Disclaimer: I don't think that leaving Mormonism is going to be good for everyone at all stages. For many people, it is working for them, they are happy and leaving would be too traumatic and unsettling. For others, though they fear it, leaving can be liberating and freeing.
We've had so many people ask us about our leaving the church. It's been kind of crazy! Not only have we made tons of new friends that have also left and love to share stories about it, pretty much all of our friends (though not much family) have asked us about it. Surprisingly, tons of non-Mormons have asked us about it too. They find it fascinating and like to dive deep into the experience we've had. Here's a collection of thoughts on the good, the bad and the interesting of leaving the Mormon church.
- I don't want anyone to misunderstand me...going through a faith transition when a Mormon sucks bad! Working through it often allows a person to end up in a better place, but the actual transition is terrible, especially if the process is drug out for decades like mine was. That is why on one hand I don't want to do or say anything that would put someone into that terrible, confusing place. On the other hand I do want to for reasons I'll explain another day :-)
- I hurt some of my family and friends and I became less in their eyes. I know several people that suffer in silence and won't be open about their disaffection because of this point alone. That has been sad to see the sadness in loved ones and know that many will continue to suffer silently because they can't be open and authentic like we have.
- Although this part is over, it was very difficult to figure out my identity. My whole life I was Mormon and it permeated every single aspect of my life. Leaving that behind made me have to rethink everything. That was scary and difficult. Many people say the worst part of a Mormon faith crisis is actually the identity crisis that it brings about.
- Find out who your true friends are. This actually is in two different sections because it's been a good thing and a bad thing. It's sad to find out that some people can't handle to be around us despite being the same good people we've always been, just people that don't believe in the same metaphysical things as them anymore.
- I lost the comfort that came from believing if I lived a certain way then I'd definitely go to a good place and that good place definitely existed. With the loss of a testimony and not believing those things the church taught as absolute truths anymore comes with the difficulty of the unknown. I now have the uncomfortable belief that this life might be all there is. That isn't such a big problem anymore. It makes me cherish this life and my time with my wife and kids even more. I want to spend as much of it as I can with them. As I've replaced church activities that didn't do much for anyone (temple service, meetings upon meetings, etc.) with family time, my family bonds have increased tremendously (seriously, surprisingly more than I would have expected). I have a greater joy than I previously did because of my kids and the love that comes from increasing those bonds. I can't help but share this ironic video here...Isn't It About Time?
- We were afraid that not having the church in the lives of our kids would make it harder to raise them to be good people. We were afraid that not having those powerful dogmas backed by fear of eternal damnation and promise of eternal blessings that our kids wouldn't be motivated enough to be good, kind people. As time went on we realized how half of that motivation was out of fear and the other half always came with the unknown of, “Is there really heaven?” that everyone wonders at times. We've replaced that way of raising children with what we believe are more powerful creeds of Science and Humanism. There is so much amazing information on how to be kind, empathetic, strong and courageous people that science has learned over the past few decades. Furthermore, scientifically backed studies have shown that using the rod to discipline children as the Bible says is bad and in fact it is better to spare the rod. We feel we have better resources than before that we can use more efficiently and they are more powerful motivations. For example, this article shows how families that raise children with non-religious but moral values help create more moral children on average. (http://bit.ly/secular_parenting_results_in_kinder_children)
- You can reach for many of the same goals you had in your life before as a Mormon, just for a different purpose now. You can switch from doing it for the church, Christ, etc. to something like Humanism. We evolved as all community oriented species to release chemicals that make us happy when we help others in our community (this is called the emotion of Elevation by the way http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elevation). Reach out to others with a helping hand in love because you love humans and want the world to be a better place. You can continue to be a great, kind person. You don't have to leave your kindness behind with your Mormonism.
- It was toxic to us (in different ways) to be in a "faith crisis/transition" and now that's over. For more info on the specifics read our personal stories here. Basically, Carson felt terrible for decades that he never got any spiritual manifestation as promised and kept working harder and harder to get it thinking he was broken in some way because he couldn't. Marisa felt subjugated and oppressed for being a woman that had to fit a certain profile that didn't match her nature. Deciding (for us) that the system is broken, not us and therefore finally letting go of it has been so liberating. We can keep all the good and discard all the bad. This has allowed us to be so much happier.
- The feeling is so nice to not have to make excuses for the things I used to disagree with but felt I had to be ok with since Mormonism was ok with them. There was a strong frustration in my life for years where I felt so many things were wrong with the church and its history, but felt like I was bad for feeling that way. Now I can unapologetically say things like marrying a 14 year old girl as a thirty something year old man and lying to your wife about it is bad 100%, no ifs, ands or buts about it. I feel sad seeing people try to justify these things they feel are bad, but feel have to be OK for some reason because Mormonism is God's church.
- The church demonizes doubt, critical thinking of religion, leaders, tradition, etc. I always felt push back for promoting science so much. If science ever disagreed with Mormon culture or doctrine it was because science was wrong, never because Mormon thought was wrong. I can love science fully now. I don't have to think it is wrong because it disagrees with cultural beliefs. I can seek for greater truth and light and continue to help this process of mankind's understanding that has steadily grown to a greater and greater understanding. I no longer have to believe in a God of the Gaps.
- I don't have to see myself as a broken person anymore. Like I said above, I felt like I was broken because I couldn't ever get that elusive spiritual confirmation that I was told I would if I were worthy of it. I tried harder than most because I wasn't getting anything more significant than feelings I would feel while watching a movie about humans coming together to fight aliens. Now that I've accepted that the church isn't the one true church, I can see the system as broken, not me. I'm a great person for trying so hard and finally having the strength to not compromise my integrity anymore by being open and bold about my beliefs. To do what is right and let the consequences follow.
- Giving money to charity instead of the church is so much more satisfying because you know where it goes and what is done with it. You can choose how you want to help and do what is the most important to you instead of giving it to an organization where you have no idea what is specifically done with your money and how they use most of what they get. I get more satisfaction from the couple percent of my net I give now compared to the 10 percent of gross I used to give.
- You can spend the time you did spend on reading scriptures to read self help books instead. This is so much more productive! Yes, at times the scriptures would help you gain insights and yes, it can at times be peaceful to read something that is so important to you, but reading books of your choice by experts in their fields can bring such greater amounts of improvement and satisfaction.
- Having our two primary creeds be Science and Humanism allows us to lose the frustration we had when seeing the church with problems but not be able to help fix them or even openly discuss them. It won't admit them and you can't suggest changes on any significant level. That always bothered me. Science knows it will get things wrong and expects you to challenge its conclusions. It is OK with you disagreeing with it if you have a logical argument and asks you to prove it in an effort to constantly improve. Religion tells you that you are the problem if you disagree. Leaving that frustration behind and feeling like not only can we, but we are invited to help improve human understanding of the universe is freeing and satisfying.
- Find out who your true friends are. This is the second of two sections it is in. Several friends have directly told us that they know we are good people, even if we came to different conclusions about the LDS faith, but they still love us and want to be with us. Not only did they say that, but they actually meant it. That was super rewarding and brought us all closer together.
Interesting things that I now see after leaving but couldn't see as well or at all before (in no particular order):
- The amount of confirmation bias that I had up until the end is surprising. I thought that as a long time doubter who was very critical of the church that I was able to clearly see all the faults and emotionally remove myself from the church and its culture. Looking back at things I made excuses for or accepted just a short while before leaving publically is mind boggling to me. Now that I'm emotionally unattached little problems seem so much bigger now. It is easy to see how as humans our tribalism nature allows us to not see our own tribes flaws while easily being able to see others. Similar to how we can see others problems easier than our own, until I left openly, Mormonism was still such a part of me that I was giving it more of a pass than I thought I was.
- It's been amazing how non-Mormons talk so much more openly to me now that I've left. People I've known for years openly discuss how weird the religion is and how they have no desire to join despite Mormons being so nice. Not only are people so surprisingly open, but so many people feel this way. As a member that was openly critical for so long, I'm surprised that I didn't hear that more often before. Even though I wasn't trying to convert people for several years, I thought I knew fairly well how people thought.
- Leaving and making it known that you have left allows you to connect with others that have made or think of making the same decision. It's surprising how many amazing, kind, truth seeking people are in this same boat. It used to be that if you left you would likely feel more alone, but so many good people are making this same decision that it makes you feel more confident that you are making a good decision. It's also been great to connect with so many amazing people. It's also been great to connect with people that are hurting because of the faith and identity crisis. Its fulfilling to reach out to them in love, support them and connect. It's what I always thought Zion would be like and I ironically feel closer to that with those that hurt because of the church.