A Mormon Apostasy

Elders Danley and Malouf
Elders Danley and Malouf

People who know me at all know that I do not believe in god. In fact, I would label myself an antitheist. I haven’t been able to shake my disdain for theism from my sleeve. Some have wondered to me how I went from Book of Mormon totin’ Mormon missionary to positive atheism and antitheism. What tipped me over the edge?

The house of cards that was my strong Christian belief fell near the end of my bachelor of science pursuit. It became impossible to continue to reconcile what I’d learned in geology, physics, statistics, philosophy, logic, psychology, and biology with what I’d known my entire life. And what a rush it’s been! The world is so much clearer now; but people are so stupider.

Things bothered me about the members of the church for a long time. My motivation, however, was always to get them to more closely follow the doctrines. Why do unbaptized children take the sacrament? Why are infants blessed at church? Why do people always pray that things might happen? Like, duh, things are going to happen. Why do people pray for sunny weather for the church picnic when the farmers are desperately praying for rain? The members, and many of the leaders who didn’t put them straight, were the problem, not the church. Kirsten thinks I would have left the church eventually even without my liberal arts training because of my skeptical nature. I’m not so sure. I think the evidence has to be stronger than the belief and that, for me, was a pretty daunting amount.

Physics taught me how stuff works. Then I saw a special on The History Channel critical of the Great Flood and knew they weren’t making it up. My physics training wouldn’t allow me to discount the overwhelming evidence against such a magnificent and catastrophic event. If there was no flood and the modern prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, was allowing this story to be taught as fact then he must not be talking to god. If Gordon isn’t talking to god then he’s not a prophet. If he’s not a prophet the church isn’t true. It’s as simple as that.

Statistics taught me to throw out the fringe data of a sample. All of a sudden the anecdotal miracle stories I’d been hearing in testimony meetings and Sunday School and reading about in the scriptures were meaningless. Without those stories to prop up faith doubt is inevitable.

Biology, of course, taught me the undeniable fact of evolution and contradicted the creation myth.

North Pacific Basin
North Pacific Basin

The geology course I took had a profound impact and is probably the greatest contributor to my apostasy. The textbook we used has a picture of the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The Hawaiian Island chain extends all the way to Alaska. The process that created those ocean mountains is too complex for this comment. Suffice it to say, it didn’t happen in less than six thousand years. The earth, I learned, is a very very old planet.

In philosophy I learned how complex hypothetical ethical questions can be. I realized how inadequate religions and their ancient texts are at offering any guidance but for the most basic moral canundrums. I also realized that there is no right and wrong, but an continuum where morality is relative.

In logic I learned how to spot a fallacy and evaluate truth statements. Religion, it turns out, is chock full of fallacious arguments and erroneous conclusions plucked, apparently, from thin air.

In psychology I learned about group dynamics. I remember studying about the Nazis in Germany and discussing how so many people could be deluded into committing heinous acts of hatred toward their fellow humans. I recall applying those principles directly to my church family. Mormons are VERY xenophobic. There is a clear distinction between members and non-members. The majority of most members’ friends are other members. There is intense pressure on and from the individual members to conform to the group’s expectations. Members who leave the group are usually ostracized as a matter of policy. It’s really quite sad and pathetic. Bigotry, as you’d expect, is rampant!

From the time I questioned the authority of the prophet until the time I denied the teachings of the church was, as I recall, about two weeks. I remember sitting on a bench at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii and “deciding”. During those two weeks my mind was in what I can only describe as a whirlwind of thought. It was constant and unrelenting. I tried very hard to reconcile what I knew and what I believed. In the end I failed to do that. The internal struggle I’d been having was over. Reason triumphed gloriously over superstition and fantasy.

It is the best decision I have ever made!! The world is clear. I am happy. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel like I was in a pressure cooker and constantly feeling guilt. Nobody was watching me, nobody was telling me what to do, and nobody was going to punish me for my mistakes. I am liberated and free! I appreciate people now. I don’t have to convert everyone I come in contact with. I don’t have to pray every time life gets difficult. It is great.

The family and friend bit sucks though. People, it turns out, don’t like being told their most cherished beliefs are stupid and factually unsupported, even indirectly. Dealing with bigots sucks. And people who think atheists have horns and worship the devil.

Even if I wanted to I could not go back now. I don’t think anyone chooses what they believe.

15 Comment

  1. Thanks muchly for sharing your story. I’ve also recently “given up the Ghost” and can relate to your path to unbelief and how much sweeter life tastes afterwards.

  2. @Jack – You’re welcome. I enjoyed your site (http://drunkenmormon.com/). I think there are many Mormons who would give it up if they could just suspend their faith and entertain a bit of doubt. The whole religion is preposterously illogical.

  3. Over the years I have learned that a number of the bible accounts are symbolic. There’s a lot of “expendible” information. Was the account of Noah fact or fiction? I can’t say.

    I have my theories, I have my opinions, I have my conclusions, and they represent my personal inner religion.

    One example is that I view the creation of the world in “God Time” which could very well have been billions of years. The Church teaches that the Earth wasn’t popped out of nothingness and that it was matter organized. That IN those “six days” Earth time of night and day was set up (establishing the orbit as we know it). I’m of the thought that prior to “creationism” the Earth was indeed ruled by the dinosaurs and so forth and met with a caticlismic demise. It became a lifeless sphere that was re-established and life brought forth whether by the means of placement OR through a cycle of evolution. (I don’t believe man came from monkeys or that one species can evolve from another BUT I do believe there is spheres of evolution).

    One could debate about this or that but it boils down to figuring out things for ourselves. You have your conclusions and I have mine.

    The critical thing in the religion, as I have learned, is that Jesus is the Son of God and that salvation is through Him. That’s the focal point.
    Everything else is pretty much expendable information.

    A lot of people that wrap their testimonies around the branches of the tree, the specs of details that may or may not be accurate. Obviously, the further we step out on the branches, no matter how strong the tree is, we risk falling off.

    Does “allowing” the teaching of the flood of Noah mean someone isn’t a Prophet? I don’t think so.
    If it’s just a story, it’s still a good story to inspire us to have faith….

  4. (Correction: *There’s a lot of people that wrap their testimonies around the branches of the tree, the specs of details that may or may not be accurate, and obviously, the further we…)

  5. @Rob – Perhaps you can’t say whether the account of Noah was fact or fiction, but prophets can, and regularly do (and without a shred of evidence). Hinckley didn’t just allow the teaching, he taught it himself (cf. “If We Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear”, 175th Semi-Annual General Priesthood Meeting).

    Now, one could argue that the historicity of a global Flood is “expendable” information, or in that instance Hinckley was “speaking as a man”, or any number of mealymouthed excuses, but the Church really does stand or fall on the literal truth of these stories, because 1) they are so solidly integrated into the core doctrine (see below), and 2) because prophets have testified to the literal truth of these stories.

    “In spite of the world’s arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God’s prophets.” [1998 Ensign article]

    Your theory of “God Time” is very interesting and all, but it speaks to me more of a lack of understanding than a carefully researched conclusion. How much evolutionary biology have you studied? (Joseph Fielding Smith’s ignorant rantings don’t count.) Read “The Ancestor’s Tale” and get back to me. Heck, read “River Out of Eden”, it’s much shorter.

    Why don’t you believe “man came from monkeys” (technically we didn’t, of course, men and monkeys are both descended from a common ancestor) or “that one species can evolve from another” (they do, it’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt)? Do you have some evidence the rest of the world hasn’t been clued in to yet? Don’t present your hackneyed theory and then dismiss debating it as unnecessary because you believe in some postmodern nonsense that all belief systems are the same, or even equal.

    Or, is the account of Creation another piece of “expendable” information?

    This is important because prophets have taught that evolution cannot be true because it introduces a whole host of difficult issues like death before the Fall, pre-Adamites, etc. So, you see, the accounts of Creation, Adam and Eve, the Flood, etc., MUST NEEDS BE TRUE, or the whole Plan of Salvation has the rug pulled out from under it — at least as taught by the LDS Church (liberal Christians have the luxury of being vague, nebulous, and wishy-washy).

    You are of course entitled to whatever personal inner religion you wish, but I suspect your religion isn’t so “inner” or “personal”, since I assume you take direction from fifteen men in Salt Lake. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’d love to hear about personal revelations that go counter to the Brothern.

    In conclusion let me put some words in your mouth (I feel qualified since I served a mission, was brainwashed in Primary, etc.): You know that I’m wrong, in your own way, because you know without a doubt that the Church is true. I could counter that statement by asking you to prove it to be true, to which you would counter-argue that you don’t have to prove it true to know it to be true. No matter what I do, I can’t be right simply because you know in your heart that I’m not. You believe in the truthiness of the Church. There is no argument I can make that would prove my side. In contrast, given enough evidence, I am perfectly willing to accept a newer, better truth.

    -Jack

    PS: The account of the flood is hardly faith-inspiring. It’s downright horrid. A wonderful bedtime story of mass destruction and genocide. About as comforting as that whole Abraham-trying-to-kill-his-son business. Lovely.

  6. @Jack – truthiness – I love that word.

    @Rob – With all due respect, I have little patience for a discussion about religion with someone who “can’t say” whether the account of the great flood in the Bible is “fact or fiction”.

    The facts are not disputable. A wooden ship the size of Noah’s ark would not have been seaworthy. There’s that bit about collecting animals from all over the globe. The waters would have had to have risen thousands of feet. Redispursement, population, and diversification of species around the globe is an unaccounted for conundrum. Global temperatures on a water covered planet would have risen to levels which are inhospitable to life.

    One of the many problems with religion is that it retards free thought. Go read a science book and educate yourself before posting foolish statements on the blogosphere. It’s not a 50/50 proposition. The default should be unbelief. One side has facts, the other does not.

  7. […] embroiled in a debate over at The Rhetoric and was so impressed with my own comment I thought I’d just post it here. […]

  8. Amen, brother! I followed a similar path, except I was in seminary and on my way to ordination.

  9. […] I was a Mormon for thirty years and served a full-time proselyting mission for two of those […]

  10. […] stopped going to church way back in 2004. Since then I’ve been an outspoken atheist and critic of theism generally […]

  11. The journey is nearly complete.

    A Mormon No More
    Brent Danley, The Rhetoric, March 30, 2009

  12. […] Sunday after I left the Mormon religion, several men from the church would come to my house to try to win me back. This went on for several […]

  13. […] Sunday after I left the Mormon religion, several men from the church would come to my house to try to win me back. This went on for several […]

  14. I’m a Christian, and I’ve been questioning my own faith lately. I don’t know what to believe or not believe. I’ve questioned my own faith every so often, but I’ve never questioned if my faith is even in the right place. I’m Facebook friends with Skye, and awhile back I remember you sent me a link to this entry to read. I remembered it a little while ago and reread it. I’m not gonna say I’m atheist, but I’m pretty sure I need to do some thinking on what my beliefs are and where I fit in this world. I’m scared of what I’m going to find. Was that ever an issue for you? Were you worried about what you’d find if you went searching for answers?

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and honest comment, Katie. I was not ever scared of what was on the other side of theism. My experience was exactly the opposite. Letting go of my belief in God was the most liberating idea I had ever considered. When I realized my belief in God was based on lies, wishful thinking, and Bronze-Age myths, the world became far more interesting. The burden of guilt for sins which harmed nobody was immediately lifted. The struggle for morality, which had theretofore been non-existent due to a simple edict to be obedient to someone else’s rules, ensued and has even until now captivated my attention and fueled many discussions and much research, inquisition, and pondering.

      Relationships I had within my church family mostly ended when I left the Mormon church, which was hurtful. However, my own sense of personal integrity does not allow me to simply go through the motions to preserve the fragile egos of even my dearest friends and family. If the relationship was dependent on my belief, how good was it anyways?

      Does that help?

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