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Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Mormon Survival Guide for the Unbeliever - Dealing with Faith Loss Part 2

read part 1: Dealing with Faith Loss: Making Peace with Yourself

Mormon Survival Guide for the Unbeliever

  Once you make the decision that the church does not hold the truths that you once ascribed to it, the next logical course of action is for you to leave.  But for many that choice may be far away and continued membership may be your best or only option for a while longer.

  There are a number of reasons why someone may choose to remain a member for a while.  

  At the start the most common reason will be that you are still coming to terms with the upheaval in your belief system and still trying to decide what direction to take in your life.  It is not good to rush into things.  You will note from many others that leaving the church can be a challenge and at many times embarrassing.  Be sure you know what you are getting yourself into before you make any life changing decisions.

  Perhaps you have friends in the church and you wish to stay for social reasons.  Perhaps you come from a Mormon family consisting of either relatives, children, or a spouse, and the difficulties are just to many at this stage.

  Perhaps you are not in a position to leave.  I've spoken with several people so far who are under age and don't have the option to leave on their own. 

  Staying in the church as an unbeliever can be challenging and I have listed various situations and some ideas on how to deal with them.  I welcome suggestions in the comments and will incorporate any advice that would benefit other readers.

Dealing with Parents (for teens):

  This is perhaps the most difficult of situations and so I will deal with this subject first.  Coming out to your parents can be a very scary thing.  If you're fortunate enough to have parents who would understand, and not freak out, then consider yourself lucky because you are certainly in a minority group. For most people who have parents who are believers, telling them that you don't believe in the religion is not a wise idea. Remember, being under age, you don't have many rights and telling your parents can make your life truly awful.

  As one reader pointed out, even telling your parents that you have questions can make them become concerned for your eternal salvation, and they will want to reach out to try and save you.  Lying to your parents is never a good idea and I would not condone telling them that you believe when you don't.  In this case I would also recommend not telling them everything either.  Your parents aren't generally going to come up to you out of the blue and ask you "Hey, I was just wondering if you still believe in the church."  If they did ask such a question, a satisfactory response you can give without lying is to say with a smile, "Well I'm still working on my own testimony, but I'm fine."

  In the church you may have noticed that the common way to deal with a problem is to joke and pretend the problem doesn't exist.  As long as your appearance is of happiness then all is well, all is well.  This applies to nearly every situation.  Abuse going on in the home?  Show up to church on Sunday looking like a happy family and nobody asks questions.  The important thing for you is not to appear to have doubts.

  Do not be a brooding teenager acting angry or moody.  This behavior will always send up a red flag signal to the world that you have issues that you don't know how to deal with, and many people will respond by trying to help you resolve your problems.

Ironically the chorus to a song from the hit musical The Book of Mormon is truer then we would like.
Turn it off like a light switch
Just go, click
It's a cool little Mormon trick
We do it all the time
  Anticipate problems and deal with them before they happen.  Will your parents want to have family prayer, scripture study, or FHE?  Trying to get out of some pattern that you are normally a part of will always bring questions. If your parents are going to make you do something anyway why not occasionally send them a reminder?  "Hey isn't it about time for FHE?"  No unbeliever would say that, right? Of course, if that would be contrary to your normal behavior then don't start now.  As you spend time observing others as a non-believer, you will begin to see the hooks and connections that the church uses to keep people in line.

  I would strongly caution against this but, if you do feel the need to raise a doubt but don't want anyone questioning you then you could try something like, "Some kids at school were trying to tell me [insert doubt here].  I know they are wrong and just being mean but I was trying to answer them and just couldn't come up with something good to say back.  What would you suggest?"  Be very careful with this line of questioning as it could lead your parents into being concerned that you being poisoned with anti-material and will probably start keeping a close eye on you, including your internet activity to see if you are reading any harmful anti-Mormon material, including this blog.  Remember that incognito mode is your friend when researching 'anti' material.

Dealing with Other Family Members:

  Siblings can be especially hard.  You may have a sibling with whom you are especially close to and wish to share your feelings with them.  Unless they feel the same way you do then you should not reveal your beliefs.  A relative who believes and cares about you will ALWAYS put the church and your spiritual well being ahead of your relationship.  No matter how much they would promise not to tell your secret they will break down with the feeling that if they don't do something to help you then you won't make it to Mormon heaven and the feeling of guilt may make them confide in the Bishop on your behalf.  You do not want to end up there.
  As hard as it is you will not be able to confide in a believing relative no matter how close you are.  You will have a much better relationship with them if you simply do not discuss religion.  This will have to be one of those topics that you just have to keep to yourself.  At first you may feel lonely not being able to discuss your beliefs with those you are close to, but this is only because the topic is so important to you at this moment and you just feel the need to tell somebody.  This is where your support groups come in.  Make friends on the internet in groups of like-minded people who understand where you are coming from.  You will feel better being able to share and vent and this leaves your relationships intact.
  Not having those you care about attempting an intervention on your behalf will free things up to allow you to slowly attempt to chip away at their beliefs instead.  Listen for them to complain about something in the church that bugs them, which actually shouldn't take too long, and then you will have something you agree on.  Think back to when you were a believing member yourself, how would you have reacted to someone you love telling you that they don't believe anymore.  You would have done anything to help them regain that belief.

Dealing with Children:

  As a parent who has a spouse or older children still in the church it is only natural that you will want them to share your belief.  As heart breaking as it may be you cannot attempt to force them to stop believing.  Again, think of how you would have reacted to that situation when you believed.  There are many part-member families in the church and the one believing member will close his or her mind to withstand anything that is said from the non-member.  The main difference is that the non-members in those families generally are not ex-Mormons.  As a parent you already suffer from children thinking you don't know everything anyway.  Trying to tell them that their belief system is false will only drive them away from you.  Other family members and church leaders will assist with the problem by telling your children that you are lying to them because Satan has a hold of your heart.  This could create a rift in your family that could take years to mend. 
  At this point the best thing you can do for your children is to teach them to think for themselves and to not take anything anyone says at face value.  Teach them the importance of researching and proving concepts. The scientific method is an excellent resource that does not appear threatening to the church.  After all they do profess to value learning.  Use political leaders or educational instructors to illustrate the point that many people have an opinion that they wish for you to believe and will have many arguments that sound convincing.  If a judge only listened to one side of the argument how could he make a decision about who was right and who was wrong.
  It is often by listening to the opposing arguments that truth is strengthened.  Anyone with a weak argument will not wish for you to hear the opposing side for fear that the holes in their own oppinion will be discovered and you will not side with them.  A popular expression "The truth will set you free" supports the notion that one should expose all the facts in order for the truth to be visible and the truth will always be able to stand up to opposition.  Teach them how to let go of a false belief.  Examples could include the belief that the Earth is flat or is the center of the universe.
  The famously used scripture that all missionaries and members use for the purpose of attempting to convince people of the truthfulness of the church is Alma 32, particularly verse 27:
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. -- Alma 32:27
This experiment is supposed  to work for any truth, not just a belief in the church, although that is the only topic ever put into practice by the church.  The idea here is to take any proposed truth and by simply giving it a try you will know if it is true or not.  But the key is in verse 28:
Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief...
 This means that you are not allowed to dismiss an idea because you already think it is not true.  You have to put your current faith on hold and allow yourself to believe it, (let it into your heart) to find out what happens next.  Plant this idea with the premise that it is okay to question your current faith and allow doubt to enter in.  You don't need to try to protect it because if it is true then you will come back to it, and if not then you can move on to what is.  Anyone who would stop you from attempting this experiment does not believe their faith to be true and fears loosing it, should they start to question.

At School:

  The same rules that apply to siblings apply to Mormon friends at school.  You simply cannot reveal your doubts completely.  With any luck they will have doubts and you can discuss them.  Don't push them into a decision, but help them to make it on their own.  If you can find non-member friends then you should be able to confide with them and more often than not you will realize that they will be the better listeners since they aren't burdened by the same beliefs.  However if you decide to become an atheist and your friends are not then discussing that aspect with them could be just as bad as telling a member.  An atheist is often portrayed as the 'anti-Christ' to many Christians.
 Many christians do not understand that atheists aren't anti anything, but just non-believers. Atheist Penn Jillette said it well with the simple statement of "I don't know".  There is a huge difference between saying, "I don't know if there is a God" and, "I want to tear down everything Christ stands for".  Not everyone will be like that and it should be pretty to gauge that type of reaction from them. Most likely if they are trully your friends then they will accept your beliefs.  After all, they were still friends when they thought you believed in the Mormon church although they didn't.

At Church:

  At this point it goes without saying that you shouldn't let on to anyone at church about your beliefs.  This can be challenging when you are in class.  You may wish to contradict what is said or reveal some additional truths you have learned.  Resist this urge as any controversial comment is useless and can only bring eyes down on you.  Instead focus on the many positive things you can learn from church lessons that can make you a better friend, worker, or member of the community.
 Church teachings are not bad and when put into a proper perspective and become quite useful in helping you deal with school and work.  As a missionary I would often attempt to re-apply the various spiritual lessons we would learn, about trying to convert people, into a post mission life where a more secular approach to dealing with others would be beneficial.  Try to do a similar thing with the lessons you will hear.  Every spiritual teaching will have a secular counterpart that you could benefit from.  Or if you have a tablet or smart phone you can spend the time catching up on news or writing blog entries ;-)

Dating (for teens):

  This may be hard for some but you absolutely should not date a believing Mormon.  Even if you don't start with intentions of making this a life long commitment you never know where things will end up, and you do not want to end up accidentally getting yourself into a situation that will make your life miserable in the long run.
  If you have parents that will only let you date Mormons then you should wait until you are 18 before getting into a serious relationship.  You can still have fun going out in group activities but you need to consider what you want the remaining 5/6 of your life to be like.

Living in a Mormon Community:

  This is directed to those living in communities of higher concentrations of Mormons such as Utah, Idaho, and Lethbridge (That's in Canada, folks).  Here you face the strong possibility of being ostracized from the community.  Although it is illegal to discriminate against someone in the job space, you face the strong possibility of losing your job due to some 'other' reason and make your life miserable in the meantime.  Remember Mormons are friendly to their own as well as those investigating.  They are fearful of standard non-members, and downright mortified and hateful of 'apostates' (we're talking pitchforks and torches).  There is no worse sin, to a believer, than 'questioning the spirit'.
  The best advise I have heard in these situations is to start off by going inactive.  Don't make your doubts public.  Instead start by trying to find something to take up your time on Sundays like sports, or a job that might need someone to cover a Sunday shift, or visiting relatives and such.
  Start by missing the occasional Sunday.  Miss one Sunday a month and gradually increase it to only showing up 1 Sunday a month.  Stay friendly and positive to members and don't let your doubt show.  Just be 'busy' and good-natured.  Let it be know that you show up when you can and let them get used to your increased inactivity.  Slowly you can extend the time you are away while still maintaining community ties.  Eventually you should be able to stop going altogether and you will be known as a friendly inactive who just can't seem to get out.
 Naturally you will often be the focus of reactivation efforts and people will pretend to care if you are at church.  You will need to put up with it for a while and eventually the efforts will ease up.  Unless you find a way to move out of the community you may never be able to leave fully but should at least be able to ease into a lifestyle away from the church.  As long as the members feel that there may be some hope for you someday! they will continue to be positive and accept you in the community.

Good luck and please leave feedback if this guide helped you or if you found something you can add to help others that I can bring iN.


Brad said...

When I was having doubts, the internet was still in it's infancy. This kind of advice would have been very helpful. I only hope that others who find themselves in this position will turn to the internet to help guide themselves through these types of events. Thanks for putting this out there for others to read.

senigami said...

Thank you Brad. I'm glad to hear that people are interested in reading this.

Wolfstarrising Moon said...

When I left the church it seemed all of a sudden to my friends and family, even though I had doubts all my life. It was very hard on my Mother. Of course she loved me anyway. After 15 years of being away my friends still ask me when I'm returning to the fold. I understand them not want to give up as I've been in their shoes. I enjoy my spirituality in my own way. I finally have true freedom of religion.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see Wolfstarrising Moon here. I have also gone through the process of slowing emerging from the closet of my disbelief (45 years ago) to dealing with the heartbreak of loved ones who feel certain I have doomed my salvation, to savoring the "true freedom of religion" and the salvation of true spiritual liberty.

I do understand and remember the initial need to be in the prison of that closet, and to gradually make my own emergence. It is like the Mormon worm who comes into the enlightenment but hides in the cocoon until ready to finally break free as a beautiful butterfly, soaring into the freedom of flight and going where the worm, crawling in the dirt of superstion, could never even imagine.