Here is a modified excerpt from a 60-page writing that I made for close friends and family members when I decided to leave the church a few months ago. It was my attempt at helping them understand my view. I think most of them didn’t bother reading it. I wasn’t looking forward to the conversations that I would be having with them, but I was surprised to find myself not having those conversations.
Today’s guest post is by Michael. In the spirit of Mormon Stories, he was invited to share his experience.
I thought the people that believed in the church and loved me most in the would have at least tried to “save my soul.” I would have done it for them, had the roles been reversed. Although, it would have led me to the place where I am now, which may be the underlying (perhaps subconscious) reason why they don’t wish to go there.
If someone told me three years ago that I would be where I am now, I would have never believed them. And yet, here I am. A few years ago, I decided that I should probably learn more about church history. Not out of pure interest, but more out of duty. I heard that the book “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling” was written by a member of the church, but didn’t give the usual sanitized version of history that is given in Sunday School. I was intrigued.
I read the book. It was slow going, but I finished it. More than any of the strange practices or weird events, the thing that bugged me the most was Joseph Smith himself. I couldn’t place it at first, but I soon realized that I didn’t really like Joseph as a person. I felt kind of guilty about that because we have been raised, and it has been ingrained in us, to love Joseph and the other men of the restoration. My feelings of guilt were lessened a bit when I found out that I was definitely not the only one that felt that way. There were many others in the church that felt the same way. In fact, my dad bought a video that features a question and answer session with the author and even he admits that, by the time he was done with his research and writing, he did not like Joseph Smith either.
When I finished with the book, it made me wonder: Maybe there was a reason why things were not sitting right with me and others. The Joseph we had been taught about growing up was not the real Joseph, so who was. Also, I wondered: If this book was written by a member, then how much of a positive slant is he putting on things? That’s when my journey really began. There are so many differing and conflicting accounts out there that I sometimes felt like a detective, trying to piece together what most made sense to me.
As I said above, I went searching into church history as a kind of church duty. I felt that I ought to take a look into it. I thought that I would search things out and find that history would vindicate the church and the prophet. I believed (and believe) that the truth does not fear investigation and the facts would be overwhelmingly in favor of the church. I found the opposite to be the case. This mostly surprised me because of my father.
He is well versed in church history, and I think I trusted heavily in his ability to interpret events. Sometimes, when I would find out something new, I would ask him, “Doesn’t this bother you?!?” He wouldn’t answer. At times I wondered why I was the only one who was bothered by some of the things I was finding. I wondered if I was the only crazy one or the only one who wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why, when I showed them a claim of the church or Joseph Smith and then showed them how that claim was in fact false, they didn’t seem to care. Well, I found out some interesting things related to that. Although most of the close people around me did not seem to want to face any of this stuff, I found out that I was not alone. Besides a number of people that I know that don’t believe, but are hanging on for various other reasons (family, friends, structure, etc.), there are many, many people leaving the church every year. It always helps a person fell less crazy when you know there are others making hard decisions like you.
The other thing that made me understand the situation better, was something told to me by a friend. I mentioned to him that I could not understand why these things bugged me and no one else seemed to care. He said, “Ok, tell me something that bugs you.” So for the 20th time or so, I mentioned that Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Abraham from Egyptian papyri. A decade after Joseph died, the Egyptian language was deciphered from the Rosetta Stone. Reading the papyri, it does not say what Joseph claims it said. When I gave him that one example, he went on to say that most people don’t think as much as I do, so they don’t let it bother them. Adding to that, he said, “Plus, it’s the Book of Abraham. Who cares about the Book of Abraham?” And then he ended, mentioning that some people will stay in for the sake of loyalty–they are Mormon and will always be Mormon.
Those are ideas that had never really entered my mind. It had never really occurred to me that even if the facts were against the church, people would still remain in it. I was not sure which answer he gave me that bugged me the most. If he only knew how much the Book of Abraham feeds into his own belief system. How could he say, “Who cares about the Book of Abraham?” I mean, the teachings exclusive to Mormonism don’t come from the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon was written in such a way that it virtually does not stray from biblical teachings. There is little or nothing new in the doctrine from the Book of Mormon. It is the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price that set Mormon theology apart from “regular” Christian theology.
These words of indifference, of not caring if it is true in the literal sense are so foreign to me. I first heard them from my best friend a few years ago, before I had ever expressed any doubts. As we passed by the house of a neighbor that had left the church after studying church history, he said, “I don’t understand Bro. So-and-So. I mean, even if I didn’t think the church was true, I wouldn’t leave it.” At that point, I blurted out a very loud, “WHAT?!? Are you serious?” He was. My other best friend who was also there that night is the one I mentioned in the above paragraph, who also doesn’t care about the church being true in any literal sense. Another close friend, for whom I was the best man at his temple wedding, wrote me an email when he found out that I had left the church. It was not what I expected. He congratulated me on doing what he said he never had the courage to do.
Perhaps the most painful response was from my girlfriend. She told me she was proud of me and for what I was doing. She started calling me Winston (the main character from 1984, who rebels against Big Brother). It shocked me that she would say such a thing that seemed so telling to me, and it saddened me when she said she wouldn’t be joining me. In HER OWN ANALOGY she chose to love Big Brother.
These people that have been such a large part of my life (three of the four I have known since we were children) now feel like strangers to me. Their way of thinking on this matter has never been an option for me. I have always considered such choices to be wrong, even in the best-case scenario, and in a worst-case scenario, downright evil. Although I don’t consider this a worst-case scenario, I am still left baffled that such good people would choose such a path. It would bother me less if they hadn’t all served missions and didn’t plan on teaching the rising generation that these beliefs are true. If they stand where they do, why are they passing the information on as truth? I am still working on the answer to that one. In the mean time, for the sake of preserving respect for my loved ones, I am forced to concede that making the choice to believe in something that you don’t truly think is reality, may not be as evil as I thought…