Tuesday, October 31, 2006

the dust settled

It took a while for the dust to settle, and for me to realize that I wasn’t just buried in a pile of ruins. Around me was a whole new world I’d never gotten a good look at before. The sky was bright, the sun shone, the trees and flowers were gorgeous.

And I saw that my whole world had been a false one, nothing but a decrepit old building. What I thought was the sun? That was only a light through a window. What I thought was the great expanse of the sky? That was just the gray, cracked ceiling. When I thought I was exploring the world? That was just a peek out the window.

I realized I’d never really, really experienced the world. I had never asked the important questions of life, because I had always had the answers. I had let so much thinking be done for me. I had never truly made any big decisions for myself, because Mormonism already told me what to do.

So now what?

Where was my guidance? Where were my answers? Who was I to turn to for help with making decisions? I panicked. I was scared. I was so alone in the universe. I didn’t know what to do, what to believe, what standards to follow.

After not too long, I came to the marvelous conclusion that I had my own moral compass. I had the ability to make decisions for myself. I had the power to guide myself. And when I needed help, I could seek it from other people—philosophers, scientists, theologians, counselors, teachers, authors, friends. The world was full of thinkers.

I had always loved exploring the ideas of these thinkers, but I had always learned from them with a wall in my brain. If their ideas clashed with Mormonism, they were wrong. Simple as that. I could never quite let myself evaluate evolution, for example. I had to find a place for Adam and Eve to fit in. I was a little skeptical of geology, because it didn’t support Noah’s flood. I never paid much attention to the soul versus body debate, because I already “knew” the answer.

Suddenly, I realized I would have to evaluate all such theories and claims for myself, using critical thinking, intellect, study. It was a little bit daunting, but also very empowering.

Monday, October 30, 2006

my world shattered

When I say my world shattered, I mean it. To explain the aftermath of when I realized I didn’t believe in Mormonism, I can explain my emotions—devastation, fear, anger, betrayal, grief, profound sadness. But how about a metaphor?

Mormonism was everything. It influenced my society, my culture, my religion, my way of life. My family, my friends. It influenced how I thought about politics, economics, health. It influenced my life down to the last detail. It influenced where I lived, where I went to college, whom I associated with, whom I married, when I married, when I had a child. And I let it do all that.

In short, Mormonism was my world.

When I finally asked the million dollar questions (What if it’s not true? What does the evidence say?), I felt like I was in the midst of a crumbling building. Everything began falling down around me in chaos and havoc. I wanted so much for it to stop, for the building to go back to normal, to return to my old life.

But then I realized I was not standing idly by or even trying to protect myself from the collapse. Rather, I was actively and aggressively pulling down the building myself. I was afraid. I didn’t want it to fall apart; I didn’t want to pull it apart. But I couldn't stop. I refused to stop.

It was painful and awful and devastating.

And necessary, essential, and good.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

an analogy

A exmo friend on mine thinks of his experience with Mormonism as a bus ride. He got on the bus, it took him forward in the right direction, but then he needed to get off again. If he had stayed on, he would have missed his stop, and missed other opportunities in life. He can see the good the church did for him in a certain time of his life, but it stopped doing him good, so he got off the bus.

It's a rather positive view of the church, one that places Mormonism on par with other religions. Just one of many, all going different directions and to different locations, but all good in their own way.

I can see how the analogy fits him, because he was a convert. He voluntarily got on the bus, so it wasn't quite so difficult to get off again.

But I was born on the bus. I grew up having everyone around me tell me that this was the best bus. That, sure, there were other buses out there, but they were all going in the wrong direction, and that really, they were broken down and uncomfortable. And maybe not even really buses at all, but gaping holes in the road disguised as buses, and if I even went near one of them, I'd fall into a pit. So don't even try the other routes. In fact, don't even get off this bus--ever--because it's useless, and stupid. This bus is going the right way, this is the only bus that will take you where you need to go. How could you be so stupid as to even think about getting off?

But I did get off, and realized that all the buses were just fine. Maybe some of the engines clunk-clunked a little, and some of their destinations looked a little odd to me. But each person should have the right to choose voluntarily which bus to get on and at which destination to get off.

So, yeah, the Mormon bus brought me somewhere, but it did some damage in the process, pretending as it was to be the only ride in town. And so now, I can appreciate the bus analogy. I can see myself getting on another bus, and getting back off as it suits me. Then trying out another. Or walking for a while.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

missionary opportunity

I was talking to a TBM relative (who had no idea about my stance on the church). She asked me what it was like to live “in the mission field.” “What’s the church like out there?” I told her about the local ward, which I haven’t attended in 18 months. It’s diverse, poor, small. Lots of people on the ward list, less than half actually attend. “Struggling.” It takes two cities to make one ward.

“Yes,” she said, “there are a lot of missionary opportunities, aren’t there?”

“Hmm,” I answered non-committedly.

“But even here in Utah,” she continued. “Where we live, out next door neighbors have never been to church as long as we’ve lived there. And the neighbors on the other side, they used to go but just suddenly stopped going. Just like that.”


“So there are lots of missionary opportunities, even here in Utah. We just show them a good example.”

I wanted to gag, and to tell her that they probably just want to be left alone about the church. But I didn’t, because I didn’t want to “out” myself. I can’t be myself and speak my mind in front of my own family.

Friday, October 27, 2006


I took off my garments for the first time when I was still a church-goer, but mostly a non-believer. They were just made up by JS, after all. But the Mormon paradigm made me feel terribly guilty about it. Maybe I was doing something wrong. Wasn’t I allowing Satan to have all power over me? Didn’t the garments distinguish me as Mormon? Didn’t they protect my spirituality? Didn’t they protect me from sin? Did this mean I was going to inevitably commit adultery with the next guy I saw? Hadn’t I made a covenant? So I put them back on.

Strangely, they provided a sense of comfort. I was back in my old paradigm, comfortable, wrapped in my heritage and all that is known to me.

Then I thought, this is silly. They’re just underwear. A church telling me what underwear to wear? Off again. On again. Off again. Switching back and forth with my confused worldviews. After a couple weeks, they were off for good.

I moved my pile of garments to an out-of-the-way drawer. A few months later, when I needed the drawer space, I moved them into a garbage bag in the closet. When I cleaned out the closet, I moved them into the basement storage space. A few months later (how long was it?) when I was re-arranging the basement, I took the whole bag and chucked it into the dumpster. I saved one pair and my temple clothes, for what, I don’t know. To show curiosity-seekers?

It was too anti-climactic. It was a significant day, and so insignificant at the same time. It took me a long time to be ready to actually get rid of them completely. So when I did get rid of them—and all the heavy symbolism with them—why did I choose to just toss them in the dumpster?

On the one hand, dropping them unceremoniously showed how little authority the church has over my thinking and behavior now. That's certainly a good thing. But on the other hand, I obtained them in such a ceremonious (and creepy) manner, and they had influenced my daily life for years. Might it have been more catharctic to get rid of them with more, I don't know, ritual? Perhaps I wanted a little ritual. I still miss ­a little ritual.

I’ve heard of some people burning them, but that seems a little too much. Angry. These are still the sacred implements of my parents, after all.

A few words, maybe.

“Old Joe, these once marked who was a polygamist in your little cult, and they ruled my wardrobe for x years—I am done with them and you.”


“Today I’m reinforcing that the church no longer rules my life.”


“F--k you, G!”

Now I can’t even remember the day. Was it summer, winter? Was it sunny or night time? How long after taking them off was it? Why does it matter to me now?

Readers: What did you do? Or are you still stuck with them for various reasons?

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Reevaluating my religion and world view is one of the most important events in my life. I rank it in the top three, up there with getting married and becoming a mother.

It ranks number one as the absolute hardest thing in my life so far.

There are TBMs who think of “inactives” as just too lazy to want to follow all the rules, or not really true believers in the first place, or as having taken the easy way out. That is utterly ridiculous. Staying in, taking the blue pill, closing Under the Banner of Heaven and never finding out more about Joseph Smith, never coming near the edge of the cliff, let along jumping—that would have been the easy way out.

But confronting my very being, looking into the inner recesses of my soul, and reevaluating everything I was ever taught, ever believed, and tearing down my world view, my comfort, my Father, my world, despite my old world view telling me to just STOP, STOP, STOP—that was not easy or lazy.

That? That was hard.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

a note on future posts

Up until now, I’ve told my exit story in a chronological fashion. But now that I’ve reached the point where I stopped attending, I feel like that my experience is difficult to keep chronological. I find that my changing worldview, my emotions, and my recovery, especially during that formative period right around my exit, are so intense that I have trouble remembering what happened when and in what order. What I do remember are the emotions and the changes, but from here on out, time can no longer order my story.

That said, I’m going to keep posting, hopefully daily, but my posts will be more random and topic-oriented. I will try to situate my post within a period of my exit. For example, I’ll say, “When I was a believer…” or “When my belief was falling apart...” or “Just after I stopped believing…” etc. I still have tons to say, and I can hardly get my fingers to work fast enough or find enough time to write without neglecting other parts of my life.

Tracking progress out of church through General Conference attention span

I started watching General Conference when I was a kid, because my parents wanted me to. When I was in seminary, I started watching every (non-male-only) session of my own free will and choice. Continued like that for years. I liked it.

After I moved out of UT, some changes started. The first GC, I watched every session, except, of course, the penis-only session. Come April, I missed one and didn’t care. Ehhh, I’ll catch it in the Ensign. In October, I watched but felt guilty because of my doubts and let the Brethren’s talks make me resolve to do better.

The next April, I went shopping for new underwear during conference.

The next two times, I thought to myself, It’s GC weekend.

This last time, I forgot until someone reminded me. Then the next weekend, I listened to the exmo conference. I liked it.

There you have it, folks, conclusive proof that if you watch conference, you’ll have a strong testimony, and if you don’t, you’re on the path toward hell.

No Conference = No testimony.

You should try it. It’s pretty cool to be rid of both.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

exit story 11: the last time

The final moment came when I finally visited another church. I had gone to the Mormon service, listened to one talk, but found myself migrating to the hallway to avoid the banal sacrament meeting. I found my husband out there too.

I thought, this is silly. He’s only coming, playing the NOM (faithful non-believing) role, just because I am coming, also as a NOM. A lot of NOMs remain NOM simply because their spouse is faithful. But both of us were non-believers. Why was I there?

I said, “We still have time to catch a UU meeting, it starts at 11:15.” So we went. It was really the first time I had ever been to another church’s worship services.

I was amazed. I actually agreed with things the pastor said. It was actually interesting. It was actually relevant. It was actually uplifting, enlightening, and real. I liked it.

How long had it been since I attended a church service I liked? Had I ever?

I thought, Why am I putting up with the Mormon church if there’s so much greater stuff out there?

And I’ve never been back.

Monday, October 23, 2006

exit story 10: switching paradigms

At that point, I was willing to try out other religions, but still try to evaluate the church at the same time. I had been missing church maybe 2 weeks out of 4 for the past few months, for various excuses.

In the month after I crossed my threshold, I felt liberated sometimes, and damned sometimes. I took off my garments, put them on again, and took them off again. I was panicked that I was making the wrong choice, thought I was definitely going to hell, then calm and at peace. At one moment I thought I hadn’t given the church a good chance, then I was ready to wash my hands of it and all its crap the next.

I concluded that no church was the True Church of God, that all were manmade (with a few women-made ones in there), and that that was okay. Religion wasn’t about being the True Word of God, but was about enlightenment, goodness, social change, worship, inspiration, devotion. I realized Truth was not the yard stick by which to measure religion, and feelings were not the unit by which to evaluate veracity. Even though I believed it was not true, I still had to go through a process of evaluating it on another yard stick—goodness.

All the issues that I had before—and the stuff I chalked up to be culture, or practice, or the imperfections of the members—came back. I disagreed with stances on women, on homosexuals, on race, on worship, on history. I disagreed with how they taught youth, on the demand for conformity, on the demand to deny all doubt, on the micromanaging of people’s lives, on the hours and money wasted on temple work.

If it's the True Church of God, why doesn't it help people in need with homeless shelters, soup kitchens, humanitarian aid that works, and changing society for the better? If Hinckley is really a prophet, why is the best he can come up with is build more temples to waste more of the members time on dead people's names, and to tell girls not to wear 4 earrings? If the church is teaching the Word of God, why does it seem so inane?

So I went to church, but felt physically ill while there. I disagreed with nearly everything said over the pulpit. I looked around at the members, and the only kinship I felt was with ones who were non-believers. Was this my community? Was this worth staying for?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

exit story 9: to NOM or not to NOM

Finally I had come to a point where I didn't believe in the church's claims. But I still desperately wanted to believe. I spent a few weeks in an awful back-and-forth struggle trying to decide if I could be NOM--a faithful non-believer. Couldn't I still stay in the church, play the game, be dedicated to the community, keep my parents happy? Not divorce myself from my family and spiritual heritage? Couldn't I just rebuild the building that had crumbled around me, altered, but still Mormon?

I started to evaluate Mormonism from a non-believer's perspective, a religion like any other religion. It had its rituals, its doctrine, its rites of passage, its leadership, etc. Was is so bad to take part?

I went through a series of questions. One had to do with missions. At one point (perhaps it was before I stopped believing completely?) I asked my husband, "Would it be so bad if we continued on? Send our son on a mission, viewing it as a rite of passage, simply so he won't be shunned by the community?" I had never gone on a mission myself.

He answered, "Yes. It would be so bad. Do you have any idea what a mission does to a person? That is the worst possible rite of passage one could possibly go through. It's not worth putting him through that." I imagine he would have called his mission experience a mind rape.

And I knew he was right. I just couldn't put my son through a mission just for the sake of "keeping up appearances." More than that, I couldn't put him through a Mormon childhood at all. From nursery on, the church is indoctrinating children, crunching them into moulds, whether they fit or not. For a few youth, it works. For others, they bend, but their selves are destroyed in the process. Others simply rebel. I couldn't put my child through this. Some churches actually support individual spiritual growth; the Mormon one damages it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

exit story 8: threshold

I remember the moment when it all came crashing down, and I realized I didn’t believe it. I went into work that day, and opened up the Internet. I went to NOM to check real quickly for anything new before settling into work. And I realized I didn’t fit there. All of the sudden, NOM was too faithful for me, too “in” the church. In that one moment, I realized I was a Foyerite. I was “out.” I panicked. I practically hyperventilated, and I couldn’t concentrate on work. I had to write. I wrote an email, marking my change, and sent it only to myself. I had to mark the moment.

The subject line was “threshold.”

“I think I've crossed a threshold. Foyer is more home
to me than NOM. It scares the crap out of me. As I'm
giving up hope, I think there must still be hope there
somewhere, somewhere, I just have to find it. Like I
have to give it a chance. Like a month isn't enough.
Like I can't leave when I've never even been anywhere

I used to be drowning in shallow water.

Now I'm suffocating in thin air.”

Still, though I was “out” is so many ways, I desperately clung to the hope that I was wrong. That somehow, I could salvage everything. That although I was standing in the middle of a pile of ruins of my old paradigm, if I just closed my eyes tight enough, I could pretend that everything was perfectly normal.

As I sat there hyperventilating at work, I didn't fall back on my old way of praying for comfort. I snuck away into an empty room and stood in the tree pose (of yoga) to pull myself together. It helped.

Friday, October 20, 2006

exit story 7: the essential questions

After we both renewed our recommends, I had a conversation with my husband where we concluded that you cannot make an honest inquiry into the truth of something if you start with the assumption that it’s true.

I realized that up to that point, I read everything with a barrier in my mind: “The church is true, but…” Anything I read changed my testimony, but it couldn’t demolish it altogether, because I wouldn’t let anything really challenge it. Everything I read had to somehow fit into “the church is true,” no matter the amount of mental gymnastics I had to perform.

So I re-evaluated my approach, and let myself ask the most important questions:

What if it’s not true? Can it be not true?

Where does the evidence lie?

With a clean slate, without assuming it’s either true or not true, I set to on the library books, and spent more time online. I let the evidence fall where it would. I devoured Palmer’s An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, and Joseph Smith lost all credibility for me as a translator. I read about the Book of Mormon, and it lost any indication of ancient authenticity. I read about the Book of Abraham, and the Pearl of Great Price was out the window. I read about the development of the temple endowment, and the temple completely lost any last vestiges of truth I had clung to.

Within two weeks, my testimony was gone. My world had shattered.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

exit story 6: confusion

About the time of the second journal entry, my husband came home with a big pile of scholarly books on Mormonism he had checked out from the library. He started pouring through them, but I was still scared to touch them.

By that time, my testimony had changed to the point where I was barely clinging to the church. I believed that God was at the helm of the church, but that his involvement was rather minimal, that most of the church was the creation of men (yes, men). I believed that there was something about the church that was different than all other churches, even if I wasn’t sure what. That Joseph Smith had something special, that the church was somehow really from God, even if a lot of the stuff JS did—institute polygamy, for example—was not.

But I was terribly confused. How could Smith be a real prophet of God if he did something so stupid as to institute polygamy, claiming it was from God, to satisfy his own desires for sex and power? And shouldn’t the True Church of God be ahead of society on the Civil Rights Movement, rather than behind?

Still, I had just enough testimony left to want to renew my temple recommend. Get it while I still could, especially since there was still a future temple wedding for a little brother. So I renewed it. When the bishop and stake president asked the belief questions, I simply said, “Yes” and left the qualifying statements in my mind. They didn’t need to know my doubts, because I was working through them and trying to resolve them. I did still believe in the church.

Do you believe in the restored Gospel? “Yes,” somehow JS had something special, even if he got power-hungry later.

Do you believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God? “Yes,” even if it’s not maybe an actual historical account.

Do you sustain the prophet Hinckley? “Yes,” even if he doesn’t actually receive revelation.

It shows my desperation, and the amazing ability to "double-think."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition

V62.89 Religious or Spiritual Problem

Excerpt: "This category can be used when the focus of clinical attention is a religious or spiritual problem. Examples include distressing experiences that involve loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, or questioning of spiritual values that may not necessarily be related to an organized church or religious institution...."

Got it?

Yeah, me too.

Bob McCue pointed it out to me in his exmojo talk. I really enjoyed listening to his thoughts, and I haven't even finished listening. I liked his find-a-new-metanarrative idea intriguing. I highly recommend a listen if you missed it.

exit story 5: journal entry 2

The next time I mentioned my doubts in my journal, it was more than two months after the first time. In the interim, a lot had happened in my life, so those things had consumed me. Shortly after the first entry, I found out I was pregnant, then I miscarried.

This is why I mention such a personal detail: I was asked to give a talk in church, and even though I started bleeding that morning, I still gave the talk. I had a miscarriage while I gave a talk in church. How messed up is that? What power the church had over me that I couldn't say, “Forget it, Bishop, BS your own way through those few minutes in sacrament meeting, I'm sick.” It makes me ill to remember that I thought that was okay.

Here's the journal entry:

“I joined an online forum/message board [NOM] for Mormons—liberal or doubting or inactive, or ex-Mormons. All kinds except the hard-liners. To find community. To find others like us, with questions, but want to remain Mormon.

I dreamt last night that I told my mom how I’m questioning, how I’ve changed. I dreamt she took the news really well, very open-minded and open-hearted. I don’t think reality would match.

I believe in God and Christ. I really, really want to believe in the gospel of the Mormon church, The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith. No, I believe the restoration of the priesthood, lots of stuff. I just have trouble with the B. of Mormon right now. It teaches good things. But is it authentic? Was Nephi a real person? If it’s fiction, it’s different. Sure, my life can be touched—even profoundly—by fiction, but NOT by fiction that claims to be true. The Church rests so much on its truth. But lately when I read it, I can’t help thinking, “Joseph Smith…Joseph Smith.” Before, I could appreciate the Book for what it was—an ancient account of peoples and prophets and prophesies and acts of God. I liked it that way. Now I can’t get through a chapter without worrying about historicity. And I hate that.

Joseph did some wonderful things. He also did some stupid, terrible things. Why would God choose a prophet like that? Some people say it comforts them to know that God can work with such imperfect people. It does not comfort me. I don’t need a prophet to be perfect, but I do expect him to be decent.

But then, maybe it was the power that changed (corrupted?) Joseph. He was a good, decent guy when God called him. Then things went to his heard and he decided he could “marry” 40+ women.

I don’t know. I don’t know.

Now the best book of scripture to me is the Bible. It used to be the worst, the most difficult, the least familiar. Now I can read the Old Testament as what historians call mythology (not necessarily false, but definitely stories that teach a society’s roots and values), and I’m comfortable with that. I’m not comfortable with the B. of Mormon as mythology. And D&C—I wonder what is from God and what is from Joseph.

All this sounds much worse, I think, than I really am. I just have questions. Questions more than doubts. Big questions.

How will I answer them? The scriptures? The Spirit? Logic and study? I don’t think any of them will answer to my satisfaction right now.”

The next time I wrote about Mormonism, I was a church-attending, non-believier, though still a little in denial. The next time I wrote, I hadn't been to church in a couple months. I'm rather mad at myself for not writing more during that time. I've lost so much of my thought process.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

exit story 4: journal

Okay, so I wanted to post just once day, but I can't this stuff out fast enough. Posting is cleansing, and there are lots of things I have to talk about besides my exit story--which is long enough, and still has several more posts. So here's the next installment:

After about a year of reading, I realized things had changed. While I was still a faithful member, I had serious doubts. I retained hope that I could be able to resolve those doubts; that somehow, this would all make me a better member in the end.

I went back through my journal the other day, and found what I think is the first time I ever committed my doubts to paper. During the months before then, I just couldn't write it down. I thought I would get through it all, and any doubts I had in the past would just be embarrassing or not faith-promoting to any future progeny that might read my journal. But finally, things had come far enough that I had to write it. I wasn't talking to anyone about this, and my thoughts were swirling around fast enough to make me dizzy. I had to get it out. Looking back at it, I can see how very desperate and confused I was:

Sunday, 2004. Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning in shallow water. Have I used this metaphor before? I mean I'm losing touch with my spirituality. I find little comfort in the church these days. Or, indeed, in the Gospel, since I find myself so suspicious of where we get the Gospel--the scriptures, the Brethren, the Church. I've become more critical--and that's good. But I find myself criticizing too much. So much that I rarely get anything good out of church or reading stuff from the church. Deep down, I believe. I believe in God and Christ and his Gospel. And I believe the Mormon church has something that other churches don't. Something essential.

But, but, but.

Maybe that is enough testimony for now. Enough to survive on. But doubts chip-chip-chip away. I'm the one chipping away, though. Why don't I stop? Why?

I don't want to go back to where I came from--ignorant bliss. Is there somewhere else? Knowledgeable bliss? Not everyone who is happy is ignorant. They find comfort in God. Why don't I? How valuable is this knowledge anyway? Is it worth drowning (in shallow water) over? Is it so important?

'Intellect can strengthen spirituality and spirituality can strengthen intellect,' I heard in church today. How?

I haven't been reading the Book of Mormon lately--not very often, for months now. Is neglecting that really creating such a drought of spiritual confidence? Is that such a big deal? When I do read, I find little comfort. I can't help being suspicious of its origins. 'By their fruits you shall know them' is a bunch of crap if the book is a fraud. I still believe it. I want to believe in it. How am I to improve that? Read only that, and leave all 'extracurricular' writings (stuff not produced by the church) alone? Just be more selective. Read the other stuff with guidance. Pray about it all.

Pray. Will it be answered?

I used to feel the Spirit all the time. Help Mom find her lost check book. Remember where I left my keys. Get comfort whenever I needed it. Comfort. Lots of it. Now what do I get? Nothing. Is that because my actions have warranted a loss of that spiritual gift (is a struggle of faith enough to warrant that?), or is it because I felt what I was taught to feel, and I found comfort in believing something that wasn’t really there? Just believing in something bigger than me was enough to bring comfort when I asked for it? Is that all religion really is? Do I feel uncomfortable now because of loss of spirit or loss of ignorant bliss?

I’ve heard that analogy where the Spirit is like a radio—you have to be tuned to the right channel. Or, rather, you are the radio, and the Spirit is the signal. And is always signaling, whether you are listening or not. I just let the dial slip; I can’t figure out why all I get is static now. It’s not that the Spirit isn’t there, trying to communicate with me, it’s that I’m not attuned to it anymore. So just tune it back. That simple.

If only.

Pain is a part of the spiritual journey. But isn’t happiness too? Am I a dwarf in The Last Battle by CS Lewis—seeing a smelly, dark barn while really surrounded by a beautiful meadow paradise?”

(To which I now answer, yes, but not in the way I thought then.)

exit story 3: reading

I spent the next year or so reading Sunstone, Dialogue, and the occasional book on Mormonism. Hadn’t touched the Internet—that stuff was just anti- in my mind. You don’t know what you could stumble on. (Like this blog.)

Through this, I was really open about my new-found knowledge. I discussed articles about Mormon history with a faithful Mormon friend, an article about a gay Mormon with family, even brought up an issue or two in Sunday School. I didn’t consider any of this stuff at odds with being a faithful, believing member. I wanted this stuff talked about more in church. Why not? I thought. Openness about the truth could only serve the church for the better, right? If it’s the True Church, how could the truth hurt it?

But I also realized that some of the articles were profoundly changing my testimony. Anything I read about Joseph Smith brought him down a notch in prophethood. Anything I read about the Book of Mormon made me question it a little more. So I avoided those topics like the plague. I stuck with contemporary issues—women and priesthood, Mormonism and homosexuality, personal stories of belief—some history—polygamy, Emma Smith, 19th century Utah—and some Bible studies—authorship, women.

I read only sporadically, because I realized, though I couldn’t admit it out loud, that my beliefs were changing. I could only handle so much at a time. I would read a few articles, then not touch Sunstone for a couple months. Then it would draw me in again. My husband was also reading throughout this time, but we rarely talked to each other about it. Talking about it would make it real.

Once I asked him, “Doesn’t reading that stuff change your view of Joseph Smith?” I asked it like it was a bad thing, because to me it was.

He answered simply, “Yes.” The implication was, “and I’m going to keep reading it, too.”

At one point, near the beginning, we talked about it, and agreed that "going inactive" was a really bad idea, whatever our troubles with the church.

Monday, October 16, 2006

exit story 2: under the banner of heaven

Some of the stuff I read, though, scared me to death. One of the first things I read was Under the Banner of Heaven. This I now consider outside the realm of Mormon scholarship, it’s even maybe a little anti-Mormon. (As a friend pointed out, if this book had been written about a couple of Jewish murderers and how Judaism influenced their ability to murder two innocent people, wouldn’t it be considered anti-Semitic? But it’s still okay to pick on Mormons and not have anyone call you on it.)

The book was recommended by a friend, who had no idea that this was the first book I was ever to read that presented Joseph Smith in a light other than that sanctioned by the church. I was annoyed when the author told about Smith using a hat to dictate the Book of Mormon. I stopped reading and told my husband, “This author’s got his facts messed up. Where did he get this information? Using a stone and a hat?” If I had been a swearing person at the time, I would have most definitely said, WTF?!?!?

My husband turned to me with a sympathetic look and said, “No, actually that stuff is true. There are lots of contemporary sources to back that up.”

I was shocked, astounded, appalled, confused, and scared. Welcome to my first real cognitive dissonance. Of course, at the time, I didn’t characterize it as that. Instead, I characterized it as “the Spirit left the room.” This was a bad book.

I kept reading, but the book just had worse and worse things to say about Joseph. With my heart pounding, my ears flushed, my thoughts racing around, I closed the book. I couldn’t continue.

But I had to. Knowing was better than remaining in ignorant bliss. I couldn’t just pretend it wasn’t there. I pushed through to the end of the book, and I had a whole slew of questions.

I tried to approach my friends about it, but they didn’t want to talk about what I wanted to talk about. To them, it was all old news. When they realized it was brand new to me, they fell into what I think was a silent guilt. Later, I realized their silence said, “Oh no, we introduced from the ashes to the biggest challenge of her life. And who knows how she’ll handle it.”

Sunday, October 15, 2006

exmo conference

Listening to the exmo conference right now--so much better than General Conference. I'm sad we're so far away that we can't come, but thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for mp3's.

exit story 1: new friends, new ideas

After my husband I both finished college (yes, I did get more than just an Mrs. degree), we moved out of Utah. This was my first time living outside the Mormon Corridor since I’d been too little to remember. I immediately clung to my new ward, meeting other young Mormon couples, going to church weekly, and attending church activities. Insta-community. I suddenly had lots of friends.

Most of them, I would later discover, were friends with me only because of Mormonism. Once I stopped attending the ward, we stopped hanging out. Most of that was just because I didn’t attend ward functions anymore, so I didn’t see them as much. But some of them actually shunned me. Whether they just didn’t know how to act around an “inactive” family, or they consciously wanted to distance themselves from the evil we exuded, I don’t know.

Some of the friends I made in this insta-community were not the typical faithful Mormons fresh out of Utah. Some of them were what the internet community calls new order Mormons, or faithful non-believers, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was drawn to them, and we began to discuss things we didn’t discuss in Sunday School.

Through them, I discovered Sunstone, Dialogue, and scholarly books on Mormonism. I had no idea such things existed. In my Utah mind, there was stuff-published-by-the-church and anti-Mormon literature. Plain and simply, black and white division. And don’t even think about touching the anti- stuff. That’s just a bunch of lies that’ll send you straight to apostasy.

But when I started reading the scholarly materials, I realized my perceived dichotomy, one the church had encouraged, was just wrong. I loved to talk about things I never could talk about before—changing church policy on birth control, women giving blessings in the 19th century, the struggles gay Mormons faced, the myth of Joseph’s mantle falling on Brigham Young.

I developed a faithful desire to delve more deeply into Mormon doctrine, history, and culture in order to understand my faith better. I began this new journey in the honest belief that I would become a better Mormon.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


So I woke up this morning, didn't shower, change out of my pajamas, or eat breakfast. I sat at the computer with a cup of hot coffee, one sugar, no cream, and started blogging.

It's three hours later.

Do I qualify as a blogaholic?

'Cause I'm actually feeling a little shaky from lack of, not just breakfast, but now lunch too, and I'm still online. I allow myself to blog a little more on the weekends than on the weekdays, but this is perahps a little ridiculous.

But I wrote a whopping eight entries to add to my blog this coming week, and I'm finally up to the point in my story where I stopped going to church. Stay tuned.

pre-exit 7: maturing viewpoints

I went through seminary in high school as a star student, loving the chance to talk about things we didn’t talk about in Sunday School. I thought we were bringing up the “real issues.” Getting deep into the Gospel.

When it was time to apply for college, I only applied to BYU. Why go anywhere but the Lord’s University? I wanted to go, because I was supposed to go. I really believed that’s where God wanted me to be. Get a degree, find a nice Mormon husband. What could be better?

In college, I was away from home, learned some critical thinking, and expanded my life experience. Yes, even at BYU. I ran with a crowd that had no problems criticizing things about the church that they didn’t like. Like how we were supposed to “go forth to serve” but BYU put such an emphasis (read: money) on sports and business school, and not on service majors like social work. Gaining exposure to different people and ideas modified my testimony, chipping away at things that I would have labeled “culture” but I didn’t realize were culture before. But I never let anything touch the fundamentals. I could apply critical thinking to the Oneida experiment, or to functionalism, but not to the fundamentals of the church.

Any criticism began with “I know the church is true, but…”

“I know the church is true, but I just don’t understand this policy….I know the church is true, but sometimes I just can’t stand singles wards.”

Any criticism was okay, because I never let it call into the question the Truth of the Church. Criticisms were “really” only about culture, practice, policy, maybe the church, but not doctrine. I thought.

By the end of college, I was more liberal both in my thinking about Mormonism and politically. I don’t think that’s what BYU had in mind, but that’s what happened.

In college, I met and married my husband in a temple. Everything was going as planned.

Friday, October 13, 2006

pre-exit 6: some small things

There were also a whole slew of smaller issues that bothered me too, but took fewer mental gymnastics to deal with. These were things like superficiality and hypocrisy of church members; inequality of young women and young men programs and resources; rote saying of prayers and bearing of testimonies; boring church meetings; policies that made sense only to white, male, America; stupid lesson manuals; church dress code; Right Hand Only sacrament-taking; the Super Mom syndrome; etc., etc.

Most of these were quite easy to talk away by making some divisions in my mind between the gospel, the church, and Mormon culture; and doctrine, principle, policy, and practice. These lists are both on the same spectrums from Most Important and Unchanging on the left to Least Important and Changeable on the right.

I might have classified, for example, priesthood as gospel and doctrine, denial of the priesthood to blacks as church and policy, and lingering racism as culture and practice. Not everything fit in this way, but it worked for me for a while.

Because I had this system of compartmentalization, I could take just about anything I didn’t like and label it “Mormon (or Utah) culture” or a church practice that would change eventually. Thus, I was able to preserve my positive attitude, and keep my testimony strong and untouched by all the many problems that plague Mormonism.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

pre-exit 5: women and the priesthood

Regarding women and the priesthood, I felt intellectually, emotionally, and personally that women are the equals of men. Period. Even when there were direct and explicit teachings in church that said otherwise, I let myself discount them somehow. So I figured that there must be some reason God wanted only men to have the priesthood. I heard and considered the following explanations:

-It was to teach us something, we just don’t know what…yet.
-Women didn’t need it because they were already spiritual betters of men.
-Men have priesthood, women have motherhood.
-Women don’t need it because men already have it.
-Priesthood is not a privilege, it’s a responsibility. And you don’t really want all the responsibility, do you?
-That’s just the way God wants it, so learn to live with it.
-If you covet the priesthood, you don’t understand it.
Etc., etc.

I hated all these explanations, though I seriously considered a couple of them at different times. They are patronizing, misguided, and sorry attempts to justify institutionalized inequality.
And yet at one point I came to feel that not having the priesthood was okay. It didn’t bother me. I’m not really sure how I came to that point or why. I suppose I managed to put the idea far in the back of my mind, and told it to stay put.

And that’s really, really sad. I accepted the inequality imposed on me by the church. I believed it was okay. I think a lot of Mormon women do this—that’s how Hinckley can say, “There’s no agitation for that [to give women the priesthood]. We don’t find it. Our women are happy. They’re satisfied. These bright, able, wonderful women who...are very happy. Ask them.” (Find the transcript here.)

It’s sick that otherwise intelligent, "bright, able, wonderful" women (and I do believe they are) can be made to believe and internalize inferiority. Such is the power of Mormonism.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

pre-exit 4: some big issues

I saw that there were problems. Instead of asking the important questions that the problems should have brought up, I thought my way around the problems. Regarding blacks and the priesthood, I thought, “There’s some reason Heavenly Father gave blacks the priesthood only in 1978. What is it?” I never thought it was due to some inferiority or natural inequality of black people. I eventually settled on the idea that God allows humans, including leaders of His Church, to make mistakes and do some things at their own pace. In other words, denial of the priesthood of blacks was mostly influenced by racist America, and God was slowly bringing the church along to come to a more perfect version of the church. (Never mind that I was taught that the church was perfect as “restored” to Joseph smith, or that the gospel is the same yesterday, today, and forever.)

I performed similar testimony-saving gymnastics with the other big issues, and my (ever-changing) conclusions were, like the above, in fact contrary to some of the teaching of the church. I was sure, for example, that I wouldn’t be made to practice polygamy if I was fortunate enough to make it to the Celestial Kingdom with my husband, even though the D&C section instituting polygamy as necessary to salvation (as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor certainly understood it) is still on the books. And therefore, apparently, still in force, if only in the next life. But I couldn’t imagine a just and kind Heavenly Father who loved me to require me to share my husband with another woman (or women) (despite the fact that he "did require it" of plenty of other women in 19th century Nauvoo and Utah).

Polygamy was an ongoing debate among me and my peers. Was it required? Would I only have to practice if I agreed? What if my husband isn’t faithful; will I be married off as the umpteenth wife to another man? Could I live with my husband screwing another woman? Surely God wouldn’t really make me? What did it mean that D&C 132 was still on the books? Could I interpret it differently? It really just meant marriage itself is required for salvation, not polygamous marriage, right? Right?

Some of my peers couldn’t even stand the debate. Couldn’t even hear the word “polygamy’ without flipping out. It was too horrendous, awful. And yet we never doubted that it was (or at least had been) a part of God’s True Church, and sanctioned by God.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

it's all relative

Since this blog has taken a turn for the serious, I thought I'd throw in some fun in the middle of my long, long disaffection story.

When I got married, Mormon style, I was gifted a piece of lingerie by my bride's maids. It was sort of like this:

My husband thought it was so sexy. Sleeveless! Spaghetti straps! Shoulders! Low cut! Shows a little thigh!

I hadn't brought it out since well before my disaffection, so I pulled it out the other day to check it out. I tried it on, and it felt soooo un-sexy. It felt long, loose, and unrevealing. When I first got it, it was quite revealing compared to garments, but now?

...I wear it as a night gown.

pre-exit 3: does--not--compute

Although I was a quite faithful youth who characterized herself as having a strong testimony, I had a few issues with the church. Rather, there were a few big ones, and a larger number of small ones. (Thoughts about these will unfold over the next few posts.)

The big ones challenged me the most, required the most mental gymnastics to try to understand, and were never resolved. These issues stayed with me, though I’d managed to put them on the back burner now and then. They stayed with me until the end, and are still some of the biggest problems I see in the church. (I won’t say “problems I have with the church,” because I think the problems are the church’s, not mine.)

The big issues were these: the historical denial of the priesthood to blacks (Africans and people of African descent); the on-going denial of the priesthood (and hence any real leadership positions) to women, along with the general inequality of women; and the historical practice of polygamy. (The ongoing practice of polygamy didn’t bother me so much except where it “sullied” the name of the mainstream church. I considered modern polygamists misled and not Mormon.)

I struggled over these issues, and did what I’ll call “faithful Mormon research.” That is, I collected information about these issues in church- and culturally-sanctioned ways: I talked to faithful Mormons, both my peers and my leaders; I looked for references, passages, and comfort in the standard works (mostly Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants); I checked conference talks and writings by past prophets; I read other church publications; and I prayed.

It never occurred to me to go outside those routes, despite the fact that I was dissatisfied by the answers I found. The crucial thing is that I never allowed these or any other, smaller issues, to “damage” my testimony of the church. In my youth, I never thought, “There’s no way Heavenly Father would do such a thing,” or “If there is a true church, it wouldn’t do that,” or “I can’t believe in or support a church that does this.”

The barrier put up by “this is the true church” rhetoric sufficed to keep me from asking those important questions. I just couldn’t think anything that would damage the idea of God being in charge, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being His True Church.

I look back at my old self, astounded.

Monday, October 09, 2006

pre-exit 2: a happy, mormon childhood

A great part of the answer to the question “Why did I believe?” can be found in my upbringing.

I wasn’t born in Utah, but I was raised there. We moved there when I was little, my parents sure that the promised land was a better place to raise their several children. I can’t blame them for that. The high-concentration Mormon community certainly provides comfort for people who want to be surrounded by people like them, with their same “standards,” their same worldview and paradigm.

Who doesn’t, really? Even people who seek diversity in their communities still find some commonalities on which to base their imagined community—liberalism, cosmopolitanism, love for diversity itself, a desire for debate and multiple viewpoints. And even within diversity, we still seek sameness, do we not? Aren’t a good number of my friends still white, educated, and liberal? Do I not seek out fellow ex-Mormons as people who understand not only my background, but my changed worldview, and the often painful journey that inevitably accompanies such a change?

Back to childhood in Utah. My family was and is TBM—true, believing Mormon. They are serious believers. While I find that labels and checklists are inadequate to truly describe anyone’s spirituality, using them are quick ways to get us all on the same page about what my childhood was like.

-I was BIC (born in the covenant), as were my parents. Meaning conception occurred after the parents were MIT (married in the temple, the only “true” place for Mormons to marry).

-I was baptized at eight by my father, the “appropriate” age for fathers to baptize.

-My father was an RM (returned missionary), and was the sole income earner for the large family of 8 children.

-My mother was a stay-at-home mom, pretty much since the day she got married and dropped out of college.

-We had family prayer twice a day, and scripture study once a day.

-We had Family Home Evening every week. Prayers, songs, lesson, activity (if we were lucky), and treat (if we were lucky). And until I was a teenager and had other things I wanted to do instead, I really liked it, simply for the family time. I really like my family, and spending that time and family prayer time with them is still a precious and fond memory. If only we’d done it for the sake of spending time together, instead of the reasons we did it: because the Brethren told us to, and we’d probably go to hell if we didn’t.

-We went to church every week, all three hours, even Stake Conference, even on vacation. And we watched all four sessions of General Conference. Luckily, we didn’t have to go to the meeting house to watch, and we didn’t have to dress up. (Only my father and brothers were privileged enough to be born with penises, though, so they went to the priesthood sessions too.)

-We said prayers before every meal.

-We never watched rated-R movies, drank caffeinated sodas, dated before age 16, wore sleeveless shirts, did recreational activities on Sunday, or shopped on Sunday. We did watch TV and listen to music, though we tried to keep it non-violent and classical or churchy.

-Coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco were almost as bad as beating up 3-year-olds.

-I kept a journal, because young women leaders taught that I was supposed to keep a family history. For the first several years of journal-keeping, I only wrote about churchy-stuff.

-I read the Book of Mormon daily. Daily. From the time I was still in primary.

-I only hung out with Mormons. Not that I knew any non-Mormons.

-People who didn’t believe in the church or didn’t outwardly practice (they didn’t attend church, they drank or smoked) were apostates and should be avoided at all costs. Unless they were extended family, then we just “loved them anyway,” prayed that they’d see the light, and never, ever talked with them about why they left.

Etc, etc. I could go on, but the picture is outlined. I myself was believing and faithful, and found fulfillment and guidance in the church. I prayed, I read, I held youth callings, I gave talks that inspired and impressed the congregation. I was that ideal Molly Mormon that mothers wanted their sons to marry.

And I was happy with that, and with the church.

Except for a few quirks. A few, very large quirks.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

pre-exit 1: in the beginning

I was born to Mormon parents, who had also been born to Mormon parents. I could list some 1830’s converts, if I had the gumption up to give a thorough look at my genealogy. (Or is it “family history” now?) Some of my ancestors are more recent converts, but they were mostly 19th century ones, quite a few of them making the trek west to Utah, some of them from as far as Europe.

Suckers. What were they looking for in life that made them find Joseph Smith’s story to be credible? I imagine they were poor, downtrodden, and unsatisfied with the traditional forms of Christianity. I imagine they liked the idea of religion and gospel being revealed in its “fullness” and “entirety” by God, that every answer they ever needed was written in the Book of Mormon or Bible, or revealed to a modern prophet. For some people, having all the great answers to all the great questions of life already figured out for them is comforting.

It was for me when I was a kid. I was happy to have the answers to

Is there a God?
Is there an afterlife?
What does life mean?
What am I supposed to do with life?
Am I significant?

The Mormon versions of these questions are standard working material for every missionary. (I’m probably paraphrasing):

Who am I?
Why am I here?
Where am I going?

These are common questions for human beings. And if you are asking them, and two 19- or 20-year-old boys come to your door saying they know the answers, you might just listen. More likely, though, you’ll think they’re a couple of brainwashed cult members, and you’ll send them away, slam the door on them, or sic your dog on them. Either way.

A whole lot of people simply can’t believe that a couple of missionaries or any other person, institution, or book has those answers.

I certainly don’t. But I did. Why?

[to be continued, of couse]

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why am I blogging?

Why commit my personal thoughts to the world wide web, and not put them in a journal, like I did when I was a good little Mormon girl?

When I finally made my mental and physical break from the Mormon church over a year ago, I went through a whole range of emotions. Heartbreak, betrayal, anger, confusion, loss. Joy, freedom, happiness, exhilaration, power. These emotions swirled around in me at an amazing pace, and it was through the support of members of the DAMU (disaffected Mormon underground) community, both online and in real life, that I could emotionally and psychologically survive.

I spent hours at a time talking, chatting, posting, and reading for months. My recovery process consumed me. After those initial months, though, I started some new work, and became so completely bogged down in it, that I didn’t have time to think or even feel about Mormonism and recovery for about a year.

That’s not entirely true. When I did have a break, holidays and the like, or I talked to a believing family member about my exit—I would feel again. And it still hurt.

Work has eased up in the past month or so, and thoughts and feelings about Mormon issues are creeping in again. Sometimes superficially, just enough to make me laugh, or be astounded about something like sexist comments in General Conference. But sometimes it consumes me again, to the point that I come to the verge of tears and I think about scheduling an appointment with a counselor. I even took a depression screening test, but my “symptoms are not consistent with depression or bipolar disorder.” But I already knew that; I function just fine. I am happy most of the time. I can do my work, I can take care of my household, I can find joy in friendship and family.

But where I thought time and distance from the months of my exit were helping to quell the emotion, I can’t be so sure anymore. I am still raw. I just didn’t have time to confront it. I thought my personal therapy was moving along quite nicely, that I was recovering really well. But maybe I was just ignoring it all. Maybe I just turned it all off for a while, put it all on the top shelf where I couldn’t touch it and it couldn’t touch me. Maybe I just deceived myself into thinking I was over the worst. Now I wonder if I haven’t even seen the worst.

I think leaving Mormonism requires a grieving process, just like when a close loved one dies. (I certainly felt like Heavenly Father was dead to me—perhaps even that I killed him. The idea of him.) One has to get past a denial phase, and then enter a grieving phase, before one can go through the recovering phases.

I thought I got past the grieving phase, but I think I’m back in. And I need to do something more than ignore it to get out of it. It may take me through some more mucky, raw, difficult emotions, but I think it’s necessary to confront it rather than ignore it.

So the online DAMU is drawing me in again. And there are so many amazing people online, so many great essays and blogs and supportive communities. I want to be a part of that, and maybe my thoughts, out there for anyone to see, will resonate with somebody. ‘Cause they’re certainly not resonating with the pages in my hard copy journal.

So, Outer Blogness, I’ve just hired you as my therapist. I hope the relationship works out.


Hi. My name is from the ashes, and I’m an ex-Mormon. Of course, from the ashes is not really my name, my parents weren’t hippies. But let’s stick with that for now.

The name evokes a phoenix, rising from the ashes. I don’t want to put on any airs with the connection to a phoenix, which is beautiful, mythical, and has amazing powers. I’m not trying to label myself as such. But I feel the metaphor of my old life burning up, going up in flames, leaving nothing but a pile of gray ashes—that fits me.

But I won’t leave the metaphor there. I’m not a hopeless wreck, a burned out nothing. My new life is emerging. I’m figuring out who I am, what I want, what I believe, and where my ideals, morals, and values lie. It’s been scary, amazing, empowering, heartbreaking, and thrilling all at once.

I’ve had highs and lows over the past few years as I’ve made my exit from my former Mormon paradigm, but overall, it is most definitely a positive change for me. The burning and the ashes, the anger, the sense of betrayal, the sadness, were a necessary process before my new self could be born.

And here I am.

This is my story.