Everyone who leaves the church has a different story to tell: no two people’s experiences will have been the same; however, we all share one thing in common . . .
People like to come up with reasons for us.
I mean, it makes sense if you think about it. Who knows better than me about why I chose to leave the church? Well . . . you do, of course! I’ve been so pleased to find out, from others, the real reasons I left that I thought I’d compile a list – the top 10 reasons anyone leaves the LDS church.
#1 To justify a sinful lifestyle. The church says you can’t have sex. You’d like to have sex. So you leave the church so you don’t have to feel guilty having all the illicit sex you want; the other “reasons” you come up with are just illusions you’re putting up so you can pretend it was valid. This is apparent and obvious to all of us because of the lifestyle you lead immediately following your departure from the church: you start drinking, move in with your girlfriend, and, lets be honest, you’re most likely experimenting with drugs as well. I mean, what’s stopping you now that you don’t have your religion?
Lets weigh the options. Eternal life? The comfort of believing god is listening to you, that there is an almighty being who loves and cares for you and is sending you experiences to teach and nurture you? The assurance of a bishop’s words after a loved one passes away? The confidence of having a prophet who you believe is being led directly by god to help guide you and your family in truth? Not worth it! You could be having sex and drinking alcohol!
I don’t know who these people are sleeping with, apparently they have it better than me. And, I know you look at me and think, “Damn, that kid could probably get any girl he wants!” but something seems to be messed up with my approach . . . because sex is good, it just isn’t THAT good.
Personally, I was temple worthy for an entire year and a half after I decided to leave the church (though maybe it was some hidden desire in me to live like a hedonist, I don’t know – maybe you can answer that for me). For others it doesn’t happen that way. Restrictions have been lifted and they feel free to explore things that were taboo before. They make new friends who accept them in their new belief system, relate to them, and go drinking with them.
There is, admittedly, a psychological tendency we have to change beliefs to match behavior; we do take queues from ourselves by our actions. If our actions can’t change to match our beliefs we will eventually change our beliefs to match our actions, it is a basic tendency we all have so we can preserve our self image as a strong person. After 10 years of failed diets someone may say to themselves, “Ya, eating like this is bad for me, but I’m doing better than most Americans and I’m happy, so I’m fine with it.”
That can be a motivation to leave a religion; but, I’d say it applies about .05% of the time and is usually secondary to some more serious concern. Those people who do fall in this group will usually just tell you, “Ya, I left because I wanted to drink.” And usually they’re probably just saying that to be funny or avoid an awkward conversation with you and the home teachers you brought over (not that it helps), or to be sarcastic because no one is really listening to them anyways.
#2 Relied on your own knowledge, didn’t trust the spirit. The wise man builds his house upon the rock, the foolish man on the sand. Logic, reasoning, these are the “arm of the flesh” and anyone who builds their faith on these things will perish when the storm comes. Their house will be washed away while the wise man stays strong and firm, rooted in faith, revelation, and humility to the spirit.
Of course then there are thousands of different faiths and religions out there and almost all of them claim to have had it revealed to them by the spirit of god. Something happened in their life to make them open and teachable, they read something at the perfect time, the missionaries knocked on their doors when they were on their knees, or . . . they were raised in their religion and received divine confirmation that it was true.
Wait a minute . . . so Barbara believes she’s being led by god and yet she believes A, B, and C. I believe I’m being led by god and god has told me B, C, and D but has confirmed that A is false. Either god is “many faced” and likes to shake things up by having a diverse following, or there is something amiss here. Like it or not, all religions are built on reason as well as faith (whoops, I may have just broken atheist code of conduct by saying that). The “differences” between two people’s faiths quickly leave the realm of “they’re not open to the spirit” and enter the “Ya, but check out this scripture that says god is like this.”
I prayed often, fervently, that god would lead me and not let me lead myself. I felt, sincerely and completely, that god wanted me to leave the LDS church.
#3 Got a hold of some anti and lost the spirit. Sister Sally, after hearing you talk about polygamy, or grace vs works, or this or that, gets that half-smile/half-condescending-“ok-I-get-what’s-going-on” look on her face, tilts her head knowingly and says, “Ok, what “anti” website did you go to?” (I call it the “poop smile” . . . it looks like they just ate some crap and are trying to smile through it anyways). “Anti-mormon” – the all encompassing catchphrase for anything slightly contradictory to the LDS church.
I’m not going to be the doomsday evangelist who claims the LDS church is trying to control you . . . but to group everything antagonistic to the church in the “anti” category is a way of controlling information. 1st of all, the word “anti” isn’t what it seems. Anti, literally, just means against, and in that sense the word is redundant. Of course the baptist article is “anti” because it is saying the LDS church isn’t true. We all knew that before we started reading it. Do we use that preposition in the rest of our conversations? “You’re just anti-us-having-more-meetings at work!”
What “anti” means as it is used in LDS culture is “unbalanced rhetoric.” It means something is twisted, biased, and misrepresented with a clear agenda: to sway people from the LDS church. As a mormon I could tell the difference between rhetoric and good argument pretty quickly, whichever side it was on, and I think most other people can too (at least I’d hope so). FARM and FAIR are, in my opinion, some pretty good examples of piss-poor rhetoric used by pro-lds apologists. That pamphlet put out by the local evangelical church called “Are Mormons Christian? You decide!” that places out of context book of mormon scripture or prophet’s statements next to bible passages is a clear example of anti-lds rhetoric. I chose to steer clear of both. In fact I got so frustrated by people actually believing the stupid stuff in those pamphlets that I decided to create an anti-baptist tract called, “Do Baptists Believe in the Bible? You decide!” I then placed twisted and misrepresented baptist theology, or real theology, and put them next to bible passages, some of them extremely out of context on purpose. I would use this for people who sincerely believed the crap their pastor had passed around about us to show them what it was like when people twisted their faith with an agenda. Here’s the tract, enjoy 😛
There’s a very real difference between that kind of argument and legitimate, open, and truly fair criticisms of the LDS church. Lets stop grouping these criticisms in with the joke above.
Even if it is unbalanced, though, people do not leave the church because of “anti.” At least the vast majority of people who do read that imbalanced rhetoric don’t. They leave it because they find out information in that anti that their church didn’t feel like telling them. They leave because no one ever told them Joseph Smith had more than one wife until they found it on the internet and asked dad if it was true, incredulously. In that way, the LDS church is shooting itself in the foot; the internet is here, its not possible to hide this stuff anymore, and they’ve started more diligently preparing their membership for these “anti” claims.
#4 You know its true, you’re just running from it. You’ll come back.” Um . . . ya. Thanks! And you know you’re a simple minded idiot! Err, don’t you?
This is the motherlode epitome of someone telling you why you believe something. In fact, they’re not even telling you why you believe, they’re telling you WHAT you believe! Somewhere, deep down (so far down that you don’t even know it exists), you really do believe this stuff. You’re just sinning to wash away your problems and you’re faking your happiness. You may be “happy” but only in the worldly sense. You couldn’t have “joy” like we do.
#5 Didn’t study it out enough. The answers are there, the church isn’t hiding stuff, you have an individual responsibility to find things and shouldn’t expect to be spoon-fed everything.
Please don’t read this as prideful as its going to sound . . . I really try not to be a prideful person . . . but 9 times out of 10 the people who say this to me have never put the amount of zealous effort into the study of the scriptures and the church as I have, and I’m 25 and have been out of the church for 4 years . . . .
Ok, so that is a prideful statement, but its also probably true. I’m not the kind of person who was waiting for the church to spoon feed information and I’m not throwing a fit and playing the victim because the church didn’t tell me this or that. I did my due diligence to find information out on my own using the church suggested avenues and certain things were still left unknown and hushed. And those who have left but haven’t studied the scriptures and the doctrine as much as me don’t deserve this either; diligent book study isn’t the only way to find “truth.” My process was very different than my sister Marinne’s: she didn’t have to study out all the doctrine for hundreds of hours she just didn’t like the exclusion and judgement towards other people. In many ways, I think that’s a better reason to have left than mine.
#6 Wanted an easier life. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Sounds good, right? Its difficult to be religious, to deal with all these rules and all these callings – wouldn’t it be easier just to not believe anything? Think about all the money you could have if you didn’t have to pay tithing!
So yes, I just felt like putting a strain on every family relationship I have. I didn’t mind the risk of losing some family members forever. I really wanted to be alienated, isolated, criticized, and belittled. I really wanted to toss away the future I had envisioned since I was a little boy.
Well, at least now I know I’m not just a hedonist, but am a hedonistic masochist. I’m a complicated little bastard, aren’t I?
#7 Offended by a church leader or by some cultural thing. The Church is true but it’s people aren’t perfect. So, ya, that bishop told you you should stay with your abusive husband because marriage is sacred, but why should that shake your faith? Did you build your faith on the people and the culture? Or did you build it on god? If it isn’t built on god than it will fail; people are bound to say things that aren’t right, be offensive at times, and make mistakes.
I get it. There are crazies everywhere, why can’t the Mormons be allowed their fair share of crazies too? That lady who says people with debt shouldn’t be allowed to have a temple recommend (not making that up), that elder’s quorum president who just can’t stop from getting into arguments every single lesson, that big uncoordinated kid who takes church ball way too seriously and shoves you to the ground . . . that has an affect on people, to be sure, but I think most people recognize that other people are often idiotic.
My question is, what percentage of a church needs to believe something until it could be reasonably considered more than just a fad, a mistake, or a cultural mishap? Often these “offenses” people have aren’t due to human error at all, but doctrine that isn’t inclusive, that is sexist and puts men above women consistently, bigoted, and even racist, or some other very real offense to doctrine, not just culture. And there’s something to be said for the impact doctrine makes on a culture: if a culture is unbearable something may be wrong with the doctrine that guides it.
#8 Your boyfriend made you do it. If you just had better influences around you . . .
#9 Rebelling against your parents. You’re just doing this to hurt them . . .
#10 You must be gay. My brother and mom even entertained this thought about me when I left (briefly) . . .
Well, you get the point. I was being facetious and over the top, but I sincerely hope something in that list offended you.
What we’ve done, those of us who have left the church, was difficult. We love you, we want close relationships with you, and we’d love to have that effort returned. Quit trying to project your reasons onto us. Quit trying to explain what we’ve done in a way that undermines our value as thinking, reasonable, feeling, and honest individuals. Quit interpreting us and let us interpret ourselves. Believe us. Trust us to tell our own story. Is it not possible that we just left because we genuinely don’t believe it and found there to be too many troubling doctrines to stay in?
If I, a man, were to write a 10 page paper on how to deal with labor pains, how many people do you think would read it? Would I have any authority? Would I be able to convince people I knew what I was talking about? Yet family members judge and classify us in extremely hurtful ways so that . . . what? So that they can understand the decision we’ve made? How many years has it been since straight men have been trying to explain homosexuality? How many kids have committed suicide because a straight man told them the solution to their problems was this, this, and this and it didn’t work?
Respectfully – Shut up. And listen.
It is with that in mind that I’ve invited a few people to tell us their stories in 500 words or less. Please read about it here.