There is a perception among Mormons that people who choose to leave the Church do so because they are prideful, or because they want to sin, or because they were offended by other members, or because they have been deluded by Satan. Since Mormons believe that the LDS Church is the “one true church” on Earth, by extension this means that they also believe that no one ever leaves simply because the Mormon Church isn’t true.
This places a heavy burden on the person who chooses to leave; they find themselves in a position of needing to defend their actions and “prove” that they are not sinful or delusional. Over the years, I have had people ask me if I was on drugs or alcohol. I have been treated like a simpleton; when I finally gathered up the courage to tell my bishop that I didn’t believe in the Mormon Church, he looked at me and said in a very slow, very loud voice --- “Did you know that Joseph Smith was a fourteen-year old boy when he was visited by God?” This was coming from a man I had known for years, who had been my visiting teacher, whose daughters went to school with me. He knew that I was a straight-A student that attended seminary faithfully. But with a single admission of disbelief, all of his respect for me as a person was suddenly erased. In his mind, I was a simpleton who had never been educated about the Church, in spite of all of my actions that indicated otherwise.
For a long time, I felt a sense of shame about my reasons for leaving. I didn’t leave because I learned that Joseph Smith was a serial adulterer who used his status as leader to acquire countless wives in secret, the youngest of whom was only fourteen. I didn’t leave because I discovered that the papyri that Joseph Smith had purportedly translated the Book Of Abraham from, when evaluated by proper Egyptologists, turned out to be just a run-of-the-mill funeral papyri. I didn’t leave because I found out there were multiple versions of the First Vision, all of which varied in crucial details. I didn’t leave because I discovered a smoking gun that “proved” the Mormon Church wasn’t true. All of this knowledge came later, after I left. My exit out of the Mormon Church was based on intuition and logic, rather than facts.
I left because I didn’t like the person I was becoming; my thought patterns were starting to settle into a rigid mold. I was judging non-Mormons and inactive Mormons for being less worthy. I judged and then I felt bad about judging. Did I really want to spend a lifetime feeling bad about my actions as a person? When I thought about the matter, I realized that converting some of my non-Mormon friends into Mormons would cause them to lose what was most precious about them. I liked having friends that pushed boundaries, that challenged authority, that dared to dream of a different life. As a Mormon girl, I was powerless to do any of that. My life was already planned out for me; temple wedding to a Mormon boy, lots of children, a career as a home-maker, and a life of obedience to the authorities and to my husband. The future that had been dictated for me filled me up with panic and dread. I wanted to choose my life’s path but as a Mormon girl, choices were not an option available to me.
Most of all, I knew that there was no way of knowing if the Church was true. I knew that the feelings subscribed to the Holy Ghost and considered as proof of the Church were flimsy evidence of truth at best. Did I really want to go through life subscribing to a religion that made me uncomfortable, that made me more judgmental of others, on the off chance that it might be true? So when the time came for me to ask “Do I believe this church is true?”, the answer was no.
Even after I left the Mormon Church, I was still plagued by doubts. I had friends within the Church with the same frustrations, who had stuck with the Mormon Church in spite of their differences. Were they better than I was, for staying in spite of their issues? Were they stronger, more faithful? I just couldn’t shake off the mind-set I had grown up with.
And so, for a few years after leaving, I went around saying “There is no God” with the same certainty that just a few years ago I had been saying “The Mormon Church is true”. I was embarrassed by my reasons for leaving; a part of me wondered if I was simply weak and prideful. I thought I had left the Church for the “wrong” reasons and so I felt compelled to bolster my insecurities with certainty.
But life moved on and I began to settle into my new identity as an post-Mormon. I began to see the Mormon Church with the eye of an outsider, viewing my life’s experiences in a wider lens. The issues inherent in the Mormon Church started to become clear. I realized that I was, truly, genuinely, not a Mormon. My identity as a post-Mormon girl began to feel as natural as breathing. Bit by bit, my heart began to soften and heal.
This was when I realized I am an agnostic. I don’t know if there is a higher power. I can’t say “There is no God” with any more certainty than I can say “There is a God”. And I have accepted this fact; I may never know the truth. I am comfortable with who I am. I take delight in the small joys of everyday life --- I love learning, my family, and my husband. And for me, that is enough. I will live my life with integrity and respect. When I die, and if there is a higher power, I will say that I lived the best life I knew how.
My journey out of Mormonism was confused and circuitous. But I am out and I am happy that I am out. And I don’t think that there is a “right” or a “wrong” reason for leaving the Mormon Church. If Mormonism works, then stay. But if for some reason Mormonism doesn’t work, then leave. Life is too short and too precious to waste doing something that you can’t believe, that doesn’t make you a better person.