Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why I Left

There has been a never-ending parade of blogposts over the past couple of years, written by faithful Latter-day-Saints, listing the reasons people leave the church. The authors come across as authoritative and knowledgeable about the subject matter, but, as one who has traveled this particular path, I find that they often miss the mark. By a wide margin.

I'm responding here to one such blog, but I am not providing the link to said post so as to avoid driving traffic his direction. If you really must know what he said, google Greg Trimble's "You should not leave Mormonism for any of these five reasons." Then come back here for the rebuttal. I'll wait.

You done? Good. Read on.

1. Being Offended

This gem gets trotted out with regularity. In a nutshell, somebody said something to someone else at church that was insulting, then that someone got their panties in a wad and stormed out, and as a result, that someone refused to return and worship with the offending party. And maybe that has actually happened. In fact, I'm sure it has. Some people are offensive, and some people are sensitive. Stands to reason feelings will be hurt, sometimes beyond the point of repair. I'm not going to defend the actions of the offended, or the offendee.

What I would like to address is this little gem: "It's almost unfathomable to me that a person would ever let someone else keep them from worshiping God." 

I agree, it is unfathomable. And no, I would not let anyone else prevent me from worshiping God.

I have, in fact, been offended at church. The relief society president called me a "belligerent teenager". While I have to admit that she wasn't far off in her assessment of me, I will also admit that it hurt. And I was offended. And I was in church the following Sunday, doing what I had always done. I worshiped alongside a woman I despised. And I continued to do so for several more years, right up until I realized that I didn't believe in the God I was worshiping. But the two events are not related in the slightest, though there are probably those in my former congregation who would draw a direct correlation between them. And I don't believe there is anything I could say that would dissuade them. It is probably easier to believe that I fell away because I was offended than acknowledge that I no longer believe in what, to them, is "The Truth".

So, no, I did not leave the church because I was offended. Though I am offended by the accusation. It's a little like asking someone why they're mad, and they insist they aren't mad, and you say, "Well, you seem mad," and they say, "Well, I wasn't mad until you insisted that I was mad!" I wasn't offended until you insisted that I was offended. So now I'm offended. But that's not why I left.

2. Not Understanding The Doctrine

Oh, boy. This one is a doozy. The big one. The one that truly offends.

"Everyone that goes inactive or leaves the church, did so because they did not or do not know something they need to know."

The assumption here is that the apostate somehow failed in their quest to know that the church was true. That they didn't do enough. They didn't study scriptures enough. Didn't pray with real intent. Failed to attend Sunday meetings faithfully. Weren't a regular at the temple. Whatever it is that leads to that elusive something, the apostate failed to do it.

Soon after I had 'come out' as an apostate to my church friends, one of the more faithful asked me if I had given God equal time. She assumed that because I had lost my faith, I was at fault. That I hadn't given it enough effort or time. And all I could do was sigh. Because the truth is that I had given God the first 49 years of my life, give or take a few there at the beginning, before the age of accountability. And I can't imagine, looking back, what more He wanted of me.

I could take a paragraph (or a few pages) and recite all the things I have done over my life to qualify for Moroni's promise. You know the one..... "if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you...." But I won't bore you with the details. I feel confident stating that my church resume is impeccable. (If you're still dissatisfied, read the rest of my blog. It's all there.)

So my question for Mr. Trimble is this: if there is some mystery ingredient that I, and my fellow apostates, need to know, why has God made it so hard to discern what this something is? Why, if I did everything God asked me to do, to the best of my ability, wasn't I privy to that something that is so essential to my eternal salvation? Why was I not blessed with the right answer to Moroni's promise, and given the testimony I so desired?

As I write these words, I can imagine the response from Mr. Trimble. I wasn't worthy, amiright? Even though I say I did it all, I must have missed something. Maybe I wasn't sincere. Maybe I was too proud. Maybe I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. Maybe I just didn't do it long enough. I didn't endure to the end. Whatever that elusive something is, I didn't qualify to receive it, through some fault of my own.

I know I'll never convince Mr. Trimble, and those who agree with him, that I deserve what he has. And he does have a point. I do not know something that I need to know to stay in the church. I do not know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints is the one true church on the earth today. But my lack of a testimony is not because I lacked desire, or effort, or even faith. I did my due diligence.  I gave God equal time, and more than His fair share of my life. What He didn't give back was that mysterious something that I needed to know.

What I did get, for all my efforts, was the opposite of what Moroni promised. I do not believe in the truth claims of the church, and I can say that with as much conviction as I once professed my belief. And believe it or not, Mr. Trimble, that conviction brings me peace.

3. It's Just Too Hard's hard to be a Mormon. It's not supposed to be easy. 

As Homer Simpson would say, "D'oh."

Mr. Trimble thinks spending most of his free time serving the church is hard. Giving 10% of his income to the church is hard. Sitting in a pew for three hours every Sunday, obeying the Word of Wisdom, sacrificing two years of his young adulthood for a mission. He thinks those things are hard.


He should try standing up in front of his community, family, and friends, and admitting to them that he doesn't believe in God.

He should try looking into his mother's eyes and telling her that, in spite of her best efforts, she was unable to keep all of her children firmly in the fold.

He should try looking into the eyes of his beloved companion and telling her that he doesn't believe in the saving ordinances of the holy temple, in effect nullifying their eternal marriage.

He should try explaining to his teenage son why he no longer believes in the God he taught his son to worship.

Those things are hard.

So why would I do them?

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself." Friedrich Nietzsche

Yes, it would have been easier to stay, in some ways, but staying meant sacrificing a crucial piece of my soul. It meant professing to believe something I did not, could not, believe. It meant playing a part, just to please those I loved.

Some would say I acted selfishly, that I set aside my loved ones' happiness to pursue my own. And I have struggled with this idea myself, admittedly. But isn't it equally selfish for them to ask me to deny my feelings and pretend to be who I am not, just so they don't have to be sad? So their worldview isn't threatened? To maintain the illusion that all is well in Zion?

Living a religious life is hard, I'll grant Mr. Trimble that. But so is leaving it behind, when it means leaving cherished relationships, and treasured friendships, and my reputation. When it means no longer being seen as moral, or virtuous, or lovely, or of good report.

Leaving the church has been both the hardest, and the most rewarding, action I have ever taken. My only regret is the pain I have caused my loved ones. But I think Mr. Trimble and his ilk deserve some of the blame for that pain when they attempt to portray me as having taken the easy road.

Yes, it was just too hard.

“Out of the night that covers me, 
Black as the Pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be 
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
Under the bludgeonings of chance 
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years 
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate, 
How charged with punishments the scroll, 
I am the master of my fate: 
I am the captain of my soul.” 
― William Ernest Henley, Invictus

'Nuff said.

4. Anti-Mormon Literature

Hoo-boy. Getting a handle on what constitutes anti-Mormon literature is a slippery venture. From what I have gathered, based on my many years inside the church, and the five years outside, anything that exposes the warts of God's True Church can be considered Anti-Mormon literature.

For most of my life, I did as directed by my leaders, and I stuck to material that was approved. I was a prolific reader, and I enjoyed a wide variety of genres, but when it came to gospel topics, I generally only read material that had the church's seal of approval. I was very much afraid of anything that even smelled of apostasy, for fear that my testimony might be challenged.

My journey out of the church has been well chronicled in other blog posts, so I won't repeat it here. But at the time I realized that I did not believe the church was true, I had read very little that could be characterized as Anti-Mormon literature.

Once I came to terms with my status as an unbeliever, I was still somewhat reluctant to read anything that cast a negative light on the church. 49+ years of conditioning is tough to overcome overnight. So, on the advice of a trusted relative, I started with a book written by a faithful Mormon. "Rough Stone Rolling", by Richard Bushman, sent me headlong down the rabbit hole of church history. I was introduced to many events, and alternate explanations, that I hadn't heard before, and I began an indepth study of the early years of the church. And my mind was blown.

Here's what made me literally laugh out loud in Mr. Trimble's essay: "Then someone out of the blue tries to make Joseph Smith look like a freak by painting a picture of him burying his head in some “magical hat.”"

I grew up in the church. Born and bred, I was. And I had never, ever, heard the story of the stone in the hat method of translating before I read it in Mr. Bushman's book. It was not taught in any class I attended, and it wasn't represented in any of the pictures I had seen of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. So if it wasn't weird, or freakish, why wasn't it taught? Why wasn't it pictured?

And by including that juicy little tidbit, is Mr. Trimble implying that the story of the stone in the hat is Anti-Mormon? If it's true, and it's not freakish, how can it be Anti? What was the point there, Mr. Trimble?

My point, simply, is that it wasn't Anti-Mormon literature that led me out of the church. By the time I delved into what Mr. Trimble would qualify as Anti-Mormon literature, I was already mentally out. And what I read only confirmed what I had felt: the church was not true.

Could I have overcome my feelings had I not read any so-called Anti-Mormon literature? I don't know. I'll never know. But I can say this...... I am overwhelmingly grateful to have found my way out. And I am grateful to those who risked their professional and social reputations to bring me that Anti-Mormon literature. Thank you, Richard Bushman. Thank you, Todd Compton. Thank you, Grant Palmer. Thank you, Michael Quinn. You enriched my life, enlarged my understanding, and validated my feelings. So, thank you.

5. Sin

 ".... sin leads people to one or more of the items listed above."

It should surprise no one that I no longer define sin the way I did as a believing Mormon. I do not believe that human beings are sinful by nature, and I do not believe that the natural man is an enemy to God.

That being said, I can emphatically state that it was not sin that led me out of the church.

At the time of my de-conversion, I was a card-carrying member of the church. I was worthy in every way of my temple recommend. At least in the behavioral categories. I was struggling in the belief categories, and had been for some time.

But my behavior as a Mormon was exemplary. I was faithful to my spouse (still am), and I lived the law of chastity; I was honest in my dealings with my fellow man (in fact, it was my honesty that wouldn't allow me to continue living as a believer..... integrity, y'all); I was a full-tithe payer, and generally rounded up; I kept the Word of Wisdom religiously, pun intended, eschewing alcohol, hot drinks such as tea and coffee, and tobacco; I wore my temple garments both day and night as instructed in the endowment; and I attended my Sunday meetings faithfully each and every week that I was able.

Was I a perfect human being? Of course not. I was (am) judgmental and petty, lazy and undisciplined, prone to discontent. Are those sins? That would depend on your definition of sin. To me, they are very human traits, asserting themselves in a very flawed, very human being.

But by the church's definition, as outlined in the temple recommend interview, I was free of sin. So I can categorically call bulls**t on Mr. Trimble's assertion that sin led me to one or more of the items listed above.

So, why did I leave the church, if not for the reasons outlined by Mr. Trimble? Quite simply, because I no longer believed it to be true. What led me to that conclusion has been detailed quite extensively elsewhere in my blog. Suffice it to say, I didn't believe, and my integrity would not allow me to pretend that I did.

Mr. Trimble may have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support his claims, but I believe I can muster up just as much anecdotal evidence to support mine. I have had the opportunity to meet many people in the past five years who have walked the path of apostasy, and I can state confidently that not one of the many souls I have encountered has left for Mr. Trimble's petty reasons.

Not. One.

So thank you, Mr. Trimble, for sharing your thoughts on the matter, but I reject your five reasons people leave the church on the grounds that they are unfounded. Anecdotally speaking.