titled "Atheists, A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers" (by Bruce Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer, 2006) the study of atheists in America confirms that most atheists, like most religious people, form their beliefs from their upbringing.

    Yet more than 10% of the participants in the study had come from homes that emphasized religion to an “appreciable extent.” The members of this latter group were dubbed, in the study, as “Amazing Atheists” because despite coming from very religious homes, they rejected their religious training.

    The authors interviewed 46 “Amazing Atheists” in depth, to determine the cause of their dramatic change. Their conclusion was that the indoctrination didn’t fail completely, but instead worked rather well. The “Amazing Atheists” group overwhelmingly stated they gave up their faith because they could not make themselves believe what they had been taught. They decided that the religious dogma was not true. This adherence to the truth came, ironically, from their strong religious upbringing. As children they had been taught to do the right thing, to be ethical and have integrity. However, when religious questions were not answered to their satisfaction, religion took second place to truth.

    I am one of those atheists, like you, who came from a highly religious home. I started to have doubts at about age 12 and was an atheist before I graduated from high school. I've been a nonbeliever for nearly half a century now.

    I often hear from Christians who assume I must be a sad person with no meaning in my life. But as you have indicated above, being free of the guilt, the expectations, and the fear of not measuring up and knowing that one bases his/her thinking on reasonable assumptions about the world, not myths, superstitions, or fantasies, makes for a very happy life. Just pick the ten things in life (other than those needed for survival) that you would not want to live without ---and there is your meaning. With the exception of god or Jesus, everything else will be similar for religious or nonreligious people: spouse, children, friends, freedom, nature...

    You can read more about the above study on my blog post here:
    http://tirelesswing.blogspot.com/2008/12/why-are-there-atheists.html

    ReplyDelete
  49. Leah, this is a great story. I can identify in so many ways. I love the part about how you started to feel like "I'm not the weird one anymore." I used to feel that way at work. (Not in college, because I unfortunately went to BYU.) Like you and your husband, Mark and I are introverts, and never fit in with the culture, which led to an examination of the doctrine, which led to an overall disenchantment. In my case it was the differing versions of the first vision ended my belief. But the crazy thing is that even then we kept going back! For a while, anyway. Then we went inactive, but still lived "gospel standards." Every little step was an agonizing decision. Can I order coffee? A glass of wine, perhaps? Mark had a heck of a time giving up his garments. First the bottoms, then the tops. An image of him in his garment top and cowboy boxer shorts just flashed in my brain. Wish I'd taken a picture. But you know all about this! Thanks for sharing, and I'm very glad your corset is off.

    ReplyDelete
  50. @netcob, I sometimes wonder if the "wishy-washy" religions aren't harder to leave. If I had been raised in a happy-go-lucky, middle-of-the-road faith I may not have had motivation to start questioning in the first place.

    @mikasaur2000, Thanks so much for reading and for subscribing!

    @Liz, great to see you! For the longest time I thought my depression my fault. It was such a relief to realize that it wasn't me; it was my situation and that I was free to leave that situation.

    By the way, Liz is a friend and a fantastic writer. Anyone interested in writing and/or parenting should check out her blog.

    @Fabiooltje, thanks for reading, and how wonderful that your parents were open and loving. Glad you enjoyed my story.

    @eevee818, thanks. I have been exploring various "spiritual, but not religious" paths and still have some interest in it, even though I don't believe in a personal god anymore.

    @Brittany, loved your story! Thanks for sharing.

    @Kristen, better late than never! Life on the outside is good, isn't it? I still get email testimonies from my mother a couple of times a year, urging us to return, since she can't comprehend how we can possibly be happy without "the Gospel." I, too, am grateful that my children won't be raised in the Church. Once I realized how much it was harming me, wanting to protect them became a huge motivation for leaving.

    @JohnFrost, perhaps it is the age. :) I've heard from many people who went through very similar processes. Glad you found your way out.

    @Efrique, thank you!

    Whew, I think that's everyone. :-) Thank you all so much for your comments. It really means a lot.

    Leah

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  51. and wept alone in the kitchen, eating a peach

    That's one of the most painfully beautiful phrases I've read in a while.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

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  52. Hi! I saw your link in The Friendly Atheist's blog comments, and decided to have a read.

    Very powerful story. I'm glad you've decided to share it. I've never heard the viewpoint of an ex-Mormon before. The things you meant through- I can't imagine how horrible you must have felt, but I glad you came through strong.

    I just recently wrote up about my path to atheism from Christianity (Baptist flavor), and put it up on my LJ today. If you'd like to read it, here's the link: http://captainbrittany.livejournal.com/5322.html

    Thanks again for sharing your journey! :)

    ReplyDelete
  53. Leah,

    I'm just becoming familiar with your blog. I love deconversion stories, because they seem to have parallels. Your story reminds me of comedian Julia Sweeney, whose withdrawal from Catholicism (my own former religion) ironically started with the visit of two Mormon missionaries. She said she felt smug in now her religion was superior to theirs...until she put herself in the other person's shoes and thought, "Now, how would MY faith look to an outsider?"

    Anyway, keep up the excellent work.

    ReplyDelete
  54. This sounds like an amazing journey!

    I was christian (not mormon), raised as the wishy-washy "Let's focus on the new testament, and don't take everything literally" kind - so compared to you I had it pretty easy.

    It's very reassuring to see someone reason their way out of a delusion.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Amazing story and recollection, what you have been through is so important. I can relate but only slightly, I grew up in a strict Sabbath observing nondenominational Christian home. Here's a little bit about that, I hope you can also find it interesting like I did your story. I think it's worth checking out, considering your background.

    You can read the whole post here:
    http://humanism4ever.livejournal.com/1314/html

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  56. In His book Addresses, Henry Drunmmond explains what he thinks is the greatest thing in the world...LOVE. In doing an analysis of the nine ingredients of the Spectrum of Love, he makes a comment about religion. "Religion is not a stranger or added thing, but the inspiration of the secular life, the breathing of an eternal spirit through this temporal world." You may have been disillusioned by your relgion, but please hang on to Henry Drummond explaination of love. In the end, it's all that matters. There will be no more depression, and when you sing, you will sing out loud. Just felt like I should pass this on.

    Hank

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  57. I just found you.  Thanks!  From a fellow traveler along a most similar path... 

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  58. Thanks for reading, Gracie! And blessings to you on your journey.

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  59. Good morning! I could relate to so much of your story, though I wasn't raised as a mormon. My family was catholic first, then protestant. Basically, it's guilt with your choice of using or not using a rosary.

    I too tried for most of my life to create a testimony, to create a beautiful story that would affirm my place as a 'princess of the king'. Never happened. I had too many questions - so many in fact, that I was told by my pastor to stop asking them. I'm a tad too analytical for that, and after a lifetime of trying to make something that felt patently false fit into my life (and my life be worthy of having the christian god fit into it), I gave up. Not on faith entirely, just the christian version of it.

    Patriarchal religion never felt like the truth to me, never seemed as though we were getting the entire story. One of the most major questions I had was, 'If were created in god's image and we have two sexes, how can god be male only?' It made sense to me that in order for there to be a father, there must be a mother also. I started exploring other religions and discovered Wicca. It was truly a beautiful experience to learn that things I had believed all my life (but never spoken), were not only truth, but had a name and it's own unique traditions. I'm not Wiccan now, my Pagan faith has taken me elsewhere. My tradition has changed, but the older I get, the more certain I am that I'm on the right path.

    Like you, I had to stop trying to force myself into a mold that would never accomodate me no matter how hard I tried. Once I did that, it was like having a huge boulder removed from my spirit. Even my body felt better. It was positively liberating!

    Thank you for posting this! So many women have questions and are told not to ask. Or have concerns about their churches and remain silent out of fear or persecution or excommunication.

    Sorry for leaving the equivalent of 'War & Peace' in your comments - next time I'll try to keep it shorter.   :o)

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  60. Hi Shannon! I love hearing about the similarities between people who have left a faith, even it's not the same faith.

    I'm eclectic these days. I don't feel like I can quite call myself a Christian, though I do like going to an Episcopal church. I borrow stuff that works for me from wherever I find it! Feminine aspects of the sacred were a huge part of what was missing for me in Mormonism. If you haven't seen it already, you might like my post on Honoring the Great Mother

    Thanks for reading!

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Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism