THINGS I WISH I HAD KNOWN WHEN I FIRST QUESTIONED THE CHURCH

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-reliance."

I will confess that I wrote this to help myself sort out all of the old emotions .... all of the bitterness that resurfaced the instant I came across this site. I also wanted to make available to any of my old friends and family the reasons for my not continuing as a Mormon. And lastly, I wrote this in the hope that some of my conclusions and strategies might be of use to another who is considering leaving, has left, or is confused and depressed.

This message is NOT intended to "shake up" anyone's faith. I am all too familiar with the emotional trauma experienced by sincere and well-intentioned Mormons when they are confronted with straightforward material. It is truly a pitiful sight -- and I will admit that my first impulse is to preserve the lie for them ... make the fact "safe" again. However, when the rude truth shows promise ... when it just might prevent a tragedy, I hope that I would have the strength to resist this impulse.

I will be the first to admit that not all Mormons feel trapped and that staying in Mormonism is a legitimate choice. No religion can withstand historical scrutiny -- even an entirely personal religion. A TRUE religion is only the vehicle to spiritual recognitions -- it is a personal evolution, not a set of facts. There are as many such TRUE religions as there are sincere individuals. And so, if Mormonism remains, FOR YOU, a vehicle toward higher and higher spiritual insights and greater and greater emotional stability, then it can only be that you see Mormonism as such a vehicle toward truth.

Please, read on only if you are thinking about leaving, have left, or if you are confused or depressed but do not know why. I left the LDS church 16 years ago. I was born a Mormon. I left two years after I had completed my mission in Brazil. I am still a Mormon on paper somewhere. My story is pretty much like all of the other stories you have read on this site ... and I imagine that my situation is very similar to yours. Lots of irony, humor, confusion --- the same old cerebral gymnastics required if we were to acquire and preserve a genuine testimony. What I would like to do from here is provide some of the rational and emotional tools which helped me secure my Free Agency and the Integrity of my own Mind.

THE FIRST FEW SIGNPOSTS ON THE ROAD TO TRUTH:

A. God will not condemn an honest and sincere thought or question.

B. Truth does not BEGIN with an answer on behalf of which all questions must constantly rearrange themselves. If I want the truth I must begin with QUESTIONS, fearlessly, and let the answers arrive accordingly.

C. One of the most fearless Mormon assertions: "Choose/Do what is right, let the consequence follow."

D. Watch, don't listen. "Actions speak louder than words."

E. Fear, guilt, and filtered information are not means toward truth and a SPIRITUAL Testimony.

F. "Even if [fill-in ANY fear here], I will pursue Clarity and the Integrity of my own Mind."

MY MOTHER'S ADVICE TO ME: IMMERSE YOURSELF IN MORMONISM AND LIVE IT TO THE FULLEST.

Note: My mother had already "fallen away" at the time of that advice.

Follow Mormon doctrine: become like God and you will understand God. As you pursue Truth and Integrity answers will arrive. Moreover, your ability to solve problems will improve as your understanding improves.

It is a very effective method of "proving" the church. However, as a warning, such an attempt could leave you emotionally ill: you cannot reconcile the ever-widening contradictions and at the same time keep the integrity of your own mind. Fearless honesty becomes a traumatic experience. Mormonism was not meant to be taken seriously.

WHAT "FREE AGENCY" IS NOT

Free Agency as taught by the church: "I am free to choose good or evil." Again, watch, don't listen. In practice, Mormon free agency is a sort of bondage. It amounts to: "If I obey authority and do not think for myself then I have "chosen" Good. If I do not obey authority and think for myself then I have chosen Evil." In short, Free Agency becomes: "I am free to arrive at authorized, ready-made answers, or free to fail." (My mother has spent the last twenty years studying just this sort of double-bind -- inspired by the church of course. She may be posting soon.)

REAL FREE AGENCY: PUTTING YOURSELF IN A POSITION TO MAKE AN UNBIASED CHOICE.

If it is not true that the physical environment, as engineered by the church, is keeping your testimony intact, then you should have no qualms about leaving that environment for a brief span of time.

If you are worried that a physical separation might "lead you into temptation," then ask your bishop this question: Should a prospect for baptism go back to his/her Catholic priest to sort things out first or should that convert temporarily cut off all ties with Catholicism in order to make a free and unbiased choice? Follow his advice in your own decision-making.

If you can move in with a non-member or post-member, do so. If not, a little financial nest-egg helps. Hire someone to take care of the children and stay in a hotel for a few days. Leave a note explaining that you are OK and that you just need a little "thinking time" ... but do not tell any members where you are. Trust your own thoughts. Only time alone with your own thoughts will give you true Free Agency. Have in your possession no anti-Mormon literature, nor any pro-Mormon literature ... but only a pencil and paper and your own free thoughts.

Do not expect to hear a voice ... or receive a "sign" from God. This is no time to speculate about possible coincidences. Get a pocket note-book and record your honest thoughts. Trust in reason, trust in beautiful thoughts, trust in yourself. Remember God does not condemn your honest and sincere thoughts ... they are NOT evil. Have a specified time of the day to sort out and categorize these original thoughts. Keep only the highest and strongest, discard the lowest and weakest. In no time, answers will begin to "take shape" ... the experience is something like stepping away from a stippled illustration, slowly stepping backward until the entire image comes into view. This, for me, is true personal revelation. A spirituality such as I have never experienced before.

Stop newspaper and magazine subscriptions, get rid of the TV and radio. Time and peace of mind are required most ... eliminate as many distractions as possible. This is the time to get to know yourself and your innermost thoughts. Even a mere fifteen minutes a day of working over your own notes will help you put things together or recognize contradictions.

One last thought: this is an effort to secure clarity of thought .... and taking up alcohol at this time -- even though it may seem to be a symbol of liberation -- is one of the greatest enemies of clear thinking. Alcohol also has people wallowing in self-pity. Every decision and strategic positioning must be centered on keeping your mind clear and strong.

THE TESTIMONIES YOU WILL HEAR AFTER YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE

No number of testimonies, no volume of tears or sobs, no number of signatures ... not the prophet of God, not Joseph Smith, not Donny and Marie, not Steve Young .... can change the fact that two plus two equals four ... and no number of testimonies can change the fact that "Truth can withstand scrutiny" (quoted from story #41). When you have THIS TYPE OF TRUTH in your OWN understanding and have confirmed it within yourself, you do not need an external authority or celebrity to confirm or deny it.

Others are not so concerned with your eternal salvation as they are afraid of their own doubts. The individuation of a mind comes across as a threat to the group-mind. The reliance on authority and the testimony of others is largely responsible for this insecurity -- for which the "concern" is only a mask. In retrospect, no active Mormon has ever shown any genuine concern -- in the least degree -- with my honest thoughts nor my emotional needs. Every active Mormon I had met at the time of my leaving would have preferred me as an active emotional wreck than as an inactive healthy individual.

MORMON DOCTRINE IS NOT REALLY IN THE UNIQUE POSITION IT WOULD HAVE YOU BELIEVE.

Mormonism presents itself as an "all or nothing" proposal. "Mormonism is true or nothing else could possibly be true." The illusion is presented so unrelentingly that soon I begin to believe that reality itself is at stake. I experience the "existential vacuum" -- a world void of God and any sort of meaningfulness. A little time is necessary. No set of ideas can change the need for a little time. Once I have descended from the Mormon scaffolding and have set my feet on solid ground, in time, I can afford a laugh or two -- "What was all the fuss about?" The world still is ... I still am. What's even more surprising: I am still faced with the same moral decisions over and over again ... only the names and badges of authority have changed ... and I'm getting better and better at seeing through the illusion and making good choices.

THE WAGER: WHAT HAVE I GOT TO LOSE?

"If the Mormon doctrine is True, then I am saved. If it is not true, then what have I lost?"

Answer: You have lost your time on this Earth, your authenticity, your chance for happiness, your self-esteem, your chance to cultivate your intelligence, and more importantly, the integrity of your own mind.

I AM NOT ONLY DEALING WITH IDEAS.

I am also breaking, physically, from my community, my friends, my family, from social convenience, and from an inculcated set of habits. It is only natural that I will feel alone, saddened by the miscommunication, and emotionally confused at times. New friends, family tolerance ... all take time. Again, no set of ideas can brush aside the need for time.

ONCE I MADE MY BREAK WITH THE CHURCH, I THOUGHT THAT I SHOULD NOT "HIDE AWAY."

On the contrary, I intended to meet with all of my Mormon friends, family, and leaders ... answer their questions straightforwardly and bluntly. I wanted to accept their right to their own beliefs and would consider their views. I only hoped that in return my views might be treated with equal respect. This was quite naive on my part. All future communication "elevated" itself to an official level and became a sort of "one-way street." They felt free to bear their testimony ... but responded angrily when I would bear mine. They crossed my beliefs and I respected their difference of opinion. When I stated my beliefs then "I was trying to hurt people." Soon I became defensive. I stated my case more forcefully and vocally than before. I will admit that by this time I was quite vocal ... and a little too "hard-hitting" with my arguments ... but, in my own defense, when speaking to someone who appears to be hard of hearing, it is only natural that one begin to raise one's voice.

An interesting thing happened at this point: a new wall of formal politeness appeared on my next encounter. No real communication ... no genuine questions ... no attempt to bring me back. Lots of silence. Real fear in the eyes of some. Often, I felt as though I was invisible.

After a good deal of time I can now accept this wall and understand it. An active Mormon needs this wall .... and they fear and resent every effort on my part to dismantle even a single stone. I am not speaking here of the dismantling of their religion, but of dismantling the wall between us ... the wall between our relationship. Although I accept it, I cannot endure such one-way conversations. I need real communication or no communication at all .... and so have found the only solution on my part is to support the wall ... keep it in place.

After visiting this site, I have been thinking a lot about my need for this wall. Perhaps there is an effective way to dismantle the wall? Should I make another attempt to express my views? Perhaps this essay is my first positive step in that direction?

TO OPPOSE A FALSEHOOD IS NOT THE SAME AS TO PURSUE A TRUTH.

The Truth does not arrive through resentment or anger against the church. One of the greatest obstacles to clarity of thought and a constructive set of beliefs is resentment. I will confess that this is my most difficult obstacle. The problem is compounded by the fact that true resentment is always legitimate and justifiable.

IF I WANT TO ARRIVE AT THE DESTINATION, I MUST LEAVE BEHIND THE SIGNPOST.

If God should appear to me today and propose to me in no uncertain terms that the Mormon temple ceremony is (was?) His ONLY way, then I would reject such a God outright. I am concerned with Truth, not petty facts nor culture-specific rituals. I will not be bribed away from nor goaded toward the Truth -- even with the threat of mortality, outer-darkness, or the loss of my family. I want the Integrity of my own Mind at all costs. If the Mormon God is not HERE, then so be it. The high standards I seek, at least, are HERE: with the integrity of my own mind.

I see no real difference between participating in the temple ceremony and that of bowing to Mecca. Truth is expressed poetically. I must not confuse the metaphor with the significance of the metaphor. A "Rose" may help express Beauty, but it is not Beauty itself. A ritual, a spiritual symbol might point out the truth to me .... but that ritual, that material symbol is not itself the truth. If the church, like a metaphor, is a vehicle, then I am free to choose another vehicle. I am only concerned with the goal signified, not with the signifier itself ... and such progression requires a joyful and clear state of mind, not a secret handshake. Now, if the church is NOT a vehicle, but a set of non-progressing historical facts, then I want no part of it.

MY NEW SCRIPTURE:

A. Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-reliance" "Circles" "Compensation" "Spiritual Laws" "The Poet" .... and many other essays.

B. Michel de Montaigne's "Custom, and that We Should Not Easily Change a Law Received"

C. Francis Bacon's "Idols of the Mind"

D. Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer" "The Passionate State of Mind" "The Ordeal of Change"

E. Sophocle's "Oedipus Rex" (I consider this positive reading -- not from the point of view of accidental incest and patricide, but from the point of view of one who pursues the truth at any cost. Also, though Oedipus experiences guilt there is no just reason for him to feel guilty.)

F. Sophocle's "Antigone" (From the point of view of a woman who considers her NATURAL relationship with her brother to be of greater value than her obligations to the AUTHORITY of her king. That is, natural law versus imposed authority. Also, her steadfastness I find very inspiring.)

Generally uplifting reading -- I have no "reason" for the following books other than that they give me courage, noble thoughts, and a spirit of adventure:

Plutarch's Lives
Shakespeare's Tragedies and Histories
Homer
SPIRITUAL COMPENSATION

We "Post" Mormons were fortunate in that the Mormon lie was so blatant. Others, in more traditional settings, have a greater difficulty in seeing through their superstitions. What we have gained is not a new superstition. Our gain is our freedom from superstition altogether.

When you feel that you have lost all and gained nothing, remember: you are no longer smug, your intellect is sharper, and what you do know you know with greater profundity and confidence. Without this painful step you would not know what you know now. Never forget the relief you felt with your first genuine assertion and with finally coming out into the open with your reservations. In short, the gain is ENTIRELY spiritual, the loss was superficial and petty.

FINALLY

If you are struggling, you are NOT ill. You are not a spiritual misfit. Your condition is not different from other Members. It could simply be that you are intelligent and honest. Your soul is in bloom and what it needs most is light.

Good luck in your efforts to work your own way through the maze -- it's worth it,

Mail to the author - Matt Berry

PS I welcome all letters -- and chit-chat -- from recovering Mormons, questioning Mormons, Post-Mormons, secure Mormons and from relatives (active or inactive).

PPS I have the e-text of Emerson's "Self-reliance." I will gladly email it to anyone who would like to read it.

Final note: I would most like to have a constructive dialogue on the following topic, if anyone's interested: Where do we go from here?


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