What was the straw that broke your belief’s back?

Atheism DAMU Deconversion LDS History Testimony Truth

I’ve been reading an article at Mormon Matters about More Open Mormon History, and it seems to me there is a fundamental idea at play here: if you hear about “true Mormon history,” you’ll lose all hope and faith and then apostasize. OMG!

The author, Mormon Heretic, tries to deflect this claim. He posits that people should learn about true Mormon history upfront and that it won’t lead to more apostasizing — this original assertion is baseless. Instead, those who know more about Mormon history tend to be more active and those who know less are actually less active (but this study that he refers to hasn’t been parsed in the topic).

I offered early on an idea. In my opinion, I guess it’s not so much the history of the church that may hurt some members, but the idea that the church correlates and hides so much early on, and then people find out the true events much later. This shatters everything they once knew, and that, more than the actual nature of the history, is what breaks the faith.

I guess the church would suggest that sometimes, people can’t handle the truth, so it’s better not to share it all. But my idea is…people will already believe crazy things, so why not just present history as it was and then let people go with it?

But now I’m curious…was something history-related the final straw for any of you?

For me, I don’t think so. But then again, I think my nonbelief was of a much different stuff. I can understand that many ex-mormons truly believed, then found something that shattered their trust in the leaders or the church or the history or the doctrine, but I always had a skeptical approach. I never had a problem with recognizing that Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or any prophet or leader was fallible, because I already recognized that. The problem was, because I always recognized they were fallible, I couldn’t really believe in that.

So the prophet is fallible. I’m fallible. So why should I exchange my fallibility for some other guy’s fallibility, especially when what that other guy is saying doesn’t really fit into how I actually experience the world? If I were able to see some kind of evidence of something higher, then that would justify things, but as it is now, the gray nature of the world is poor motivation to believe in something higher. Moral grays and areas of fallibility make sense in a universe that doesn’t have a caring, coordinating deity but they don’t quite make so much sense, no matter the justification, in a worldview that actually posits such a deity.

On the other hand, I guess this allows me to be more moderate about the church. I look at it as a human, social institution. I’m not going to join a group like Mormon Coffee and decry how it’s leading people to hell, because I don’t have heaven and hell as my goal posts. I do have some problem with the political actions the church has taken with gay marriage, but this is, of course, from a social aspect, and not from a theological aspect. I don’t really care about showing the church that God wouldn’t care about gays getting married, because I don’t really care about showing the church anything about God.

17 thoughts on “What was the straw that broke your belief’s back?

  1. It was a series of things that caused me to leave the Church, but learning the true history was one of the contributing factors.

    First, I saw my mother treated very badly for inviting an LDS black man to speak about being denied the priesthood at a stake fireside. That started me to begin questioning, because the local hierarchy sounded just like the redneck segregationists I saw on television.

    Later, I thought it seemed suspicious that God would choose to finally treat blacks with dignity just when the church’s position had become both politically and culturally untenable.

    But it was the history that sealed the deal for me. We got to see most of Wilford Woodruff’s journals before they became publicly available — we’re descendants. I read them all and they were absolutely fascinating from a political perspective. It was obvious that Wilford hated Brigham. He was constantly complaining about how the prophet was using his position to control markets in the Territory. I remember one passage in particular where he wrote that Brigham had ordered all the distilleries, including the Woodruff-owned one closed, except for his–the prophet would keep his open for medicial use and to sell to gentiles. Wilford saw it for what it was, Brigham setting up a monopoly for producing and selling liquor in the territory.

    They were all capitalists and oligarchs. They weren’t men of God.

    At about the same time, I learned that Gov. Brigham and the territorial legislature (dominated completely by Mormons) established Utah as a slave territory–the Compromise of 1850 allowed the territories of Utah and New Mexico to choose their status by popular sovereignty. Their excuse was that they wanted to buy Lamanite children.

    So, I’m probably in the camp that says learning the true history is not faith promoting. It wasn’t for me. But then, that’s the way it should be. The history speaks for itself.

    Then, it wa

  2. It’s hard to disentangle the story of my deconversion. As I look back, a lot of influences and ideas came together to push me out of the nest before I realized what was happening. It was a disorienting experience. I’m not sure what order things happened in. I wish I had kept a better journal.

    So it’s hard to point to cause and effect. My faith in God weakened which caused me to reevaluate Mormon history which further weakened my faith, etc. until I had shed all of the contradictory cruft that I had carried around.

    Based on my own experience, I think it would be difficult for the church to maintain its self-image as the True Church given more openness about Mormon history. Accurate Mormon history doesn’t lend itself to black and white thinking.

    The church would probably lose those whose primary attachment to the church is based on that kind of thinking. I left because once I shed The Church is True thinking, the church lost virtually all of its value for me. Plus, I knew that I couldn’t live with integrity while trying to blend in with true believers. Those middle-wayers seem to have a stronger attachment to Mormonism which I lack that makes living in the closet worth the effort.

  3. Let me add that there were much bigger reasons that I lost faith in God than Mormon history. I’d known about much of the unflattering history years before my deconversion. While in the process of rethinking God, I viewed the history under a different light. The history wasn’t sufficient by itself to make me leave.

  4. I understand Jonathan that it’s not really about one issue or another. Nice line about keeping a journal — I guess there’s something to that after all.

    I guess a question that was kinda being pursued on the MM comments was along the lines you say: could the church survive if it weren’t so black-and-white? I mean, after all, you can find language in several scriptures that would allow there to be other sources of goodness, truth, whatever, outside of the church.

    I guess you’re right though…once you shed The Church is True thinking (or if like me, you never had that), the church loses a lot of appeal.

  5. I guess the first red flag for us was the reading of Bushmann’s Rough Stone Rolling, specifically regarding polygamy. It was the first time my husband and I allowed our doubts and feelings of disgust to rise to the surface. What the hell?

    Over the next few years we were able, somewhat, to tuck those away. We weren’t super active but we were, I suppose, OK.

    Prop 8 did it for me. Mostly because I finally realized that it was totally possible to feel differently from the Prophet in such a strong manner. The realization that, really, I couldn’t disagree with the Church on these issues. The looks on friends’ and family’s faces when we discussed them. Mormon pariah, and why? I was “following the spirit.”

    That led to a lot. I’ve “humbled myself” before, but this…It was too much. I couldn’t have my own views and remain worthy. And that led to more issues rising to the surface.

    The history can be damning, but anyone can rationalize anything if they’re willing. My biggest beef right now is that I cannot discredit some Mormon theology without also questioning quite seriously Christian theology. Not that I’m ready or even willing to brush it all aside, but truly I cannot know. I have to admit, it’s not a fun feeling.

    I just don’t appreciate any group of people telling me what to think and how to vote. I don’t know why that was the straw that broke my back, but it was.

  6. My theory is that people wouldn’t care squat about history if the Church was a good place that added value to their lives.

    I left the Church when I learned about the September Six because that was the only way to remain on the small and narrow path.

    When I learned about the historical issues later, it was nice to get a confirmation. However, if Church leaders were accountable for hurting other people, I might have stayed despite the historical issues.

    In 2006, I visited a house party of a Lutheran family that supported my candidate. I had just seen a Martin Luther docudrama and asked the hostess if she had seen and enjoyed it.

    She criticized the movie for failing to depict Luther’s dark side.

    Mind you, unlike the Sunstone Mormons, she was not being marginalized in the Lutheran Church.

    That Lutheran believer demonstrates that one can be self-critical about one’s faith, organization, heritage, and leaders while remaining inside the faith community.

    If it had been possible to remain in communion without supporting the abuse and the abusers, if there had been anything of value in Mormonism, I would have stayed regardless of historical and other problems.

    Unfortunately, I could not find anything beyond my love and appreciation for the members.

  7. I agree with your analysis of the situation of the disillusioned believer, Andrew. If I may take it one step further without putting words into your mouth, I hope:

    Mormon history is less of a threat to the LDS Church than to the status of LDS leaders.

  8. Like all of the other comments here, learning more about the history wasn’t really the decisive factor for me. I didn’t learn any of the uncorrelated history until after I’d stopped believing. Like Jonathan, I think that questioning the “one true church” claim was the last straw for me, as I explained in my deconversion, part3: the tipping point.

    On the other hand, learning (as a teenager) that the church had possesion of the original documents of the Book of Abraham — and that they’d had them in the vault since before I was born — was a huge red flag for me (see my deconversion, part 2: the evidence). But they’re kind of between a rock and a hard place with the Book of Abraham. The fact that I’d been lied to was highly suspicious, but telling the true story on that one may be more damning than lying…

  9. re 7:

    the succinctness of that conclusion blows my mind, but if I can pick up enough pieces of brain matter to comprehend, I think I would agree.

  10. I did write during my disaffection; of course, I have deleted most of it. I doubted God first. My belief in God acted as a buffer. Though I was raised in the church, I never liked the church experience, all the meetings, seminary, the culture (like Hellmut says, that stuff just doesn’t add value to my life) and it was my belief in the Mormon God that allowed me to put up with it, tuck away my real thoughts on things. After I began to doubt God, I took a more honest look at how I felt about the church and the church did not fare well.

    I was never interested in church history; by the time I learned of the more crazy events, I had already lost faith in the organization. Even with those crazy events, the more troubling thing to me is how the church handles them (pretending they don’t exist). I see it as a tremendous lack of faith and an institutional failure on the part of the leadership. To admit that events in church history would seriously harm the testimony of an active lifelong member is to admit that the church’s methods for building a testimony are lacking (or that the church isn’t what it claims)– it is evidence that church leadership lacks faith in the members and even does not put a lot of stock in faith itself—after all, isn’t it faith that allows one to get through the difficult things?

    If being active in the church was an uplifting experience, I still wouldn’t mind all that; or, that used to be the case. My feelings in that regard have changed because of the way the church handled the Prop 8 business, they way it has treated and continues to talk about homosexuals.

  11. Simply put, I realised that the claims made by the church (especially re: homosexuality, but many other issues as well) didn’t match up to reality, and also that the church leadership were men who lie, cover-up, and manipulate just to keep their power and semblance of infallibility.

  12. If this audience is in any way representative then it seems that history is not the cause for most people who have left the Church.

    Rather history validates previous decisions. In other cases, history catalyzes departure from organized Mormonism when people have felt deeply uncomfortable already.

  13. Andrew wrote:

    On the other hand, I guess this allows me to be more moderate about the church. I look at it as a human, social institution. I’m not going to join a group like Mormon Coffee and decry how it’s leading people to hell, because I don’t have heaven and hell as my goal posts.

    That about sums up my position.

    I do have some problem with the political actions the church has taken with gay marriage, but this is, of course, from a social aspect, and not from a theological aspect. I don’t really care about showing the church that God wouldn’t care about gays getting married, because I don’t really care about showing the church anything about God.

    But it’s the theological aspect which strongly influences the sociological aspect. People don’t say they believe something to be “the word of God”, than act socially in a different way. Are they going to ignore the Old Testament (though they do so selectively) and “what Paul said”? (Which was reiterated in the NT, unlike “eating blood”.)

    BTW, I can’t think of any one thing that broke my “belief’s back”. I think it was just lower back pain that wouldn’t go away until I got out of the bucket-seat of narrow and unsupportable beliefs, in many instances anyway. Nevertheless, I still think pretty highly of Mormons as a people – until they start talking aout things like three 2,000 year old Nephites. It takes too much reality denial to be a “true believer”. So my basic message is – keep your morals, but spare us your religious fantasies.

  14. re 13

    Ray, I guess I phrased that incorrectly. I know that the theology INFORMS and determines what actions the church and its members will take, but I’m not going to argue things like, “Well, actually, the Bible doesn’t hate gays/doesn’t call for a gay marriage ban.”

    My comment is kinda directed at those who would like to be full-standing members of the church but have the church change its theology to match their interests (e.g., groups like Affirmation, I guess). From one point it’s admirable, but I don’t see how it would be effective.

  15. Andrew:

    My comment is kinda directed at those who would like to be full-standing members of the church but have the church change its theology to match their interests (e.g., groups like Affirmation, I guess). From one point it’s admirable, but I don’t see how it would be effective.

    I think it’s wrong, politically wrong, for the Church to try to influence political outcomes in any state, which is clearly what they did in regard to Prop 8. When you have Mormons in Idaho, for example, organising campaigns to influence what goes on in California. Perhaps, living in Kangaroo country, I may think differently, but what happens in a New South Wales referendum, is no goddamn business of someone in Victoria.

    But to gist of your comment, I think it’s probably pointless trying to change the Church to suit our tastes. I didn’t try to bargain for change, I just chose to adopt the lifestyle I found the most reasonable, and that happened to be contrary to what most Mormons believe. I was the odd one out, so rather than trying to steer the ship in the direction I wanted, I chose to board another ship, which was, so to speak, “going in my direction” (we’ll see who ends up on the rocks).

    If you go to a formal suit and tie party wearing jeans and a tee-shirt, don’t expect the guests to go home and change just to suit your attire.

    JMO.

  16. but see, that’s a political thing. That’s a sociological thing.

    When you talk about whether it is wrong or not for the church to influence political processes (which I agree with you), then that’s an entirely different thing on saying that the church’s theological position should change. And that’s what I meant by saying I focus on social rather than theological.

    I don’t care what people in the church believe, and I think that to try to change that is a losing battle, but I will say…whatever they believe, it should NOT affect me socially. Prop 8 crossed a big line.

  17. Andrew:

    I don’t care what people in the church believe, and I think that to try to change that is a losing battle, but I will say…whatever they believe, it should NOT affect me socially. Prop 8 crossed a big line.

    Then the problem isn’t the belief, per se. The problem is when someone tries to impose on others what they believe, “for the good of society”. So if I can sum up, I don’t give a rat’s rear what Mormons believe, as long as they don’t try to impose it as “universal” and “God given”, “for the sake of society”.

    I can’t see where we differ here, then, except in the fact that sociological beliefs are heavily influenced by theological beliefs. But my aim would not be to change the theological beliefs, only limit them to “Mormon boundaries”.

    Section 134:

    10 We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

    The Church has gone beyond this in Prop 8.

    I would even be willing to sustain its right to excommunicate whom it wants, but when it influences punitive measures against those not of its faith, it has crossed the line.

    From your OP:

    I do have some problem with the political actions the church has taken with gay marriage, but this is, of course, from a social aspect, and not from a theological aspect.

    My argument was that the social aspect is heavily influenced by the theological aspect. My argument is that it has a right to maintain the theological aspect, but not impose it on the social aspect. IOW they have a right to discipline whom they want as far as Church membership is concerned, but not as far as citizenship is concerned. But “punitive” measures were taken in regard to Prop 8. And it successfully punished thousands of legally married gay couples. This is outside the boundaries set down in its own D&C.

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