4 Reasons Why Disaffected Mormons Become Atheists

by: Andrew S

January 22, 2014

Recently on a Mormon issues Facebook discussion group, I saw someone ask:

How does it happen that some former TBMs [True Believing Mormons] developed into atheists? From believing (or even a testimony) that there is a God into believing (or testimony) that there is no God at all…Why do you think, that once you allow yourself to question some parts of your belief (Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith etc), I mean once you start questioning Mormonism, you nearly automatically start questioning the Bible or God in general?

This is a question that I have seen often, and no wonder — especially on the internet, disaffected Mormons seem to disproportionately lean atheist and agnostic rather than Christian or some other form of theist. The ex-Mormon sub-reddit, which currently counts nearly 12,000 “recovering Mormons”, posted group survey results in early 2013 that showed that nearly half of those who answered the survey would describe themselves as atheist, another 30% would describe themselves as agnostic, whereas only 0.5% would describe themselves as Catholic and only 2.4% would describe themselves as following an “other Christian religion” (which I would assume includes Protestant denominations.) I have addressed what the active disaffected Mormon communities mean for the LDS Church’s claim to have 15 million members elsewhere, but in either case, certainly, reddit is not necessarily a site that is without population skew, so the exmormon reddit — even though it’s massive by Mormon discussion group size — may be skewed too. However, per Pew Research’s A Portrait of Mormons in the U.S., of the 30% of those polled who reported converting from their childhood Mormonism, around half claimed to convert to no religion.

Why do disaffected Mormons become atheist? Why do those who lose faith in Mormonism also lose faith in God and Christ? I think there are 4 reasons worth considering.


1) Mormons are raised to think that traditional Christianity got things wrong

The entire underpinning of the Latter-day Saint restorationism is the idea that the way Christ really expected Christianity to work was corrupted or lost. This is the idea of the Great Apostasy. With the Great Apostasy, many “plain and precious truths” were taken out of the Bible — which is why Mormons believe (as per the 8th Article of Faith) the Book of Mormon to be the word of God (period), but only believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly — there is room that any given part of the Bible may not be translated correctly, which necessitates Mormonism to provide the exegesis and fill in the gaps.

This reasoning leads to the 2nd point:

2) Mormonism is meant to be an improvement beyond traditional Christianity

When I was young, I used to crinkle my nose at my evangelical friends whose churches hired pastors as a full-time job. I thought: isn’t it great that Mormonism has a lay ministry with unpaid clergy? And I thought my friends would feel the same — I thought this would clearly be an occasion for holy envy for Mormonism.

But there was none such. My friends not only did not see what the big deal was with unpaid clergy, but thought that it was much more effective and righteous to have people who were professionally trained to be pastors and performed that role full-time.

This is a light example, but the mismatch struck me. The traditional Christian norm seemed utterly unappealing to me. Much to the chagrin of evangelicals who protest that Mormons believe “another Jesus” that cannot save, disaffected Mormons are unlikely necessarily to find traditional Christian theologies (whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox) to be that much appealing. This is because in addition to teaching that traditional Christianity gets things wrong, the teachings of Mormonism prime one to think that alternative philosophies just aren’t good enough.

Much of Mormonism’s doctrines look great as foils to protestant Christian doctrines of the 19th century. How is baptism to be performed? Mormonism answers confidently with full immersion. What happens to non-converts? Mormonism’s heaven (though it is not without challenges) improves upon the idea that Christians go to heaven to play harp and sing glory to God forever by instead asserting a multi-tier heaven where the most devout continue to create and progress, whereas even those who don’t believe can achieve a level of glory. Families can be together through sealing and through proxy baptism.

Even on the question of how people become believers, Mormonism’s thorough free will model makes an alternative like Calvinism seem bizarre, cruel and strange. I have written before that the God proposed by Calvinist theologies is even worse than Mormonism’s picture of Satan — because although both take away agency, Mormonism’s Satan at least guarantees that everyone would make it back to heaven, rather than Calvinism’s assert of limited Atonement.

In The God Who Weeps, Terryl and Fiona Givens raise the case (even if they believe the Mormon concept of apostasy to be a cultural misperception) that the God of Mormonism is vulnerable enough to be worthy of our admiration, respect, and devotion — but in a way, to assert this is simply to say that the omni- God of traditional Christianity is incapable of such vulnerability, and thus not worthy of our devotion.

3) The same tools that deconstruct Mormonism can deconstruct traditional Christianity

At the heart of so many disaffection narratives is a realization that “the Spirit” is no longer viewed as a reliable way to gain knowledge. Perhaps one realizes that they had what they would have formerly called a spiritual experience during a decidedly non-spiritual time (like when listening to a piece of secular music), or perhaps one realizes that a particular prayer that they thought they had a solid answer to ended up going wrong. If one then starts to study the psychological effects that can describe these sorts of things (confirmation bias for when prayers work, for example), the basic issue is that those same psychological effects can be applied to claims of spiritual experiences from all religious traditions.

Many Mormons undergoing faith crises seek to underpin their religious beliefs in solid historical and scientific claims upon concluding that the spiritual is not a reliable way to claim knowledge. Unfortunately, they then discover that Mormonism’s history since 1830 is fraught — and its most ancient claims don’t make a necessarily compelling case along many scientific fields (anthropology, Egyptology, etc.,) Christianity, being a religion founded before the modern, science-driven, secularized era, has a lot of its major claims taken for granted, and it has had plenty more years for people to comfortably develop models where certain scriptures can be taken metaphorically. However, for the newly disaffected Mormon, when they have seen the value of secularism, even the non-literal iterations of Christianity won’t necessarily seem compelling over that.

4) Ultimately, Mormonism is distinct from traditional Christianity

Last, but certainly not least, regardless of where one stands on the question of whether Mormons are Christian, there’s certainly something to be said that Mormons are different from traditional Christianity. So, one can put a question like, “Why don’t disaffected Mormons become traditional Christians?” in a similar vein to, “Why don’t disaffected Christians become Jews?” Even though the former mentioned religions arose from the context of the latter mentioned religion (and share the religious texts), quite simply, the religions are not backwards compatible or interchangeable. Even for Mormons who do want to convert to other Christian denominations, there’s a process of learning what traditional Christianity is like — since  the preconceptions of Christianity in the Mormon narrative differ from how Christian denominations conceptualize themselves.


  1. If you are a currently active Mormon, what appeals to you about Mormonism over other Christian denominations?
  2. If you have left the church and not joined another Christian denomination, what do you think about these explanations? Would you say there are different reasons?
  3. If you have left the church and joined another Christian denomination, what was it that led you there?

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90 Responses to 4 Reasons Why Disaffected Mormons Become Atheists

  1. […] transition from Mormonism to traditional Christianity isn’t as seamless as many might think. At Wheat & Tares, I have proposed 4 reasons why disaffected Morm0ns become atheists. My four reasons […]

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  2. Nick Literski on January 22, 2014 at 8:35 PM

    Personally, I think the OP has missed one of the biggest reasons that former LDS become atheists. When it comes to those who leave the LDS church because they no longer believe its historical and doctrinal claims to be true, many that they’ve been monstrously deceived for years. That creates intense feelings of betrayal, as well as a very real sense of embarrassment for ever having “fallen for” the LDS faith. With these emotions in play, such individuals are extremely hesitant to place their trust in any religious tradition, and so they tend to move toward agnosticism or atheism.

    Before anyone gets offended, please understand that I’m not trying to argue that the above feelings and perceptions are objectively true or false. All I’m doing is saying “this is how many of them happen to feel.” When I left the LDS church, it honestly took me about four years to start moving past those emotions, and even now, they come up on occasion. I needed those years to “purge” before I could begin again to really tend to my own personal spirituality.

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  3. Syphax on January 22, 2014 at 8:37 PM

    I have not yet left the LDS church but am strongly considering conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. To answer your #3, it was a realization that the Mormon narratives about early Christian history, and Christian theology, were largely cartoonish and inaccurate (for instance, the idea that the Ecumenical Councils were violent/political power grabs by people like Constantine who just wanted power and unity in the empire but were unconcerned with theology). Before, I fully swallowed the Talmage narrative about the Great Apostasy. Once I stopped believing in emotional fluctuations as a sole pointer to Ultimate Truths, I did have a stint where I simply couldn’t get myself to believe in anything, including a God. But it was then when I discovered classical arguments for God’s existence and found them persuasive – once I completely unlearned everything I *thought* I knew about them. Here’s another example: I once thought the Trinity doctrine was complete, unbiblical gibberish that no one would really believe unless they were brainwashed or simply sloppy in their thinking. It was just *obvious* to me that the Mormon Godhead made so much more sense – three separate beings (duh). But then I realized that the Mormon Godhead raises just as many questions (where did God the Father come from? do we really worship three Gods? who is the Holy Ghost – a brother of God, a son of God, the wife of God, etc.? are there more than three Gods? where does Heavenly Mother fit into all this – is she a God?). Now Mormon theologians have attempted to answer these questions and I don’t want to diminish from that, but from my point of view it became clear that the Mormon Godhead doesn’t actually resolve the Mystery of the Trinity, it just opens up a billion other questions. Then once I really got into the Greek philosophy and language used to describe the Trinity I realized that it was at least as coherent, if not more, than the Godhead concept (and the implications about oneness and mutual indwelling love were an added bonus) – it just operates in a language-space that we’re not used to, since our language is post-Enlightenment and Western, while the Trinity doctrine was defined in a pre-Enlightenment, Eastern language-space where the words/concepts they used don’t map very well to our language.

    This might be one possible response to your post. If I hadn’t put *extra* work into deconstructing the cartoonish version of Christianity I had inherited (and taught on my mission), I would probably have rejected Christianity altogether, thinking it was silly and pointless.

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  4. Andrew S on January 22, 2014 at 9:19 PM

    re 2,


    I have shared this article on a few forums on FB, and in more words or fewer, that is a common theme. There’s a major sense of betrayal and burnt out, and people definitely don’t want to risk diving in to something else without having done extensive research to determine it’s a good idea.

    re 3


    I had you in mind when I was writing the point 4, actually. Like you say, unless people deconstruct the LDS conceptions of Christianity, it’s not like you can strip away uniquely Mormon ideas and then find Orthodoxy underneath. To the contrary, it is a very different language and unless you invest the time to learn it, it’ll seem strange and unappealing.

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  5. EOR on January 22, 2014 at 9:22 PM

    Re: The Pew study, converting to no religion =/= atheism or agnosticism.

    I understand how folks can leave Mormonism (or any other religion for that matter) but I am incapable of understanding how people just stop believing in God. I would be willing to stake a pretty big claim that either said folks never really believed in God in the first place, or they believed in an interventionist God who they feel has now “failed them” in some way or another.

    Anyone in the situation described want to weigh in on that because I can’t understand it at all?

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  6. hawkgrrrl on January 22, 2014 at 9:42 PM

    “they believed in an interventionist God who they feel has now “failed them” in some way or another.” Bingo! Not me personally (I tend to think of God as benignly neglectful like my own parents), but for many, I think this is the crux.

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  7. Andrew S. on January 22, 2014 at 9:43 PM


    Good point in the fact that “none” per pew data doesn’t necessarily mean atheist or agnostic.

    With respect to your second paragraph, I did get an interesting response elsewhere that touches on what you’re saying:

    …The church teaches that it is perfect and that your relationship with the church is more important than anything. These things combined result in the church basically replacing god. Belief in the church is substituted for an independent belief in god. When belief in the church goes away there is no independent belief in god there in the first place.

    That being said, I don’t think that it can necessarily be said that all disaffected Mormons who become atheists never believed in God. I do think that certain ideas of God are rejected (e.g., interventionist gods) because the data doesn’t support it whereas other ideas of God (e.g. Totally non interventionist gods) are dismissed as irrelevant, and other concepts still (e.g. God as ground of all being) are dismissed as incoherent or evasive.

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  8. EOR on January 22, 2014 at 9:50 PM

    Andrew, those are really interesting insights. I never really thought about the concept of The Church ™ replacing God. Almost as a golden idol. I need to think on this a lot deeper to gather my thoughts. Thanks for the responses.

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  9. Ruth on January 22, 2014 at 10:14 PM

    I agree with the previous comments that the sense of betrayal has an enormous impact. Two other things come to mind.

    1. If the disaffected Mormon is a convert or born in the LDS tradition. It seems that those born and raised in Mormonism do not have a God to fall back on. Their entire concept of God is enmeshed with LDs theology.

    2. All of nothing teachings. “It is either all true or a fraud.” This is taught repeatedly over the pulpit. So when a Mormon finds doctrines, traditions, teachings or policies that are either erroneous, or misleading, they have been trained to reject the religion in it’s entirety.

    The betrayal, all or nothing thinking, and lack of personal spiritual foundation all intermingle into one another. Along with the OP reasons, it is frankly amazing that any disaffected Mormons born into their tradition manage to continue to believe in God. I was a convert and have essentially left the church. I still believe in God. I want to believe in God. I concede I may be mistaken, and I’m ok with that. My views of the atonement and messiah have are changing. I still feel Mormon theology is relevant. It is relatively as true and as much of a fraud as any other faith tradition.

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  10. Blair Barton on January 22, 2014 at 10:52 PM

    I have to agree with Andrew S. It has become apparent to me that the LDS church has replaced God with their version of Priesthood Power. In the LDS religion God and Church have pretty much become synonymous. In the LDS religion we are saved by Church Priesthood ordinaces with a heavy emphasis on temple ordinances. We do not spend much time teaching about Jesus although we still believe that he is our savior… “After all that we can do.” The emphasis is mostly on Temple ordinances. The topic of Jesus and his grace is seldom ever mentioned, with the exception of Fast Sunday. Most Sundays the only reference to Jesus in my ward’s sacrament meetings occurs during the prayers.

    I believe when many people leave Mormonism they have become so fed up with the hypocracy of religion that they choose to have nothing more to do with it. It still bothers me that as child I was taught by the church the importance of telling the truth and of repenting of mistakes that I made, and then I see the church spinning their PR machine denying that racism was ever a church doctrine. As I read the New Testament, whenever I encounter the references to the Saducees and the Pharisees and the Jewish religious leaders I can’t help but draw a direct correlation to LDS leaders in our time. Truth does not matter. Apparently looking good to the outside world is much more important.

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  11. Zara on January 22, 2014 at 11:13 PM

    You have mostly nailed it, Andrew S.

    EOR, for me, atheism was a surprise after deconstructing Mormonism. I loved God, and had a strong, I thought, relationship with him. I often sought comfort in him even as his church did a number on my self-esteem and made my life a constant mental gymnastics meet. I would seek wisdom and comfort from him often. About two weeks after realizing that the church was probably made up by Joseph Smith, I woke up an atheist. I didn’t ask for it, and at first, I didn’t want it. I absolutely believed in God, and for 39 years. But I realized this: I had spiritual experiences based upon things in Mormonism I now knew to be false. I realized that the 15 men in SLC didn’t have all the answers, and that, in fact, they didn’t know any more about God than I did. Then I started to realize, subconsciously, that I didn’t think that the authors of the Bible knew any more about God than anyone else does. That, in fact, there’s really no way to know anything about the nature of God that doesn’t rely on subjective emotion or epiphany–both of which can be explained in other ways. I realized that if I had been raised to believe the Q’uran was God’s holy book, I would most certainly have feelings about God’s nature based entirely on *that* book. I came to realize that those pure realizations that I felt were coming from the Spirit were more likely coming from my own subconscious brain, and that the church had taught me to think they were supernatural. And a whole lot of confirmation bias. We expect to have spiritual feelings, and so we do. I think the brain is more complex than we realize.

    I also did some research on the psychology of religion, and realized that it makes more sense to me that man made God than the other way around. Life from a godless perspective makes sense. I no longer wrestle with questions like, “Why does God find my car keys or help me on a test I didn’t study for, and not help people who are truly destitute?” “Why doesn’t God answer prayers for confirmation of his existence to certain people who truly want to know if he’s out there?” “Why does God allow his chosen church to be consistently 30 years or more behind society in civil rights issues?” “Why does God want me to be a stay at home mom of as many children as I can, when that lifestyle would be the very last thing that would suit my natural personality, and would probably cause me to go into deep depression?” “Why would God eternally punish his children, if he supposedly loves them more than anything?” And any number of other questions that could apply to Mormonism or to a regular Christian god. Can Mormons or Christians come up with answers to those questions that work for them? Sure. After a while, though, the answers become hollow, and more stretches and allowances have to be made. Allowing for the possibility of no god, however, makes those questions disappear. They just evaporate. God doesn’t “allow” suffering, because suffering is just a part of life. It’s not fair, but neither is a world that God is at the helm of.

    For me, and for many atheists, emotional evidence is just not enough. We would be open to more concrete evidence for God’s existence, but good feelings, a rare epiphany, a well-timed coincidence, a holy book? That’s not evidence. Mormonism ruined us for “just trust me” evidence. I don’t think I’m anymore likely to come back to belief in a Christian God or in an ancient Jew who took up his life after being dead than I am to regain belief in Santa Claus. I don’t say that to be insulting to believers–it’s just the closest analogy I can make that you’d relate to. Once you see things from a different perspective, you can’t go back to childlike faith in a being you can’t see. And really, no great incentive to do so. Even when you know that nothing would make your family happier than you believing in Santa again. And this is coming from a person who really did believe I had a special relationship with God.

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  12. Brian on January 22, 2014 at 11:20 PM

    I resigned six months ago. Convert at 17, 43 years ago. Troubles started brewing long ago until I had to leave. I am now agnostic, unable and unwilling to put my trust in another shaman. I feel so dumb to have been hoodwinked for so long.

    Not happening again. I sometimes wish my brain worked differently because I understand the value of community. Replacing that is very difficult. Walking away from the literalism of the absurdities (i e historicity of B o M) that the church itself teaches was easy.

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  13. Bob Dodds on January 22, 2014 at 11:33 PM

    Disaffected Mormons largely become atheists because they’ve opened their eyes to the flaws of religious “reasoning”. There is little or no distinction between the arguments that Mormons make to defend their religion, and the arguments that other theists make to defend their religion. The problem with Christians attacking Mormons is that Christian “logic” is “Mormons are wrong because they don’t have the same theology that we do”, and that is not an argument at all. If Christians (or Jews, or Muslims, etc) could defend their religion without resorting to logical fallacies, they might have a stronger case than Mormons, but they cannot and therefore do not. Disaffected Mormons have learned to dissect their former beliefs through evidence and reason. These same apply to all other religions, and once a disaffected Mormon leaves their religion behind, they are essentially immunized against the social virus that is religion in general. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Christianity is as much a house of cards as Mormonism is.

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  14. FormerMormon on January 23, 2014 at 12:24 AM

    Really liked this post, and in my own case, #3 was closest. However, and I get a lot of flack for this, I got really intellectually bored being an atheist and joined the Catholic church three years after leaving Mormonism behind. I like being Catholic for a lot of reasons. I explain the difference between Catholicism and Mormonism like this: Mormons keep their most sacred things secret; Catholics parade their most sacred things in front of everyone every week at Mass. I mean, if you are going to be part of a religion, why not one where you get to EAT GOD every week, and where heaven is a beer party hosted by Jesus? Also, I have to admit that I, like most Catholics, am a spectacularly bad Catholic, and no one cares, including my priest. I just say a couple of Hail Marys, and it’s all good. All of this being said, I realistically see myself as an agnostic. I just like church. It’s a fun thing to do on Sundays, and I like the sense of community.

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  15. No Thanks on January 23, 2014 at 12:32 AM

    The whole article seems too Christianity-centric for any serious conversation to come out of it.

    “4 Reasons Why Disaffected [Christians] Become Atheists”

    1) [Christians] are raised to think that [sun worshipers] got things wrong

    2) [Christianity] is meant to be an improvement beyond traditional [sun worship and fear of uncertainty]

    3) The same tools that deconstruct [sun worship] can deconstruct traditional [Christianity]

    4) Ultimately, [Christianity] is distinct from traditional [sun worship]

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  16. Jeff on January 23, 2014 at 12:49 AM

    EOR – “I understand how folks can leave Mormonism (or any other religion for that matter) but I am incapable of understanding how people just stop believing in God. I would be willing to stake a pretty big claim that either said folks never really believed in God in the first place, or they believed in an interventionist God who they feel has now “failed them” in some way or another.

    Anyone in the situation described want to weigh in on that because I can’t understand it at all?”

    For me, I think that my testimony was always more centered in the church itself than directly to God or Jesus. Of course I believed in God, prayed to him, taught about him on my mission, but it always came down to whether the church was true or not.

    Once I figured out that the church wasn’t true, I didn’t feel at all like he had failed me but I couldn’t see his presence in the world anymore. I think I always had a more analytical mind and looked at things from a scientific perspective. Without a church telling me what to think I started to see things purely based on science. And things made so much more sense to me. Suddenly, I didn’t have to try to conform things I learned/saw in nature and fit it to some religious, magical teaching. I could see it for what it was. I.e. life is a product of millions of years of evolution and we get to enjoy the beauty of it all. I think that is even more magical than a God watching us from heaven while we crawl around in the dark trying to figure out what we are doing here.

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  17. Andrew S on January 23, 2014 at 12:58 AM

    re 15

    No Thanks,

    I had heard this criticism on FB (although, I guess the main thing that probably got lost was that the specific question this post is responding to specifically was about why disaffected Mormons lose faith in the Bible/Jesus), but I would put it something like this:

    The only serious encounter with theism that most American atheists will face is through Christianity, so if Christianity is not convincing, people typically won’t scour through the other religions.

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  18. Hedgehog on January 23, 2014 at 3:04 AM

    Interesting. The course my children study at school for RS is basically Philosophy and Ethics, but in their case with a Christian perspective, as it’s a CofE school. This week my daughter had to complete an essay on the types of religious experience that people report. They also looked at things such as confirmation bias etc in the reporting of those experiences. She has RS today though, so I can’t go and consult her essay or textbook, but it looks like a fascinating course in the way it sets out to cover the different aspects (http://www.ocr.org.uk/Images/82571-specification.pdf – they have to take the full course), and I am glad they get to grapple with these topics.

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  19. ji on January 23, 2014 at 5:32 AM

    If you are a currently active Mormon, what appeals to you about Mormonism over other Christian denominations?

    Mormonism doesn’t replace Christianity — for me, it adds to it — it adds a message that Christ has visited the earth again in these last days, and that He hasn’t forgotten his promises — it adds a message of vitality to the message of faith, hope, and charity. I say this as a convert from another Christian tradition.

    For me, I think that my testimony was always more centered in the church itself than directly to God or Jesus. Of course I believed in God, prayed to him, taught about him on my mission, but it always came down to whether the church was true or not.

    I regret reading things like this, although I can understand how it can happen. Such testimony is misplaced, and unless it eventually turns into a testimony of Jesus Christ as our savior, redeemer, and God, a testimony “more centered in the church itself” likely will not prove strong enough to carry a man or woman back to the celestial kingdom of our God. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, and charity in the Lord Jesus Christ are essential to Mormons (and other Christians as well) — for me, that’s the real message or Mormonism (and Christianity).

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  20. K Rose on January 23, 2014 at 6:12 AM

    And then there are people like me, who only abandoned Mormonism after losing a belief in “God.”

    Having concluded that there was no convincing evidence of an interventionist deity, and therefore ruling out a belief in such a being, it would make no sense at all to change to another form of theism.

    I think there are many others like me.

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  21. Howard on January 23, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    Great discussion!

    I think the cause is the all or nothing, the black or white eggs all in one basket approach that is taught from the top and indoctrinated in from all levels, layered into one’s belief system over time. Believers end up turning over their cerebial autonomy the church as they are instructed later to discover an underbelly of hypocrisy fuled by misrepresentation cover up and even a few outright lies. At this point one’s belief is a complicated conflated ball but the betryal is so great and so offending to the individual’s core authenticity that it must be rejected to preserve their core integrity so out goes the baby with the bathwater resulting in a feeling of relief as their dissonance is greatly reduced.

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  22. Nate on January 23, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    I agree with everything Andrew has said, and I’ve seen it in some of my family. However, it makes me sad that people abandon completely a belief in God. I can understand abandoning Christianity. Nothing is more absurd than the Bible. Not even the Book of Mormon is absurd as the Bible. But spirituality in general, the supernatural in general, how can you give up on that entirely? Religion is so central to human existance, our religious and cultural manifestations are so different than animals, how can one give up on the question entirely, assuming instead that it all just comes about through the mechanics of evolution and brain chemistry?

    Reading Zara’s comment was enlightening, because she had spiritual experiences before leaving the church, and then when she learned the church was false, she came to the conclusion that those spiritual experiences had been some kind of psychological manifestation. But why not instead believe in a God who works with fallen organizations like our church, who manifests Himself through those organizations? Why throw everything out?

    My own spiritual experiences have been impossible for me personally to deny, and even if I learned the church was false, I would have to assume that God, or some kind of supernatural force, had wanted me to believe it was true. The Doctrine and Covenants already makes the case for this kind of “misleading” God, who in the past told people the lie that hell was eternal, “that it be more express upon their minds.”

    Perhaps it is a fault of Mormonism that we don’t prepare people to continue to ask questions, to continue to pursue spirituality, to look for God, even if their faith in the the eccentricities of Mormonism fails.

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  23. Andrew S on January 23, 2014 at 7:49 AM

    re 22


    But why not instead believe in a God who works with fallen organizations like our church, who manifests Himself through those organizations? Why throw everything out?

    For me, the question is not, “Why not”, but “Why”? Why believe in a God who works with fallen organizations like the church, when this looks functionally identical to human organizations operating without a deity at all?

    (in other words, what do you think it looks like for God to manifest himself in organizations like the church? I’m guessing that it depends on whether you think the church is “right” on various issues, but for me an other people, the church is not a beacon of morality or good works.)

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  24. Jessa on January 23, 2014 at 7:59 AM

    For me I became inactive, and never went back to the LDS faith. I attended Family ward until I turned 18 then I was encouraged to go attend “Singles Ward” where I was heavily pushed and encouraged to marry. Many of my friends married after only knowing their spouse two weeks(swearing the holy spirit said it was their soul mate) and all were pregnant after their honeymoon. As a female, I tried my best to be “Molly Mormon” instead of being myself. I had a lot of questions about the doctrine and the teachings(especially being a black female mormon).

    I would research my questions and bring them up to my bishop and church leaders and I was not given straight answers. My family is still LDS, they still love and accept me. They see me as lost, but we accept that we have differences.

    For me I did not become atheist after leaving the church, but I do agree with the post, that after Mormonism you don’t crave denominational religion(at least in my case). Mormons are trained in Seminary and Institute a lot of “tools” to use when their faith is questioned by other beliefs. You’re taught to be well armed and educated, so a lot of them have a firm grasp(and some even memorize with scripture chases) the entire set of scriptures. Because of this, when you leave it, it’s hard for you to show the same enthusiasm and energy when you’ve spent your whole life so intensely being trained. My issue wasn’t with the people in the church, it was that my religious views were broadened by researching information.

    The church also has a very strong community of supportive members, they can be some of the best people you’ll ever know. I don’t bash the religion, but I can say that it was simply not for me anymore. I was popular in my singles ward and after my inactivity my friends considered me as “apostatizing” and were cordial, but they all no longer associated with me as before.

    Now, I am spiritual and I am still Christian, but non-religious. I don’t have ill feelings about the LDS church. I just accept that I don’t agree with it and there are those that do, and I don’t think it’s wrong for me or them.

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  25. fbisti on January 23, 2014 at 8:07 AM

    RE: “if you are a currently active Mormon, what appeals to you about Mormonism over other Christian denominations?”

    I am of a mind with Sterling McMurrin. I love [most of the people in] the Church. They are kind, loving, and supportive–it (the programs, the community) is the best “baby in the bathwater.” I don’t believe most of the theology or so-called doctrine. Therefore all such (theologies) are (even more) unbelievable.

    So, I continue to attend sacrament meeting (can no longer tolerate the vapid lessons and discussions in classes), socials, and “do” my home teaching to partially participate in a highly valuable community. It is just part of the nature of things (humans) that in order to build and maintain such an effective and useful “community,” it must be based on religion.

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  26. nathankennard on January 23, 2014 at 8:39 AM

    But why not instead believe in a God who works with fallen organizations like our church, who manifests Himself through those organizations? Why throw everything out?

    Why bother? Ultimately it seems to come down to choice.

    Life is short. If one no longer has belief in morm0n stuff, no theistic belief leaves one with time formerly spent on religious expression to develop other interests.

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  27. Howard on January 23, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    Is the church true? This is a fairly easy question to sort out as long as you are not conflating the church with the gospel. Logic applied via an open mind to a few days on Google soon clearly demonstrates that the church is simply NOT what it purports to be! But this does not disprove the gospel or the existance of God which is what I think Nate is getting at about God working through fallen organizations or imperfect people. And what about the collision between logic and gnosis? If you do have an open mind that is not so easily sorted out. I have had experiences that cannot be explained away by confirmation bias and the odds against them being simply a coincidence are astronomical! Does belief lie on the gnosis continuum? If so assuming they are conflating the church with the gospel it may explain why many TBMs steadfastly defend the church in the face of very strong evidence to the contrary.

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  28. Gretchen on January 23, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    The Mormon god was awesome. If he ain’t real, there sure isn’t anyone better!

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  29. Syphax on January 23, 2014 at 9:34 AM

    #4 Andrew – Exactly. It wasn’t the same as a “One More God” sort of objection, where if I reject the God of Mormonism, it’s easier to reject the God of classical Christianity. If both were contingent, personal beings that you could hug or whatever that would be one thing (if you believe in but then reject the existence of Zeus, it’s easier to reject the existence of Apollo – if you reject the existence of Mormonism’s Heavenly Father, it’s easier to reject the existence of Zeus – if you reject the existence of a God who is a man with a beard and a red robe it’s easier to reject the existence of a God who is a woman with no beard and a green robe). But the God of classical Christianity is such a different type of being that you really can’t put it in a class or pantheon of other deities.

    For instance, in a nutshell, the classical theists would say that the objects of our experience (including, ultimately the material universe and our own selves) don’t have the ability to exist – or persist – on their own. There needs to be an activating Reality that is actually more Real than the material universe in order to give objects “existential inertia” or the power to come into and stay in existence (so they say). So this kind of God – Being or Reality Itself – can’t be like some other polytheistic type of God nor can it be like any other type of being in existence (by definition). Rejecting the God of Mormonism is not the same thing as rejecting the Christian God – in fact I have talked with Christian philosophers who say that if they ever met the Mormon God they’d try to convert Him to theism (because a contingent Mormon God logically must depend on a Ground of Being for His very existence just like we do).

    And I’m not saying these things to argue that they’re true, just pointing out that it’s easy for Mormons to think that the Christian, Muslim, monotheist Hindu, philosophical, etc. God is basically another version of the Mormon God. But it’s really not the case, and rejecting the former has nothing to do with rejecting the latter. Once I realized that, it really changed my thinking quite a bit.

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  30. Hedgehog on January 23, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    That’s fascinating Syphax.
    In my junior Sunday school class every week our teacher would ask if we had any questions, and every week we’d ask who was the first Heavenly Father, or some variant of that question.

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  31. Jeff Spector on January 23, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    The human has the need to rationalize in order to deal with things that might seem ambiguous at face value. This is true whether one is on the believing spectrum or the disbelieving spectrum. To me, There are three scenarios possible:

    1. Retreat into belief. – Those who encounter issues put it on the shelf and just believe. This could be equated to putting one’s head in the sand. Could also be called blind faith.

    2. Retreat into unbelief – In this case, the person feels betrayed, lied to, deceived, etc. So they pull back, doubt, or leave. This can be viewed as ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” In other words, in spite of all the positive experiences, the new-found negative(s) trump those positive experience and the whole is abandoned. If the Church is a failure at some level, God is also a failure because He did not prevent it, so a conclusion is, there must be no God.

    3. Tackle the issue head-on – This scenario requires the person to address the issue in a complete way, seeking to fully understand in the correct context. While not a foolproof method, I have found this approach can generally satisfy the need to know and to remain a believer. For me, as I have tackled each issue that has come up, and believe me, I’ve looked at every issue there is in the Church and its History, I can process the whole story and remain a member of the Church.

    The reason this has been effective for me can be traced back to an 8th grade US History story who taught US History, warts and all. Previously, our history was taught as pristine and perfect. The US never did anything wrong and our enemies were always wrong. No Native-American atrocities ad never anything illegal. All untrue, of course. However, when taught in the proper context, one can understand why things happened, even if they are wrong. So, I was able to see the good and the bad and not reject the whole as a result. But it takes work and it takes an open mind. Any human-led organization has these issues.

    That’s been my approach. It doesn’t guarantee that folks will not leave the Church, but it is, in my mind, a better way to deal with things in general.

    Maybe, it will also make people a little less hostile on both sides.

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  32. Serragon on January 23, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    While I was an EQ President, there were 3 members of my quorum who left mormonism in some capacity.

    One was involuntarily excommunicated. Interestingly enough, he maintained faith in Joseph Smith and the restoration, but wanted nothing to do with the LDS church.

    The other two however ultimately became atheists because of #3 — The same tools that deconstruct Mormonism can deconstruct traditional Christianity.

    I talked with both for hours and hours and both took extremely similar paths. They both simply rejected mormonism at first while retaining their belief in Christ and the Bible. However, each ultimately found that the same inconsistencies and problems appear in bible christianity as appear in mormonism and they rejected christianity as well. Both became very vocal athiests.

    As I have thought about this I have alwasy been puzzled about that last part. Logically, I would expect them to have more of an agnostic view. The proselytizing athiest didn’t make any sense to me.

    I don’t have any deep insight here. Just wanted to share my experiences.

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  33. John W. Morehead on January 23, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    As an Evangelical scholar studying new religious movements with a specialty in Mormonism, a part of my research has included the process of disaffiliation (sometimes called apostasy) and reaffliation. I don’t know that Mormons or Evangelicals have really looked at the social scientific data on this, but you are quite correct to note that a sizeable number of former Mormons become atheists, at least for a time on their journey out and possibly on to something else. Evangelicals face similar challenges from the context of late modernity, and it may be time for leaders within both movements to look more closely at the data, and what this says about our institutional and cultural contexts that we might adjust to prevent such defections.

    In addition, when people do decide to leave, I have noticed that religious institutions often make this very painful and difficult process even more problematic. Even though we might disagree with their exit, how might we lovingly facilitate such journeys to minimize pain, even while continuing to hope that they will change their minds? To that end we put together the Transitions resource for Mormons making the migration, which addresses the emotional, family, church culture, and doctrine and worldview issues. I presented a paper on this at Sunstone one year, and perhaps this can help inform discussion on this important topic.

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  34. MB on January 23, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    “if you are a currently active Mormon, what appeals to you about Mormonism over other Christian denominations?”

    I can think of three things right off.

    My commitment to discipleship of Jesus, combined with the fact that I find in the Book of Mormon further understanding and insight into his life and the work he did to reconcile us to God. Many other churches also offer that opportunity to live a disciple’s life, but with just the Bible, not the Book of Mormon’s teachings. I find the the inclusion the doctrinal aspects of both books helpful. That appeals to me.

    The way our lay-clergy organization sets us up, all of us, to be involved in active ministry whether we are any good at it or not or whether we believe or not or whether we have a propensity for it or not appeals to me. This encourages a congregational “mutual laborers” mentality that includes everybody, not just those who volunteer or who do things well, which, though rocky, is, I believe, important to a religious community. And it makes me think less about myself and more about the welfare of others as I worship God. And frankly it also makes my worship hard work. Note, I said “encourages”. Admittedly, not all wards and branches seek or achieve this mentality, but the set up makes it easier for congregations to reach for it when some of the members in it catch that vision.

    Living a life that responds to what feels like personal, enlightened inspiration to do good in various venues appeals to me. I’ve learned that it’s wise for me to respond to that when I experience it. And this is one venue where I feel called to do good.

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  35. Janis Hutchinson on January 23, 2014 at 12:11 PM

    I found none of the reasons above fit me. I entered a traditional Christian church. (I left Mormonism after 35 years after converting from Protestantism when I was 19). Nevertheless, it wasn’t easy because I found myself disappointed because the local Christian church couldn’t measure up to the “kind” of claims Mormonism had (mainly meaning contact with heaven–especially if Christianity is supposed to be the only really “true” church.) I think this is why many become atheists or agnostics because after experiencing so many exalting claims about God in Mormonism, how could they come down to the simple beliefs contained in traditional Christianity? It would be like settling for less)

    I naturally expected God to be in REAL touch with the pastor if he was called of God. My pastor assured me he didn’t hear any voice from heaven that made him go into the ministry, and definitely had no outstanding vision like Joseph Smith claimed to have had. So, no wonder the disappointment. Nevertheless, I stuck with Christianity (and am glad I did).

    Here are the 2 major reasons I entered a Christian church and did not become atheist or agnostic :

    (1) I STILL BELIEVED IN GOD. I simply had too many answered prayers and special experiences to deny him.(and no Christian can EVER convince me that my experiences were of the devil! Seems Christians feel obligated to say that.) But what Christians don’t understand is that God is no respecter of persons, especially when he sees someone on their knees sincerely praying for healing for their sick child, expressing their love to Him, guidance, or whatever the request might be. As the scriptures say, he won’t give them a stone. God doesn’t say to Himself–just as he’s getting ready to answer the prayer–“Whoops! Boy that was close. I nearly responded. I almost forgot that she was a Mormon.” No, God isn’t like that. We have a wonderful God!

    (2) I HAD TO FIND SOME PLACE WHERE I COULD HEAR ABOUT JESUS. Jesus was so embedded in my heart (despite Mormon theology to the contrary), therefore, I had to enter a Christian church. I simply couldn’t wander around, outside a church, and not hear about Him.

    HOWEVER, as I came into a Christian church, why did I expect Christianity to claim contact with heaven via special manifestations? Because if Christianity is the “true” church, then surely God would be giving pastors special revelations. So, I had to struggle with the fact that the pastor couldn’t claim any special revelation like Joseph Smith did. He told me so. I expected him to say that he knew he was called for his position because he had a special revelation from God (comparable to the Joseph Smith kind ) so he could say he really knew he was “called.”.Further, the Christian church didn’t have any really “deep” Christian doctrines – all I heard from the pulpit were simple Bible stories about Jesus. Surely, if Christianity was God’s true church, I should be hearing really deep things–not things I heard as a kid in SS. I was bored out of my head. (Of course, maybe that was the fault of the preachers I was listening to.) Yes, I do know that Christians will say there ARE deep things to discover in the Bible. But at that point in my life, where I was used to reading complex treatises by Orson Pratt (in ‘The Seer’) on God and creation, etc.,Christianity certainly couldn’t provide anything comparable to that.It seemed that my brain was stagnating.(Actually, it was through Pratt’s writings that I came to believe that God was a Spirit, not a man. Pratt had the right idea.) My brain felt stagnated.

    So, to sum it all up. When I left the LDS Church, I couldn’t become an atheist–I still believed in God. Neither could I become an agnostic. I needed a church, although disappointed for a spell because Christianity didn’t measure up to the same kind of extravagant claims of heavenly contact as the Mormon Church did. Nevertheless, I stayed with Christianity but struggled with all that. In the long run, I’m glad I did. I made the right decision.

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  36. New Iconoclast on January 23, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    I think it would be great to see a real study done on this specific topic rather than just a few questions in the midst of a larger survey. I wonder, for example, if there would be a statistically significant difference (perhaps relating to #1?) between ex-Mos who were born in the Church and those who were converts. I wonder what the breakdown in age would have been, too, with younger people who had more of the Hinckley-era “Christ-centered church” vs. the older folks with more of an emphasis on the Restoration. Or former Catholics like me, who came from a “one true Church,” vs. former “anything goes” non-denoms amongst the converts?

    Unfortunately, as much fun as it is to speculate, I’m not sure we have enough data to really draw conclusions.

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  37. Jean Bodie on January 23, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    1) Mormons are raised to think that traditional Christianity got things wrong
    (Well they did)
    2) Mormonism is meant to be an improvement beyond traditional Christianity
    (And it’s exactly the same thing – with some twists in the plot)
    3) The same tools that deconstruct Mormonism can deconstruct traditional Christianity
    (Absolutely true)
    4) Ultimately, Mormonism is distinct from traditional Christianity
    (It’s just another version among the thousands)

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  38. Brad on January 23, 2014 at 1:11 PM

    We feel lied to and deceived by the LDS church about its history and authenticity. Then we start thinking, “What else was I lied to about?”

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  39. Stephanie Gentry on January 23, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    EOR- I want to address the question you posted above. I’ll quote it here for ease:

    “I understand how folks can leave Mormonism (or any other religion for that matter) but I am incapable of understanding how people just stop believing in God. I would be willing to stake a pretty big claim that either said folks never really believed in God in the first place, or they believed in an interventionist God who they feel has now “failed them” in some way or another.

    Anyone in the situation described want to weigh in on that because I can’t understand it at all?”

    I can only speak from personal experience, that experience is this:

    I was raised Mormon, lived it completely, loved it, prayed multiple times a day, truly believed in an intervening and loving God who knew me personally. I bought it all and lived it as best I could, even tried to convert friends, married in the temple to the “right” man, and was walking the path of righteousness praising god all the way for letting me be “born into the covenant”, and into this time when the correct church was restored.

    I’ll leave out my de-conversion story to more quickly address your question.

    When I left the Mormon church, I admit to spending a few years “just living” (and/or avoiding the inevitable facing of the pain and “soul searching”) before I went back to address the questions of faith, god, and the church’s history- so it was instantaneous, which I have heard from many exmormons is the case- it’s an evolution.

    About 2 years ago I began my process of investigating and questioning. I naturally began becoming more scientifically minded (the side of me that had been repressed and shunned in my youth), more analytically driven and more concerned with the reality of the world instead of what I wanted it to be. After reading, watching and really listening to hundreds of books, debates and articles I naturally found the concept of the modern god to be as ludicrous as that of any ancient god that we have replaced with a newer gods that suit our time (ie- Zeus, Horus, and many many others.) I began to view god as a mythical allegory to explain or cope with a lot of behavior in the world we couldn’t explain or understand as limited homosapians. Not wanting to be “duped” again was definitely an idea in the back of my mind… but in the end atheism really just felt like and was the next logical step in my own personal evolution.

    I really did believe in god (like annoyingly preachy and devoted), I never felt “let down” by him. Now, I really don’t believe in him and only feel let down because I believed in fairy tales for so long. For me, it oddly wasn’t that hard of a transition. As my intellect demanded its place in my world god naturally was replaced with logic and demands for evidence.

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  40. Stephanie Gentry on January 23, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    * that was meant to read- so it WASN’T instantaneous.

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  41. jon49 on January 23, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    After figuring out the concept of *Willful Blindness* (Ted Talk) and the irrationality of groups. Then learning the history of the church and the crazy things that happened (like Joseph and polygamy, Brigham not having the voice or face of Joseph, etc). Then learning about general world history like the anabaptists in Monster, Germany during the time of Martin Luther with strong parallels to Joseph Smith’s story. Then learning about the man on *Mormon Stories* with the wife with cancer that had God appear to her and say she could live but she died regardless. Then learning about Jesus and the parallels to Brigham’s face turning into Joseph’s, i.e., over time myths are created. Then learning about the psychology of the human brain — we say that a crazy man is mentally ill but a religious man has seen God – we say that when we hear the TV on in the other room (or hear our name called) and go and look but isn’t on and the sound of it being on immediately stops and we say it is just a trick of the mind but then say when we are in deep distress and hear a voice that gives us good advice to overcome the challenge comes from some other worldly being.

    That was it in a nut shell for me. It would be nice if we could live forever, but unfortunately that isn’t the case (btw the movie *The Fountain* is awesome on that subject).

    If you want references to what I was referring to in this comment let me know and I’ll add them.

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  42. jon49 on January 23, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    Tying my previous comment into the OP. I think #3 is the one that I think I relate to the most. Maybe the others to if I thought about it some more.

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  43. S Kahut on January 23, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    My Experience…….After having lived soooo many years as TBM raising my children TBM as well……. then having some very unfortunate experiences that had devasting conclusions which changed my life forever…..I felt that God had turned his back on me. I felt betrayed and realized I was angry! At God! So put that together with “Mormanism is the only true religion” pretencious stuff …….it seemed REALLY easy to be agnostic. Just saying……..After doing all we are taught to do………being active recommend holding members……then to feel as if God were not there for you….and I might add that those members of your ward that are all….”Oh I love each and every one of you so much” when they bear their testimonys and the “We are all family” crap………..you hear so often in a ward testimony meeting……….turned out to be NOT TRUE. Because…..in my experience ……….. in general….mormans can be very JUDGEMENTAL!!!! It makes it very easy to turn your back and walk away.

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  44. Nate on January 23, 2014 at 4:16 PM

    S Kahut mentions the issue of this being “the only true church.” So maybe because Mormonism teaches us to have an all or nothing approach to religion, we have to abandon religion entirely if we leave. I’d say that perhaps active Mormons should rethink the implications of the phrase “the only true church.” It feels great to be in the “only true church,” and maybe that claim is essential in order to have priesthood authority. It’s probably one of the biggest secrets to our missionary success.

    I believe the authoritative claim is inspired, but I also believe it can be misleading. I believe God can have multiple “authorities,” and that He only works within a framework of exclusivity because that is how humans understand reality. But true reality is more complicated.

    I see a world which is teeming with evidence of the supernatural, and it is just as much outside Mormonism as inside. Sure, I am probably being decieved by my senses sometimes. But I don’t think we should abandon all faith in the supernatural just because we know that senses can be decieved. I think that appeal to reason can be equally deceptive. Appeal to reason has also justified horrific crimes, just as appeal to religion has. Reason relies on perspective and context, which is always limited.

    What I like about religion, is that it invites us to place our trust in a transendent authority outside our own reason and perspective, however imperfect that authority might be. It’s a symbol of humility before the great “unknown.” Without this, we have only our own reason to rely upon, or the reason of others whose perspectives are also limited. But when we find a “prophet,” we find someone who claims to have heard from that Great Unknown, someone who claims to be a “messenger from the Father.” Even if that messenger is not as smart as the rational scientists, or if his message contradicts our rational mind, he plays an important role as a symbol of our humility before the reality of our limited perspective.

    I think that many people around the world respect the Dali Lama for this reason. He was just a kid that happened to be hand picked by some crazy religious tradition. If all the people who love the Dali Lama were to actually learn what he believes religiously, they would see that it is crazy. But symbolically, he fills an important human need, the need to place an element of our trust in the unknown, in the supernatural, in something outside of our own wisdom.

    Sorry! :) I will stop preaching now.

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  45. kay on January 23, 2014 at 4:32 PM

    Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame in me. No more religion for me, thank you.

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  46. Andrew S on January 23, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    Re 44,


    As you note, one of the major sells of Mormonism is the idea that it is the only true church. The idea of the church having a restored priesthood with a prophet is that it has the best access to God. Church culture and teaching create an environment for leader worship based on the idea that one should follow the prophet — he won’t lead you astray.

    When people disaffect from this idea, the issue is that they were raised that the reason Mormonism was valuable was because it was true — because it was the best option available. So, it is not compelling to stick with Mormonism if it’s only one option of many…and other religions also don’t have value if they are only one option of many.

    So, when you say:

    What I like about religion, is that it invites us to place our trust in a transendent authority outside our own reason and perspective, however imperfect that authority might be.

    I think many people would say that they weren’t raised to believe that the transcendent authority could be imperfect. Rather, they were raised to believe that the reason they should place their trust in a transcendent authority is because that authority is correct, will not lead you astray, etc., Finding out that the authority is not only imperfect but in fact extremely incorrect on many issues calls into question the entire concept of transcendence.

    I mean, if we are all imperfect, then why trust someone else’s imperfect (at potentially great misery to oneself and harm to others)? It’s not that you’re being humble to the great unknown — rather, you are kowtowing to the known status quo.

    If someone finds the Dalai Lama or the Pope or even the Prophet to be worth paying attention to, it’s because they find what they say and do to be inspiring — or in congruence with their ideas of what is good and right. If someone does not find these folks worth paying attention to, it’s because they don’t find them to be inspiring. It’s not about a sense of duty — it’s about responding to whatever is persuasive.

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  47. Howard on January 23, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    If someone finds the Dalai Lama or the Pope or even the Prophet to be worth paying attention to, it’s because they find what they say and do to be inspiring…it’s about responding to whatever is persuasive.

    I strongly agree with this view but I would like to point out that there is an opposing view expressed by some of the “faithful” that it is the speaker’s ordained and sustained authority (not power) that makes what they say persuasive and apparently it doesn’t matter too much what it is they are saying.

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  48. MB on January 23, 2014 at 7:10 PM

    “I think many people would say that they weren’t raised to believe that the transcendent authority could be imperfect. ”

    I think this causes a major problem in a life.

    I believe that the best teaching with which to raise Mormon kids is the principle of gentleness. Gentleness with their own imperfections, gentleness with their neighbors’ imperfections, and gentleness with their leaders’ and teachers’ (ecclesiastical or secular, general authority or anything else) imperfections. The second best is the practice of finding their own answers to spiritual questions as they sift through varying authoritative sounding statements and how to do that.

    Gentleness with self and others and clarity of mind as to what you believe is correct and what you believe is not is crucial, I believe, for healthy spirituality, whatever your spiritual orientation.

    It sets you up for two major abilities: the ability to forgive and move forward and the ability to stand firmly, peacefully and effectively, without rancor or dismay, for what you believe is right.

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  49. Amanda on January 23, 2014 at 8:08 PM

    Haven’t read through all of the comments yet but the ones I have are very interesting. Thanks for giving me plenty to think about, everyone. :)

    I’m currently a teetering-on-the-cusp member who hasn’t totally bailed because I appreciate the inclusiveness of the gospel. In practice is where it gets all gummed up and I end up feeling frustrated. I haven’t found another church yet with such an amazing message of love but then it gets (for me at least) totally obscured by bureaucratic micromanaging and programs that feel draining yet seem to require my participation (VT, etc). What started off as inclusive has ended up feeling very, very intrusive. Yet when I try to bring up my concerns with my fellow members who I consider friends, they seem to become uncomfortable and try to shut down my issues with marriage equality (I’m strongly in favor), pants (really? Why on earth would it be a problem for women to wear pants?), and the priesthood (another non-issue since I feel like I’m just as much a priesthood holder as any man no matter what the church administration might say). Hearing that I just need to pray about it more til I change my mind (and do what the Prophet says whether I agree or not) gives me indigestion.

    My non-member husband says I’m not a Mormon, I’m a Unitarian. :)

    If I left, I’d probably try to find a progressive Christian church or Buddhist temple.

    Leaving wouldn’t be my first choice but all of the nitpicky stuff the Church focuses on sometimes leaves me feeling like I’m being pecked to death by ducks rather than filled with the Spirit. I love the folks in my ward on a individual basis and would be sad to leave but I really don’t want to have missionaries knocking on my door at 12:15pm to check on me because I didn’t attend Sunday School or Relief Society that morning. I want my choices to go home after Sacrament (because I can’t even remotely learn through the skits that sometimes pass for Sunday School lessons) or to not bring (homemade, not storebought!!!) cookies to a swap to be respected and not treated as if I just need more crowding.

    I got baptized because I fell in love with Heavenly Father, not because I wanted to join the Borg Collective, and as an extreme introvert who is very politically left-wing, it’s a struggle to carve out enough breathing room while still finding a home.

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  50. Nate on January 24, 2014 at 7:27 AM

    Andrew S says:

    “I think many people would say that they weren’t raised to believe that the transcendent authority could be imperfect. Rather, they were raised to believe that the reason they should place their trust in a transcendent authority is because that authority is correct, will not lead you astray, etc., Finding out that the authority is not only imperfect but in fact extremely incorrect on many issues calls into question the entire concept of transcendence.”

    This is true, and it is unfortunate, as MH notes. We need a better paradigm for fallibility in the church. The phrase, “The pope claims to be infallible, and no Catholic believes it for a minute, the prophet claims to be fallible, and no Mormon believes it for a minute” shows the problem. Catholics are used to the idea of an imperfect authority. Like Howard says of faithful Mormons, faithful Catholics also submit to authority, not the spiritual power of the Catholic church. Why do hundreds of millions of Catholics submit to an obviously imperfect spiritual authority? Because submission to religious authority is a basic human instinct, something built into our spiritual DNA.

    Many active Mormons are also like Catholics. They don’t have a problem with fallibility issues. And most inactives probably don’t either. What Andrew calls “disaffected” or “recovering Mormons” who poll high as atheists, are actually only a small percentage of “inactive” Mormons, most of whom have simply slipped out of activity because life got too hectic, or they don’t take Mormonism that seriously, or they took a job on Sunday, or they didn’t like the bishop or something. Of course it is significant when anyone leaves the church, but I think we should recognize that those who leave for intellectual reasons (the church no longer made sense rationally), are still a small minority. Most Mormons and inactives will remain unaffected by the typical concerns of more intellectually oriented members. So I think that the appeal to authority (even if it is imperfect) is still an important concept for most people.

    Regarding what Howard says of faithful members: “it is the speaker’s authority (not power) that makes what they say persuasive.” It is true that members are predisposed to submit to authority, but ultimately, I don’t think we are dealing with the Emporer’s new clothes. There is also power in the church, and in the leadership, at least as I’ve experienced it, inspite of imperfections.

    Those who leave generally don’t say, “Well the church made perfect sense, and it seemed rationally true, but I just didn’t feel any spiritual power in the church.” Rather, they leave because it stops making rational sense. Then any spiritual power they might have felt in the church becomes suspect, something psychological, not real, because we have a prejudice against things that are irrational. How could something as crazy as that really work? How could it really be true, all this nonsense? We have a prejudice against a God of contradictions, who inspires fiction, who sustains leaders who are simply wrong. This prejudice makes us blind to the real power of these imperfect and despised agents, these stones which the builders reject, which become the cornerstones.

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  51. Maybe Everything is a Lie? | Wheat and Tares on January 24, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    […] discussion on 4 Reasons Why Disaffected Mormons Become Atheists sparked a thought in my mind as the familiar stories unfolded in the comments.  Those stories told […]

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  52. Howard on January 24, 2014 at 8:25 AM

    Generally responding to Nate #50 comments.

    The problem with the church today is the ratio of God’s power to fallibility has strongly tipped away from God’s power resulting in more fallibility and far, far less revelation placing the church at a greater distance from God and leaving it in a weak reactive position. This trend began at Joseph’s death and generally continues. Authority has nothing to do with it The restored church was highly visionary, creative and proactive organization under Joseph. It was largely brilliantly consolidated and grown in SLC under Brigham. The brethren spoke from the spirit without amplification in a divinely designed acoustically impressive building. After that it regressed in power devolving into a Pharisaical reactive institution. Come and hear prophets speak! Okay, what do they have to share with the world today? The world needs younger missionaries. Can the spirit still be felt? Yes, but where’s the beef? Who cares. Let’s go shopping!

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  53. Andrew S on January 24, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    re 50,


    I definitely think that (especially looking at the church’s worldwide 30% activity rate) it’s reasonable to think that there are more inactive folks than there are who go on internet exmormon and disaffected mormon communities. However, this doesn’t really speak well for your paradigm of fallibility.

    In other words, of the two populations you describe, if we consider the ” “inactive” Mormons, most of whom have simply slipped out of activity because life got too hectic, or they don’t take Mormonism that seriously, or they took a job on Sunday, or they didn’t like the bishop or something.”, this doesn’t exactly look like a great model for the church. I mean, maybe non-mormons and ex-Mormons would commend people who don’t take the church seriously enough to engage with it (and maybe that’s the end goal for many disaffected Mormons), but from the church’s position, these sorts of things don’t look like mature Mormon responses to fallibility. Rather, it’s just a pattern of people who are not fully integrated into Mormon life, and so they fall out easily without much fuss.

    And then the other population are the atheist-minded ex-Mormons. These folks have the biggest criticisms of the church, and do the heaviest research into the issues of the church (notwithstanding that many might say there are ways to research and stay in the church), and who are active online…precisely because they had high engagement and high integration in the church. As some say, they left the church but they couldn’t leave it alone — because they are precisely the folks who were VERY Mormon.

    But it turns out that this high engagement also doesn’t produce great results.

    There is a comment on r/exmormon in response to this discussion that I think is striking:

    I feel like the problem with this line of thought is that most posters on Wheat and Tares are non-correlated. They don’t really subscribe to Mormon theology and assume that their own personal version must be correct. The problem with this, of course, is that their views don’t really reflect the church’s which is why you get comments about how we’re wrong for thinking that the Mormon God is interventionist. He is according to TSCC, but you couldn’t convince more liberal Mormons of this because they’ve constructed their own version of the church in their minds to reconcile the things they know can’t be true.

    So, there’s this major sentiment that these folks were just listening to what the church leaders say and taking it seriously — and it’s uncorrelated Mormons who are doing otherwise.

    Those who leave generally don’t say, “Well the church made perfect sense, and it seemed rationally true, but I just didn’t feel any spiritual power in the church.” Rather, they leave because it stops making rational sense. Then any spiritual power they might have felt in the church becomes suspect, something psychological, not real, because we have a prejudice against things that are irrational.

    Note, you don’t have to have just one or the other. I know PLENTY of people who say, “I didn’t feel any spiritual power in the church, and in fact, the church was/is spiritually and morally draining, soul crushing, etc., BUT I stayed because I thought it was the truth and I just had to suck it up.” And then, when it stopped making rational sense, they pursued courses in their lives that made them fulfilled.

    I definitely think many disaffection narratives are about recontextualizing spiritual experiences had, BUT there are many disaffection narratives about how the church is not very spiritually inspired. That’s why so much disaffection vocabulary analogizes the church to a corporation — because it’s more business-as-usual than mystical. (I mean, HeartSell (TM)? Really?)

    Business-as-usual CAN get a lot done. So, when you go on to say:

    How could something as crazy as that really work? This prejudice makes us blind to the real power of these imperfect and despised agents, these stones which the builders reject, which become the cornerstones.

    It’s not that people are blind to the power of these imperfect agents. It’s that they recognize the power is that of a corporation — and embodies all of the criticisms that big multinational corporations often receive in these times.

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  54. […] has written a response to my most recent Wheat & Tares post discussing what we do if everything is a lie. His post centers around the following series of […]

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  55. Jaramiah on January 24, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    As someone who remains active and ponders the possibility that God does not exist, I contemplate as to whether it can be that those who leave NEVER look back and question if God was there? My faith has highs and lows. Does faith in an atheism not have highs and lows?

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  56. Andrew S on January 24, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    I’m sure that plenty of people are cringing at your phrase “faith in an atheism,” but I’ll try to address this:

    Atheism is simply not being convinced that there is a god. So, atheists can certainly question if God could be there, but the thing with atheism is not being convinced that God is there.

    Atheists can certainly have highs and lows, but these are things common to human lives regardless of religion or belief, and do not need a deity to explain.

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  57. Jaramiah on January 24, 2014 at 5:02 PM

    Let me try this again. Some commenters have stated a very defining change from belief to disbelief. In my experience, my believing has been interrupted with periods of questioning. The power of spiritual experiences from the past becomes blurred over time and I, like others, ponder whether what I felt was a psychological phenomenon rather than divine intervention. So, if I was to leave the church at this point, I would need to feel that the balance tips strongly in favor of doubting, as doubts have always come up.

    For those who had the defining change to disbelief and question if God could be there, is there complete and total absence of ‘God does exist’ moments? That seems as foreign to me as it seems to have belief in God without ever having doubts.

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  58. TheLion on January 24, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    This is a pretty easy one in my opinion. Disaffected Mormons turn to atheists because their whole life they are told God is actively managing the church. If the church goes astray God will adjust who is in charge of the church. Okay, then people start discovering lies of omission, out right lies, major conflicts between “prophets,” teachings contrary to what God/Jesus taught, etc. and wonder how there can be a God? This is after all, the one true church right? We are taught all others are wrong, right? God has given us the keys! Right?


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  59. New Iconoclast on January 24, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    Andrew says in #56, I’m sure that plenty of people are cringing at your phrase “faith in an atheism,”

    They probably are, but in reality, atheism is as much a belief system as theism. It just has different tenets. Ultimately, if you discount the BoM definition of “faith” (Alma 32:21 – “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true;” emphasis added) by eliminating the last phrase, what we have is belief in an unprovable proposition.

    Ultimately, an atheist can’t “prove” there is no God any more than I can prove that there is only one and Joseph is his prophet. The proofs each of uses simply seem convincing to us. I conclude that it’s most likely the connotation of “faith” that the atheist objects to, not the fact.

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  60. Pressing Forward on January 24, 2014 at 6:42 PM

    It seems like we’re mostly taught the church is all or nothing. The Book of Mormon says there are save two churches only: one is God’s and all others are the Devil’s. So when you learn that the on-going “revelation” you’ve been taught is actually inspiration after discussion and prayer and arguing, until the 15 agree……. And there are no more thus saith the Lord verbatim revelations —- it’s a shattering of paradigm/belief.

    It takes a while to work through the stages of grief. To mourn the loss of what was really prophet worship more than worshipping God. In my long lifetime, there have been so many times when the church chose to implement things that felt off. But I believed if it felt off, I was surely the one in error.

    But I love the sense of community. I love to help others. I stay. I don’t much reverence the church any more…….but my reverence for the Savior is ever deepening.

    Maybe someday there will be a lesson manual on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ for RS and P. When He comes again, I hope He will call me His friend and disciple.

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  61. Syphax on January 24, 2014 at 7:03 PM

    Andrew I will give you a dollar if you can keep this conversation from turning into an “lack of belief in God vs. a belief in a lack of God” debate. Of all internet debates that one is like in the top 5 worst.

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  62. Andrew S on January 24, 2014 at 7:22 PM



    I can’t control anyone but myself, and even I want to start this debate. I’ll restrain myself because I know in years and pages of debate, no one actually changes his mind.

    All I can say, in response to Jaramiah’s 57, is this:

    Since I personally have never believed God exists, I cannot personally speak as to the qualitative difference between having “God exists” moments and then at some point not having those moments anymore.

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  63. Syphax on January 24, 2014 at 7:27 PM

    Hey, it’s your blog, so you can talk about whatever you want. But a DOLLAR man. A DOLLAR.

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  64. Zara on January 25, 2014 at 1:59 AM

    Jaramiah, I think some do continue to question God’s existence and wonder if they made a mistake. But usually those people identify as agnostic. You don’t join an atheist club or an atheist church, and you don’t get kicked out for doubting that god doesn’t exist. Belief is a spectrum, and you get to decide where on that spectrum you are.

    For me, my life is the same whether god exists or not. I can easily explain spiritual experiences I had in the church and in my life with non-supernatural explanations. I think prayer has some value as a way to focus one’s desires and to give oneself the feeling of either control or abandon when things seem overwhelming. God seemed real to me once upon a time, but just as quickly it seemed impossible for him to be real. But even if there is a god, I don’t believe I can know his/her/its nature–all we have is men’s ideas of what god is, and god seems to me to be created in man’s image. And the more we know about science, the easier it is to explain phenomena we always attributed to the hand of god. If god appeared to me tomorrow in a tangible way, I would change my mind–but I personally believe that I’m about as likely to see God as I am to see a unicorn or Voldemort or Winnie the Pooh. I’m not interested in the sort of evidence that requires that I restrain my logical brain and rely on my feelings. This makes spiritual people “sad for me,” and that’s fine–spirituality is more important to some people than others. I think people are just wired differently. Spirituality, for me, was no more than magical thinking, when I still believed. And it confused me and held me back quite a bit. I’ve developed more confidence and achieved more since letting go of spirituality and the need for everything to be part of God’s Plan.

    AndrewS, could you maybe do a post in which we put to bed that “atheism is just as much a religion as Christianity” canard, which one only ever hears from Christians? I’ll throw in a dollar, too.

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  65. jmb275 on January 25, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    I’ll chime in here just because I didn’t see my position represented in the comments I skimmed.

    I did feel deceived by the church…even though I don’t blame “them” for it. I’m fairly scientific minded as well, so somewhat stereotypically I felt like I could embrace atheism. But there was one thing that really holds me back and is the reason I’m still Mormon (albeit a weird one) and still spiritually minded – I was convinced/persuaded/believed/certain of something (the truth claims of the church) and that something turned out to be more complex and nuanced (with many things turning out to be false) than I ever imagined and I’ll be damned if I’ll be in that scenario again. The result is that I’m hesitant to state belief in or certainty of most things. Perhaps that means I don’t believe much of anything…but that goes too far. I try to remain as open minded as I can. The really big downside of this is that in my interactions a lot of people feel I play by my own rules, don’t respect the “sacred space,” and am blown about by every wind of doctrine. Perhaps so, but I’m comfortable simultaneously believing nothing and still allowing space to believe in everything.

    I liked the post Andrew. Mostly I tend to agree with John Hamer in response to Jeff’s post that the main reason is because of the true/false dichotomy we preach. Mormons, I think, tend to throw out babies with bathwater because of this paradigm.

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  66. New Iconoclast on January 25, 2014 at 12:00 PM

    Zara, I didn’t say that “atheism is just as much a religion as Christianity”; I said it was as much a belief system as theism. There’s a difference – although a lot of “New Atheists,” especially the young ones who toss around terms like “brights,” certainly come across as worshipful disciples of Randi or Dawkins.

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  67. jon49 on January 25, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    I don’t know if I would call atheism a belief system. Do you call people that don’t believe big foot or the Loch Ness monster believers of a system? Maybe believers of logic and reason, i.e., philosophers? I think many an atheist would be willing to believe in God given the proof. Say, the current science gets behind evolution, so a philosopher could agree that it is most likely the case. Then science proves otherwise. A philosopher would then say, well, I guess we were wrong, now time to move on and see what other great things we can figure out.

    I outlined the reasons that led me to stop believing. Here is one more. After getting to the point where I could believe that there was no God I put it to the test. Could I feel the spirit while saying to myself that there is no God. Well, I could. So, I suppose the spirit told me that God doesn’t exist.

    I find it interesting of all the things that God would use to help us “know” he is there is something as crazy as our feelings. Feelings are important but we shouldn’t let them tell us to kill our kids or other crazy things.

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  68. out of the woodwork on January 25, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    #55 & 59

    I’ll take a stab at that for you although it’s important you understand I’m not representing anyone but myself.

    I’m sure there was a time when I was comparing the beliefs I was born with to the realities I could observe around me. I’m prepared to believe there were occasions when I asked myself if I could be wrong and there was a god. It was a big change to admit I was on my own in this universe, still, I don’t remember it well because I was pretty young and the lack of evidence for god was pretty convincing. Even so I put my head down and continued to live like a good Molly Mormon until I was 20.

    By that time when I felt free to act on the conviction I had developed over a very long time (roughly from the age of 10). I had vetted the depths and strength of my non-beliefs pretty thoroughly. From that time I have considered myself an agnostic because, as you say, New Iconoclast, if I am honest with myself I have to admit that I have no more proof there there is no god than that there is one. I can live very comfortably with either possibility.

    In practical terms, I live my life as though I were an atheist. If I am called one I’m comfortable enough with that broad understanding and if I were a betting person my money would be on the lack of any god. On the other hand, I live in US culture as though I am just like everyone else. I understand that most people assume I’m a white middle class Christian. I don’t correct them either.

    If anyone is genuinely interested I will explain it the way I just have.

    I believe in the Golden Rule and basic manners. Really. That’s what my beliefs, such as they are, come down to. They’ve worked for me for 60 of my 73 years. I’ve taught my kids empathy and ethics growing out of it. I’ve made sure they understand that that’s more than politeness. It’s the foundation of their character and it’s not a matter of convenience they can negotiate away or only practice when they think others are aware of them. They understand that when they violate their own ethics it’s they who pay the price in their self-esteem and their right to call themselves decent and honorable as well as the trust they can expect others to invest in them.

    I’ve raised them to have open minds and be respectful of others’ beliefs. I encouraged them to experience their friends’ religions and religious practice. None of them chose a religious life. Nevertheless, they are honest productive people and I’m as proud of them as I imagine anyone here is of their kids. They are good parents and they are raising lovely kids with compassion and character too.

    Do I sometimes wonder if there’s a god now? I’m well into my senior years and thinking about the end of my life and the answer is no, I don’t. I just never have seen evidence of it or had need of it. I have no reason to hedge my bet at this point if it becomes more clear with every diminishing physical attribute that my time is coming. I will die like everyone before me and everyone to come. It doesn’t frighten me anymore than being born did. And if there’s some adventure to come after this life I’m open to that and what consequences there may be from this life. I think I’ve earned the right to call myself a decent person and I trust in that. That’s the about the best I ever could have done.

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  69. Jared on January 25, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    If the lead story in tomorrows world media reported that conclusive, incontrovertible evidence had been discovered by scientist proving the Book of Mormon was an authentic book of scripture what do you think would happen?

    While you’re thinking about that I’d like to add that the “evidence” needed to produce faith for belief or unbelief in the claims made by the LDS church exist in a state of balance. In other words, there is no smoking gun ( incontrovertible evidence) to prove the claims of those who believe or disbelieve in the LDS church. Therefore, faith to believe or disbelieve is a choice.

    A point of clarification, for many church members who choose to believe they are provided with spiritual evidence by the powers of heaven. In these cases, the state of balance is undone and is strongly or irrefutably swayed in the favor of certainty/knowledge.

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  70. pancholefty on January 25, 2014 at 10:11 PM

    As an active and excited member, the thing that interest me about Mormonism over Traditional Christianity is that it offers all of the needs I have in my life.
    (1) Mormonism gives certainty about my place in this world and in the hereafter.
    (2) It gives me options that are not available anywhere else in the secular world or religious world (etc. mission, interactions, and beliefs).
    (3) In Mormonism I have found deep love that I cannot find in other religions. The idea that God would weep for his children is beautiful to me that other religions do not accept. The belief that Christ’s atonement will reclaim all is profound to me. I have an option to reject a lot of the cruel teachings of Protestantism.
    (4) In Mormonism I have found significance. It teaches me that my fatherhood and priesthood are eternally important. Also, I’m allowed to do something that I enjoy more than anything else (teach). As an attorney and a business owner, I find more significant in the moments I teach the youth of my ward than how many people I employ or help through my career.
    (5) I have found incredible growth in Mormonism. The concept in Alma 32 of a seed of belief turning into a tree of life is absolutely true to me. I have made amazing and incredible change within Mormonism and its beliefs.
    (6) I have the feeling of contribution to something greater than myself that I can’t explain. When I help a young man realize that some kind of behavior will destroy his life and he changes it, it gives me great satisfaction.

    While I recognize that traditional Christianity can offer some of these things. In my opinion it doesn’t offer the opportunity to fulfill these needs.

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  71. Karen on January 26, 2014 at 1:21 AM

    It can only offer all of theses things if it’s 100 percent the truth. The evidence suggests that this cannot be taken as such with huge inconsistencies between the historical account and the doctrine. These are great theories but God doesn’t get on the phone tell us so in concrete terms. This is all based on faith. Mormonism presents certainty where as Christianity accepts that there is much mystery and things have to be accepted on faith. I think it’s great that all of this works for you but having studied many of the JS papers, Journal of Discourses, looked at original documents and papers from the time. Such a literal belief is not possible for me. Christianity offers me a belief system that really works in terms of living a life that helps me accept and love everyone. But I am a non evangelical Christian and religious pluralist. A universalist. I believe all has the right to find their own belief system that works for them. What is the truth? I’d say that we live in a world of stories. The nearest we can get unless linked with solid true like what atom make water is the truth that works for us. Glad the LDS works for you – as a female activist pragmatist, intellectual and thinker it made me deeply miserable. I have found joy beyond measure leaving and having a different God and Jesus. But I’m glad it works for you. Good luck on your journey.

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  72. […] a related note, Andrew S wrote an insightful post on why people who leave Mormonism often become atheists (though I think his post is more an […]

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  73. geoff on January 28, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    I was a Bishop and LDS for 41 years but it was my pursuit of Jesus that led me to renounce the doctrines of Mormonism and become a born-again non-denominational christian. Fake history, untenable books (BoM to Abraham), contrived culture, bizarre doctrines, egoistic leaders and secret rites. Nuff said?

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  74. Kullervo on January 28, 2014 at 9:18 AM

    I think that the points that Andrew S and Syphax have made about Mormonism’s difference from historic Christianity cannot be overemphasized. I know that as a Mormon, I was under the impression that Mormonism was basically [(Biblical Christianity) – (a few false doctrines) + (some revealed truths)]. And it can really look convincingly like that because Mormonism uses a lot of the same vocabluary as historic Christianity and Mormon sources purport to explain and build on historic Christianity.

    But they’re just totally different animals.

    I came out of Mormonism because I thought that Mormonism contradicted Christianity and the Bible, but it became evident really quickly that the “Christianity” I was left with once I stripped away as many of the Mormon distinctives that I could was not a viable or workable belief system. As a result, I abandoned Christianity altogether. In the past two years of so now I have come back to historic Christianity with a fresh perspective and after a couple of years of spiritual and philosophical detox, and I have just been amazed at how the historic doctrines of the Trinity, Creation, Original Sin, the Incarnation, the Atonement, Justification, Grace and the Resurrection all fit together in ways I just never grasped at all as a Mormon.

    I disagree with Andrew S. that “the same tools that deconstruct Mormonism can deconstruct traditional Christianity,” because I think that in reality, most Mormons have never really encounteres historic Christianity on its own terms. Mormon doctrines about Jesus can definitely be deconstructed with those tools, but Mormon doctrines about Jesus are so far from historic Christianity that they are apples and oranges. So yeah, a Mormon’s faith in Jesus is going to crumble when his or her faith in the Restoration crumbles. But the Mormon’s faith in Jesus is no closer to historic Christianity than a Muslim’s faith in Jesus is.

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  75. jon49 on January 28, 2014 at 10:41 AM


    I found the same tools worked for me out of Christianity as did out of Mormonism. The you-tuber Evid3nc3 goes through just under 4 hours of videos deconstructing Christianity (and showing his sources for that deconstruction) and I found many similarities between his destruction of Christianity and mine of Mormonism. Like Jesus becoming more and more miraculous as time passes by which is similar to BY’s face turning into Joseph’s, etc.


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  76. […] post last week at Wheat & Tares on the 4 Reasons Disaffected Mormons Become Atheists has been popular indeed…in addition to a response from Jeff, it has now gotten a response […]

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  77. Jared C on January 28, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    Andrew, I like your thoughts, this question puzzles me as well, having gone from Mormon to atheist. Here are a few more factors that are basically corollaries to yours:

    (A) Most of those who grow up in the church, and whose primary faith in life is in God, stay Mormon. I.e. people don’t generally don’t identify as “ex-Mormons” unless they also identify as atheists.

    My experience is that casual believers who stopped attending at a young age, whose parents don’t believe, often don’t consider themselves ex-Mormons, they consider themselves “casual” Mormons. They may not believe in any of the truth claims but neither do they take a public stand on the issue.

    (B) Socially, amongst ex-Mormons whose families still believe, quiet atheism is more comfortable than adopting traditional Christianity. From the “surviving” LDS believer’s point of view, lost faith is easier to rekindle than wrong-headed faith. In some cases, remaining outside any religious camp allows the relatives to “keep hope alive.”

    From the disaffected Mormon point of view, taking a religious stand among religious people costs more in effort and alienation than it does to stop taking any strong theological position. Atheism does not compel evangelism. You can be a part of the “loyal opposition” if you don’t preach against the faith–or for your own–you simply politely refrain from talking about theology at all.

    As a psychological reality, it’s easier to abandon faith than to entertain the notion that your friends and family are hell-bound heretics.

    It is also easier to run a single-religion marriage than a double-religion marriage. There is only so much time on Sunday and attending two churches is far less comfortable.

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  78. Andrew S on January 28, 2014 at 9:10 PM


    I’m not so sure about point B. Is atheism really more palatable than a “wrong-headed faith” to believing members? I doubt that. I think that believing Mormons would much rather have their disaffected family/friends have what they think is a common theistic foundation than not. (E.g., “Well, do you at least believe in Christ?”)

    I think wedge strategies on reconverting disaffected members will often start with appeals to belief in God. Mormons can try that on, say, Christian ex-Mormons (although what each group means by “God” is probably not going to be the same), but for atheists, the Mormon really doesn’t have an in.

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  79. Jared C on January 29, 2014 at 5:42 PM

    I agree that it seems counter-intuitive, but In my experience, the drivers that lead people to—or back to—the church are rarely theological. A Mormon converted to traditional Christianity is less likely to convert back to Mormonism than an atheist because they have “found God” elsewhere, they have less of a reason to change their religious stance.

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  80. Damon B. on February 17, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    Truth worship. Let me explain.

    Mormons throw baby out with the bath water by way of how they have been taught to believe. If Joseph Smith is a prophet, then everything that came from him is true. That means today’s prophets are true, and they never less astray. The Book of Mormon is true. Polygamy was ok. You know the rest.

    Find out anything isn’t true, and Mormons have a major dilemma. But one thing we don’t lose is the belief of exactness. It’s easy to see other religions are false educationally. Mormons do a great job backing up doctrine, though heavily through this idea of successive belief of infallibility. We are very educated doctrinally. We know why everyone else is wrong so were the only possible true church.

    We’ll may never know how it would go if we taught inclusiveness. It would be interesting to know how puerile coped if we taught you don’t have to follow the prophet unless you receive spiritual confirmation on each teaching proposed. While we are moving more toward a tolerant attitude, acceptance isn’t happening.

    Once a new truth is found, differing from the doctrine, it has to be let go. This sometimes results is complete abandon our God, but otherwise apathy toward religion.

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  81. Damon B. on February 17, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    ^ Sorry about typos — darn phones :) Now that I’m on a real computer, I’ll share the rest of what I wanted to share.

    I am still in the church. I have my differences with doctrine, etc. I don’t think I could ever ‘convert’ to another church, though I most certainly could become part of a more service-oriented (less missionary oriented) group that embodies the true spirit of Christ’s message (some might argue that even Christ is/was a bad message).

    But let me tell you some reasons I haven’t left the church…

    1) My wife, family and extended family. I got married under specific conditions and made promises — whether or not I believe everything the church teaches, I’m going to honor what my wife expected and support her in the church, and support her in bringing up the kids in the church.

    2) I was raised in the church, but my Dad didn’t teach how the church teaches. He has always had his own mind — he does not believe anything that doesn’t make sense. He’s does not believe in a God, and he pretty much doesn’t believe anything celestial about any of the church. But, he believes the Church provides very good things (less now than 40+ years ago, since we’ve become increasingly fundamentalist). He still has not left the church — he hasn’t gone to the temple for 50 years, or had a recommend. But he has a calling, and he’s been one of the best home teachers I’ve ever known. He believes God is own creation, and that God is ONLY good. We get to define God. If we disagree with what another man says (prophets are men), there is no ‘problem’ with that. I was always allowed my agency. I was not forced to do anything growing up I didn’t want to do or didn’t believe in. When I see people in the church being stupid, I guess I just always had the foundation of knowing they were just being stupid. Since none of it directly affected me, it was easy to ignore. If I were homosexual, we’d probably be having a different conversation. But it’s easier to ignore/forgive/move on about things when they don’t directly affect you. However, the older you get, and the less you give a crap about what people think, and the more you care about people in general, the more likely horrible doctrines are to provoke you to action or defection. When you’re young, you may do this out of rebellion — when you’re older, you do it because you find it unacceptable.

    3) I think the church needs free thinking people — at the end of the day, I am a Mormon. It’s, as some have commented, part of our psyche. The emphasis on family. The culture. Talents. Music. Singing. The meetings, etc. It’s all part of my upbringing. I hate to see ‘my people’ being stupid. I feel a responsibility to refocus the message, and as I get more willing to open my mouth (interesting irony :)) I actually have more fun. That’s another thing I saw with my Dad growing up. He became the High Priest Quorum advisor even though he was never a High Priest. Why? Because they loved him — and he loved them. And they had great, enlightening conversations. And those people probably only ever became MORE conservative, but the friendship overcame the difference in belief. How fun is that! Open conversations. However, once we moved from the ward we grew up in, the new congregation was not nearly as primed for my Dad…so, he pretty much skips the 2nd meetings now.

    4) Though much like #2, I was not brought up believing everything was true. Abraham was not asked by God to kill his son. God did not kill thousands of innocent first borns. The fish and loaves were not multiplied by magic (but rather by the miracle of people going back to their home and sharing of their substance). It goes on and on. God is only good, because we make him up. Ask people if they would do what God has been shown to do — they would tell you no. So, are they better than God? Well, they are better than many of the things we’ve said God has done — so yes, in many ways, they are better. And that means eventually they will probably recognize flaws in doctrine and decide that either God doesn’t exist as he’s taught, or that he’s different, or that he doesn’t exist at all. But again, I can live with differences. This is a big reason I never felt betrayed – how can you be betrayed by a belief system if your parents didn’t pressure you to believe it all. BTW, my mom is a saint in every sense of the word — one of the greatest people I’ve ever known — selfless and loving. But she, too, has her own mind.

    Anyway — just throwing out some thoughts — maybe a different perspective. It seems to me like how your family was factors in greatly to what people do once they face some tough questions in the church. I know plenty of family situations where if I were the kid, I’d want to run away from it all, too.

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  82. Damon B. on February 17, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Wow — I’ve read all the comments — and I just have to say, I’ve never seen such an amazing group of level headed LDS people. Thank you all for who you are — despite the amazing amount of differences, it seems like everyone that has shared really ‘gets it’ — meaning, they can have their own beliefs and understand those of everyone else. Fantastic stuff. It’s sad to me when people have to have a tough break up with the church — it seems like many people fight and fight and fight when they leave, and I think if more people thought like the people on this board, we could still have good friendships with those who came to a different conclusion about God. Beautiful forum!!!

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  83. Glenn Parker on August 9, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    I have not read all the responses to your theory or four reasons why many Mormons become atheists but I would like to add another reason for consideration, which in my opinion, is why this is so common. I too am a former Mormon (more than 40 years ago) but now a born again Christian. When I left Mormonism I did not discontinue believing there is a God. There is just too much evidence around us to indicate there definitely is a Supreme Being or Intelligence behind this creation. Therefore I followed up with my belief and found the true God in the Bible. My reason why so many become atheists after Mormonism is simply because they never knew the majesty of the Biblical God. Mormons do not “study” their Bible so they, as they are taught, view God as a high achieving MAN! Just as they admire their church leadership, they admired this MAN who “became” a god. This was the result of the LDS Church teachings bringing the view of God down to the level of MAN! When these people only saw “God” as an accomplished MAN, that is easy to step away from, to disregard as credible or worthy of believing. So when they leave Mormonism it was easy to leave their belief in “god” because he was only a MAN like the other leaders of the Mormon Church. Truth seeking ex-Mormons will search the Bible and hopefully discover the true God along with His amazing attributes which the Mormon MAN-God could never possess. That is my reasoning as to why many ex-Mormons are or become atheists. Thanks for reading.

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  84. Andrew S on August 9, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    Thanks for commenting, Glenn.

    I would definitely agree that many Mormons probably do not understand God as is described by traditional Christian denominations. But even worse, I think it’s also that Mormons are so primed to believe that Mormonism is a response or improvement upon traditional Christian concepts, so going to traditional Christianity is seen as a step backwards.

    I don’t necessarily think “truth seeking exmormons” will necessarily come to believe in traditional Christianity either. Because the same tools many use to deconstruct book of Mormon, LDS truth claims, etc, will often be applied to the rest of Christianity and to the Bible.

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  85. Craig on August 29, 2014 at 1:50 PM

    re Glenn

    Oddly my experience seems completely counter to your hypothesis. It was study of the bible and comparing what biblical scholars say a out its origins with what churches, Mormon, Evangelical, etc teach which lead me to reject them all. So many scholars explain Sumerian, and Babylonian stories in the Bible that it cannot literally be the word of supreme being revealed to Jews. Biblical literalism is absolutely silly, and the Mormon church takes to much quite literally. (The worldwide flood to name one)

    So my path was :
    1) Study the bible
    2), reject the bible as literally from God,
    3) reject Mormonism for its biblical literalism.

    Subsequent skeptical study of Mormonism lead me away, but I see no compelling doctrine in any church.

    Why do Catholics tolerate the ubiquitous iconography where people see Jesus and Mary in tree stumps? Why do Evangelicals reject science? And why does no church recognize their own scholars with regard to the bible?

    As Dan Dennett has pointed out people enter divinity school to learn to teach of God and leave it doubting God’s existence.

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  86. jon49 on August 29, 2014 at 11:20 PM

    I just finished listening to Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason. He deconstructs the bible by using itself to show that it can’t make any logical sense. Interesting listen.

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  87. mem on August 30, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    It is only logical to me that there is a God simply because justice demands it.
    There are people like Mother Theresa and people like Nazis. Evil people often escape the consequences in this life. Therefore, it is foolhardy to think there will never be a day of reckoning for them– and us. And if you haven’t seen God, it is only wise to err on the side of safety realizing that means He might exist.

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  88. Ryan on December 7, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    Everyone of those points hits home with me. I have struggled with Mormonism since I was a child and have gone back and forth and have tested out everything from atheism to heathenism. I have finally landed on and will maintain that there is a God and that he wants us to experience all that life has to offer, both good and bad. That no matter what we do in this life, it is nothing more than experience for our benefit in a later life. That is a statement to how I believe and not a testimony for anyone else to believe the way I do.
    What I found as a primary reason for some members, including myself, to become atheist or agnostic is that of pressure from the active Mormon family members. It is strictly taboo for a member of the church to “throw away the fullness of the gospel for something less.” Many Mormons are ostracized by their loving family for leaving for another faith, but only have to deal with family and friends trying to get them active again if they simply become inactive. By saying they are atheist or agnostic, they don’t have to justify their new religion, they just have to say they don’t believe any more and consequently have less pressure and turmoil with their family and friends. One of the most common sayings I hear from my family is “But you know it’s true!” Only when I actually started using Mormon historical documents and science to counter any and all their claims, did my family stop pestering me about my faith. In the end they said it was about having “blind faith”, or “the faith of a child”, which is saying “blind faith”. Every point that was made in this article is definitely of concern to those who are leaving the Mormon faith, but I believe it all boils down to the culture of the faith. The “If you’re not Mormon, than you are nothing” mindset that is taught indirectly and unwittingly by the “blind faith” believers of the church. That mindset is so indoctrinated into the Mormon culture at such an early age, that consequently, many leaving the church subconsciously believe that there can be nothing if the church isn’t true.
    I would like to hear thoughts on my observation, especially from members who are leaving the church. I would like to see how accurate my observation is.

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  89. […] Amanda: […]

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  90. New Iconoclast on January 9, 2015 at 8:07 AM

    Amanda, if you’re still around, this phrase:

    I got baptized because I fell in love with Heavenly Father

    still strikes me as one of the most simple and beautiful statements of faith I have ever read.

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