I was born into a Mormon family and some of my earliest memories are of singing cute songs about sunbeams and apricot blossoms alongside things I didn’t really understand. Mormon indoctrination is highly systematic. They start with fun stuff, program you with rote learning by song, then load on important decisions and responsibility before you know how to say no or even understand what you are getting into. I would argue that eight years old far too soon for any kid to understand what baptism is or the implications of joining a church. But when your friends all get dunked and everyone expects it, you get dunked too. There’s a steady layering on of expectations as you get older. I’ll spare those who aren’t familiar with them the tedious reality. Let’s just say it gets to be a lot less fun and a lot more like a part time job by the time you are an adult.
My rejection of the faith of my family started with my voracious appetite for stories. I read incessantly in my youth and instinctively knew a good story from a poor one. Not that I spent a lot of time in my youth in contemplation of religion. At the time it was merely an increasingly tedious weekly prison made of uncomfortable clothes and boring, boring speeches. About age ten I found that science fiction and fantasy were far more appealing than reality and I was thus exposed to a multiverse of fantastic ideas and possibilities.
At the same time, I also discovered the magic of computing and largely due to the draw of video games learned everything I could about them. This bolstered my interest in math and science and in the process, taught me that the scientific method may not provide all the answers, but it was by far the most reliable way humans know of for finding the truth.
I was also strongly influenced by attending an LDS seminary in my early years of high school. But rather than further indoctrinating me, learning more about religion only made me realize that the deeper you look, the more inconsistencies that you find. At some point I realized that the only absolute truths I could depend on were rooted in logic and anything else was just someone’s opinion.
Church became a source of conflict toward the end of high school. I had no interest or intention to attend and my parents were insistent that I not shirk my duties as a church member. This finally came to a head and in a moment of frustration, I told them I wasn’t sure that I believed in the church. I was surprised at the time that this got them back off a bit and not push as hard for my participation.
My disillusionment regarding religion didn’t dissuade me from thinking about it or researching it. I was not convinced that I had found truth, only that what I was told was truth didn’t match up with reality. The only thing that I was certain of was that most humans believe some form or another of complete nonsense. I spent years looking, reading and even praying for answers.
I even had a prayer answered. That is to say, I had a religious experience while in a very stressful situation in my early twenties and was reaching out for any kind of hope. I was almost a Mormon again for a few months. As the afterglow of this experience faded, I kept looking and hoping for answers to my doubts, but I still found nothing to put a solid foundation under my experience. I eventually realized I had succumbed to the completely human foible of believing in my own fantasy. Realizing I was also able to believe complete nonsense was quite humbling.
It was also incredibly freeing. I no longer strove and yearned for religious answers to the big questions in life. There was no reason to assume anyone else’s experience was more true than mine had been. I was also suddenly free of the dogma I had inherited. I had the ability and responsibility to evaluate the morality of every situation based on my understanding and empathy. I began to see far more nuance and shades of gray where only the black and white of good and bad existed before. I rejected many of the tenets of my former religion while keeping those that still made sense and found there is actually still a lot of good advice in scripture if you can get past the amorality, misogyny, contradictions and absurdities. ‘Moderation in all things’ is probably the best single rule for life, after ‘Don’t be a dick’.
Contrary to popular belief, someone who abandons religion does not abandon morality. If you weren’t in favor of murder before, you won’t be after. Your reasoning changes, but your character does not. The life you are living is all you can expect and living and sharing a good life here and now becomes your paramount interest. It may seem counter-intuitive, but abandoning your religion and being guided by empathy can also lead to a more Christ-like life hallmarked by kindness, kinship, acceptance and fairness largely due to a rejection of the exclusion, judgement and tribalism of a dogmatic religious viewpoint.
I have always been a seeker of truth and losing my religion further lowered my tolerance for falsehoods. I was keen to keep others from being fooled and to help others free themselves from their mental bondage so I went on a crusade. It was a good time to argue theology on the internet and oh man, I did. I soon discovered that I knew very little of all there is to know about Mormons specifically and Christianity in general. This drove me to do a lot of research that resulted in finding more and more and more and so much more that I was yet unaware was wrong with Mormonism, Christianity and theology as a whole.
The final nail in Mormonism’s coffin for me was that the archaeological record from the new world is completely at odds with the Book of Mormon’s descriptions of flora, fauna, events and technology. Potatoes and other crops are not mentioned, but barley and wheat are. Horses and elephants are mentioned but bison, llamas and alpacas are not. There are numerous examples of anachronisms and inconsistencies in the text and the apologist’s explanations are weak in themselves and absurd when viewed in the light of the book being a purportedly direct divine translation of ancient texts.
In short, the evidence says very clearly that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction and therefore Joseph Smith was clearly a fraud. His penchant for spinning such lies was illustrated most clearly and indefensibly by his ‘translation’ of several Egyptian papyri into the ‘Book of Abraham’. As you might imagine, his translation has no connection with the real meaning of the original documents that were later translated by real experts.
Finally satisfied that my abandonment of the LDS church was not only justified, but the only logical course of action, I have drifted away from the subject. In the last decade, I have come to avoid discussions of Mormonism rather than to seek it as I once did. I have no desire to offend or criticize those who still believe, many of whom I love and respect. The idea of picking a fight with someone over a belief system that gives them comfort is abhorrent to me. I officially left the church a few years ago when the fight against gay marriage was at its height. The total lack of empathy in the church’s public stance was simply one blindly hurtful act too many for me to take.
In closing, I’d like to point out that there are many wrong ideas about the irreligious peddled by believers for generally unkind reasons and I’d like to clear up one of them. I often hear some variation of ‘You’re just mad at God’ from believers trying to discount the experience or opinion of someone who has abandoned religion. Anger is certainly part of the process. I tried to be angry at my parents, but soon realized that they were victims, as were all church members. I tried to be angry at humanity for being so foolish and easy to fool, but I may as well be mad at a fish for swimming. However, I’ve yet to find a non-believer that is angry at God. That’s because it’s pretty hard to be angry with something you don’t believe exists. Ask yourself if you could be dazzlingly furious with Zeus.