I’ve recently been reacquainted with someone I knew back when I was an amateur Mormon “apologist” on a couple of LDS-related message boards (we’ll call him “Bill”). I’m surprised, though I wouldn’t say shocked, that he has gone through the terrible process of losing faith in Mormonism. I should say that it’s bad enough to conclude that the foundations of your worldview are not based in reality, but it’s worse when your conclusions cause unspeakable harm to your relationships with your loved ones. I would not wish that process on anyone.
He describes his “exit story” in several blog posts, starting with this one. The story, though definitely his own, follows a familiar arc: First, he desires to believe in his religion (see Alma 32). I’m not talking about a casual wish that your religious beliefs are true, but a genuine and passionate desire to believe and to delve deeply into those beliefs in order to have an even deeper understanding and commitment to that faith. (I can relate to this, having devoured everything I could for many years, devoting my commute time to the scriptures and teachings of LDS prophets.) This intense study leads to the discovery of the problematic, and even though he recognizes the problematic, he dismisses it as being irrelevant to this deep understanding of basic gospel principles he seeks. Eventually, life experience combines with this further light and knowledge to lead him to an unfavorable conclusion about his religious beliefs, and he walks away the best he can. Like me, he looks back at his years in the LDS church and realizes that he wasn’t very happy as a Mormon. For me, that was the more devastating conclusion than figuring out that the church might not be what it claimed to be.
I can already hear the clucking of some apologists, who remind us that these exit stories follow predictable forms because they are more about meeting the apostate community’s expectations than they are about what really happened. I would simply respond that these stories are similar because the process is similar. How could it not be? Those who wave away exit stories nonetheless find great inspiration in individual stories of conversion to the LDS church, even though these stories, too, follow predictable forms and themes. Conversion stories are similar because the experiences are similar, just as there are common experiences in losing faith.
What I find interesting is that the primary issues for others are not necessarily the ones central to my crisis of faith. That said, I completely understand the process of filling a growing “shelf” with unresolved church issues, which works as long as we have some important, critical tenet we cannot let go of; an LDS friend once put it this way: All paradigms are subject to rethinking and shifting, except for a testimony of the truth of the gospel. In other words, can turn any which way around that central axis, as long as you’re still anchored to it. Like me, Bill was able to continue in his belief for years despite knowing some of the problematic “red flags” of Mormonism. But his account shows exactly what it’s like to reach the breaking point at which that tenet, that testimony, collapses with the weight of the shelf. It’s an awful experience.
Why am I sharing this? It is not to erode anyone else’s faith but rather to provide what I think is an important glimpse into what a faith crisis is and why it happens. (Perhaps some might use it as a cautionary tale. That doesn’t matter to me.) Also, I’m hoping that those who are in the middle of such a crisis will realize that it eventually gets better, whether you find yourself back in the church or not. A faith crisis is not the end of the world.