Being an Individual in “the Lord’s Only True Church”

As a serious convert to Mormonism I consumed every bit of information about the beliefs and practices of the LDS Church that I could lay my hands on. I thoroughly believed that I had become a member of God’s only true church on the earth and, after considering the amount of churches there are in the world, this was something that I found amazing. I was actually humbled by this realisation. So I wanted to know everything I could about the Church and understand how my newly-found faith would impact on my life. I was a brand, spanking new “golden” convert, an empty vessel, and I needed filling. Also, feeling somewhat inferior to other church members in my ward, I wanted to attain the same level of gospel knowledge and understanding that they had. I guess I thought that that would somehow cause me to feel less ignorant when I was around them. I wanted to fit in, and increasing in gospel knowledge was a good way of achieving that, I believed. It was very exciting and somewhat daunting all at the same time.

This is what I would later think of as my honeymoon period. It seemed to last for quite a while. I was as happy as I thought I could be. I was serving in callings, got married in the temple and served in more callings. But, somewhere inside me, I knew that my relationship with the Church couldn’t feel new and exciting forever. It had to end sometime. So the monotony of church life finally got the better of me, and I was suddenly in quite a predicament.

I was like everybody else in my ward, entirely consumed by life within the Church. But I didn’t like it. I had no idea that my efforts to harmonise with other members would come with unwanted consequences. It was not at all what I had expected. Though, if I’m honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Perhaps I thought that it would just feel right, considering I was trying to fit in and be an active part of God’s church.

But it appeared that the Church resembled a huge black hole that swallowed up any and all individual enterprise. I felt utterly oppressed by the “follow the prophet” meme because I resented being bulldozed into capitulation. The immense pressure to conform was suffocating. No one had a voice of their own, but repeated what they’d been told in the correlated lesson materials and at General Conference, or in the Ensign. I found myself pondering, more and more, whether or not God wanted lemmings for followers and, if so, I wasn’t at all comfortable with it. It was very disconcerting, and I began using my testimony of the Church to bolster my allegiance to it. For a time my feelings and thoughts of dissension ceased. But my testimony had gone from being a peaceful confirmation of a divine truth to being an irritant that imposed a combination of rewards and punishments to extort customary church-behaviour from me.

I again immersed myself in church living, but the one-size-fits-all model that the Church provided continued to be hugely problematic. I still found it very difficult to match my attitudes, my beliefs, and my behaviour to group norms. But I was convinced that the Church was true and so I began to constantly berate myself for valuing my individualism more than giving up my whole self for something that just didn’t sit well with my personality. Uncomfortably, I admitted to myself that I needed to follow the President of the Church as he was God’s mouthpiece and be obedient to my local leaders. I concluded that obedience was the key.

So I made a concerted effort to homogenise, telling myself firmly that it was for the greater good. But as soon as I felt my individuality slipping and literally being lost in religion, I would retreat and resist. It seemed that I had issues with fully committing to the Church. I became increasingly annoyed with myself. Looking for a reason to explain my attitude, I became convinced that it was all the devil’s doing, so I sought God’s help through prayer and repented of what I believed was my prideful nature. I thrust myself back into church work, magnifying callings, regularly visiting the temple, researching my family history and so on. It was a very difficult and emotional time for me, but I was committed to getting through it. I wasn’t going to be beaten by a trial of faith.

But, deep down, I did feel like I was being beaten. Well and truly. The frustration that I felt because of my unwillingness to entirely commit to group dynamics soon turned to bouts of depression. I was at a low point. I became moody and short-tempered, which affected my relationship with my wife. For a time, it seemed like we were arguing constantly. Before long I hated myself for what I had become and for what I wasn’t. I couldn’t measure up and be a model Mormon, someone my wife could look up to. I was making her unhappy, and I despised myself for it.

I think she told me at one point that I was being excessively serious about the Church. I gave that a lot of thought, concluding that she was probably correct. But I couldn’t shake the thought that where I’d be in the afterlife and who I would share that with depended on what I did with my church membership in the here and now. That seemed pretty serious to me.

Because I completely believed that the LDS Church was the only church on the face of the earth with which the Lord was “well pleased”, you’d think that that would be enough of a reason to completely give in to Mormonism, sacrificing all and anything that held me back, but no. I honestly didn’t want to give up on what made me unique as a person, namely the totality of qualities and traits that make me who I am, and become identical to other members at church. I sometimes wondered how the truth could possibly set me free when I wasn’t free to be my true self. The Church wanted to expunge me and replace me with a member-clone. I couldn’t help but think that the Church wanted too much of me and thus began the cognitive dissonance that would plague me for the rest of my church life.

I eventually faced up to what I think I knew all along, I truly didn’t want to become another cookie-cutter Mormon. I thought that I would be much the poorer for it, even though I felt that I was going against an important tenet of the Church – becoming one with the Saints. I would often reason with myself and say that I could get by with a semblance of balance, but, in all honesty, I couldn’t. Without the real thing I would forever be conflicted within and faced with choices that I didn’t want to make.

When I think back on my church life, it’s easy for me to see that it consisted of a lot of yo-yoing between blind faith and reason. It was a battle, and reason appeared to be winning. I was certain that I was on the losing side because my “natural man” was unwilling to meet the demands of the Church. Consequently, I had become an enemy to God, and the thought of damnation in the afterlife was very real in my mind. So was the thought of losing my wife. There seemed to be no escaping the tremendous guilt-trip that was always before me.

Despite all of this I stuck with the Church and the dull repetitiousness that characterises the LDS lifestyle. I hadn’t lost my thirst for learning or my awe that I was a member of the True Church. Incredibly, I still believed. My testimony of the truthfulness of the Church wasn’t something I had a problem with. The only thing that had changed since my conversion was my wish to be like my fellow ward members. I just didn’t have it in me to sacrifice my personality for a lemming mentality. I hoped that God would have mercy on me in the hereafter.

My determination to remain an individual was the first rung on the ladder that would eventually lead to my apostasy. It highlighted a part of me that refused to get in step with accepted church standards or norms. It gave emphasis to a lingering niggle in my head that even though I was on the inside of the Church, and appeared to be in every way a member, I felt like an outsider.

Mo’ Bugger

The Bishop’s Visit

As my wife hadn’t been active at church for a few weeks (something very much out of character), she’d received a letter from a sister in our ward enquiring after her welfare. I will add here that this is more than I got when I went inactive.

Anyway, she decided to reply to the letter, not realising the hell-hole that she was about suck us into. She wrote about some concerns that she had after reading aspects of church history, namely contradictions that she had found between original doctrines and the Church’s teachings today. She tried to reconcile the contradictions in her mind, but it was like trying to put a square block through a round hole.

Along with her concerns she included her belief that the Book of Mormon was true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, despite her troubling findings. But I guess, at the time, she was trying her damnedest to hold onto her beliefs. So she was salvageable, and could be returned into the bosom of the Saints. But she, like me, was suffering from immense cognitive dissonance that was almost too much to deal with.

Of course the sister in question took the letter to our bishop. And you would have thought that all hell had suddenly broken loose. The bishop called our home and asked if he could schedule a meeting with us. We obliged, thinking that this would be a good time to have a heart to heart with him. We had a lot of issues bottled up inside of us that we needed to let out.

We talked about what we would discuss with him and we even began to feel positive about the meeting. I think we were seeing a glimmer of hope, something that we’d not felt for a while. We intended to be open and honest with him. And we would let him know that we still believed in the LDS Church and everything that that meant. But we needed help.

The bishop arrived, with one of his counsellors, and the meeting did not go as we had envisioned. It was a complete and utter shambles. Right at the start, our feeling of hopefulness was replaced with feelings of hurt and anger. The bishop had refused my wife’s suggestion that we begin the meeting with a prayer. Something that’s standard in the Church. We should have realised how things would turn out after this rebuff.

According to our “good” bishop (somebody who was known in our ward as being the kind of person who would do anything for anybody), after reading only a small part of the letter, he screwed it up and threw it in the bin. Apparently, what he had read had so troubled him that he couldn’t go on without losing the Spirit. Therefore he didn’t get to the bit where my wife had borne a sincere and honest testimony. I think, with hindsight, she should have put her testimony at the beginning of the letter. But she didn’t know that it would actually be seen by the bishop or that he would react as he did.

The meeting became a blur after he told us about his experience with the letter. Of course we tried to reason with him but he would have none of it. He wouldn’t engage us in discussion at all. We decided that this was down to his ignorance. He appeared completely out of his depth with the kind of questions that we were asking. For him the appeal to faith was enough, but for us it was far from being satisfactory.

I don’t think I had ever felt so frustrated in all my life. Our concerns were potentially of the kind that could damn us in the next life if we didn’t make sense of them. That’s how seriously we viewed them with the eye of faith. Yes, we still thought the Church was true, but we had doubts. We weren’t totally sure. We had convictions, but cracks had started to appear. It seemed that cognitive dissonance had become more of a constant companion than the Holy Ghost.

The bishop continued by accusing us of out and out apostasy. This didn’t make sense to me. Since when did having concerns constitute apostasy? I hadn’t tried to lead other Mormons astray with apostate ideas.  I genuinely believed in the LDS Church and I honestly felt that I had a testimony of Joseph Smith’s divine calling, but I was in a very difficult place and needed help in understanding some issues relating to church history. I wanted to return to activity, but couldn’t at that moment in time, as I needed to step away from Mormonism in order to view it in proper perspective. Get a bird’s eye view. How does any of that constitute apostasy? More confusion ensued.

Though we were no different to other Mormons who thoughtlessly acquiesced to the opinions of religious leaders who knew better than us by virtue of their positions within the Mormon Church, we both knew that the bishop was wrong on this, so very wrong. We knew ourselves better than he could ever know us. This meeting would become a pivotal event in my life as it would lead me to question whether God does in fact give people stewardships, and if he actually has priesthood on the earth today.

Anyway, along with his condemnation, the bishop said that we shouldn’t make any more contact with our fellow ward members, and neither would we receive home and visiting teachers. I was now completely gobsmacked, so much so that I think I lost the power to close my mouth. We were both hurting by this point, and more confused than ever. We both felt betrayed, and I felt like I was now an object of ridicule and a target for open mockery – in my own home! – simply for having issues with the Church.

I had considered the bishop a friend. Even so, theologically, he should have had our backs. A bishop leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one sheep that is lost. My wife and I were well and truly lost. That was evident enough. I guess we were naive to think that he would show compassion to us. I was shocked at how easily he could sacrifice two ward members. And Mormons vehemently deny that they participate in acts of shunning.

Never, until the bishop’s visit and his display of unrighteous dominion, had it entered into my mind that the Church might actually be false. It was the catalyst that caused me to view it for what it truly was – namely, a big fat ‘effin’ lie! Silly really, considering that it was probably the most logical conclusion to everything I had read about the history of the Church and the character of its prophets. With hindsight I can say that he did my wife and me a huge favour.

Yes, being treated in such a way had increased our dissonance ten-fold, but our feelings of utter abandonment had enabled us to reach conclusions that we might never have arrived at otherwise

Mo’ Bugger

The Truth that is Pain

Sky
Recently I had a death in family. As with any death, it can be heart wrenching. With tears in my eyes, I cuddled my kids, and we encircled this family member as they passed on, I had to step back and remember simpler times. The times when I was a Mormon. 

It has been some time since I left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I miss knowing without a doubt where I came from and where I was going. I had to stay silent as my wife explained to my kids how this family member wasn’t in pain any longer, and how they were enjoying the afterlife with other relatives that had already passed on.
Sometimes I wish the church was still true.

Behind the Curtain

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“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

It’s the famous line from The Wizard of Oz. Keep your eyes fixed on the machine. Look what you’re a part of! A marvelous work and a wonder is about to come forth!

Starting to sound familiar? I remember being at a youth conference listening to an endowed member of the church talk to a silent, eager audience of teenage Mormons about the temple. He was vague, but offered more information than I had ever heard before. It was like the preview to a psychological thriller that gets you just emotionally involved enough to ensure you spend $13 to see it. I remember thinking, “I believe, but I want to KNOW! And I will know when I go through the temple, because that’s where faithful members commune with angels, see the savior in the Celestial Room, and (as a reward for their faithfulness) receive a sure witness that the sacrifices they make as members of the church are worthwhile.”

It made sense. Why else did you have to wait so long to go in? Or be so pure? Something big happens there… right?

So the big day arrives. My extended family is present. My parents told me that no question is off-limits when we’re in the Celestial Room. Cool. Finally all of my doubts can be put to rest.

It’s beautiful. It reminds me of a country club the way it is full of old white people who just show a card, get in, and act cordial with one another. Washing and anointing, and then endowment. I am not going to go into any detail about the ceremony because that is irrelevant to my point. The ceremonies didn’t especially freak me out or disturb me. I wasn’t focused on it. I was solely waiting for what was going to happen when I pass through the veil.

I was pulled through the veil. I find myself in a dazzling, white room with high ceilings, cushioned chairs and mirrors. It is clearly designed to elicit the intended response: Peace. And it was peaceful. It was conducive to meditation and prayer. But there was no witness. There were no angels. There was no voice from the heavens, visitation, confirmation or apparition. My family members crowded around me and asked me if I had any questions. But obviously I couldn’t ask the one question I had because I was now part of the club. I was now part-owner in the secret of the temple: That there is no secret, and we all keep our mouths shut and let unendowed members think whatever they want about what goes on within these walls. I don’t know what they think they feel. But I was underwhelmed, and I seriously doubt they were experiencing more than I was.

But I look back on that sense of wonder and mysticism from before I had “seen behind the curtain.” It was exhilarating and addictive. The prospect of a witness of truth grabbed me and didn’t let go. There was only one cure for that addiction. For me, “seeing behind the curtain” means being able to quickly be a well-adjusted ex-Mormon. Allow me to explain:

From a young age Mormons are taught we are children of god, families are forever and I want to get married in the temple some day. It is indoctrinated from before they can spell or count to 100. Eventually they are captivated by the promise of the temple, eternal progression and even godhood. Those are enticing premises. To lose your faith as a teenager, it would have taken a lot longer for me to become a well-adjusted, functioning adult. Questions would always linger because the indoctrination runs deep. Some of the teachings of the church just “feel” so right that they are hard to shake. But the more you see behind the curtain, the more you see the wheels of the machine powering the corporation forward, the easier it is to alienate yourself from the teachings that the machine propagates.

This is why I have said before, the best Mormons eventually make the best ex-Mormons.

 

A Miracle in the Temple

Salt Lake Temple

The first time I went through the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) temple endowment ceremony, it was an amazing experience. In fact it was a miracle! I didn’t understand everything that went on or the covenants I had made, but as I approached the veil, an older gentlemen knocked three times, and said “Adam, having been true and faithful in all things, desires further light and knowledge by conversing with the Lord through the veil.” I immediately started crying. I felt the spirit, and I knew my Dad was there with me. You see, my Father had died a few years earlier and I missed him very much. I knew the temple was the closest place I could be to my Dad. I had heard stories of people being visited by dead relatives in the temple, but I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.

The temple worker had called me “Adam”. Nobody ever called me Adam… except for my Dad. My brother’s name is Adam, and for some reason my Dad always accidently called me by my brother’s name. It happened all the time, including other important milestones in my life. Strangely, my Dad never did this with anyone else, and never called my brother by my name. It became a family joke that I was “Adam”.

While at the veil, they called me Adam a couple more times, and I knew that I wasn’t just hearing things. This was my Dad’s way of letting me know that he was there with me, as I passed through the veil.  I knew without a doubt that the church was true, and from that point forward I could never deny it. This little miracle was the only proof I needed.

Some time later, I went through the endowment for a second time. I was excited to learn more and hopefully understand its teaching better. After it was over, I approached the veil, and again they called me Adam. I was shocked! This couldn’t possibly happen again? So I listened to the patrons next to me. They called everyone Adam!?!? How could this be? My heart sank, as I realized my little miracle was just a figment of my imagination. I had based a portion of my testimony on the special feelings I had during that first temple experience, but I learned the truth. My special experience wasn’t that special after all. 

I never told Adam about my experience.

Many years later, I sat my brother down to tell him that I was leaving the Church. As any good brother would, he bore his testimony about the gospel. He also shared his most faith promoting miracle with me. After Adam & his wife were sealed in the temple, they were at their wedding reception. Our great aunt pulled Adam aside, and with tearful eyes, she told him that she had felt my Dad sitting next to her during the sealing. My brother accepted this as fact. My Dad was alive and well in the spirit world, and had been in the temple on that special day.

I couldn’t help but think back to my own little temple miracle, and the sadness I felt when I realized it didn’t actually happen.

So my question to you is… What is your temple miracle? Was it real?

Ray Dawn