One Year Later: Lessons Learned
It’s been a year since I decided I no longer believe in the truth claims of the LDS church. I remember sitting in my office back then after having spent only 15 or 20 minutes researching the Book of Abraham, realizing my life was never going to be the same. I knew if it was so easy to show Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Abraham had nothing to do with the original papyri, it probably meant trouble for his other supposedly (albeit “reformed”) Egyptian work, the Book of Mormon. And if that fell, I knew it was probably all going to fall. Reading the church’s essays only confirmed what I had read on “anti-Mormon” sites. The more I read about topics that had never before bothered me, like polygamy, racism and multiple and contradictory First Vision accounts, the worse it got. I knew I had to leave it all behind because the church was demonstrably false. Or at least I thought I did.
- The information on the internet makes it incredibly easy to discredit the truth claims of the LDS church, and it’s only going to get harder for the church. I was seriously shocked at how many problems there are, and how much information there is about them. Which leads to me my next point…
- Does it matter if the church is “true” the way I had always been taught? Yes and No. At first I thought, “Yes, absolutely. If it’s not true, I need to leave because of the all-or-nothing way it’s been taught to me.” But after awhile, I learned there are active Mormons who don’t believe in the truth claims, but they keep engaged with the church anyway. They might no longer believe there is such a thing as a one true church, but the LDS church uniquely speaks to them. They may look at the Book of Mormon as inspired, even though it might not be historically accurate. They love their LDS community and want to continue to serve. Maybe they want to stay to try to help other members who struggle with doubts, or to help members have more empathy for LGBT members. At first I thought maybe I could be one of these “middle way” or “new order” Mormons, but I eventually realized it wasn’t going to work for me.
- Everyone is on their own journey. We all have to decide for ourselves what works for us. There is no one way to live. To me the church is obviously not what it claims it is. But there are others who have read everything I’ve read, and they may disagree with my conclusions. I would still argue it’s hard for people to read it all and come away with the exact same beliefs they had before, but I do know of LDS apologists who for sure know more than I do but still see it all as true. And if that works for them, I’m happy for them! I also know atheists who are totally happy. They don’t need religion at all. Active Mormons make up about 0.2% of the world. Are they the happiest people on earth? I would say that are no more or less happy than anyone else in similar economic circumstances. Mormonism might work for some, but for others like me it doesn’t work. I have found spirituality in my own way and I’m very grateful for it.
- It’s REALLY hard for believing members to understand why people leave the church. The narrative I always heard before it happened to me, was people leave because they’re offended, or they’re lazy, or they want to sin. None of that applied to me. When some friends of mine left our ward a year or so before I did, I heard they claimed to have had an epiphany which caused them to leave. “Yeah right, an epiphany!” I said. I figured they were just tired of wrangling their baby daughter at church. Nope, they left for the same reasons I did. But I didn’t have an honest conversation with them until it had happened to me. Almost no members have asked me why I left. Maybe they think what I “caught” is contagious. And in a way, it might be! I think many in the church would seriously consider leaving if they knew all the information that’s just sitting there, waiting to be read.
- Going through a transition can leave your emotions very raw. When I first disaffected, I tried visiting several different churches. Most were Christian, and one was Universalist Unitarian. In each one, the messages of love that I heard overwhelmed me and I openly wept. These weren’t tears of sadness because I missed the LDS church. It’s just that the messages I heard were so beautiful, focusing on loving others, and I felt like they were things I needed to hear. A year later, I can finally get through a non-LDS church meeting without crying. Sometimes I will be driving in my car and I will hear a song that has lyrics that I relate to my journey away from the church, and I will be emotionally triggered. I feel more empathy for everyone around me, and that can touch me deeply too. Why is that? I’m not totally sure. But I like how this process has made me feel more love and admiration for everyone around me.
- There are so many great resources for those in a faith transition! From learning about difficult church history, to asking for advice, to getting and giving support, or having a good laugh or a cathartic cry, there are lots of places to go online for help. I can’t imagine trying to go through this without all those resources. I feel like it helped me fast-forward through a lot of pain that otherwise would have taken me longer to process.
- The church has no idea what to do with “doubters”. My church leaders had no idea what to do with me. I didn’t know either, because it was new to me as well, and I sometimes had a hard time explaining what was going on. If the church were willing, it could train local leaders to better know how to deal with those in a faith transition. I have seen some people with leaders who do a good job at being affirming and positive, and others who threaten excommunication. It’s called “leadership roulette,” but it would be easy to fix if the church wanted to. Maybe they don’t want to acknowledge there are tough historical and doctrinal issues that can’t be resolved, because some members might go looking and learn more than the church wants them to.
- I am my own authority. I don’t believe people need a person between them and God. I don’t need someone to tell me if I’m worthy or not. I have a brain and a conscience, and I know God expects me to use them. And I do! I won’t ever allow another person to have spiritual authority over me. I have seen too many problems with that system. I’m a human being, and I try to be kind to others and to treat them with love and respect. I try to improve however I can, and that’s enough.
- Tapirs are awesome! Seriously, I had never heard of a tapir before this last year. They’re strange looking and cool all at the same time. And to think Nephites may have ridden them into battle years ago! Oh, and Mormon apologists sometimes make me laugh, and sometimes make me shake my head. I learned that too.
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