Thursday, July 27, 2006

My deconversion, part 3: the tipping point.

disclaimer: I will be recounting my own experiences in a direct and straight-forward manner. None of this is intended as disrespectful to those who believe differently, it is merely a statement of my personal conclusions and how I reached them.

Continued from here and here.

I was seventeen years old, a senior in high school. My beloved older brother was off on his freshman year at BYU, having a similar epiphany of his own.

In the back of my mind I was aware that in terms of physical evidence, the case for Mormonism looked pretty grim. But it didn't matter because the physical evidence was trumped by the spiritual evidence, namely the spiritual confirmation that the church is right and true.

I knew plenty of very intelligent people who knew more than I did about Mormon history, doctrine, evidence, and "issues," and their testimonies were none the worse for it.

On the other hand, I'd never known any believing Mormon to look at the evidence and be swayed by it to the point of leaving the church. I didn't even know any of those bitter, angry "anti-Mormons" who are so easily dismissed by the faithful. Like I said, it was a different time...

The only ex-Mormon I remember having met before I became one myself was one of my debate coaches. (I was in debate for about a year, around ninth and tenth grade, and wasn't terribly good at it...)

My exmo debate coach Tim didn't try to deconvert me. On one debate trip, when he heard I was Mormon, he kind of tried to use it as a point of common interest, to make a connection with me. (Remember this was in Minnesota where Mormonism is rare.) He told me he was raised Mormon, and said "I think I know who the current prophet is -- it's Ezra Taft Benson, right?" I said "Yeah," and was thinking What do you care who's the prophet if you don't believe in the church? He never mentioned religion again after that.

Tim was a nice guy, but I had never known him as a Mormon so I didn't know what his story was. I really never knew him that well, so I felt like he didn't influence me all that much. Yet I remember that tiny exchange to this day, so maybe he did...

But when it comes right down to it, every religion has to explain why different times and places all have completely different religions. The usual explanation is "We're right, they're wrong. But we'll save them by teaching them the truth." That's definitely the approach Mormonsim takes.

Although I found it pretty odd when learning about ancient mythology that God would have given the truth to the Hebrews and to the Americas and no one else, I couldn't bring myself to believe the other popular explanation: that all religions are different ways of communing with the same God. If God tells one set of people that he has the head of an elephant and they'll be reincarnated in better forms for not eating meat and then tells another group that the unique way to avoid being cast into a fiery pit of hell is to believe that Jesus died for their sins, then, well, God is a pretty schizophrenic guy...

Naturally I believed that since Mormonism was the only true church, non-Mormons all know -- deep down -- that they're still seeking and haven't found the truth yet. Why would a loving God tell them anything else? The fact that all of the various flavors of mainstream Christianity accept each other as part of the same "body of Christ" confirmed this view -- if the Presbyterians believed that one could be saved as a Baptist, and vice-versa, then they seemed to be acknowledging that they knew neither one had any ultimate truth that was vital to salvation.

So when I heard Mormons admitting that people in religions other than Mormonism had spiritual experiences like Mormons, it seemed very wrong. There was no reason that Heavenly Father would be in the business of confirming anything other than the truth instead of prompting people to get out and seek the truth.

That's the place where I was at when I started up a theological correspondence with my best friend in high school, a devout Lutheran named Kim. The whole thing was in the form of notes exchanged in a spiral notebook, consisting of a rather rudimentary "We believe this," followed by "Oh, really? We believe this other thing..."

The thing that struck me was that these random absurdities about the trinity and whatnot -- it was clear that she believed them as fervently as any Mormon believes in Mormon doctrine. She wasn't seeking and wasn't unsure as those who don't have the truth ought to be. She believed the stories her parents taught her with all her heart.

And her parents' stories and my parents' stories couldn't both be right.

That was what made me ask myself "Why do I believe what I believe?"

I remember my moment of epiphany. It hit me that I'd been taught from the cradle by loving parents that the sky is blue, one plus one is two, and Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. It was for that reason that I believed in my religion, not because of any evidence.

And that was it. That moment was the end of my belief in Mormonism.

And though I hung on to a vague non-denominational theism for a few years after that, I dismissed Jesus' miraculous claims within seconds of rejecting Joseph Smith's.

My fictional version of this scene (in my novel Exmormon) captures pretty well the thoughts that went through my head on that day. The main difference was that in the fictionalization, the primary catalyst was meeting a desirable exmo/apostate guy whom the main character later gets to have passionate sex with. In real life that did not happen. That's just what I wished would have happened. That would have been cool. In real life, the catalyst was just that discussion with a fellow nerdy girl.

However, in real life I did have a few non-member boyfriends at the time that I was in the process of trying to hustle into the bedroom as quickly as I could, with varying degrees of success. So if you'd like to tell yourself that my epiphany was motivated by my ferocious teenage hormones that wanted an open field to "sin," go ahead.

In reality, if anything my horniness slowed my epiphany because I believed -- as I was taught -- that Satan was using my "weakness" to keep me from righteousness and a real testimony. That Heavenly Father's failure to to give any sort of evidence of His existence was my fault, not His.


Just one of many said...

Loved it. Without sounding like a horny individual...I think that going into your sexual explorations would prove an interesting starting point. It's just that these milestones eventually unearth interesting facts that have contoured our developement.

C. L. Hanson said...

Actually I've talked about them a bit already. It's one of the two maing things I'm infamous for in the exmo Internet community: (1) having sex in the library at BYU and (2) posting a bunch of rather graphic excerpts from a journal I wrote when I was sixteen.

Unfortunately those posts were on the old exmo-social (which is gone now), but I may repost them at some point. Not here on this blog though -- that's not precisely the style I'm going for with this blog.

Cyn Bagley said...

cl.. fun reading. :-)

I know that I was in my mid-20's (after my mission I might add) that I began to question the whole Joseph Smith thing... I was getting to be very uncomfortable with the first vision story on my mission. Also, I think the church teaches an unhealthy attitude about sex... it has taken me much longer to overcome that... (sex is bad) idea than it was to leave the church.


C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Cynthia!!!

It's funny how different people give up different parts of Mormonism, and even when people give up the same parts it's often in a different order.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks JLO!!!

It's interesting to compare how "the last straw" seems to be different for each person.

The Sinister Porpoise said...

Boy does Mormonism really play with your head.

Like you, I wanted to believe the church was true in light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For whatever reason I am not so easily able to dismiss other forms of spirituality.

At least I didn't struggle with it for so long after finding out the history. Funny thing about the church saying that you should find the truth. It's out there and it's not pretty.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sinister Porpoise!!!

As I was saying the other day, we don't necessarily all end with the same conclusion, and that's okay. :D

Kalv1n said...

I really enjoyed this post. I think it's quite evil in itself the way mormons portray exmormons or those who want to say anything about the church who are not mormons themselves. I'm surprised that I didn't pick up on it earlier and wonder why they said that it was "soul-damaging" to read "anti-mormon" things. And I agree, there is such a naturalism to the whole thing. It's pure arrogance how mormons (or many others) think that their feelings validate them above other people and their feelings.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Kalvin!!!

It's unfortunate that Mormons often promote the idea that writings from outside of Mormonism have some evil power and hence should be avoided on principle instead of encouraging people to judge for themselves the merits of information and ideas presented by former Mormons.

bluestocking said...

Sex played a role in my departure from the church, but not from my deconversion. I was willing to stay in the church even though I knew it wasn't true, because the man I was in love with wanted to be married in the temple and raise children in the church. But then he dumped me because he was gay, and well, there seemed much less reason to stick around after that, or to retain my virtue, which was thoroughly unbesmirched even into my mid 20s--and this despite the fact that most of my "faithful" friends were getting laid Saturday night and showing up for church all testimony-having and sincere on Sunday. I never understood that.

C. L. Hanson said...

Wow, lucky thing he decided to be honest with himself...

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks bookjunky!!!

You know, that's the real reason why it's "a blessing" to be born into "the only true church." ;-)

ET said...

A fine post C.L.

I have remained and intend to continue in the Mormon faith all my days. That said, I find my greatest challenges to be associated with Mormon culture. My best friends are non-Mormon. My work (art) is decidedly "non family." And my time in Sunday School is often spent raising my hand and saying "I disagree with brother or sister so and so," and then pointing out things that you and many posters to this blog have commented on. The Church itself is finite, and most members don't understand that. And if truth is eternal, how can a mortal church (which will not exist in the eternities) be true? Too many Mormons believe that the Church is an ends unto itself, rather than a means to an end. Too many Mormons believe that it's more important to be right, rather than righteous. Too many Mormons believe that having the means to discovering truth and having truth are the same thing. I do not believe the doctrines are wrong, but they are far too often out of focus.

I agree that the teachings (not the truths) regarding sex and more in the LDS Church are unhealthy, largely because they're incomplete. And as one notes from watching Mormon cinema, we seem terrified as a community of asking tough questions and exploring difficult subjects. We have forsaken courage in pursuit of comfort and are becoming what Brigham Young foresaw: fat and lazy and kicking ourselves into hell. The perspective I endorse, as intimated by your poster, is that there is no belief without utter honesty.

Thus, I apologize, for I believe the simple root doctrines about Christ and his prophets with my whole soul. I know it through the only evidence that not only matters, but exists... through God. It sounds hokey, but I cannot deny it. Unlike most of your posters, I had no stake in the Church being true. I was ready to leave and put it behind me. But I knelt and asked and to my perpetual shock, I received. Now nothing will shake me from Christ and Mormonism... not even Christians or Mormons.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey ET!!!

That's a fascinating perspective -- that it is a mortal church (which will not exist in the eternities), and that it's more a means of discovering truth than it is an end unto itself.

You're Eric Thompson, right? I'd be curious to read some of your work. I'm interested in Mormon Lit, and I like doing reviews of works from all across the belief spectrum (see my reviews of Brother Brigham and In Our Lovely Deseret). If you have any works you'd like me to review on my blog, please email me: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com.

beckiwithani said...

Interesting. I'm glad I found your blog. My moment of losing faith (at age 20, over 11 years ago) came after much doubt, like yours ... and it was precipitated by the same "If my parents had taught me any other religion, I would've believed it instead" epiphany. (I started out Southern Baptist, with a dad who is a pastor. My best friend was LDS, growing up in AZ where Mormons are a dime a dozen, and her dad was a bishop.)

I think this may be the first time I've "met" anyone whose moment of deconversion was essentially the same as mine. Cool.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Beckiwithani!!!

That's cool that we have such similar stories!

This one of the things I love about blogging -- finding interesting connections with people all over the world. :D

TRiG said...

My story is in some ways similar. You say that your "sinfulness" kept you in the church. Similarly, I would probably have left the Witnesses earlier if I wasn't gay.

Since I was gay, I had a reason to leave. And since I had a reason to leave, I didn't trust myself that I was leaving for the right reasons. And so I stayed till I was absolutely certain that I was leaving because it wasn't true, not leaving because it suited me to leave.


C. L. Hanson said...

Hey TRiG!!!

Exactly! Thanks for sharing -- it's interesting to see these sorts of cross-religion parallels.

Carla Schmidt Holloway said...

this is an awesome story! thanks so much for sharing, I also love what I've read of ExMormon!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Carla!!!