I’ve shared my exit story with a number of people, but I decided that it would be nice to have it on my blog so there’s a single accessible place where I can share it. I personally enjoy reading these, so it only seems fair to have this available for those who are interested. I’ll apologize in advance that this will get rather long.
I’ve already written in detail about a number of experiences that prepared me for my exit. When I was very young I learned that just because something doesn’t affect you, doesn’t mean it affects no one. Though there were other experiences that shook my faith (my patriarchal blessing being very wrong, several lessons that brought up uncomfortable questions, and several deep questions the church had no answer for among others; all of these seem worthy of their own blog post at some point), none shook me so profoundly as learning that Stuart Matis committed suicide because of the incompatibility of his homosexuality and his membership in the Mormon church. Nothing, that is, until I attended BYU.
Looking back to my BYU experience I have mixed feelings. It’s always interesting to look back at that in retrospect. I went in with a testimony, albeit a relatively weak one, hoping to come out with the holes restored. The church is true, afterall. Or so I thought. To be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed my first semester there. I made friends that last to this day, almost all of whom remained true friends even after learning of my apostasy. I met many students who are true believers in the church and in whom I have a great deal of respect, and instructors that never cease to impress me with their knowledge and skills in the subjects they teach. Despite the relentless attempts at indoctrination, the classes that were harmed by this are in the minority (at least the ones I took) and not enough to have seriously impacted the quality of my education. At my graduation I was admittedly quite happy to meet with and personally express gratitude to many of my instructors, none of whom have any idea that I haven’t set foot in a chapel since, and never plan to. That way it will remain if I can help it.
Even my first semester there, however, my bullshit detectors were in overdrive. Every where I turned I saw evidence of confirmation bias, attributing natural occurances or decisions of others to the divine, and even expressing deep gratitude for the school itself. This last one threw me through a loop. There were plenty of other schools out there, many of which have institute classes, what’s so special about this one? Then came my second semester there. Here I took an Old Testament class that set in motion the events that would lead to my apostasy. In case you choose not to read the linked article, the short version is the instructor stood up and said some things that I knew were impossible (the flood being a global event and Adam and Eve were real thus contradicting the entire foundations of Biology Sciences) and he backed up his claims with Joseph Smith quotes. What happened next was the first of several events that would change the course of my life forever: he bore his testimony of the truthfulness of these claims, all the while my fellow classmates were remarking about how much they felt the spirit; thus confirming that testimonies are by their nature unreliable.
The walk back to my apartment from that class was arguably the longest 10 or so minutes of my life. I still remember vividly the myriad of thoughts — most of them unpleasant — that were going through my mind. If Joseph Smith said something so blatantly false while claiming to have prophetic insight, what else could he be wrong about? Could he possibly be a liar? Over the next few days my school work admittedly suffered as my focus was on how the church could possibly be false. I was still under the church’s spell at the time, so the idea of it being false was very difficult to fathom. After a few days of this I decided to take Moroni’s Challenge as I had been taught in Seminary. Of course, they claim that if you pray sincerely you would receive a confirmation that it is true, but to my mind faith without actions is dead; so I would follow up my fervent prayers by reading the Book of Mormon with honest inquiry. Further, I wouldn’t allow any “anti” material influence me, I would give this the absolute best shot possible.
But how on earth could I know with just the book itself in front of me whether it’s true? I knew there was no evidence for the events in the Book of Mormon, but absence of evidence only meant they haven’t found it yet. (I know now that this is a fallacy but I hadn’t fully reached the logical mindset yet) There was no way to verify the supernatural claims, and I had just experienced a fairly spectacular witness that the spirit alone wasn’t reliable. So the only thing left that I could think of was anachronisms. I prepared a notebook and began reading, dutifully writing down anything that I could think of that might reveal an anachronism should there be any so they could be verified or dismissed as the case may be using the internet. Finding this book perfectly consistent with what we can verify in history would be something, even if the Lamanite people themselves were nowhere to be found.
If you are an exmormon yourself you can probably guess what happened next. The anachronisms came pouring in faster than I could verify them. It started with the use of steel before my research showed that it was invented, and went downhill from there as I realized that metallurgy in the Book of Mormon is way beyond what was ever available in the Americas; and we would see a vast difference in the civilizations here otherwise. Then I got to the chariots and horses, Cimiters, the use of the words Bible and Synagogue—which I tried to justify by assuming that Joseph Smith used his own semantics for something else, which fell apart when I realized that this was supposedly divinely inspired.
Yet I kept reading. I don’t know why, somehow I must have hoped that I would find something later that would make it all better. And then it came. The Tower of Babel, mentioned as a historical site. Right here in the “most correct book on earth.” One of the stories in the bible that could not possibly be true given the towering evidence against it. There it was, staring right back at me. I continued reading into the next chapter, perhaps hoping to find some hint that the reference to the tower was allegorical, but by this time it was too late. This of course set off a chain of emotional triggers which soon left me a complete emotional wreck, as I was utterly unprepared for what I had found.
And even as I made that realization, in student housing at BYU of all places, I still tried to do mental gymnastics, finding some way to twist this to make the church true. But no matter how hard I tried, no matter how strong my bias was in favor of the church, I couldn’t do it. If the ancient authors of this book thought the tower was real, God would have set them straight. And if God were to allow untrue myths in his divinely inspired holy book—which is supposedly free of errors—that would make him a liar, and according to what I had been taught he would cease to be God.
By now my prayers became much more to the point: O God, and the prophets hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee. And if all I may receive for a sign is to be smitten, struck down or made deaf; I would accept this, for it would be better to have this and know than to dwindle in unbelief. (having just read the Book of Mormon, this was a slightly altered version of Alma 22:18 and being fresh in my mind it made a natural choice to try and salvage my testimony) As I had been taught, this had to work, right?
After a few ultimately painful weeks of attending classes in the indoctrination heavy environment that is BYU, I decided to take another shot at that book. I actually sat down and read it again. But this time I was reading a completely different book, one that I had never read before. I wasn’t reading scripture or accounts of real people, but clumsy fiction filled with manipulative snares and fear tactics to command belief. As I read, the entire reality of the church that I grew up in unfolded in a dazzling display even as my entire world view rapidly snapped together into a new form that, though atheistic, was surprisingly familiar. It seemed as though I had this atheistic world view all along that was simply cocooned behind the walls erected through my childhood indoctrination. And at last, this book made sense. Through Laman and Lemuel I understood why apostates seemed to be fools. Through Korihor I understood why questioning the church as I had been was such a frightening prospect. Through Nephi killing Laban I understood how I was able to justify bad things that Joseph Smith and even God did. Everything fit. There was no more need to verify my findings. This was evidence so powerful I could not refute it, that not only was the Book of Mormon not what it claimed it was, but neither was the church.
Ultimately, I found one reconciliation that worked for me. That the church is not true, but run with entirely good intentions and by people who believe what they teach, and is therefore ultimately a force for good. Not true, but good, and something that is as good as the Mormon church is something I can get behind. Armed with this, and with grades far below where they needed to be, I returned to my studies and participated the same as I always had. Deep down, something was still wrong though. Interestingly, I found myself defending the church more at this point in my life than I ever had as a believer. It was dishonest, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized why I did this: I really didn’t want anyone else to go through what had, what up until then was arguably the most painful and traumatic experience of my life. This lasted for most of my BYU education, and for the most part, it wasn’t that difficult. I still had friends there, I still found plenty to do, and even had a girlfriend for a while.
Not bad. Until fall 2008, at least. Proposition 8 changed everything. I knew the church wasn’t true, but once again, I was having my world view shattered. This isn’t just bullying, these are people who claim to speak for God, and there members of the LGBT community that believe they actually do— a belief that for many can lead to depression and end in suicide. I sat back and beheld the church that I held dear destroy the lives of others. Then at FHE, in my classes and in church I was surrounded by people who constantly verbalized their disdain for homosexuals; often making degrading jokes about them and declaring that they should all be shipped off to third world countries or otherwise disposed of. I dared say nothing. I knew this was wrong.
But the worst was yet to come, the second moment at BYU that would change my life forever, the impact of which perhaps eclipsed the first: The bishop stood in sacrament meeting and read the names of a dozen students in the ward. One by one, each student stood has his or her name was read. The bishop then proceeded to announce that these members were called to be “call operators.” In other words, they were to spend certain hours of the week at a nearby call center and bother people in California to tell them how to vote. Never before had I seen a more spectacular display of unfettered evil as I had witnessed there. The church using resources like this to influence an election, vilifying the LGBT community, and ultimately leading youths to suicide who think that God hates them. That’s the pattern with gay youth, they fail to make themselves straight and conclude that God either hates or doesn’t care about them. Think about the psychological consequences of that. It’s no wonder that many of these kids end their own lives. This is what was going through my head in that meeting, I may as well have been witnessing a murder. That’s what the church was doing.
I was secretly distraught when Prop 8 passed. This was the first time I had felt any guilt since mentally disconnecting myself from the church; guilt for not speaking up. For not doing anything. Although I can’t imagine anyone blaming me for my inaction, just having gone through that experience is something I’ll never forget, and played a major role in shaping up who I am today; for in my mind the measure of how good a person is was by how willing they were to stand up for something that doesn’t affect them. This would have been the perfect time for me: I wasn’t gay, so standing up for gay rights would have been the ultimate measure of being a “good” person. I was forced to fail my own test.
I have a very difficult time seeing anyone in emotional pain. But my awakening didn’t truly end there. My eyes were now opened. As I began researching thoroughly into the human mind, the psychology of belief and cult thought reform I began to see how the people around me were really affected by Mormonism. I saw men smothered in guilt at their inability to stop masturbation. I saw women subtly degraded into virtual drones, giving up their dreams to follow their “divine callings.” I saw people get into marriage traps by marrying someone they hardly know, only to discover later that they were not emotionally compatible; and either end in divorce or result in a long miserable marriage. And since porn never says no, it’s the perfect scapegoat. I saw many people stressed and worried about not doing or contributing enough even as the tasks they’re stressing about are trivial and meaningless. I’ve seen families broken apart over things that should be non-issues, bishops giving bad advice while trying to be counselors despite no training, returned missionaries smothered with guilt and often with permanent health problems, and ample evidence that the leadership of the church is well aware of their actions and simply do not care.
A few short months passed after Prop 8 when I received news that my grandpa had died. This was a man that I was very close to. Soon after, I wasn’t all too surprised to learn that the last man to see him alive was his home teacher on his visit to the hospital to perform a priesthood blessing. His blessing boldly declared that my grandpa would live and make a full recovery. He was dead less than two hours later. I knew the day would eventually come, but I had hoped it would be at least another 20 years or more. And it could have been, he was 70 at the time.
While I had attended many funerals, including some that were suicides, none were of people that I was close to until now. I determined that I should think on his memory in a positive light. Let those thoughts be on the times he made me laugh, that he made me happy. Of the joy he brought to everyone around him. As I approached the casket at the viewing it suddenly occurred to me. I’m atheist. I stood there a few moments staring at his lifeless body, shocked at this realization. I knew the church wasn’t true, but how long was I atheist? Since my Book of Mormon read-through? Though I wouldn’t admit it until the viewing that day, I had been an atheist all along, in denial about it.
Then a second realization occurred to me. I was the only one there that was coping half way descent with this. I stood there surrounded by family, all of them true believers, and all of them weeping with no real comfort from the church. Though I was distraught and going through a very difficult time, so were they; the church truly had nothing to offer me. It was debatable whether it even had anything to offer them. My apostasy was complete. There’s no going back, no way to force myself back into that environment as I once could. And as I examined my former beliefs, it became more and more absurd. It was embarrassing. How could I have believed in this?
As I returned to finish up BYU I turned to knowledge as my final coping mechanism. I learned everything I could about cult thought reform through books and online resources so I could understand what I had experienced, especially since I was morbidly fascinated by the fact that I could still participate like nothing happened for over two years before prop 8 really shook me out of it. But most of all, it has become abundantly clear that majority of the members of the Mormon church are very good people; but are victims of this organization. Being intelligent does not make you immune from indoctrination. I really needed to learn that to come to terms with the idea that I’m not stupid, and neither are most believing Mormons.
A small fraction of what I learned has been posted on this blog but the real fruits of this effort will come much later.
Until then, I’ll never stop ferreting out the truth.