How Does Apostasy Feel?

I did an informal survey over on the Recovery from Mormonism board asking people to describe in one word how they felt when they figured out the truth behind the facade of Mormonism. As I suspected, it split almost evenly between those who, like me, were devastated when we finally realized what Mormonism is, and those who were relieved.

The people like me used words such as “horrified,” “screwed,” “foolish,” “angry,” “confused,” “nauseated,” and “numb.” I think I experienced all of those emotions. Mormonism was my life, my worldview. All my life I had believed it was Mormonism or nothing; if I lost my faith, I would be completely lost in the world and would probably end up in a very dark place. Compounding the devastation was the reaction from family and friends. My marriage nearly collapsed over my loss of faith, and things have been up and down since then. My mother still has a hard time talking to me at all about religion, while my father says I should just not take it seriously and go with the flow. I really wished I could, but I can’t.

On the other hand, I’ve met a lot of people who worked really hard to make Mormonism work in their lives, but in the end it was like shoving a square peg into a round hole. For them, it was a relief to know that the life they were trying to force themselves to lead was not based in reality. They could let go. These people use words such as “epiphany,” “liberated,” “awake,” “ecstatic,” “exhilarated,” and “validated.”

I like that last word. Figuring out that Mormonism is indeed not true can be extremely validating for a person. I look back and see how I rationalized Joseph Smith’s deceptive and coercive practices of polygamy and polyandry, and I feel validated that at no time did I ever feel “right” about these things. I shelved them, but I never really accepted them. I also used to beat myself up because everyone around me would testify in sacrament meeting that the gospel made them happy. But I wasn’t happy. What was wrong with me? It turns out nothing was wrong except the church.

So, I went through both of these stages. I was once devastated–“gobsmacked” as one poster put it–but now I feel relieved and very much validated as a human being.

And that’s quite liberating.

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16 Responses to How Does Apostasy Feel?

  1. chriscarrollsmith says:

    I haven’t had this experience with Mormonism, but I think that as I’ve made discoveries about my own faith tradition, “numb” is probably the best adjective to describe how it has felt. I don’t really understand how somebody can get excited about losing their faith. I’m guessing at least some of that is biographical revisionism.

  2. runtu says:

    I’m not entirely clear which form of Christianity you were brought up with, but I’m not sure you can compare it to Mormonism. Mormonism is extremely demanding of one’s time, talents, and money, and there is a ton of guilt used to extract those things from people. I don’t know, but I can see how people could be relieved at being able to step away from the treadmill without feeling guilty.

    For me, the biographical revisionism is realizing that all those times I got up in testimony meeting and said how happy I was, I really wasn’t. You tell yourself over and over that the gospel makes you happy, and then once you step away from it, you can realize that you were lying to yourself.

  3. zackc says:

    I think it would take more than one word to describe the feelings associated with a loss of faith. To try to sum something that faceted up in one word probably demeans the experience. ALso it appears quite clear that leaving Mormonism is much worse than regular Christianity because of the cult like aspects.

  4. runtu says:

    Zack,

    Yep, one word can’t do it justice, but the sum of all the words shows the range of feelings to me. I would imagine that even the relieved people would still say that exiting was extremely painful. You really can’t imagine the guilting, the shunning, the outright hate you get until you’ve actually gone through it.

  5. zackc says:

    Runtu said: You really can’t imagine the guilting, the shunning, the outright hate you get until you’ve actually gone through it.

    True that Runtu. 🙂

    Have a good one.

  6. asimplesinner says:

    Would you say most ex-LDS leave for another faith at first, or generally just grow disaffected and lose faith in the LDS without the influence of anothe belief system?

  7. chriscarrollsmith says:

    You’re right that leaving conservative Christianity is probably different from leaving Mormonism. But just to clarify, I didn’t intend to imply that it’s weird to look back and feel relieved in retrospect. Hell, I’m relieved to not be a conservative Christian anymore. I never felt comfortable with the anti-intellectualism, the homophobia, or the mandate to evangelize. I’m just suggesting that to experience elation at the time of losing one’s faith seems pretty alien to me. I imagine that most of these attitudes are largely retrospective.

    I could be wrong.

  8. zackc says:

    To agree with Chris,

    One of the main things I hated (and which drove me from church before I lost faith) about conservative Christianity was the homophobia and anti-intellectualism.

  9. runtu says:

    asimplesinner,

    Most of the exmormons I know left because they realized what it was, not because they found something else that worked better. In fact, I’d say the majority of exmormons I know are agnostic or atheist; having been burned once by organized religion, we’re a skeptical lot.

  10. asimplesinner says:

    Runtu – that was generally the impression that I got… That most folks (who leave) are more disaffected with the LDS as opposed to enamored with something elsehwere.

    For those that do opt to practice a faith again, do you see any trends in that which they pursue? Evangelicals seem to make hey about a number of converts… but I don’t get the impression people are going from the LDS to Pentecostal/Evangelical churches in droves…

    In doing some research on LDS I also note that in a real way, LDS growth is a function of higher birth rates – large families not conversions. Something like 1 out of 2 converts seems to “apostisize” within 12-24 months of conversion I had read (will find the source if you want…) so I am guessing that you are talking mostly hear about the folks who grew up Mormon?

  11. runtu says:

    No, I don’t see any trends. I know exmormon Catholics and Unitarians and Lutherans, but very few Evangelicals. I know some people who tried Evangelical Christianity, but most left it because it’s too much like Mormonism (no offense).

    And you’re right that the growth rates are largely illusory. In Western Europe and the US/Canada, growth has flatlined and is in decline in many places. In the Third World, such as Latin America and the Philippines, growth continues, at least in terms of baptisms, but retention is abysmal: somewhere between 10 and 15%.

    No, I’m not necessarily talking about BIC (born in the covenant) Mormons. I’m just talking about people who consciously left the church as opposed to those who just fade away. The latter group is much larger than the former.

  12. C. L. Hanson says:

    On the other hand, I’ve met a lot of people who worked really hard to make Mormonism work in their lives, but in the end it was like shoving a square peg into a round hole. For them, it was a relief to know that the life they were trying to force themselves to lead was not based in reality.

    Exactly. It’s tiring and frustrating to constantantly rationalize the contradictions this way and that, to (mentally) shove one corner into the round hole just to watch the others sticking out. Realizing it’s not real or true was an incredible relief: finally an explanation that makes it all make sense!!!

  13. asimplesinner says:

    “In the Third World, such as Latin America and the Philippines, growth continues, at least in terms of baptisms, but retention is abysmal: somewhere between 10 and 15%.”

    Interesting – those numbers are lower than I thought, but lend credence to the comments made by a priest friend of mine who served the Catholic Church in Chile. The LDS made some serious inroads there for a time and it now appears they have largely collapsed in some places. He said with a chuckle, “You can tell a Chilean that he may not smoke or that he may not drink or that he may not have coffee… One out of three – fine. Two out of three – maybe. But all three? Good luck!”

    Do you think that as the world becomes smaller with the internet and cable and travel that it is going to prove more difficult for many in even more insular settings (like rural Utah) whou a generation ago might never have been exposed to alternative voices that lead to doubts?

  14. runtu says:

    I doubt the church is going collapse anytime soon, but yes, the spread of information makes it much harder for them to attract educated converts and increases the likelihood that members will discover the facts and leave. And there are many more members who know the truth but stick it out because of family or social reasons. The church peaked about 15 years ago in terms of growth. It will never see such growth again.

  15. asimplesinner says:

    To be clear, I only used the word collapsed in reference to an area of Chile. I have no doubts that the LDS will be around for some time to come.

    This is all very interesting to hear your perspective on. I appreciate your patience in answering all my questions so openly.

  16. runtu says:

    “Realizing it’s not real or true was an incredible relief: finally an explanation that makes it all make sense!!!”

    Yep, that’s how it is with me. Within Mormonism, you have to shelve a lot, take a lot on faith, because it doesn’t make sense. We don’t understand why a funeral scroll from a man named Hor ends up being translated as a holograph written by Abraham 1500 years earlier. We can’t figure out why God wants his prophet to lie to his wife so he can sleep with other women. So we put them on a shelf.

    It is indeed a great relief to have discarded the shelf. Everything makes sense.

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