The Road to Apostasy

I have been thinking about the process of losing one’s faith and leaving the church. I’ve been told countless times that people who leave the church have done things the wrong way; it’s not usually a huge, obvious mistake, but a series of seemingly small and insignificant missteps along the way, that lead a person down the road to apostasy.

I thought of someone I’m familiar with (I’ll call him “H”) who has shared how he began this difficult journey and eventually found himself outside the church. As much as possible, I’ll try to let him speak for himself, in his own words. I readily acknowledge that I don’t see the mistakes, the missteps, that led H to lose faith, but I’m hoping–expecting, really–that some active members of the church will enlighten me and help me understand where he went wrong and how he could have salvaged his faith.

H did not grow up a member of the church, but when he was a young adult, he began to feel there was something missing in his life, and a chance encounter with members led him to investigate the church. Although he initially found the scriptures “impenetrable,” he felt the church offered answers to his questions and could help him to “actually handle life, and your problems, and not have them handle you.”

Joining the church gave H a feeling of belonging and a sense of purpose. “I did experience gains,” he says, and he felt he was able to let go of earlier guilt, feeling forgiven for “things I’d done as a teenager that I didn’t feel good about. I think I did, in some ways, become a better person. I did develop more empathy for others.”

H poured himself into church activity, becoming a leader and example to others. But some things about the church nagged at him because they just didn’t seem right. He heard rumors about the church’s origins and some disturbing stories about the church’s founder, whom he had come to revere. But he dismissed these concerns as fabrications from apostates. “There’s always disgruntled folks who say all sorts of things,” he thought. As H saw other church members testify of the blessings they had received, he wondered why he wasn’t seeing the same blessings in his own life. “Maybe there is something,” he told himself, “and I’m just missing it.”

Throughout his time in the church, he was always taught that either it was all true, or it was a lie. Although he struggled to believe the founding narratives of the church, he was told that, if what the church founder and witnesses had testified of had “never existed,” the church must be “based on a lie.” He decided that he would take a more liberal approach to his religion and live the church’s teachings on his own terms. He would “pick and choose” the parts of the religion he wanted to believe and disregard those things he didn’t like.

For a number of years, H continued in his journey of faith, but eventually, things came to a head in 2008, when H was horrified at the church’s public support for Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage proposition in California. When he voiced his concerns to his church leaders, they downplayed the church’s role and urged him to drop the matter. A church member told him, “The church is not political. We all have tons of friends and relatives who are gay. … It’s not the church’s issue.” He knew that wasn’t true.

His frustration with the church led him to search the Internet for information about the church. Looking at unauthorized sources made him feel a little nervous, as he had always been taught that the only trustworthy information about the church was what the church published itself. His research uncovered a lot of troubling information, most of which would be familiar to my readers. But what struck him the most was seeing a high-ranking church leader tell an obvious untruth to a television interviewer. He met with “apostates” who had left the church, and many of them were angry, saying they felt “betrayed” by the church.

Feeling that his world was unraveling, H reached out to church leaders, who dismissed his concerns as being unfounded and urged him to rededicate himself to increased church activity to renew his flagging faith. After agonizing over his choices, H eventually realized that he could no longer be a member of the church in good conscience. He wrote a long letter explaining his decision and his reasons for making it, and sent it to his closest friends and leaders in the church. The response was unexpected. They insisted that he had listened to the wrong people and that he should have shared his concerns only with his church leaders, who could help him. Instead, he had listened to apostates and those who opposed the church, who were obviously lying. Besides, if he “genuinely wanted to change” the church, they told him, he “should stay within the organization, not quit; certainly, going public was not helpful.”

Although they tried to help him stay in the church, his friends and leaders reluctantly accepted his decision, but insisted that he keep his reasons for leaving to himself. Discussing what he had found out about the church could “damage” the lives of the faithful, and he had no right to do that. He told his friends about the information he had found on the Internet, urging them to see for themselves, but they were not willing to listen to information presented by enemies of the church. One friend told him that looking at those web sites was “like reading ‘Mein Kampf’ if you wanted to know something about the Jewish religion.”

Leaving the church has cost H relationships with some friends and even some family members. He has a keen sense of loss: “If you identify yourself with something for so long, and suddenly you think of yourself as not that thing, it leaves a bit of space.” But he is philosophical about it. “It’s not really the sense of a loss of community. Those people who walked away from me were never really my friends.”

What did H do wrong?

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17 Responses to The Road to Apostasy

  1. yaanufs says:

    I don’t get this post from you at all Runtu. You sound guilty. You sound like you have done something wrong. You have written it like you are asking for forgiveness. The reality of the situation is the complete opposite.
    The church is the guilty party. It hides you from facts and truth.

  2. Jean Bodie says:

    Different gender, different place – similar story.

  3. You both did not study enough.

  4. zeezrom2 says:

    To this: “So how can one know rationally whether the church was founded on the basis of lies or truth? It’s perhaps impossible; ” I reply with a request that you please apply this same reasoning to Homer’s Iliad and Odessey. I don’t think we have given this work a fair chance but rather hastily disregarded it’s godly characters as fictional.

  5. There is a natural hubris and narcissism in many ex-Mormons. It sort of goes hand in hand with the belief that you “get-it” and everyone else does not. The claimed superiority is an illusion, but when that is all you have…? As the poem says,

    “A little learning is a dangerous thing ;
    Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring :
    There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    And drinking largely sobers us again.”

    Did you or H every really study faith? Ever really study the experiences of those who have dealt with faith doubts? I know Catholic priests, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and even a Sikh who have dealt with doubts about the official histories of their faith, and who maintain faith. Catholic Popes have indulged in activities that would make Joseph blush on his worst day, but I know more than a few Catholic priests who can look past these errors. How? Why? What makes them different? What is it in them that allows them to see something more? You do not have to agree to understand, but you should make an effort to understand.

  6. Michael says:

    He read “unauthorized sources”. That’s the problem.

    Now, I’m saying that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, but you probably get what I’m saying.

  7. IrishLDS says:

    Much more important than reading the wrong stuff is looking to the wrong source. Where is prayer in this story? Where is revelation? The scriptures are full of examples of people being asked to do hard things … sometimes things they don’t even want to do. Why should I expect that God will only ask people to do things I agree with? A religion that only confirms what I already believe might as well be man-made – because I could have come up with it! Although faith goes beyond the rational mind … it is not without evidence … or confirmation … after the fact. There are plenty of members that ‘know’ the truth about our imperfect prophets but who also know that the plan of salvation is real. I should only expect infallibility of others if I can reasonably expect it of myself. I won’t condemn the things of God because of the imperfections of the people of God … if I know for myself

    • runtu says:

      I am not familiar with Scientology’s beliefs about prayer and revelation.

      • IrishLDS says:

        What has scientology got to do with this? More importantly, it appears that you’re not familiar with LDS beliefs about prayer and revelation. “If any of you lack wisdom” etc …
        Although you describe this account as a “journey of faith” it is abundantly clear that what was missing is a measure of faith. For example, “he struggled to believe the founding narratives of the church,” and chose only those “parts of the religion he wanted to believe and disregard those things he didn’t like”, and then was horrified by the Church’s moral stance on a particularly important issue.
        I think it is pretty clear what was missing … what was lost … and what he should have done. Faith is not easy to obtain, or to retain. But if he had spent at least as much time reading the founding narratives (i.e. the Book of Mormon etc) as he spent reading about them, and if he had spent more time on his knees in prayer seeking inspiration rather than on the “Internet” looking “for information … [including] a lot of troubling information” then he might have gain (or re-gained) the faith in those founding narratives and the divine origins of this work.
        Among the saddest things about this is how obviously undiscerning the person has been. Maybe they lose their testimony because they stop seeking to have it nourished. Maybe they didn’t really have the testimony to lose in the first place. But troubling issues in church history, imperfections in church leaders, and things we disagree with ideologically are not necessarily sufficient to drive us away when we put everything in its proper place and look at the big picture. The evidences for the truthfulness of the restoration far outweigh and outnumber any genuinely troubling issues that can be raised.
        So faith does appear to be the center of it … not fallibility … but faith in a God that speaks … and that is the one thing that was absolutely missing here: Faith in a God that speaks.

      • runtu says:

        The article was about a Scientologist, so it had everything to do with Scientology.

  8. IrishLDS says:

    That’s not clear from the article. And there are clearly more LDS type tags than scientology ones.
    I will only comment that leaving scientology is a good thing. John Sweeney can be excused for his equally aggressive treatment of the LDS faith (which is not a cult) and scientology (which is) because he is clearly not spiritually discerning. But to lay my cards on the table … I don’t necessarily view it as apostasy when a person leaves a false church. [Of course, the person can still be apostate … in accordance to what they personally know]. And Mormonism is unique.
    So I discount the similarities that this article might be subtly trying to bring out in the same way as I discount the idea that people have had an equal spiritual witness that their particular church is true. So my recommendations to this particular person would be “Well done! Now, would you like to read, ponder and pray about the Book of Mormon?” 😉

  9. jiminpanama says:

    I agree with parts from both sides of this. Even if all of the church history blunders are true ( but who knows what sources to believe) they pale in comparison to the bible and Christianity by a long shot. In the end I just think the church is not for everyone. That is historically accurate. And it’s not that some just “get it”. Most cannot undue what the traditional and accepted schools have taught. And who approved all that ? Oh here we go.

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