I've been rolling this post-I-wasn't-going-to-post around in my head for the last few days and it's funny how once I took off the various restraints of offensensitivity it ballooned up and grew out of all sensible proportion. I had to spend an hour or two hacking off the more egregious branches just to get it down to size, and even now I know it's a two-post post. So, here's the back story.
I was raised Mormon: well, nearly, and practically totally raised Mormon. My mother comes from a genuine, old-school polygamist ancestor while my father was the son of an Episcopalian priest. By the time they met and married my mother was, as she puts it, a heathen and my father, according to her, was practically a beatnik with a pipe and a weakness for black t-shirts (I didn't know what a beatnik was for years but that didn't stop me telling the story). For the first six years of my life we were not a religious household.
Until, that is, a nice set of Mormon missionaries knocked on our door in England and were met with my father who rubbed his hands together and said, 'right! Now, about the Journal of Discourses...' which as a lot of Mormons could tell you is practically announcing yourself as a Joseph Smith hating, Salt Lake City bashing ANTI [the Journal of Discourses is 22 volumes of writings - mostly sermons - from early Mormon history including stuff from Brigham Young. Many of these sermons are now a bit... distant from what is taught in the Mormon church, including the Adam-God theory (Brigham Young taught that Adam was God), a whole lot of polygamist rhetoric and some pretty egregious racial statements among other things]. According to family lore, as far as I remember it, the missionaries recruited a particularly bright young woman to deal with my irritating father and, somewhere along the line, she gave him the traditional Mormon challenge:
"10:3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down unto the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
10:4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
10:5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."
My father accepted this challenge, to his own surprise he felt he received a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, within a few months, he was baptized.
My mother, as far as I can remember, was furious. She even gave him a dire warning that those darn Mormons would make him a bishop. (Mormons have, mostly, a lay ministry and a bishop is like a parish priest) She was quite right, they did, and kept him there for seven years. It took her another year or so to come around but she became, and is to this day, a deeply faithful and very happy Mormon.
Not so much.
The trouble is, and it's something that non-Mormons don't really understand, Mormons teach that their church is absolutely true, the last and final truth that had been withheld from the earth for generations until it was restored, in perfect form, by Joseph Smith. There is a lot of reference to 'the fullness of the gospel' and in every meeting, at every gathering, you will hear the reiterated testimony of the members that 1) the church is true, 2) Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and 3) the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I was taught that there are bits of truth to be found in other religions, but no other church has everything - that all of it is True. It's not quite complete yet, mind you, there was a section of the Golden Plates (the ones that Joseph Smith translated to create the Book of Mormon) that was sealed off until 'the last days,' but what is known, what is here now is undeniably, and most importantly FOR EVERYONE, true.
We learned about it in Primary - the children's meeting - about how the true and everlasting gospel was restored to this earth in latter days and, here's the kicker, how everyone, every last person is promised a personal witness of the truthfulness of these things - the one prayer that will be answered no matter what is Moroni's promise.
We sang about it, we talked about it, we knew the correct answers to all the questions. How does the spirit speak to you? The Still Small Voice, the Warm Feeling. What does Heavenly Father want us to do? Pray and be good... but always, always we knew that we, little grubby souls that we were, would receive an answer to prayer.
Yes... see, that's the kicker. Moroni's promise has a small out to it - you have to pray 'with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ.' So, let's say you're a small child who does indeed pray diligently - or as diligently as you can with a seven-year-old attention span - and... nothing happens. No still small voice, no warm feeling, nothing. But, as you've been told over and over again by people who love you and trust you, there WILL be an answer - IF you are faithful and good enough.
Because, you see, God can't talk to you if you're bad. And we all know that the church is true, and we all know that the promise of individual answer to prayer is a sincere one which means...
And the funny thing is, I never did get an answer - not once. I tried, oh my WORD how I tried. I fasted, I prayed, I read my scriptures, I agonized over every sin, real or imagined. I repented with tears and self-loathing. I attended meetings and paid my tithing and sang hymns. And God still didn't talk to me.
Which made it clear, so far as I could tell, that I was a pretty horrendously flawed person. I mean, how bad do you have to be for God not to talk to you? It worked for everyone else - every month we had fast and testimony meeting and seven or eight people would cry and cry as they talked about the way God had spoken to them 'in the stillness of their hearts.' But not me. I was caught in an unbreakable problem: The Church is True; God has promised to tell you of its truth (as told in the Church's own scriptures); all those who pray with a sincere heart and real intent will know this truth; I did not receive this answer; See Item 1. The church had to be true, which meant God had to fulfill his promise which meant I must be Unworthy. I figured that out at the ripe old age of seven and sat, mutely miserable through my baptism interview (aged 8) waiting for the bishop to tell me I was Unworthy (he didn't. I was baptized and all my sins washed away. Which gave me great comfort until three hours later when I realized I was being Prideful and Puffed up over being spiritually washed and therefore perfect - which was likely a sin and... dang.)
By the time I married Kirk I was an anorexic and suffered from a crippling perfectionism. I also was deeply and thoroughly convinced of my own unworthiness, and, frankly, miserable whenever I thought of God, church, religion etc (which I did All The Time).
It took another five years, five years of struggle and emerging self-knowledge, five years of discussion and work and misery before, with a gasp, I decided that I would just stop. Stop going to church - just for a little while, just long enough to catch my breath and figure things out. I had had bouts of inactivity before - never more than a few weeks at a time and always, always with crippling guilt accompanying them - but this was deliberate and thoughtful and, to a certain extent, desperate - and to my great surprise I found happiness. I mean real, genuine, soul-saving happiness! Without religion I was suddenly peaceful and content and calm: I could believe in myself as a reasonable, moral person who was flawed, yes, but always trying to do the right thing. All those things I had heard about coming from faithfulness in the church - calmness, happiness, certainty, personal growth etc etc etc, all of those I was finding once I left.
Now mind you, I still believed the church must be true for everyone else because that was what I was taught. I had no idea why it didn't work for me, no idea why I was better outside of it, I just knew what I knew with, to use a Mormon phrase, a sure and certain knowledge: Mormonism was wrong for me. It's taken me quite some time to realize that I'm not the only person in this situation!
Now, why on earth would I have censored this?
Well, first (and non-Mormons will not get this) because The Church is True, and true for everyone, it is impossible for most Mormons to understand or accept that the Church isn't right for someone. Really, fundamentally, that opposes what they know to be true. So lapsed Mormons, or post-Mormons, or ex-Mormons or recovering Mormons or whatever you want to call us are judged, even by the most loving, wonderful people, judged to be wrong. They are lazy, they have been offended, they 'want to sin,' they have been deluded by Satan (or their own false pride in their intellect). These are the only reasons that people could possibly leave - no matter what they themselves say. I know this, I've heard it over and over again from people I love dearly. I don't want to hear it again from strangers who stumble over this - and I promise you I will whether in emails or comments.
Second, once you call yourself a post-Mormon (or whatever) you are immediately placed in the 'them' category - that's as in 'us against them.' Post-Mormons are believed to be anti-Mormons, whether that's said outright or not, and everything I say is going to be judged as being anti. I will never be seen as being unbiased, and there are dear people, loving people, delightful people who will stop reading (have possibly already stopped reading) because by reading this, by knowing me, they would be 'supporting, affiliating with, or agreeing with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' (re-worded from one of the questions asked in order to ascertain temple worthiness in a member).
Thirdly many Mormons feel that an ex-member writing about their disbelief or their experience leaving the church is an attack on the church - on their own beliefs and this offends or hurts people - people I love.
But there have been some things happening recently, things said, things done, that I feel pretty strongly about, and I think it's important to talk about them, and in order to do that I have to let you know who I am.
Raised Mormon, now post-Mormon.