Posts Tagged ‘Deconversion’

I have been thinking about that widget over on the sidebar that shows my most popular posts. The problem with it is that it’s based on what people have been looking at over the last 24-48 hours, which means it is representative really of what google searches bring people here, and not what my best writing is. So I think I am going to add a new widget that indexes what I think are my best pieces of writing.

I’ll put it up later today, but for now, here’s my tentative tracklist for the “Best of Byzantium” album.

Postmormon Sexual Ethics
Shout at The Devil: Satan, Heavy Metal, and the Great God Pan
Say A Prayer For Lefty, Too
One Way Or Another: The Bacchae
Why It Matters Whether Mormons Are Christian
Eating Is Sacred
My Own Goddess
Aura Salve

Any of my readers think there’s any really good posts I have overlooked?

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1. Many Mormons decide to stay Mormon even after deciding that the Church is not “true.” Why didn’t you?

When I first started to seriously question the truth of Mormonism, I still believed that Christianity was true–in fact, my growing dissatisfaction with what I perceived as an extremely wide gulf between Mormonism and Biblical Christianity was one of the major factors in causing me to question my belief in and commitment to Mormonism.

I continued at that point to believe that Christianity was true, and so upon deciding (or beginning to decide) that Mormonism was not the true expression of Christianity, I proceeded to look for that instead. Whether that meant finding a different Christian denomination that was “true” or whether that meant simply finding a different Christian denomination where my understanding of Christian truth fit better than in Mormonism. In any case, as a believing Christian who was convinced that Mormonism was incompatible with true Christianity but was struggling to figure out what true Christianity really was, staying Mormon was not a viable option.

2. Then why didn’t you come back to Mormonism once you decided that there wasn’t a one true church or one true faith out there?

Unlike some former and dissenting Mormons who have active presences on the internet, I never felt like Mormonism was at the core of my identity. As a result, I did not necessarily have a total loss of everything when I lost Mormonism. I had the same values and was the same person whether I belonged to the Mormon Church or not, because my identity and values, and even most of my core intuitions about spirituality, were developed independently from Mormonism. I’m not really sure how I turned out that way, because I know it’s not what the Church wants and I know its not what my parents tried to instill. They did their best to try to raise me Mormon to the core, with a thoroughly Mormon sense of self. I don’t really begrudge them that–they were living out their religion the way they believed they should. But it just didn’t take.

Furthermore, Mormonism as a faith was simply never all that compelling to me. Mormon theology and the Mormon concept of God just never resonated with me the way other forms of spirituality did. I guess it’s my native religious language because it’s how I raised, but I never felt like it was my native spiritual language. So when I left Mormonism, I felt spiritually free in an amazing way. Even though I was still frustrated and still trying to figure out what I believed and how to express my spirituality, not having to subordinate my spiritual intuitions to the Church’s doctrines was amazingly liberating.

That’s not to say that being a Mormon had no appeal. I still feel “at home” when I go into a ward building or attend sacrament meeting services with my family. There’s a familiarity and a good feeling there that is comfortable and happy to me. Mormons are good people, and they’ll always be my people. But I have no desire to try to force my spirituality into the Mormon box, at all. And as nice as the social/cultural aspects of Mormonism are, they are more than balanced out by the extreme demands of time and effort that the Church places on its active members. Furthermore, to continue to attend despite not believing and not really participating on a spiritual level would have ramifications. People would know, and they would react. There would be talk. And attendance would be limited to just that–attendance. Fuller participation in Mormonism requires a member to be willing to affirmatively profess certain beliefs that I am not willing to affirmatively profess and live according to certain rules which I am not willing abide. The position of the honest, openly dissenting Mormon is not an easy one, and not one that is particularly appealing. Honestly, it’s better to just go to sacrament meeting when we visit my parents and enjoy myself completely a couple of times a year. Sort of how you might be happy to go back and visit your home town, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to move back.

Since I do not feel like my core identity is Mormon and since I do have affirmative spiritual intuitions and spiritual needs that are not compatible with Mormonism, being a Mormon simply is not something I am interested in. Although I do not believe that there is One True Church, I do have specific personal spiritual beliefs and intuitions that are decidedly un-Mormon. So just because I don’t think there is an objectively right answer when it comes to religion, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I think therefore all choices are equally good. There might not be any one objectively, universally right answer, but that doesn’t mean there are no wrong answers, especially when it comes to my personal spiritual life.

For me, there might be more than one right answer, but Mormonism is not one of them.

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For the record, I finally got around to sending in my letters of resignation from the Mormon church. That basically makes it official: I am no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I definitely recognized the incredible gravity of the moment–my beautiful and sexy wife kept asking me if I was sure about this, not because she didn’t think I should do it, but because she didn’t want me to act impulsively or anything. But impulse was nowhere to be found: I made up my mind to eventually resign a long time ago (and had a nasty fallout with my parents when I told them about it), and I wrote my resignation letter back in November after the elections and the Proposition 8 debacle, but I procrastinated sending them until just recently. I’m not sure of the reason for the delay, other than that it just didn’t really seem urgent. Inevitable yes, but not pressing.

So what finally made me get off my seat and send the dang things? Not sure. Maybe just a sense that it was about dang time. I don’t really feel different about it, except that now i can actually say I am a former Mormon without having to qualify with “well, technically I am still a member.” It’s also nice to know that I am not a part of the Church’s dishonest reporting of numbers. If they still want to count me among the millions of members when they give the annual report this weekend at General Conference, the dishonesty is totally on them–I’ve resigned and am no longer contributing even passively to the numbers inflation.

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I had an interesting conversation on the subway ride home the other day (actually it wasn’t on the way home; it was on the way to have dinner and see Rent with my beautiful wife for our seventh wedding anniversary, which is another story). A colleague of mine was on the same train–he’s an interesting guy and we’ve had a few brief but stimulating conversations about politics, society, culture, etc. Anyway, this guy is Greek Orthodox, and for some reason or another the fact that I’m an ex-Mormon came up in the conversation.

The interesting thing is, we didn’t really talk about Mormonism or ex-Mormonism for very long before we transitioned, and we started talking instead about Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, and some of the issues that the two churches face. The big deal about this conversation was that my point of view in the exchange was Anglican. I was speaking not as a Mormon, or an ex-Mormon, but as an Anglican.

It was kind of awesome. We talked about the Reformation, about creeds and schisms, about theology, and about church and culture and the challenges that come from the interplay between the two. But instead of talking from the perspective of an ex-Mormon floundering about on a spiritual quest, I was talking from the perspective of a committed Anglican.

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So, the fact that I’m not posting much on here isn’t really indicative of a lack of thinking in the religious/spiritual vein. In fact, I’ve been thinking in overdrive, but not coming to any conclusions and not really going anywhere with it. My brother, Racticas (he comments here somewhat infrequently) is now in a Religious Studies masters program, so that’s added an interesting academic element to both of our searches.

I’m not going to church now, but it’s a deliberate thing. I feel like participation in church gives me a kind of uncomfortable vertigo-like feeling. Like the merry-go-round is going awfully fast for someone like me who’s not even sure he wants to be on the playground. I don’t know if that metaphor makes much sense. I feel like participation in church means moving in a direction, whether or not I know I want to be moving in that direction, or indeed moving at all.

In my head I’m going back and forth and around and around: Christianity-Asatru-Agnosticism-Atheism-Paganism-Christmas-Asatru-Christianity-Agnosticism-Frustration-Druidry-Christianity-Frustration-Anger-Christianity-Asatru, and I like Christmas. I don’t really know what to do with any of it. Every religion in the world is repugnant to me for some reason, but so many of them are attractive to me for so many other reasons. At the same time, I just don’t know if I can, or if I am willing to, simply will myself to believe. I find myself yearning for a catalyzing spiritual experience, but they just don’t seem to happen. Indeed, I don’t know if mysticism has ever really happened for me.

In other words, I’m no better off than I was nine months ago. Look at my archives; you’ll see what I mean. I know some of the Christians out there would say that my problem is that I’m trying to connect to a religion instead of connecting to Jesus, but for all practical purposes that still just sounds like gobbledygook. I have yet to figure out what “being in a relationship with Jesus” even means. But I still really like Christmas, and I am hesitant to even consider giving it up, and the religious significance in particular.

Maybe I’m just afraid to commit, mentally and emotionally. Or maybe I really just want a reason to believe that’s greater than just my preference. I’m not interested in atheism, and I don’t think I could ever be happy with atheism. But I don’t know if I could ever be happy with Christianity, Asatru, Druidry, or anything else. And I sure am never going to be happy with agnosticism. And I’m absolutely sure that I’m never going back to Mormonism.

I feel more desperate about it than I ever did before, partially because of simply being frustrated at how long this has gone on, and partially (mainly) because of major, earthshaking, terrifying life changes that are coming very soon during which I think faith could probably be a great source of strength.

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I’ve mulled it over quite a bit, and decided not to write a letter to my family explaining my reasons for leaving the Mormon church.  In the end, I don’t think it will be well-received.  I think most people will perceive it as an attack, not as the frank, open icebreaker that I intend it to be.

I’m still going to have my name removed.  I also want to at least tell my parents first.  I don’t think they’re going to take it well, and I guess I can’t blame them.  It’s a tricky business.

Anyway, I wrote a couple of drafts of my letter to family, both in my head and on paper, and I wasn’t really satisfied with any of them.

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So, I’m probably going to have my name removed from the LDS Church’s records, i.e., formally resign from Mormonism.   I’m not ready to do it quite yet, because I have to write a letter first.  Not the letter to the Church, but a letter to my family, explaining why I do not think the Church is true, and why I am resigning.

What I am not trying to do with this letter is convince anyone that I’m right.  I’m also not expecting anyone to agree with me, or even think that my position is reasonable, defensible, or plausible.  While it would be great if that happened, experience tells me that most Mormons are so fully inoculated against “Anti-Mormonism!!!” that it will essentially go in one ear and out the other (or in the eye and out the ears, or out the whatever).  If someone surprises me, I’ll be, well, pleasantly surprised.  But I’m not going in with optimistic expectations- so far, my family’s reaction to me leaving the Church has been really mixed.  Some people have been understanding and supportive, and some people have reacted with hostility.  I don’t want to get disappointed, so my expectations are kind of low.

That said, I do have some expectations, some goals that I intend to accomplish with this letter:

1. I want to break the ice.  I want to bring the subject up and indicate my willingness to talk about it.  I’m not excited about the prospect of future uncomfortable silences, or white elephants in the room, so I’m just going to be the one to start the conversation.  If people are interested in talking things through, I’m game, and I want people to know that.

2. If people just hear through the grapevine that I am planning on leaving, they’re probably going to freak out.  I’d rather control the information and be the one that tells people.

3. My family is steeped in Mormonism, and many of our relationships are based on the religion and the religion’s assumptions.  It would be naïve of me to expect that leaving the Church won’t irrevocably change things.  Again, I may as well brace for it, even if it’s uncomfortable.

4. I feel like I at least owe my family an explanation and a fair warning.

When the letter is written and sent out, I will probably post it here.

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Maybe this is unreasonable of me, since I have no intention of going back anyway, but it actually bothers me that the missionaries haven’t showed up since my wife and I stopped going to the Mormon church.  I even saw them in our building one time, and I totally expected them to at least drop by and say “hi.”  I mean, we’re less-actives in their area!  Don’t they have an area book or at least a ward roster that they’ve gone over with their Ward Mission Leader to see who they can visit?

The last time I heard from missionaries was in December, around Christmas.  They called a couple of times trying to set up appointments.  They claimed that they were new to the ward and just trying to meet all of the members in their area.  I told them to cut the crap- we all knew that my wife and I hadn’t been to church in months and that was the reason they wanted to visit.  The missionary on the phone played innocent and wounded, but the insincerity was tangible.  That’s the one thing that really bugs me the most about the Mormon missionary program- it tends to foster really insincere behavior on the missionaries’ part.

Anyway, I told them it would probably be a waste of time for them to visit, but that I would talk to my wife and see if there was a time that would be good.  I don’t think they ever called back.  I was just being honest; I was a missionary myself, and I promise that it is extremely unlikely that a missionary is going to say something that would make me suddenly change my mind about the church.  And their sweet spirit isn’t going to do it either since I’m 1) very suspicious about making life decisions based on warm fuzzies that someone else interprets for me and 2) I know they’re doing everything they can to cultivate that sweet spirit, and some of it is genuine, and someof it isn’t.

In any case, we would be happy to feed them and chatand whatever, but probably it wouldn;t be worth the missionaries’ time, unless they just needed ot get in some reactivation hours to report back to the mission president.  Maybe I was too aggressive or forceful about it, and they wrote “wants no contact” in their area book.

In any case, it bothers me.  Maybe it shouldn’t, like I said, since I really have no intention of going back to Mormonism, but to me it makes the whole missionary program seem hypocritical.  Aren’t they suposed to at least be trying?

We haven’t heardfrom the bishop in months, either.  Our home teachers call every now and then, but  that’s it.  They’re good guys, and we’re happy to have them visit.  We had some friends in the ward, but they moved.  Our babysitter is a new member, but that doesn’t really count.

I’m just saying, it seems for all the bluster of saving sould and perfecting the saints and whatnot, that our ward and the missionaries seem perfectly happy to let us fall between the cracks.  That’s what bothers me. I don’t want to stay in the church, but it’s kindof insulting to have nobody even care when I leave.

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I had a great discussion with my mother a few days ago (she’s a true believing Mormon) about the difference between faith and testimony in Mormon theology, and I’ve been mulling around some thoughts about it ever since.

“Testimony,” as commonly used by Mormons, is an unfortunate term. It’s an umbrella term, a thought-construct composed of several different distinct but related concepts, but they’re all blurred together into one conglomerate noun in the Mormon vernacular. When the Holy Ghost bears witness of the truth of x, a Mormon calls that your testimony. When you tell others the religious things you believe or “know,” that’s also your testimony. Those two I can handle, but the third main use is the most vague and elusive, and the one least based in (even Mormon) scripture and theology. It’s this idea that a testiony is a thing, a noun, an intangible object that you actually have and need to nurture and work on so it grows.

It’s not the same thing as Faith, which is given some pretty clear and basically consistent definitions in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) said “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV). In the Book of Mormon, Alma said faith “is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true,” and Moroni said faith is “things which are hoped for and not seen.” None of those are really the same thing that Mormons are talking about when they talk about their testimony. Testimony is the assurance of the truth of Mormonism via mystical experiences.

Faith is consistently couched in terms like “hope.” Your testimony is the things you know. You might talk about faith in terms of certainty, but you would never describe a testimony using the word “hope.” Sure, the terms are similar, but they’re not identical.

In Mormon theology, such as it is, the requirments for salvation are faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the holy ghost, and enduring to the end (which includes getting the necessary ordinances and priesthood, and continuing to develop faith, repent of sins, and renew your baptismal covenant by taking the sacrament). Testimony per se is not a requirement for the Celestial Kingdom. There’s not testimony checker at the pearly gates. Nevertheless, Mormons constantly talk about the necessity of having a testimony, as if it is basically the most important thing in Mormonism.

It has no real connected place in Mormon theology, so why is it necessary? All of the critical steps (the principles and ordinances of the gospel) for salvation are obtainable without ever once feeling the Holy Ghost, much less Getting a Testimony.

There’s a weird inconsistency yhere that bothers me. Basically, what it boils down to is that Mormonism in practice focuses almost obsessively on the need for the individual to experience successive, ongoing conversion experiences. No wonder Mormons are able to simply ignore their doubts and criticisms of the church that they hear! They are spending their time and effort constantly converting themselves. Why? I think it’s because without constant conversion-as-reinforcement, Mormonism doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. Testimony may not actually be a requirement for salvation in Mormonism, but if you aren’t constantly cultivating mystical confirmations of the Church’s truth, you’re far less likely to stay a member of a Church that is heavy-handed, authoritarian, wildly implausible, and extremely demanding.

I don’t really believe there is such a thing as “having a testimony.” I think that you can experience God through the Holy Spirit, and I think you can yourself bear witness to things you believe are true, but as far as this nebulous thing that you have, I think it’s a mental and cultural construct with no real existence. It’s a doublespeak term tat obscures what’s going on. Faith is something that you have. Testimony is something you hear or give.

Given that opinion, why then does it bother me when people say I must not have ever really had a testimony, seeing as how I left the Church. I mean, if I don;t believe that testimony exists, at least the way they’re talking about it, why do I care if they say I never had one? Again, it comes down to the nebulous doublespeak use of the term. When someone says I never had a testimony, they’re actually questioning whether I ever was really ommitted to the Church, and that pisses me off. I was raised in the Church, and I was a faithful member. I scrupulously tried to keep the commandments. I graduated from early morning seminary. I served an honorable mission and I worked incredibly hard, both physically and spiritually. I read the Book of Mormon again and again, not as a skeptic, but as an earnest believer. I married in the temple, which took great personal sacrifices on my part and on my wife’s part. I always paid a full tithe, and I gave generous fast offerings. I magnified my callings. I prayed daily. When doubts came, I did my best to resolve them. I tried to me a member-missionary, and I even tried my best to do my home teaching. I did everything I was supposed to do to “get a testimony,” and I did it with pure intentions, because I honestly thought it was all the right thing to do.

The Church promises that if you do this stuff, you’ll Get A Testimony. Thus, when people say I must not have had a testimony, they are insinuating that I never did the things that were required to get one, and that impugns my integrity and my earnestness, and that bothers me a lot.

I have to say that I believe that the Church is simply not true, at least it is not true the way it claims to be. It may be a fine place for some people, but it is certainly not God’s one true church, restored in these latter days in preparation for the second coming, led by living prophets, etc. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me, but I do have a problem with people assuming that the only reason I came to the conclusion I did is that I wasn’t really genuinely committed and faithful in the first place. That’s just insulting.

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I’ve been thinking of reasons why I would decide to believe in God and/or Jesus Christ despite my inability to prove God’s existence (or nonexistence) in a satisfactory way and despite my unfortunate dearth of much-desired mystical experiences.   Like I’ve said before, the same process that allowed me to walk away from Mormonism has left me floundering- my basis for believing in God weas the same set of “spiritual” experiences that were my basis for believing in Mormonism.  Thus my slow spiral into atheism.

Atheism has it’s attraction, sure, and I’m not talking about license to do whatever I want.  There are plenty of checks on behavior other than belief in God: love, empathy, society, law, culture, etc.  And disbelieving in God hasn’t made me a worse person.

But it hasn’t made me a better person, either, and I don’t think it will.  That’s the rub, the real difference between atheism and Christianity for me.  Christianity invites me to be not just a much better person, but an entirely new person.  Atheism tells me I’m pretty good the way I am, and that’s fine.  Don’t get me wrong; I think I am basically a good person.  But I really don’t think atheism is going to make me any better.  In contrast, Christianity has transformation at its heart.  At the very least, Jesus’s teachings invite people to be better people in absolutely radical ways, ways that don’t necessarily come naturally or intuitively. I’m not talking about demanding that we’re perfect- that’s no good because we’ll always fail, and then our lives will be dominated by guilt (which tends to be a problem in Mormonism).  I’m saying that the way I see Christianity, Jesus invites us to come up to a higher level in the way we live with and relate to each other.  On top of that, Jesus’s divinity adds a sense of gravitas to that invitation, a cosmic legitimacy that he wouldn’t otherwise have as a merely human philosopher.

I’m not saying that Christianity categorically makes bad people good, because we all probably know many, many people who are Christians who are pretty crappy people.  I’m not talking about a universal imperative; I’m merely saying why I think I would be better off as a Christian.

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