Wednesday, February 28, 2007

they pray for me

Though they don't regularly tell me so, I'm sure my family, at least my parents, pray for me. If not daily, then pretty close to it. I think I also make it into the fasts, and occasionally on the temple prayer lists. Perhaps at multiple temples.

I try to interpret this intercessory prayer for my return to the church as they do. From their point of view, I suppose, they are showing they love me, care about me, and want the best for me. That's not a problem in itself. I appreciate that. I hope the best for them, love them, and care for them, too, and show it in my own way, if not through prayer.

But they cast their praying in terms of me returning to the light, of changing my mind. They believe the best (only) way for me to be truly happy is to embrace Mormonism again. They pray for me just as much because they think I'm unhappy, as because they want me to be happy. They think I'm missing something, that I am, in Christian metaphor, hungry.

In this sense, I'd rather not be prayed for, thank you very church.

However, I think there are benefits to prayer--for the pray-er. These benefits, I believe, have nothing to do with actual divine intervention of a supreme being or force, but rather come from various personal, psychological, and social factors. For example, taking time out of the day to pray can serve as a de-stressing moment for a hectic day. Praying together as a couple, family, or congregation can strengthen relationships and provide a sense of social support. Prayer can also be a way of coping with life's difficulties. It can also be a chance to reflect on what you really feel or want, to get in tune with yourself (even if you define that as getting in tune with God's will).

Along similar lines, someone who is prayed for, knows they are prayed for, and wants to be prayed for can feel benefits, mainly because of social support--that psychological boost you feel in knowing someone cares about you.

But in my case, I don't want to be prayed for or fasted for. However, I can accept that they pray for me, for their sake, because it helps them cope. Not that I think they should need to cope with me and my actions, but in their world view, I am treading the wrong path. So I would never ask them to stop, as long as they do it private.

Just, please, don't tell me about it.

Monday, February 26, 2007


For me, polygamy was the most awful of all things Mormon, all growing up. I tried and tried to think of the idea of having to live polygamy in the Celestial Kingdom--and found it abhorrent. Surely God wouldn't make me? Surely D&C just meant that some people would live it, just the ones that wanted to? Right? Like all those people in Africa that practice it anyway?

It just doesn't jive with the equality of men and women. One man-four women is inherently unequal. That seems to mean that each woman is worth only a fourth of what the man is worth. I can't accept that. But I grinned and bore it, and put it on the back burner. I manipulated my boyfriend (now husband) into promising he wouldn't ever marry after I died, so I wouldn't have a co-wife. (Sorry, BTW.)

I thought that Heavenly Father really had told Joseph Smith to practice polygamy, for some reason I couldn't comprehend. I even heard about polyandry and figured there must be some divine reason.

Then I read Mormon Enigma. The way Smith lied, manipulated, etc--in order to get sex and exert power--was just too much. No way that came from God. I started to believe polygamy came from nowhere but Joe's horniness, wild ideas, and thirst for power.

And that created a conundrum for me. How in the world could the prophet of God do such a thing? Could he still be prophet after doing that? Was he prophet only before that, and the power got to him, and he screwed up? Could I reject everything he taught after that (like all that weird stuff in the Pearl of Great Price)? My head whirled around and around like that until I read about the Book of Mormon (non)historicity, the Book of Abraham "translation," Smith's mistaking of the Kinderhoek plates as authentic, the evolving theology of the first vision(s), and the priesthood "restoration." The foundational claims of the church? They have no foundation.

And I stopped believing altogether. So polygamy didn't exactly help me stop believing--I did all sorts of mental gymnastics around it--but it was a major factor to help me stop wanting to be a Mormon.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

telling, and not telling

I've told some college friends about my disaffection, and they've all been great about it. But I selectively chosen them to tell because I knew they were pretty liberal anyway. Two don't believe anymore either, and the others are quite sunstone-y about it, even NOMish. So they're cool. I have one friend--and a couple relatives--who I bet would completely disassociate themselves from me and my evil apostate she-devilness. Just to protect themselves, you know, nothing personal. But I haven't kept up good contact with them anyway.

I have one high school friend whom I particularly want to tell--and don't want to tell. She is just so sweet, and we've been friends since elementary school. I visited her this time last year, and I wanted so bad to tell her. But I didn't want to ruin the weekend, either. Through our conversations, she asked me if I have a calling. No. "Visiting teacher?" No. "Oh."

Later, she brought up Mormon polygamy. She asked my opinion, and I told her: I think Smith made it up for reasons of sex and power. I told her about Comptom's book. (He's a faithful member! I said). We were in public; I couldn't tell her I didn't believe right there. I almost said something as we were falling asleep that night in her apartment, but thinking about spending the whole next day with her kept me from saying it.

Going away from that weekend I felt so terrible that she talked to me about that stuff in good faith that I was a believer, that believing Smith did it for sex and power is compatible with me having a testimony. She'll feel betrayed when I tell her, and realizes that conversation was not what she thought it was.

But then I kick myself for not giving her credit. She is a great person, and she is a good friend. She would never drop me just because of that. Yes, it would be upsetting to her, but she loves me. Another exmo friend of mine commented that she doesn't worry too much about telling her friends, because she feels that it's good for them to see that people challenge their faith and change. Keeping them in naivety about it isn't a good thing, nor my obligation. My obligation should be to be myself, and to be respectful of them.

Friday, February 23, 2007

initial visit

I went to a counselor for my initial screening visit.

Some thoughts:

I almost laughed out loud when, after I talked about being sad the past little while, the counselor tried to move slyly into the depression index without explicitly saying anything about it. I'm familiar with lots of different scales and indexes, the DSM-IV, etc.

I was more emotional than I imagined I would be. As much as I talk (and type) about my recovery process, you'd think I could just say, "I grew up Mormon, but I no longer believe. It was hard to have my world view shattered" without crying. But I couldn't.

I had a pretty damn good childhood. She asked about childhood, and really, other than the whole Mormon thing, and the fact that my mom had depression, there wasn't much to complain about.

I have a damn good relationship with my husband. She asked about that too, and I had nothing but good stuff to say. We disagree and fight yes, but we do it well.

I've already done a lot of self-reflection about my recovery. But there's a lot more to do, too.

There are certain things that bother me more than I let myself acknowledge. Otherwise, they wouldn't come up so much when I have a chance to let my mouth match my flow of consciousness, would they?

Both of my recent "it" moods were triggered by things that had nothing to do with Mormonism. They were emotional, but not Mormonism at all. But when the emotions came up, I thought about Mormonism. In other words, (negative?) emotions and recovery from Mormonism are all balled up into one big overwhelming ugliness for me right now. Or, because I'm full-swing in my recovery, I emotionally over-react to things that would've otherwise been more normal.


So now I have to wait to be set up with a regular counselor. Insurance, how their system works, and all that. It may take weeks. But at least I've made my way out of that awful "it" mood that lasted a week and a half. (Or maybe I'm just having a good day.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

the Spirit

I remember the first time I felt one of my prayers was answered. How old was I? After baptism, but still a pre-teen. I had just learned to really love reading novels, and I picked one up from my parents' library. It was a Tony Hillerman book, a murder mystery. The first scene--a description of the mangled victim of a murder--scared the shit out of me.

Of course, that's what the author wanted; it was a thriller, after all. I felt that thrill of horror, and wanted to get rid of it, because it didn't feel like the Spirit. As I lay in my bed, trying to get rid of that feeling, I remembered what I'd learned in church--I could say a prayer when I was scared and Heavenly Father would help me feel better. So I prayed. I struck a deal with God, in fact. "If you help me feel better right now, I'll never pick up that book again."

I wave of comfort flowed over my body. I felt Heavenly Father had answered my prayer. I never picked up that book again, though I was tempted a couple times. It was not the last time I felt the "Spirit." I felt the Spirit many, many times, almost always in the form of feelings--comfort or discomfort--and occasionally in a "still small voice," or an image in my mind.

In my upbringing, the Spirit (aka the Holy Ghost) was one of the most important aspects of the gospel, of spirituality, of religion. It was humankind's connection with the Divine, which Mormons define as Heavenly Father. But it was more. It was also our personal moral compass, our guidance, our conscience. To me, my conscience was the Spirit, the Spirit was my conscience; I didn't have a moral compass or conscience outside the Spirit. I thought the Spirit was guiding me daily, or could guide me daily, as long as I listened--and stayed worthy of His presence. If you offended the Spirit, by not listening, making poor choices, or not creating an mind and environment conducive to the Spirit's presence, then you didn't have the benefit of the Spirit's guidance. And you would make more bad choices, keeping the Spirit away longer, leading to more bad choices, and then you're on your spiral staircase to hell.

Mormonism taught me to give the Spirit top authority. He being a direct conduit to God and all. What you learn from books, from people, from logic, should all be trumped by feelings sent by the Spirit.

You can imagine the extent to which this can go. A couple examples from my life:

High school history teacher tells you that Native Americans came from Asia? Archaeological, linguistic, and genetic evidence, and plain old common sense back it up? Well, you've prayed about the Book of Mormon, haven't you? The Spirit told you it's true, didn't He? Don't you think the Spirit would know better than some PhD researchers? So we know Native Americans are from Jerusalem, because we prayed and had a feeling about it.

I didn't seek physical therapy for a broken ankle because I'd had a priesthood blessing that said I'd be healed completely. The Spirit told him to say it, so I believed it. When the ankle continued to give me trouble, I didn't doubt the Spirit. The blessing didn't say when it would be completely healed, I reasoned. Maybe surgery was necessary for complete healing, but God wanted me to figure that out on my own. So I had follow-up surgery, then physical therapy. And the ankle still bothered me, but I still didn't question the blessing. Maybe Heavenly Father meant for me to go through physical therapy, and I messed up by not going, so He was out of his end of the promise. (The ankle still bothers me every few months; I have since given up on the blessing's promise.)

The Spirit was so much a part of my life that I didn't so much feel the Spirit from time to time as I did feel the absence of the Spirit from time to time.

I now believe the Spirit is nothing but a construct, a piece of social imagination and a way of interpreting feelings and conviction. But it took quite a bit of second-guessing, reinterpreting, wondering-if-I-was-crazy, thinking, and reevaluating to get from point A to point B. Oh, and don't forget the guilt, since denying the Holy Ghost is the worst sin. Ever. Worse than murder. (Hello?)

I'll try to explain that process of exorcising the Holy Ghost from my life in another post.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Parenting Beyond Belief

AgnosticMom clued me in to a new book coming out, Parenting Beyond Belief: on Raising Ethical, Caring Kids without Religion.

The description from Amazon says, "It’s hard enough to live a secular life in a religious world. And bringing up children without religious influence can be even more daunting. Despite the difficulties, a large and growing number of parents are choosing to raise their kids without religion. In Parenting Beyond Belief, Dale McGowan celebrates the freedom that comes with raising kids without formal indoctrination and advises parents on the most effective way to raise freethinking children. With advice from educators, doctors, psychologists, and philosophers as well as wisdom from everyday parents, the book offers tips and insights on a variety of topics, from "mixed marriages" to coping with death and loss, and from morality and ethics to dealing with holidays. Sensitive and timely, Parenting Beyond Belief features reflections from such freethinkers as Mark Twain, Richard Dawkins, Bertrand Russell, and wellness guru Dr. Don Ardell that will empower every parent to raise both caring and independent children without constraints."

I've pre-ordered it, and am looking forward to reading the essays by Richard Dawkins, Penn Jillette, Julia Sweeney, Dr. Donald B. Ardell, Dale McGowan, and our very own ex-mo, Agnostic Mom (Noell).

Since leaving Mormonism, I have found myself gravitating toward secular humanism, atheism, and a perhaps non-religious life, and I've been wondering what that means for raising kids. I've been so focused on my own recovery, that I haven't been able to give it a lot of thought yet. But since the kids are getting older, I need to be thinking now.

Now there's a companion forum, Parenting Beyond Belief Forums, where secular parents can discuss issues. Forums include Personal Reflections, Living with Religion (Mixed Marriage; Engaging Religion; Church/State), Holidays and Celebrations; On Being Good and Doing Good; The Wonder of Science, and even a couple others. It's just starting up.

As if you need to spend even more time online...

Monday, February 19, 2007

how sad is too sad?

Sometimes I have those "it" moods, when everything is clouded and hopeless, when I'm sluggish and can't pull myself out of my bed, when I can't concentrate on anything but my exit from Mormonism. When crying sessions seem to come spontaneously and without explanation. These moods generally last only a day or two. Everyone has shitty days now and then. I think I'm entitled to a few.

But this time, it's lasted for over a week now. That's more than half-way to the major diagnostic point on depression: it has to last two weeks. I've had trouble getting out of bed, even when I wasn't tired. I've had trouble getting motivated to work (I'm at work now, if that's any indication). I've had trouble feeling like anyone gives a damn about me. I've been on the verge of tears way too often. And while I've had my good moments and laughed and enjoyed playing with my kids, the normal mood, the place I always fall back to, is achingly sad.

On the third day of this bottom-of-the-roller-coaster spot, I randomly met my friend on the street. He asked me how I was doing, and I started crying right there on the street. Luckily, we were right outside his apartment, so he invited me in and indulged me with a cup of tea and a listening ear for a couple hours. (I'm so embarrassed that I took two hours of your time to vent, D. Since you don't have a full-time job, a busy wife, a dissertation, and three kids or anything.) I explained to him that I've always thought of seeing a therapist when I was down, but then I go up again. It always goes away, so I think I'm okay. His answer struck me: "You never think to fix the roof when it's sunny outside."

How many rain storms do I have to suffer before I get around to fixing the roof?

Maybe I'm not okay. Maybe blogging, while helpful and fun, isn't quite enough. Don't get me wrong; it's immensely satisfying to have other exmos tell me, "I know exactly what you mean," and "Yes, I felt like my youth was stolen away from me, too," and find fellowship in that common experience. But maybe I need a little outsider-perspective.

I think I still allow my own interpretation of me and my process to be influenced by Mormonism, and by my family's view of me, ie, negatively. While I don't think I'm going to hell like Mormonism would tell me I am, I still have trouble seeing me as "standing up for what I believe in" instead of "I'll be excluded from future temple weddings." Maybe that's because the conscience I had for 25 years always told me questioning the church was evil. It takes time to rebuild and reinterpret. And maybe a little perspective that I haven't been able to achieve on my own.

To that end, I called a therapist and set up an appointment.

Whew, I did it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

god, faith, and health

I've been reading a book, God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection by Jeff Levin. This book is a little out of form for me, but I'm also reading Blind Faith: the Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine by Richard Sloan, so it's somewhat balanced out. There's Levin, the rabidly pro-religion guy, who will make sure just about any evidence supports his conclusion, and Sloan, the cynic, who will argue away just about any evidence that supports religion.

The former author is convinced that being religious and/or spiritual both prevents and heals infectious, chronic, and mental illnesses, and gives tiny summaries of any article he can find that supports this. Now, there is something to be said for the connection--people who go to church have extra social support, have weekly or daily moments in which to de-stress, are less likely to drink heavily, have risky sex, etc., and people who are spiritual may have a certain level of hope, etc. that helps them have a positive outlook on life. All that will certainly help your health.

But this book goes a little extreme, in my opinion, and let's say, fudges some of the studies' interpretations, leaves out crucial information about the validity of some studies, and is downright flabbergasting in some interpretations (manipulations) of study results.

Now one problem I have with Levin's writing is that he fudged over some results, and passes them off as conclusive. He'd write, for example, that studies have shown church attendance to lower your risk of high blood pressure, pancreatic cancer, herpes, and obesity, when really, the only studies that made those connections were entirely exploratory. Many of them were most likely random errors, and none of them could possibly show causality. If you're looking at enough behaviors and enough diseases, a few of them are bound to show a connection just by chance.

So I'd reading this book, feeling pretty shitty about it, because he's trumpeting how there's so much evidence that religion makes your life better, your mind and body healthier. And I'm thinking 1) the evidence isn't that great; and 2) what about me? The book almost completely ignores what happens to people like me. People for whom religion didn't work, for whom religion creates problems rather than reduces them. He comes close, with this quote:

"My own perspective is that worship should be an uplifting experience. ...One worship service or a single prayer or twenty minutes of quiet reflection may not leave our spirit soaring with the eagles, but God willing, it should not send us sinking any lower. If we find that how we worship is only making us more miserable, then it may be time to find a new way to pray" (p. 92).

That's his advice? Find a new way to pray? Take it from me and the rest of the DAMU: it's just not that simple.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

two things

First, go check out the Carnival of the Veil, a biweekly collection of posts from Outer blogness. If you want to be added to the carnival (any post, any subject, as long as you're exmo), let Gunner know. It's a great way to get to know other bloggers and let others know you are there.


Second, Zarathustra alerted me to a great quote by Nietzsche:

"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 to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

I have got to start reading Nietzsche. I get the feeling I'll like some of his ideas.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

a tour of DAMU message boards

Two of my blogger friends recently discovered FLAK, one of them having no idea that such a message board even existed. I've had three boards linked on my blog since the beginning, but obviously just being a good example isn't enough proselytizing.* So I'm going to share with all my friends the importance of the Gospel of DAMU. I just can't go another day knowing that some of friends are left out of the joy and happiness I gain from the DAMU boards. I testify that they are true, and you should not go another day without converting and embracing the truth. ;)

But only if it's your thing, of course.

Oh, and it is your thing, they can be addicting as crack (I've heard). Consider yourself warned.

New Order Mormons aka NOM
"A forum for those who have chosen to remain connected with the LDS church for personal reasons and in spite of church history or present practices. Those who wish to support these decisions are welcome to participate. Please refrain from arguing, personal criticism and recrimination. This area is for stories and suggestions on adapting and coping as a politic unbeliever in church culture."

I rarely visit this board anymore, but it was important to me in the process leading up to my exit. It helped me see that I am not alone in my questioning of and discontent with the church. And the board's tone is quite civil about the church; it doesn't allow slams on the leaders, names that some would find insulting, etc. During that time when I was still negotiating if I wanted to remain a part of the church, this was the best place for me. It's more of a "let's figure this out" place than a "I need to rant" place. Eventually, I just didn't connect as well with the style, and I moved on to...

The View from the Foyer aka "The Foyer" or "The Old Foyer"
"This forum is for those who are at various stages in the process of exploring beyond the official dogma of Mormonism. It is for those who doubt some, much, or all of current Church doctrine, and those who recognize that there are problematic aspects of early Church history. ...The rules are simple. Be polite and respectful of others' opinions. No smoking, spitting, or sexual harassment (except of the Administrators). Follow the Board Guidelines posted elsewhere on this website. Proselyting and politics are not allowed. Bring a healthy sense of humor, and whatever muse afflicts you. Occasional bouts of tomfoolery are not only allowed, but also encouraged. There is no penalty for loud laughter and light-mindedness at The Foyer. We cannot guarantee, however, that the Strengthening the Membership Committee is not listening in, so you may not want to get too awfully rowdy. Above all, have some fun and enjoy your interactions with others here, in a non-prescribed and non-judgmental atmosphere. "

Most people here are non-believers, in various stages of their processes of questioning, leaving, picking up the pieces, and readjusting to life without the church. This board helped me immeasurably during the months before and after I stopped attending. I count many of their number among my good friends, and have met many of them in person. I visit often, but not highly regularly, mostly because it has a slow pace. Which is good if you don't want to be too addicted. It's slow pace is because a board war a few months ago (I wasn't around during that time, so I couldn't even hope to explain), during which a new board was formed...

Further Light and Knowledge
FLAK "is for general discussion of your issues and experiences with Mormonism. Whether your view is from the literal foyer inside your local LDS chapel, a larger foyer of the world beyond Mormonism, a deistic or naturalistic foyer surrounded by the beauty of Nature, or some other metaphysical foyer, you're welcome here." (Didn't they take that directly from the old foyer?)

This board is basically the same as the foyer as far as what audience it draws. But it allows politics (in the counter-cultural hall only!), and is currently more fast-paced. Most people from the old Foyer picked up and moved over to FLAK, and many still visit both boards, sometimes under two different names. This board also has Outer Lightness, a feed of ex-Mormon's blogs.

There is also Recovery from Mormonism message board, aka RfM, which I don't link because I don't visit. I've been over there a couple times, but the style isn't for me. It's very fast paced, the messages don't archive, most posts are very short, they have strange rules (such as you can't post a link to your own blog or to another message board), and the interface is ugly. But for many, many people, this is the place for ex-mos. They also have a great archive of exit stories and several other links to various issues, topics, etc.

If you haven't already checked them out, please do, and see which one or two suit you. If you're already a part of Outer Blogness, you'll find many familiar faces--uh, I mean, avatars--on the boards.

*Proselyte is a noun meaning a person who converted, a convert. Proselytize is the verb, to convert. Missionaries have been using it wrong all these years. I only learned that when I took the GRE.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

it, again

I had one of those days again.

It fills me up, but I am empty

I am bursting with it, but I am deflated

It squeezes me tight, but I am limp

It tosses me up and down, but I am immobile

It burns me up, but I am cold

I am screaming, but I am silent

My mind is racing, but my thoughts are frozen

It hurts me, but I am numb

I am only laying here, but it is the hardest thing to do

I am running away, but I'm not getting anywhere

I hear the clock tick, but time is meaningless

It won't leave me alone, but I am alone

It is a fleeting moment, but it takes forever

It changes everything, but it is the same

Monday, February 12, 2007

Waco, wacko

At work, one of my colleagues revealed he's from Waco, Texas, so I commented that my college has as many connotations as Waco. Of course, everyone then asked where I went to college. I started internally berating myself for bringing it up, but I told them anyway: BYU. The inevitable follow-up questions ensued. "Are you Mormon? Did you grow up in Utah?"

I told them, No, I'm not Mormon. But I was raised Mormon.

One women related that she has Mormon neighbors who are very nice to her. They cook her dinner, get her to come play volleyball (at the stake center?), and, yep, you guessed it, invite her to church.

"No way," she said, "that's where I draw the line. I am Catholic and am staying that way. I'd like to think they're being my friends for my sake, but I can't help think they just want to convert me."

"Sorry," I said. "They will always have conversion on their minds. Of course Mormons are capable of making friendships for the sake of friendships, but it will always be somewhere in their minds that they should try to convert you. Sorry, but that's the way it is."

We got into a discussion that included Under the Banner of Heaven and blood atonement, the church's restrictions on piercings, premarital sex, tattoos, and how BYU came dead last in a ranking of party schools. I told them I was thinking about both a nose piercing and a tattoo, and they teased me that now that I am settled down with a family, I'm going through my rebellious stage. That made me laugh.

I explained that when I am in Utah, I want to stand out so other ex-mos can identify me easily. A lot of us are in some degree of hiding, so it's hard to know who is who. I nose piercing would be a great clue, I told them. To that, one of the guys joked about secret handshakes.

"Actually," I said, "funny you should say that. Mormons do have secret handshakes. And if I ever gave one to someone, they would know I'm an ex-Mormon."

"Wacko," the Catholic girl said. I concurred.

The conversation moved on, and I went home at the end of the day. And I realized I was in a damn good mood. Talking about Mormonism, and having people agree with me that some of that stuff is just wacko--that made me feel good. I'm not crazy after all.

Friday, February 09, 2007

timetable of disblieving and leaving, part 2

Continuing from yesterday's post...

Of all the disaffected, ex-, and former Mormons I've met, none of them followed those paths. None of them left because they were offended by something said in Sacrament meeting (it may have been the last straw to push them from faithful non-believer to non-attender, though). Plenty of them, myself included, were faithful attenders, pray-ers, and scripture-searchers for years, and up to the point of non-believing.

I don't know anyone who was offended and then sought to justify that feeling through reading "anti-Mormon" literature. I do know people became disaffected through their own reasoning and moral compass, and only read the literature later. I also don't know anyone who read the scholarly literature on Mormonism and "believed every word." From what I've seen, many people start reading in an honest and innocent desire to understand Mormonism better, and to be a better Mormon. When I read, I didn't just believe every word. In fact, I disbelieved a great portion of it, denied much of it, ignored a lot of it. I twisted evidence, I manipulated interpretations, I hoped beyond hope that some of the stuff I was reading didn't mean what I feared it meant. And when I finally got past that barrier that wouldn't let me look at it objectively, I read critically. I checked references, I sought corroborating evidence, I followed up with multiple sources, I carefully chose what to read and pointedly avoided anything I thought would be "anti-Mormon."

To help dispel the misconceptions about how Mormons become disaffected, I add my timetable of disbelieving and leaving. My story is just one anecdote in the world of the DAMU; each story is unique, interesting, and valid. We are not easily offended sinners who can't tell a lie from a well-researched argument.

My mental break from the church began in fall 2003 when I read Under the Banner of Heaven, Mormon Enigma, Sunstone, Dialogue, and met real live (in the closet) disaffected Mormon friends. I continued reading, at a slow pace, for the next year or so. My serious mental break started in February/March 2005. I decided I still wanted a temple recommend, as an anchor, and got it honestly and legitimately (though, admittedly, with a little wider interpretations than the interviewers probably expected). Within a week I started reading in earnest, with an open mind. After reading some more books, my belief in the church was gone within weeks.

Immediately after (not before) the loss of belief, I did the the following, in this order.

-stopped reading Mormon scriptures

-stopped paying tithing to the church

-stopped praying, in the Mormon sense

-stopped wearing garments

stopped going to LDS church services

-resigned from my calling

-tried coffee

-tried alcohol

-shopped on Sunday

-became an atheist

I went from temple-recommend holder to non-believer, non-attender in two months. I never, ever, ever thought it would happen. I used to be as TBM as they come.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

timetable of disbelieving and leaving

Common misconceptions about how Mormons leave the church prevail.

The youngest Mormon apostle, Bednar, said in a recent General Conference talk that the common theme he encounters in "less actives" is being offended. He said of his visits to "less active" members, "
Many other causes of offense were cited—from doctrinal differences among adults to taunting, teasing, and excluding by youth. But the recurring theme was: "I was offended by . . . " At least he acknowledges that there are "doctrinal differences," but he categorizes that as being offended. He asserts that being offended is the main reason people leave, and asks them to just stop being offended.

I've seen other people take this a step further and claim that first we are offended,
then we dig up all the dirt we can on Joseph Smith to support our wounded egos. For example, during a debate between believers and non-believers over here, someone, adopting the pseudonym of a non-believer in the debate, wrote, "I really have nothing good to say. I'm just grinding my bitter ax because I was once offended by the Mormon church and I have distanced myself from it. Therefore I find every bit of anti-Mormon literature, believe every word, and tell all the Mormons how stupid they are for believing this stuff because some guy wrote in some book somewhere that some weird thin[g] that makes Mormons look bad is true." The stereotype comes out well in this comment. He claims that the disaffected Mormon was 1) offended, 2) distanced himself, 3) found "anti-Mormon" literature that made "Mormons look bad," 4) believed every word, and now 5) talks trash about and to Mormons because he's bitter about it all. Huh?!?!

Sunday school classes contribute to the misconceptions. Classes I've been in supported the view that failing to go to church, read scriptures, prayer daily, etc.,
result in "loss of testimony," i.e. not believing. And, of course, "sinning" is a big way people stop believing, according to the church. They start drinking, smoking, having sex, and suddenly (or slowly, depending on who you ask), they can't feel the Spirit anymore, and their testimonies are gone. Poof. The Holy Ghost just can't negotiate through the clouds of cigar smoke, the dirty shot glasses, and the poker chips in the living room.

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

song stuck in my head

On the bus on the way home from work, I realized I had a song running through my head. Then I realized the song was

First and second books of Nephi,
Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni,
Words of Mormon and Mosiah.
Singing this is so fun!

Alma, Helaman, third, fourth Nephi,
Book of Mormon and Moroni.
We just sang our little song
About the Book of Mormon.

Where the hell did that come from? Just popped into my head, out of the blue. I used to pride myself on my scripture-chase knowledge of the Book of Mormon. I used to be able to say how many chapters are in each book, and tell the stories inside and out. Today, I had to go look up the order of the books. And that made me glad.

Actually, some primary songs were important to me in my childhood. I used to love "Love is Spoken Here."

I see my mother kneeling with my family each day.
I hear the words she whispers as we bow our heads to pray
Her plea to the Father quiets all my fears
And I am thankful love is spoken here.

Mine is a home where every hour
Is blessed by the strength of priesthood power
With father and mother leading the way
Teaching us how to trust and obey
And the words they teach are crystal clear
For love is spoken here.

I hated when they divided the verses between girls and boys, so the boys would sing the verse about the priesthood power. Girls homes were blessed by priesthood power too! I especially liked the first verse, because it reminded me of my family. We did pray as a family every day, and I have good memories from those times. I still like the message about love and family, but I could do without the Father and the priesthood thing.

Then there was A Child's Prayer. I never learned the song while I was in primary, but I learned it afterward from my younger brother and sisters.

Heavenly Father, are you really there?
And do you hear and answer every child's prayer?
Some say that heaven is far away,
But I feel it close around me as I pray.
Heavenly Father, I remember now
Something that Jesus told disciplines long ago:
Suffer the children to come to me,
Father, in prayer I'm coming now to thee.

Pray, He is there. Speak, He is listening.
You are His child, His love now surrounds you.
He hears your prayer, He loves the children,
Of such is the kingdom, the kingdom of Heaven.

I sang that song to myself whenever I wanted comfort, and it helped. The idea of God as a loving father-figure who knew and loved me personally was very comforting for me. Sometimes I miss that. Now, trying to conceive of God as Heavenly Father is weird and empty. In those moments when I try to think of believing in God, I never think of God as a Him, and not even as anthropomorphic.

These days, the only primary songs I sing--to my kids at bedtime--are Popcorn Popping (a celebration of nature) and Once There Was a Snowman.

Monday, February 05, 2007

"be nice, because Jesus said so"

I am uncomfortable with the idea of basing our morals and values and restricting our actions solely on "That's what God wants" or "God told us that's bad" or "Jesus said so." When I hear parents discipline their kids with, "Don't bite your sister, because it makes Jesus sad," I think, Huh? How about, "It makes your sister sad"? or "It hurts your sister"? Why appeal to an unknown, unseen entity for a 5 year old, who can barely understand abstract concepts? I do good and avoid bad to make the world a better place, and to help people be happy, and to help my family. What's wrong with that? If it helps to have an outside, powerful, all-knowing God to help direct your actions and help find peace, fine, do it. But I can find direction and peace without one, too.

Some religious people find it hard to comprehend that atheists and secularists have morals and values and would still behave well if, say, the law enforcement system broke down. I find that insulting. God is not the only reason to be nice, nor is God the only thing to believe in. Yes, some people do lose God and go a little crazy for a while. But I haven’t gone crazy, my marriage hasn’t fallen apart (I’d say it’s stronger than ever), and I haven’t been in the depths of despair wondering if life has no meaning. Yeah, maybe right now, my beliefs are slightly more defined by what I don’t believe than what I do, but it’s the stage of a process I’m in. And I’m okay with that.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

fyi, readers

I'm cutting back on posts, because I'm busy these days. I'll still try to get in a few posts a week.

Thank you for reading these past months (almost four!).


Friday, February 02, 2007

"what do you believe now?"

I've been asked more than once by faithful Mormons (usually ones who are somewhat religiously liberal), "If you don't believe in the Church, what do you believe? How are you spiritually sustained now? Where does your direction come from?"

Here is the first part of one of my written responses.

About what else I do believe, I've been searching, and I was really torn up about writing back to you, because I wasn't sure what to say. But then I started writing, and realized I believe a lot. Some of it may shock you, and I'm sure you won't agree with most, but here goes:

I think that God and gods are created by men, in the image of humans, not the other way around. And that's okay. But because people believe so strongly in their versions of God, and because they operate their lives and make their decisions according to those versions of God, and because they let those Gods govern and direct their lives, from daily ritual to values and morals to who it's okay to kill, God is real. Do I think there really is a supreme being, an entity that created and directs us? Probably not. And I'm okay with that.

But I also believe that God can't be proven or dis-proven (e.g., I'm agnostic), and that therefore belief in God is actually a matter of faith, not knowledge. I could choose to have faith in the existence of God, or not. The "evidence" could be interpreted either way. (With Mormonism, I think there is enough evidence to say it’s not what it claims to be, so it’d be impossible for me to choose to have faith it in.) Right now, I choose not to place that faith in God. Right now, I don't think there is an actual God, that having faith in one is having faith in an idea that is real only because we act like it is. Like nations, or nationalism, or paper money, or anything else abstract. But I recognize that, in this way, God still does influence the world.

But I think that faith in God is a perfectly legitimate path. So is choosing to not place faith in God. Each way will influence how people think and live their lives. Both can produce despair, confusion, fatalism and nihilism, and both can produce productive, happy, and kind people.

I don't normally post these...

...but I wanted to get in on the quiz action. I saw the link over at SML's blog. What do you think? Does it fit me?

You Are a Seeker Soul

You are on a quest for knowledge and life challenges.
You love to be curious and ask a ton of questions.
Since you know so much, you make for an interesting conversationalist.
Mentally alert, you can outwit almost anyone (and have fun doing it!).

Very introspective, you can be silently critical of others.
And your quiet nature makes it difficult for people to get to know you.
You see yourself as a philosopher, and you take everything philosophically.
Your main talent is expressing and communicating ideas.

Souls you are most compatible with: Hunter Soul and Visionary Soul

Thursday, February 01, 2007

telling the relief society president

The woman who was relief society president in the local ward when I left the church was a friend of mine. In her position of president, I felt no obligation to telling her my business about leaving. In fact, I felt an aversion to telling her. But because she was a friend, I opened up a little. I wrote the following after my "coming out" conversation with her.

So my relief society president is a woman my age, lives in my apartment complex, and has a kid the same age as mine. Through a series of play dates and informal meeting-in-the-park, we've become friends. I guess today she couldn't keep pretending to not notice that I don't show up to church anymore. [It was kind of obvious I wasn't just staying home sick when she saw me returning from a bike ride just as she was arriving home from church one day.]

She asked, "Can I ask a personal question?"

I knew what was coming: "What's up with the whole church thing?" I had been feeling the need to talk to someone about it, so I let her in on my little secret. Been attending UU, don't believe in the "true-ness" of the church anymore, etc. She actually handled it really well. She's had siblings and close friends leave the church already, and she was able to approach it maturely--everyone has their own way, you need to find where you are comfortable, if you're not questioning, you're not in a healthy place, etc.

Of course, I could still tell that she thinks the church is the best place to be, the best path to take. And "everyone has their own way" means some of us will end up in the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms. But, hey, at least she didn't tell me I was deceived of the devil (like my mom did when she found out I was reading non-correlated books on Mormonism) or give me the first discussion (like my sister did).

I wonder exactly what consequences this "outing" will have. Will we be talked about in her next meeting with the bishop? Will the gossip get around to the rest of the Mormons in our neighborhood? Will the home teachers (whoever they are) start the love bombing? Will my visiting teachers find out I'm "struggling" and need some extra preaching to? Ah well, the ball is rolling...

Looking back at this, I find it curious that I used "my" to refer to both the relief society president and visiting teachers. Like I still allowed them some stewardship and authority over me. But this was at the same time that I felt I had to justify why I even talked to her--as a friend, not as "my relief society president." And yet I used "the bishop" and "the home teachers." Interesting. I was coming out from under the authority of the church, but was still partially granting that authority, too.

Later, I wrote about her reaction in the following weeks.

Since I told my RS pres/friend about my unbelief, she's paid more attention to me, hugged me when saying goodbye for the day (never had before), gotten her husband to try to quell some of my concerns about the historicity of Book of Mormon, and been quick to defend the church against any comment I make she thinks is "anti-."

Like yesterday when we got back from a weekend away, we saw all the Koreans at our apartment complex were BBQing at one grill, and all the Mormons were BBQing at another grill. I went out to the Mormon BBQ and commented that it was a Mormon BBQ, and she quickly said, "There are non-Mormons here too! See, over there!" Her husband, not realizing how important it was to her to defend the supposed inclusiveness of the BBQ, said, "Yeah, well they segregated themselves pretty quick once they brought the beer out, didn't they?" Oh, how I longed to be with the drinkers and a bottle of beer...