Monday, July 16, 2012

The Great Unknowing

Okay, I have to admit, this is the scariest blog post I have written yet. I can't remove it from me and I can't be funny about it. This is just me answering the questions that have been asked of me so much lately. And it's all the raw emotion I can't bring myself to say in regular conversation.

Here it is:

This is my story of why I decided to walk away from the LDS church.

I grew up in the LDS church, born and raised. Just like everyone around me. The small town I grew up in has about 8000 people in it. I don't know the exact percentages, and I don't want anyone to argue semantics with me, so I'm going to just say this: the incredible majority of people I knew were LDS. Everybody had a ward, everybody went to Sunday School. People were just expected to go. And in some ways, that was extremely unifying. And in others, it wasn't..

For those of you who don't know, the Mormon church doesn't just abide by the Ten Commandments. There's a whole other set of rules that I don't think that non-mormons aren't ever really conscious of. The most poignant example of this is the Strength of Youth pamphlet, which was passed around incessantly as I grew up.

This pamphlet is not malicious. It does not say anything horrible or inherently awful. It's the social stigma that follows this pamphlet that always made me uneasy. There are no hard and fast rules. Avoid extremes in appearance is one of the things outlined. But what is an extreme? I never thought anything I wore was particularly extreme. But I could see my mother's disappointment when I got ready in the morning. Black again? Striped tights? TO CHURCH? This frustrated me. I didn't have gauges, I didn't wear a Shakira onesie. But I always sort of wanted to.

Oh, but doesn't she look fine....
And that is a major problem. Because outlined in the doctrine is the underlying thought that even thinking about or wanting something against God's will is just as bad as committing the sin. I think it comes from this passage of the Bible, but I'm not particularly sure.

 Matthew 5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever alooketh on a bwoman to clust after her hath committed dadultery with her already in his heart.

That seems rather harsh. Espeically if it occurs straight across the board: if I wanted to get an extra piercing: UNRIGHTEOUS DESIRE. If I wanted a tattoo: UNRIGHTEOUS DESIRE. If I ever wanted to drink: UNRIGHTEOUS DESIRE.

And these were all sins. Through out all of middle and high school, I was plagued by an awful guilt sprial. Mostly because what I wanted to be as an adult looked like this:

Open back dress? UNRIGHTEOUS DESIRE.
Shocking gorgeous tattoo? UNRIGHTEOUS DESIRE.

 And none of that was church sanctioned. Right about the age of fourteen, I began inhaling fashion magazines and books. They became my taste of what the "real world" was like. The real world was a magical place for me, and one I dreamed of often.

It was a place where I could wear clothing I liked and not be judged for it. Where I could have intelligent conversations with people about things that were taboo in Mormon culture. (Like sex or science, for example.) Where the second question out of people's mouths wasn't, "Are you LDS?" Where discussions about incredibly tedious parts of "the doctrine" didn't happen. (So if dressing immodestly is a sin, is being naked a sin? Or only being naked in public? Was my doctor seeing me naked a sin? What about changing in the school play....?)

I fell in love with the notion of this place and there were very key media influences that played into this.
-Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine
-Teen Vogue
-F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
-George Orwell's 1984

I began realizing that there were entire sections of life that I would miss out on if I never stepped outside of the Mormon religion. There was parts of me I could never understand if I never stepped outside.

So I started to. I began swearing in the 6th grade. I became friends with non-mormons, just to see what they were about. I made dirty jokes.

And I waited for the axe to fall. My religious upbringing had taught me that wickedness never was happiness, so there was no way I was going to escape unscathed. And for a while, I attributed what I should have realized was bad hormones and timing, to God's revenge upon me.

This was roughly how it went:

Try something new and slightly rebellious.

Feel bad.

Guilt myself into depression.

Attribute that depression to God's rage.

And then "repent".

Start over.

And then something happened. I don't know when exactly, but I started realizing that my depression and anxiety wasn't God's punishment. It was my body coping with all the shit that comes with puberty. It was me trying to get a grasp on how large and vast the world was. And I began realizing other things too.

This was right around the time that I met Chapman White. Chapman is one of my dearest and most loving friends, and I don't think he'll ever completely understand how much I love him.  Chapman is a proverbial rock. Nothing shakes him. And I began realizing that Chapman was one of the most open and loving and hardworking (I really could sing his praises for days.) people I knew. And shocker: he wasn't Mormon.


I know, this seems SO stupid, but it was a BIG deal to me. And suddenly my two worlds started to converge. I could have the future I wanted. I could be happy. If only I let this Mormon dream go.

But I couldn't. It was so deeply engrained. Stay religious, get married (IN THE TEMPLE), have six hundred babies, die surrounded by posterity. But I didn't want that.

I wanted to be sexy, successful, single. I wanted to gorgeous, and seductive. I wanted to be a film noir goddess. I wanted to be intelligent, extremely well-read. I wanted to be tactful and tolerant. I wanted to have a husband some day, but not necessarily children. And mostly I wanted the ability to say "I don't know." I wanted to be able to throw my head up to the sky and say, "I don't know how this got here." I wanted to be able to look at a person of another religion and say, "I don't know which of our attitudes is correct." I wanted to be able to hang out with goths, beatniks, muslims, ANYONE.

And I began realizing that life was all sensations and moments. And if I just embraced them, and stopped worrying about whether what I was doing was appropriate, I enjoyed it more. And I enjoyed the hell out of my last two years of high school. I really did. Me and my friends tried to rip Morgan from the ground up. We ran around in the rain, and swore and were just young, all over the floor.

And then I went to college. And I met some people. John Stuart and Lissa Jones and others. So many people who changed my reality significantly. John was gay. And John was fetching awesome. Lissa was crazy, but that's why I loved her. And I realized that I was okay with homosexuality. And that coffee didn't create murderers. And that not everyone who drank was an alcoholic who  beat their kids. And that I didn't want to be around depressing people. And slowly, but surely, the blinders started coming off..

And slowly, I became happier.

And then weirdly enough, I feel right back into that guilt spiral somewhere around November of last year. I looked around Cedar City and wondered why I hadn't been asked on a date in 2 years. And  I began to believe that my limited success in college and in dating had to be because of my lack of faith. Maybe this was payback for all those years. So I threw myself back into church, I met with my bishop constantly. I went to activities. I started trying to date LDS guys.

And when none of this worked out, I felt myself resenting the church. Because when I put minimal effort into the church, I expected minimal results. But there was another scripture that was troublesome. It said that God was bound to keep his promises when you lived your life accordingly. I had completely gotten my life together. I was temple worthy for the first time in years.

And I was miserable.. I found myself sitting in church meetings wishing I was playing video games. I was stressed and inconsistent.

And I started wondering if God kept his promises. And I began realizing that God had a pretty sweet system. People could look around at the beauty around them and say, "Oh God is truly wonderful. Look at how beautiful his creations are!". But if anything was unappealing or tragic, (cancer for example), God got off scotch-free. He didn't create evil things, those things were just bad luck. How convenient. And if he didn't answer your prayers? You probably weren't praying hard enough. Your life was kind of sucky? It was your fault for not taking the responsibility.

So if all of the bad things in my life were my fault, why not just take credit for the things that were good? Friends that loved me, grades I worked hard for, etc. What if God had nothing to do with anything?

What if God didn't exist?

I read Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God. I inhaled Richard Dawkins, starting with God Delusion. And science made a whole lot of sense. If everything just evolved, there was no right or wrong, per say. There were moral things, which have value, but no moral is more valuable than another. And homosexuality wasn't wrong, it was just an interesting gene. I've laid out the rules I live by in another post, so I won't go over them here. But I will say this:

I am an atheist. I am not an atheist because I am certain God doesn't exist. I don't know that, and I never expect to. I am an atheist because I believe that if we lived in a world where people truly believed that whatever happened on this planet began and ended with them, if there was no magical judgement chamber waiting for them at the end of their lives, they would work harder to be fulfilled. They would not spend time trying to get an invisible man to forgive them, they would ask forgiveness of each other. If they thought that this was it, they would work to ensure that they packed every moment they could full of joy.

And maybe they wouldn't wait around for God to cure them. Like my brother, or me, or any number of my friends that I won't mention here.

Maybe we could all just live. And love each other.

And maybe, when I told people I was an atheist, instead of being told I am a disappointment, I would be welcomed by the people I know.

I am happier here, as a an atheist than I have been in years. I wrote this post so that hopefully, people can understand.

All I ask, is that you be happy for me, too.
And keep that disappointment to yourself. 


  1. Congrats. I too have become an agnostic leaning atheist and man the life feels better. I don't have the resentment I once had before. Unfortunately I became bitter towards the church shortly after. You see, I'm a study nerd and therefore wanted to know every dirt the church had. I then have moved away from that and just like you, life has become more fulfilling. No more strangeness in the form of an invisible man! Congrats on making it to this point and embrace your life for the better from here on out! You deserve everything you can accomplish.

  2. Amazing Post, followed it here from reddit, I've had very similar experiences from the male side of the church and honestly, you just have to do what makes you happy. You are the only baseline for this question. That's awesome that you've gotten to this point. Best of luck to you in the future!

  3. I'm agnostic. Can't quite call myself an atheist. Yet. Travel in peace. Oh, and thank you for your blog.

  4. Congrats. <3 I feel very similar.

  5. I love this. I can relate so well. I consider myself agnostic. When you say Cedar City, do you go to SUU?? Because I do too and if I ever meet you we're going to be BFF's.

    1. I do go to SUU. I'm thinking of starting like an atheist/agnostic club. We should totally get together!

  6. The guilt is so familiar - I went though the same experience. Everything I wanted - school, career, my own sense of individuality, was just "not OK". I'm glad you have been able to get out of this and that you have had the courage to write about this. I really feel that the more people talk about leaving the Mormon Church, the better it will be for everyone with doubts. I felt so alone when I left - I don't ever want anyone else to feel alone in their doubts again.

  7. Despite what you may think, despite unkind things I've said as an insensitive and insecure teenager . . . know that I DO love you. I really do. It makes me think back to days we spent hanging out in your room, trying on your clothes and me making fun of manga and cheesy fantasy novels. I said so many things that I was never able to fully apologize for. I hope you'll forgive me, because I care about what you think. I think you're cool. And I DON'T think I'm always right, especially not with this magical thing called hindsight, which none of us can escape from. I've learned a lot from you over the years, and I'm glad you're my friend. Love you. Forgive me.