Friday, January 11, 2008

Former Saint

Recently, I have had a few readers from the ex-Mormon and Mormon community reading my blog. For them I am posting my Exit from Mormonism story; I wrote it for the Recovery From Mormonism board.

Please comment, and ask questions, I will answer all questions to the best of my ability.

The reason that I initially left the L.D.S. Church, at the moment I consciously decided to leave was pretty simple, I had no testimony. It was not an action of just slipping into in-activity but an actual thought. I could not say, with any honesty, that I knew the Church was true. This problem, and at 19  I did view it as a problem, prevented me from going on a mission.
My disaffection with the Church began earlier than that. As a kid, I probably was not much different from many other born and bred Salt Lake valley Mormons, insulated from the non-Mormon world because Mormons are the majority but enough non-Mormons so, that contact with non-members was common.
I can clearly remember that I had ingested the idea that we needed to avoid evil; in my mind non-members were not so much evil but had access to evil things so, obviously needed to be avoided; that philosophy only applied if they were doing something wrong, like smoking or drinking. As I grew up I could see how prejudiced my attitude was. Despite the awareness of my prejudice most of my friends were just as devout as I was, and I did not try to befriend people who were outside my faith.

As a teenager I was the type who took church pretty seriously, I never missed a meeting, went to seminary every day, I obeyed all the rules (I even turned down free tickets and a backstage pass to a Depeche Mode concert. Only because it was on a Sunday!)  Like many average teens the music I listened to and the look I adopted probably appeared pretty rebellious to other people; I was aware of that. Sure, I had spiky hair, wore a lot of black, I went to dance clubs and concerts on the weekend but my outer look did not necessarily reflect my spiritual life.
I was also hyper aware of what I thought of as fake righteousness. We were pretty poor, my father could not hold a job, and he suffered from bipolar disorder. When I was fairly young I was sure that my fathers mental illness  meant that he was not a righteous person.  Also If he were living the gospel he would be happier and would be able to hold a job.  When I was a teen and started battling my own depression I could see that this conclusion I made about him  was wrong but I perceived that others in the church and in our family did not see this.  I  sensed that my family, especially my dad was looked down upon for our relative poverty.  
The direction I took was to cultivate an authentic spiritual life that shed outward appearances and was more focused on my inner life; so I did all the things and tried to think the things a good Mormon should.
When I was fifteen I took some summer theater classes at University of Utah, through this I started making friends with non-Mormons, this was when I became aware that “righteousness” was not something that only Mormons had, I also discovered that even people who were not religious could be “good.”
This little realization was faith shattering. I realized that, according to my church, these people from other churches were moral, but they lacked the absolute truth that Mormonism offered. So, if they did not accept the “truth” as we saw it, even with all their good deeds, they would not make it to the Celestial Kingdom, the highest tier of heaven in L.D.S. cosmology. This bothered me, instead of just accepting this explanation I started to doubt that Mormon truth was absolute.

By the time I was 19 these doubts were fairly solid, they were helped by the fact that, despite my often desperate prayer sessions, where I would ask god for some sign of the Church's truth, I expected the "burning bosom" that was often referenced, this feeling often came in church when we were singing hymns and it came at a Public Image Ltd. show when John Lydon  screamed "anger is an energy."  I never did get the witness that so many had promised so, instead of doubting the church I doubted my sincerity.  It was really easy to tell my bishop when it became time for my mission interview that I could not put my papers in until I had some personal revelation.  My view was that my faith and testimony should be solid, so that when I went out looking for converts I would be able to really believe what I was doing.
My bishop told me I should just go and my doubts would be lifted. I can see now the wisdom in this statement; yes, sometimes you just have to jump and maybe if I had just gone I would not have left the church. With all the doubts I had, a mission may have just cemented my feelings even more, and I probably would have gone to a place with even less Mormon influences than Salt Lake City.
When my mission interview took place I was living with my girlfriend  who was not Mormon and we lived in a part of SLC where, as the local singles ward bishop put it, kids who don't want to be in the church anymore go. 
 After my initial break with the church my Girlfriends mom was pretty influential in my post-Mormon “spiritual” development. During the Late sixties she had become involved with a group of American Hindus. She had a guru and practiced yoga.
She gave me a couple of her guru's  books plus some others in the eastern philosophy bent. What grabbed me from the outset was that their idea of god fit mine easily. My idea of god had gotten fairly large in my imagination;  god was not this judgmental character who had a chosen people but one who loved all his children and gave them several ways to get back to him.
I began practicing yoga, not just as physical exercise, but as a spiritual one. I also devoured books about yogic philosophy and Buddhism. I read books by Alan Watts, Ram Das, and Jack Kerouac. I spent a couple of months living at an ashram in California, where I learned meditation and various yogic practice’s, and met other young people like myself who were searching for an authentic spiritual life.
This was an incredible time in my life, being free from Mormonism, I felt free to choose my experiences without fear. I believed fervently that I could free myself up with yogic practice and truly worship god with my whole self, not the limited self I felt I was as a Mormon. Once I achieved that state, I thought that I would really be living “righteously” and the appearance of righteousness would be because of what was inside.
I was also free to do things that are denied to a member of the church, which meant that I could make mistakes and not worry about whether or not I would still go to heaven.
By the time I was 24, I was as far as I could get from Mormonism. I was not interested in it, I did not think about it much, except when I traveled and people would ask me where I was from. My pride in my Mormon pioneer heritage became apparent to me; I loved to tell people that my relatives were involved in the beginnings of the church and had scouted out and settled the Salt Lake valley. My disaffection from the church did not change my feelings for my family, nor did it seem to change how they felt about me. I am aware that for many exmormons this is not the case and I know I am lucky in this respect.
By the time I was 27 I had begun practicing Zen, I had a 2 year old son, and an ex-girlfriend with whom I was sharing parenting duties. At this time, I met a woman who was about six months from departing on a mission for the church, to Bolivia. She was attractive, intelligent, well educated and a devout Mormon.
We discussed and debated religion a lot, which, I found to be one of her more attractive attributes. My Zen practice softened my bias against the church significantly enough so, that when she suggested to me that I take a second look at the church, I did. I also had the thought that I might go back to the church. I can’t say honestly that my attraction to my friend did not influence this; mostly going back would have been out of my nostalgia for simplicity. I decided that the best route for me would be to take an institute class.
I chose a class at Salt Lake community college which was taught by one of my former high school seminary teachers, this teacher was the only person who suggested to me that exploring other religions fully was not a bad idea. The class did not sway me in any way to go back to church. In fact during the class I got the impression that Mormonism was much more convoluted than I had originally thought. I also found it devoid of the pragmatic approach to spiritual development I had found if Zen practice. The other effect it had on me was that I could now admit that Mormonism was fine for other people, but not me.
At the time of this writing it has been 17 years since I decided to leave the church, I finally had my name removed about three years ago. I currently am a practitioner in the Soto school of Zen Buddhism. Leaving the church has been more of a journey than a destination for me; a journey that brings me back to it, in mind, frequently. One of my struggles has been to accept the parts of myself that are still Mormon, and respect those who practice it. The immediate benefit I can identify from this struggle is that I have good relationships with the members of my family who are solidly L.D.S.

(Now it has been almost 21 years since I left.)


Mr. Sean said...

Great post & i felt quite similar as a teenager, although my LSD i mean LDS, was leftism. Still is! I'm still furious with it! Anyhow, i thought i'd give you another "right", in that Buddha was indeed born 400 or so years before Christ. Not 400 years after. My goodness. That dang buddha.

Randy said...

I, too, practice Soto Zen; however, I remain on the rolls of the LDS Church. My hostility towards the organization has softened considerably the more I view it as a flawed, human organization. Also, my wife has become active again, and I wouldn't want to hurt her feelings by having my name removed. Besides, people in Louisiana--even Mormons--tend to leave you alone if you ask them to, so there's no need to take action to formally disassociate with the church.

Mr. Sean said...

Randy makes a good point, in that all human constructs have flaws & that perfection rests with the dead.

Beat Dad said...

That is one of the views of perfection that is commonly held in Zen, I find.

That to be perfectly calm only comes with death is another.

Another way to look at, that is the perfectly behaved toddler, is a sleeping one.

C. L. Hanson said...

Great story!!!

Discovering that the difference between Mormons and non-members wasn't quite what I was taught to expect was the crucial point for me as well: my deconversion: the tipping point.

hm-uk said...

Hey BD, sorry it's taken me so long to stop by. You have so eloquently posted your exit story. I've just finished the second part of mine. I wish I could have been more concise in my writing but I often lack brevity!

Beat Dad said...

Hi Chanson; The other thing that bugged me that I did not mention is the teaching of free agency. It sounds good, it seems like you have freedom to go where your mind and spirit leads you.

The reality is, when they say read the scriptures and study it out in your mind, you are supposed come to the conclusion that the Church is true, if you don't you have succumbed to that mind clouding that the dark one is so famous for.

Maybe I am just preaching to the choir; I would love to read Hellmut, Seth R. and DPC's take on that.

Olivia said...

Hey Wayne!
I am glad to hear your are doing well, making babies, and at peace. I'm still enamored with and intrigued by all of the mysteries, idiosyncrasies, and enlightenment I find in the Mormon church, but I definitely understand how the culture of the church and the (imperfect) human-ness of it can be off-putting and seem suffocating and constrictive. I'm down with Buddha, yo! Anyhooter, good to hear from you!

p.p.s. I was sad to read your post about Kyle's visit... it broke my heart.
p.s. I think your LDS co-worker went on a mission to ECUADOR, though I can understand why BOLIVIA might have come to mind :)

Beat Dad said...

Hi Olivia,

Thanks for dropping by!

I think, the thing that makes Mormonism legitimate, is the people practicing it and living well; and has little to do with being right for everyone.

The same can be said for every Religion and philosophy; to a degree.