Seeking Truth through Reason

I have spent my life within the confines of religion.  More specifically, the LDS/Mormon religion.  Over the last few years I have had a major paradigm shift that has opened my mind and unclouded my judgement. This is my journey of leaving organized religion behind.

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Being Invisible

Its a strange thing to leave a religion.  One that you have practiced faithfully for the majority of your life.  One whose practices you used in your home and raised your children with.  One whose beliefs you were married under.  It is lonely and isolating thing.

Some would say that I never really had a testimony.  That my testimony wasn’t strong or that I was not doing everything I could to maintain it.  Some would say that I was subtly led down by satan.  I was deceived.  Another theory is that I like to sin.  All of these ideas cheapen my experience.  For anyone to think that I am so shallow to just walk away from something that I spent my life trying to reinforce is ridiculous.

There was always a stirring inside of me.  A stirring that no matter how active I was, or how hard I prayed, was still there.  It was an unsettled feeling.  There were problems in the church.  Problems that I ignored for 20 years.  If only I could have kept myself from readdressing these problems, I would still be the same true believing girl with my head in the clouds and eternity in the celestial kingdom to look forward to.

I couldn’t stop the stirring.  I wanted to know things.  I didn’t care if they looked bad for the church.  I just felt lied to.  I had to know.  I needed the truth.  After years and years of trying to push that feeling down, I just couldn’t do it anymore.  The things I discovered can never be erased from my mind.  Members would call it anti-mormon material.  I call it history and facts.

When I left, I left quietly.  I was released from my calling and just stepped away from the group.  It took a few weeks for people to notice i wasn’t there but they figured it out eventually.   These people were supposedly my friends.  I have been in the same ward for 7 years.  They know me.  They know my husband and my kids.

I knew there would be gossip and speculation.  Those two words go hand in hand with the mormon culture.  What I wasn’t as prepared for was the immediate disconnect.  Almost like I never even existed.  There is a fear associated with talking to ex-mormons.   I kept hoping someone would ask me what happened or speak to me personally just so I can show them that I am not some sinning dissenter.  My intention is never to try and debate religion with anyone.  It is not to prove them wrong or justify myself.  I just have a need to explain to them that I am still the same person.  There is such a fear of anything contradictory that they just stay away.  Are their testimonies really so fragile?  Can the whole premise of the church really be decimated through a conversation with a non-believer?

Now, my family attends without me.  The ward speaks of me as if I have passed away.  They might as well just say “I’m so sad for your loss” to my husband and kids.  They have definitely implied that feeling.  I wish there was a more open vernacular.  I wish it didn’t have to be awkward when I see them at the store or in the community.  Why the hell is it so awkward?  If you are in the church or post mo, what is your experience?

What to do when youth leaders over-step

My daughter was pulled aside at mutual last week by one of her leaders.  The leader, who is very concerned with my lack of activity, is a very nice, well meaning woman.  However, she expressed to my daughter how hard it must be that I don’t go to church.  She then proceeded to bear her testimony.  This made my daughter uncomfortable because she is now thinking that everyone is talking about our family.

First off, to talk to her as if I’d died and then to insinuate that she needs re-assuring about the validity of the church is completely manipulative to such a young mind.  Then,  subtly implanting the idea that she needs to be careful around me like I am a bad influence is crossing some serious boundaries.

Its times like these when the post mormon anger comes out of me.  I am not an angry person normally.  I do not blame the people in the church for the things I have gone through.  I used to be just like them.   I understand that they are coming from a place of concern, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating.  When my daughter came to me with this story, my insides were just boiling and all I could think of doing was to lash out at this lady.  Up until this point I have kept my faith transition under wraps.  None of them have any idea where I am coming from.  I just lay low.  But now I feel like I am forced into some type of action.

I thought it over and decided it was best to cool down a little and figure out how to address this before I go overboard and create more drama in the process.   I had some ponder time to really think about what my objective is with raising my kids?  It’s to bring them up as individuals who can think for themselves.  Its to present them with information and thought processing skills to be able to determine what is good and right for them.  Yelling at this lady really isn’t going to get me any closer to my objective.  I realized in hindsight that I am actually glad that this lady approached my daughter because it opened up some beautiful conversation for us.

We talked about her feelings when this happened.  We talked about my position with the church.  We talked about setting boundaries with people at church.  We talked about what  we could say to people when situations like this come up.  It was extremely productive and we were both able to come away from this conversation with ways to better navigate people who cross boundaries.  These experiences and conversations only grow trust between us.  She knows she can come to me and I will not freak out.  She knows we can talk through things and she can find solutions and I will back her up.  She knows that I am safe and that I ultimately want her to do what makes her happy.

I did post about this in a post mo group that I’m in.  Other ideas of dealing with boundary crossers were to talk to the youth president and explain the situation in the home.  Express the discomfort and strain that well meaning people can put on a family who are trying to navigate new waters.  Speak directly with the violator (in a kind way of course) and let them know where you are coming from.  Communication is never a bad thing when done in a positive way.  Hope this helps someone out there 🙂

Giving up Garments (Mormon underwear)

As I’ve come out of the shackles of religion I have had so many “shaking my head” moments.  These moments brought about by things that I was so conditioned to believe that now, in my present state, I can’t understand how I let myself become so completely mind controlled.   Its such a weird feeling to know that you have been brain washed for the majority of your life.  Brain wash is such a harsh term but it is the only term I can think of that accurately represents how I feel.  And even worse than that is to know that I had let this organisation brain wash my children.

In the mormon religion you are taught that your body is a temple.  It is pure and a gift from god.  You shouldn’t explore it, touch it, let anyone else touch you or look at you.  Abstinence until marriage is priority 1.  (not unlike many other religious teachings).  Throughout my teen years I was barraged with messages about covering my body, not tempting the boys, no tank tops, no two piece bathing suits, shorts to the knee.  A lesson that taught if you have sex with a boy you are like a piece of gum that has been chewed and no one wants a chewed up piece of gum.  These are all things you are taught over and over from 12 years old to 18 years old.  This idea is reinforced at home through countless screwed up messages.

This process continues into adulthood.  When you get married in the Temple you make an agreement to wear church assigned underwear (garments) for the rest of your life.  Every single day.  You can only take them off for showers, sex, swimming and if you are a fringe mormon, you take them off for exercise.  But as soon as you are done with your activity you need to put them on immediately.  These garments aren’t a big deal for men.  They are a t shirt and boxer briefs.  Men do not seem as bothered by them as women do.  The women’s garment is a cotton or spandex short.  The waist goes high above the belly button and the length all the way to the top of the knee.  The top is a t shirt with cap sleeves.   There is no possible way to feel sexy in those things!  And that is exactly what they want. The absolute last thing that “the church” wants is for you to explore your sexuality or feel sexy. Orthodox women love their garments.  They are sacred to them.  However, I did too much research and found myself to come to different conclusions about the “sacred garment”.  You will have to do your own research there and trust me, there is some controversy.

Its not just the wearing of the garment that messes with your mind.  Its the fact that every mormon can pretty much tell by looking at you if you are wearing garments.  They look for hem lines on your back, knee or sleeves.  (you can see these especially on women.)  If you are wearing tight jeans there will be a seam above your knee where your garment ends.  I know this because I was conditioned to do this.  If someone was not wearing their garments, they were a sinner.  Plain and simple, they are doing something wrong.  Many mormons view women who show their shoulders or wear tank tops as being less than.  They are sending a message to men that they are willing and seeking attention.   Their clothes are a measure of them as a person.

The day I took my garments off was the most liberating day of my life.  I remember waking up one morning, looking in the mirror and being disgusted by everything they represented.  How on earth could I allow a bunch of old men in Utah tell me what kind of underwear to wear?!  I couldn’t believe I had allowed someone or something to control me that way!  It all of a sudden seemed completely preposterous.  I excitedly went to the store that day to by new underwear.  I felt like I was on a black ops mission inside of Target.  I didn’t want anyone from my ward to walk by and see that I was underwear shopping.

Over the next few months, the culture still had a little control over me.  I was worried about wearing anything where someone might notice that I wasn’t wearing them.  I was also trying not to freak my husband out because he thought that women who showed their shoulders were giving off the impression that they wanted to sleep around.  (thank goodness he doesn’t think like that anymore!)  So I slowly introduced shorts that went to mid thigh instead of the knee.  I felt like I wanted to hide in public.  I kept looking over my shoulder wondering who was going to catch me.  Those first few months were rough.

Over time, I stopped caring.  I am just going to be me.  They are going to have do deal with it.  I am sick of letting this organization have such control over my life that being in public gives me so much anxiety.  I see all of these non mormon women who are just so free.  Free from religion.  Free to make their own decisions.  Free to wear what they want, to watch what movies they want, to go where they want without even thinking twice about someone judging them, whether it be god or a nuanced mormon.

I had kept all of my garments in a drawer.  Not really knowing what to do with them.  Maybe I would wear them again some day?  But I knew I could never put them on my body and actually feel good about it.  I put them all in a large black garbage bag and threw them in the dumpster.  My had no idea.  I watched out the window as my husband unknowingly rolled the dumpster out to the road.  I was smiling.  That part of my life was over.  There was no remorse.  No regret.  Just the sweet sweet feeling of freedom.

 

 

Exiting your religious group without the drama

I live in a very populated Mormon area.  My friends are mormon, my family are mormon, my kids’ friends are mormon.  The majority of people I know are hard core believers.  When I first realized that I didn’t believe, I was the Young Women’s president.  For those that don’t know, that is an assignment to be a over the 12-18 year old girls in my area.  It is a very involved calling and I became very close with the girls.  I became a role model to them.  This was a particularly difficult situation to be in.  If they saw me leave the church there was a chance that they would start to question too and that was the last thing that I wanted.  First off, they are extremely smart but they are also extremely impressionable.   So I grudged through each Sunday for months, trying to not shout out at things I didn’t agree with.  I would just assign all the lessons I didn’t want to teach to another member of the presidency.  After a while I lost my fire for it.  I decided to go and see my bishop.  I had to be honest with him.

Here, dear reader is where things can go very wrong if you’re not careful.  I consider myself to be a pretty good communicator.  I have been a personal trainer/weightlifting coach for years.  There have been many times where I have had to convey messages to someone in crazy ways to get them to understand what I am saying.  It is not hard for me to get my point across while keeping cool.  I had done months and months of research and I pretty much could pull it all out if I needed to but I didn’t want it to go there.  A favorite quote of mine is “if you want peace, prepare for war”.  Well, I was very prepared with the knowledge I needed to express my feelings in a way that may come across easier.  I also knew that I had very personal boundaries and they were not going to be crossed.  The bishop is just a guy.  A lot of people will say they are close with their bishop, or he is a friend to their family.  Do you hang out with your bishop on the weekends?  Do your families go on vacations together?  That would be a friend.  For the majority of people, your bishop is just your “church friend”.  There are a lot of those in religion.  They are your friends when you are there but once you aren’t they don’t have time for you.  You really need to distinguish between real friends and church friends.

Anyway, I walk into the bishop’s office a little nervous.  This will be the first time I have come out to someone other than my husband.  I laid it out like this…”I no longer have a testimony of the church and I don’t feel like it is in the best interest of myself of the girls if I continue in this calling.”  He was pretty caught off guard.  Expect this…Immediately my credibility was questionable and I was viewed as a threat to the group.  While I knew this was coming, it still stung.  We chatted about the girls and how we should go forward with the least amount of waves.  When he probed and asked a question that was personal, I  simply told him that it was a personal question and I didn’t feel like answering it.  And guess what…he is not a detective!  He has no right to interrogate you.  You do not have to give any information that you don’t want to give!  And I didn’t.  We did, however, make an agreement that I would keep it quiet.  Especially on social media (which I planned on doing anyway).  I told him that I loved the people in the ward and would love to serve in other ways that didn’t involve teaching.  That idea was pretty short lived but hey, I gave him the option.  And that was that.

So point number 1.  BOUNDARIES- its no one’s freaking business what you believe.  Learn to skirt topics and make it clear to people when they are crossing a line.  They seriously have no idea most of the time.

Number 2.  Don’t tell everyone what you’ve discovered.  Trust me they don’t want to know.  And if they do want to know, there is google.  You are not google.  Keep your facts to yourself or share them in a private forum where people will actually appreciate them.

Number 3.  Don’t be a douche and post all of the pictures of you partying to “show” everyone in the church how much fun you’re having. They don’t see some free birds out discovering themselves.  They think “how sad”.  And should you give a F^%$ what they think?  no.  But if you are doing it simply to “show them” then you obviously do give a F#$@ what they think.

Number 4-  Don’t avoid people from church.  Let them know you are still a normal person.  Talk with them if you see them in the grocery store.  They need to know that you are not some poisonous snake that is a threat to their salvation.  Talk with them about their kids, about their vacations, about their jobs.  If they bring up stuff about church, just smile and nod.  Remember that just because it isn’t a part of your life, you still need to respect their beliefs the same way you would any person of another religion.  If they ask you why you haven’t been to church, be vague.  Normally they will format the question like this “I haven’t seen you at church in a while.  I hope everything is ok?”  You say, “Thanks for thinking of me.  Everything is great.”  None of this “yeah, well I don’t believe in it anymore” or whatever.  That is just opening up a door that you don’t want to open.  Now this is if its just some random church friend.  If its a real friend, that’s different.

Number 5- communicating with your real friends.  I had a really good friend come up to me and bluntly say “just tell me why you don’t believe anymore.  My testimony can handle it.”  Such a good friend.  But I simply told her, I have just done a lot of research that I didn’t feel lined up with the things being taught.  If you want to know, there are essays that the church has put out that you can read.  They shed some light on some of the things I have discovered.”  That was it.  And man, she opened that door for me like she was inviting in a vampire!  But I didn’t take the bait.  Her journey is hers.  Mine is mine.  If she wants to know, she is gonna have to search for it the same way I did.

Number 6- family.  ugggghhhh.  This one is rough.  Personally, I feel the same way about talking to family as I do about friends.  If they are hard core believers, it might be best if you just don’t say anything for a long while.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mean that you pretend to be a believer.  You just don’t talk about it.  Or you can find safe members of your family who are a little more open minded.  Everyone has a few of those in their family tree.  However, if you feel like you need to come out to them to be authentic, I understand and respect that.  I don’t see my family enough to have that kind of pressure.  But I suggest going with rule #1.  Have some boundaries.  Be vague.  Don’t answer questions you don’t feel like answering.  Keep the conversation calm.  Do NOT throw facts or history at them.  Do not lay everything out on the table.  In fact, present it as ‘you are struggling with your testimony’.   They will preach at you.  Just let them.  In their eyes, your salvation is at risk and they are going to do everything they can to try and save you.  That’s what families do.

Case in point- find similar people in your area who you can go to lunch with and discuss all the juicy details.  Respect those around you who still believe.  Let them come to their own answers the way you came to yours.  I understand there are some cases where it might not work out.  But you have control of you and that’s all that matters.

A Religion Red Flag

 

One of the first things that spurred my faith transition was the acknowledgement of my cognitive dissonance.  Up until 2 years ago, I had never even heard the term, let alone knew what it meant.  For all those living under the cloak religion like I was, it is “the mental discomfort experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas or values; and also occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values.”

In hindsight, I am completely astounded by the amount of times I had this feeling as a believing Mormon.  However, I had no idea at the time this was what I was feeling.  I was told by leaders that these types of feelings were from satan or a warning from the holy ghost.  I’m excited to delve into these occurrences in future posts.

A prime example is this:  I was conditioned from a very young age to not read any books that might challenge my beliefs.  If I had a question about my religion, the only place I should go for answers are through books and publications from the church itself.  And let me tell you, this belief runs deep in mormon culture.  I remember I was reading “A God who Weeps” by Terryl and Fiona Givens.  I had mentioned to a friend how wonderful it was.  Her reply “Is it from Deseret Book?  I will only read books that are written by LDS authors.”  It was actually from Deseret Book.  At this time I was still a believing Mormon but even this idea made me roll my eyes.  Her saying that one statement made me confront my dissonance.   It made me confront the fact that this was a screwed up way of thinking.  I know that Mormonism is not unique to these rules but looking back I can’t believe I fell for this.  I consider myself a very strong, independent, open minded individual, yet I spent 20 years of my life being told what is good and bad and right and wrong without coming to these conclusions on my own.

I remember the first time I gave myself permission to open up “anti-mormon propaganda”.  The cognitive dissonance causing my heart to race, my palms to sweat and gave me the urge to hide in my closet.  It was exhilarating and terrifying.  Satan at his finest.  It turns out that this “anti literature” was actually accurate history that has been buried and not talked about.  I researched my little heart out just to make sure what I was reading was actually legit.  The spectrum of emotion I felt was insane!  Validation, relief, anger, resentment, betrayal, peace, freedom.

From the second I allowed myself the to read, my life has changed dramatically for the better.  I feel real now.  I feel like my judgement isn’t clouded.  I can make my own decisions on what is right and wrong.  My whole outlook on life has changed!

If you are a part of a religious group, I challenge you to answer these questions…

Does your religion discourage you from reading books of different opinions?

Is your testimony so feeble that you cannot see two conflicting arguments and come to a conclusion with all the facts laid out?

Do you find yourself with feelings of cognitive dissonance over some of the teachings from your leaders?

These are important questions every religious person should ask themselves.  Now go and read some books!!!

 

Religion = Judgement

I remember my thought processes when I was an orthodox believer.  The stench of judgement still burns fresh in my nostrils.  When someone would leave the “church” my thoughts automatically turn to the idea that he or she must be sinning.  They didn’t pray or read their scriptures enough.  Such a shame they didn’t try harder to strengthen their testimony.  Or my favorite: assuming their adversity or unhappiness is a causation of their inactivity.

I have sat in ward councils and been a part of countless presidency meetings.  I know how this works.  It is so ingrained that you don’t even know it’s happening.  Judgement and religion go hand in hand.  You can’t have one without the other.   It is now so apparent to me the irony in it all.   A system that tells you not to judge, all the while conditioning you on how to do it perfectly.

Don’t get me wrong, I have met plenty of Mormons and have a lot of Mormon friends that are actually pretty cool.  But Mormonism as a whole is contrived on the idea of uniformity.  In order to be “in” you have to believe every single thing that is professed.  The minute you don’t, you are a threat to the community and your credibility is questionable.  Particularly if you were ever in any type of leadership position.

I remember the feeling I had when I realized that for the majority of my life, my mind had been controlled by an outside source.  It was like my world had tilted on its axis.  In the moment of this acknowledgement I instantly was able to see more clearly.  When I looked at people I knew, I saw them differently.  No longer pin pointing faults.  When I looked at my children there was a deeper, more pure love and acceptance than before.  No pressure to have them be a certain way.  The pressure that I had placed on myself as a Mormon Mom was completely gone.  And let me tell you, that pressure is extremely heavy.  My burden is much lighter now.  My love is more unconditional.  My experiences are more real.  Since leaving the religion, I have felt more like a true Christian than I ever did as a believer.

Do not misunderstand my intent with this blog.  It is not to debate religion in any way.  I had many wonderful experiences while I was a believer.  I do not wish to discount those.  This is simply my experience in the search for MY truth.