“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies.
My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”
Dalai Lama XIV
My religious label used to be a really important part of my identity. Mormon. My sense of self was defined by that distinction, and much of my time was devoted to making sure I was living my life in a way that felt worthy of that title. Disentangling my Self from my Mormonism has been a painful experience over the past year.
The things I was taught about God were wrapped up with the things I was taught about Joseph Smith and the temple and the hundred other facets that make up the Mormon belief system. I was told to pray and listen to the Spirit for confirmation that I was learning truth. I prayed as directed, and felt a warm comforting feeling when I thought about the Book of Mormon. I wrote in detail about that feeling when I was a believer, which you can revisit here. I had that same feeling when I thought about the temple ordinances, Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, Jesus as Christ, and God as my Heavenly Father. All of the times I felt I had learned the truth about something, that “confirming feeling” I had felt the same to me.
Quotes like this one were reiterated in a variety of ways –
“Finally, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. … But in like manner, if the Book of Mormon be true … then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it.” source
Imagine a basket, filled with dozens and dozens of papers. Each paper has a statement or belief written on it, and all are ideas that came from authority figures in the belief system. One might say “God has a body like us” and another might say ”There was no death before the Fall of Adam” and then “Millions of Nephites/Lamanites lived, fought, and died in Ancient America.” Each of these things are presented as unimpeachable truth by the authorities who lead and taught as fact by kind people who are doing the best they can. I took it all in and did my best to read from LDS sources to learn more, praying and pondering along the way to decide if I felt I was heading in the right direction. And then one day I started to read things not directly produced by the LDS Church and I realized that some of the things written on the papers in my basket were patently false. The more I read, the more I realized that my basket was full of lies, guesses, half-truth, hyperbole, and nice ideas that can never be substantiated*. I could never sort through everything and figure out what was right and what was wrong.
I left it all behind and decided to start over. And that is why along with separating from my belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet, or the temple ordinances as necessary for salvation, I also stopped believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ or the existence of God. It has been so devastating to acknowledge and understand the areas where I was deceived that I’m not sure how I will ever find a way to explore those ideas again.
When I told my parents in December of 2012 that I no longer believed, I claimed the title of agnostic. It felt safe, and open-ended. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about whether I’m an atheist. If I wanted to identify that way I would need to feel certain about something. When I was Mormon, I made lots of proclamations which I felt certain about and I now see how wrong I was. I don’t want to be black and white again when it comes to spiritual beliefs. John Dehlin did an online study of formerly-believing Mormons and 47% of his respondents indicated that they now identify as Agnostic/Atheist/Humanist. His study, combined with the many personal accounts I have encountered, have led me to believe that leaving religion altogether is a very common part of the ex-Mormon experience.
If I felt the need to identify with anything, it would be secular humanism.
“Secular humanists believe that this is the only life of which we have certain knowledge and that we owe it to ourselves and others to make it the best life possible for ourselves and all with whom we share this fragile planet.” source
From now on I want to focus on feeding my soul, and enriching the life experience of those around me. Presently I am doing so absent any organized religion, but I am committed to remaining open to new experiences and approaches over time. Leaving has opened my eyes to a new world of beliefs, discussions, and people I had closed myself off from before. I look forward to growing and expanding throughout the rest of the time I have.
*For an excellent treatment of the problematic Mormon issues, see Letter to a CES Director. As John Dehlin said on Facebook, if you are an individual who has addressed all of these issues and continues to approach Mormonism from the standpoint of a believer I would love to hear more about how you are able to process all of these things.