There are a number of articles on the web that deal with the loss of faith or even loss in general. This two-part article is specifically aimed at those within the Mormon religion who have recently found themselves at a crossroads of their faith. It is my hope that this guide will help to get you through and ease your pain. I broke it up into several categories. This is by no means a complete list and I would welcome any help that anyone would like to contribute for future readers.
First let's take a step back for a quick analysis of how you arrived at this crucial point in your belief system. Lets break down the process into a series of stages. There is an excellent article on the stages of faith loss that I will summarize here and combine with the stages of grief and loss.
Stages of Faith Loss
Illustrated Difficulty of Stage Transitioning
Stage 1) Blind faith
Most believers will normally enter this stage at some point in your life. It is a childlike belief that is non questioning, much like when your parents told you about the existence of Santa Claus. It is true because someone you trusted told you so. This is the desired state that any church wishes its believers to remain in all their lives and is often directed towards with the scripture that admonishes you to "Become as a little child." and is most likely where you existed as a true believer.
Stage 2) Justified belief
At some point in their lives a believer is faced with a question that will challenge their faith. Usually such questions are explained away with any number of justifications and rationalizations. Believers will likely spend most of their time in this stage. This is an automatic defense mechanism for any mind to protect established traditions and is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact your brain is hard wired to resist any type of change. For example look at how much educated scientists debated the reclassification of Pluto as a planet, and still do. Where faith is concerned this process is most commonly known as Christian appologetics. A person at this stage will grasp for answers of any kind to satisfy that aching in his or her mind that resists change.
You may have heard the recent admonition by Uchtdorf to "first doubt your doubts, before you doubt your faith" and to just trust that an unknown explanation exists somewhere and to just. Perhaps you have heard from leaders something along the lines of "you can ask God when you meet him"; implying that you should do as you are told now even if it seems utterly ridiculous, with the promise that it will eventually all make sense.
To truly hear how valid or ridiculous an argument sounds it is useful to replace the point in question (which you have been taught not to question) with nonsense and then see how well the argument stands on its own merits. I like to replace 'church' or 'God' with Santa Claus or Zeus. Others may use the 'Flying Spaghetti Monster', 'The Force', 'Coven', or other established fantasy ideas.
Stage 3) Honest truth seeking
When simple acceptance isn't enough then the desire to discover the real truth will take over. It is possible that an honest search for an answer will yield an acceptable result temporarily sending you back to stage 2, but you will find yourself returning again and again to stage 3. This is the stage where you do lots of research on the internet or read books. Even though in the church it is taught to be honest seekers of truth, most believers frown on this stage and will try to stop you any way they can. You will be met with persecution and hostility if discovered and may even face an intervention in an attempt to bring you back to stage 2 or 1. Unfortunately, because of this attitude towards honest truth seekers you will be forced to do your research in secret which will automatically taint your motives and make it look as if you know you are doing something wrong. Be smart about how you go about learning and don't leave things lying around for others to find and confront you with. Doing so could force you to either make a decision to move to stage 2 or 4 before you are ready and your decision should be on your own time and at your own pace.
Stage 4) Crisis (Denial, Anger, & Depression)
Denial: When no acceptable answer is found to sustain your belief or an overwhelming amount is found to prevent you from going back to your old beliefs then you arrive at the crisis point of no return where faith is lost. This is where the 5 stages of grief and loss begin, starting with denial. Most people reading this blog will be somewhere near this stage. This is where you will feel your world falling apart around you. You can expect to experience anger, frustration, and depression as your mind desperately fights to let go of your beliefs that for many people have been lifelong. It can be very hard to discover that what you have been told, by people you respect, simply isn't true. Chances are your mind will be grasping at last ditch efforts to preserve your beliefs. A good example is in the movie Rise of the Guardian's when Jamie asks for any kind of sign from the Easter bunny to help him protect his belief system. Whether it's a belief in God or the church that you question then you will be looking for some sort of sign to salvage your faith. Once that sign fails to appear then you will enter the next step. Try to remember you are not alone, there are many who have gone through the same experiences as you have.
Anger: Once you have made it past the denial stage, you can expect to be angry at God, at your parents, your bishop, and other church leaders. Be careful in this stage as you have an increased chance of making bad decisions. Try to resist the urge to lash out or say rude or contradictory things to those around you. It helps to remind yourself that those who have helped to propagate the lie are themselves not consciously lying to you. This is not like learning about Santa Claus, when your parents led you to believe something they knew was false. The people around you are just as caught up in the beliefs as you once were, and are generally good people who are trying to do what they feel is right. Treat them with the same respect that all good people deserve. It isn't any more fair to be angry with them than it would have been for a doubting friend to be angry with you when you still believed. At this point many people will tend to turn against God or the church. Remember that a non-believer is simply someone who no longer believes. Not attacking believers as an Anti-Mormon or Anti-Christ. After all, you didn't become anti-Christmas when you found out about Santa; how is this really any different?
Depression: Now that you have come to terms with the loss of your faith in God or the church you can expect to feel lost, alone, and depressed. Chances are you will not know where you can turn. Your belief system has been turned upside down and those to whom you would have gone in the past for advice and help are no longer able to provide the comfort and stability that you were once used to. Fortunately you are not left alone and there are many support groups full of incredibly friendly, helpful, and understanding people ready to listen and talk to you. It shouldn't come as a surprise to you that the people who are the nicest to you now are the ones that have been vilified by the church members; the same who would now treat you as if you were possessed of Satan. Here are some websites of resources to start you on your way.
Stage 5) Acceptance
Eventually the turmoil and confusion that you have experienced will pass and you will feel a burden leave you that you never realized was weighing heavily on your shoulders. This is an even lighter feeling than the promised lightness that you would feel after being forgiven of your sins. If you still are holding a belief in God then you will realize that all the things that the church made you feel guilty for are no longer existent and you will feel free.
If you no longer have a belief in God and you can't push blame and responsibly for the world around you, then in addition to the above freedoms you will also feel an additional responsibility to make the world a place worth living in. You will also posses a new appreciation for life and the beauty that surrounds you. As a believer you were told of the misery and unhappy state of the godless, but this is simply another lie to get you to cling to your faith. An atheist is not sunken into depravity but will feel the responsibility of providing for others. While believers are waiting for God to do something to help the suffering, the atheists will be out taking it upon themselves to do something about it. Naturally there are atheist extremist groups out there putting up freeway signs in an attempt to outrage believers, but just as not all Christian groups represent the beliefs of all christians and you will find the same to be true of atheists. Most are seekers of truth and knowledge who care about helping others, and you will encounter many within the various support groups that you find on the internet and in person.
Either way you choose to move forward in your beliefs you will find that you are no longer as judgemental as you once were when you were an active believer in the church. Contrary to the teaching of the church, most Mormons are extremely judgemental of others, particularly of those not within the faith.
Once you realize that the church does not contain the truth you once thought it did, what do you do about it? The first natural thought is "I need to leave the church right away." hat may not always possible or even a good decision to make hastily. Before you make a decision you should make peace with yourself. I would suggest taking the time to examine yourself and discovering what is most important to you. For me it is my family, my children and their happiness. Everything else is a distant second. Once you find your center in life you will be able to find your peace. Once you have achieved peace with yourself you are ready to make your decision on how to proceed with the remainder of your life. There are a number of choices available to you. Your path may require you to remain in the church for a while longer as either an active or inactive member. If you are ready to take the step to remove yourself from church membership you will need to send in a request, see mormonnomore.com or mormonresignation.com for information.
If you decide to remain in the church then keep an eye out for my next post:
Dealing with Faith Loss Part 2: Mormon Survival Guide for the Unbeliever