Discovering the fallacies of the Mormon church is easy if one has an open mind. There are many problems and contradictions with church doctrine and history. The problem for some of us is getting our minds open.
I have been an active member most of my life. My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have been devout Mormons. I was raised in a loving Mormon family and always believed everything I was taught. My father has had most of the major callings in the church and is currently stake patriarch. My mother has also put in countless hours of dedicated service to the church through her many callings and as a member of the ward. My parent's life is the church.
Being from a fine Mormon family, I was also a devout Mormon. I did have spiritual experiences while I was growing up. I felt tingles when inspiring speakers spoke of the joy that could come through righteousness. I felt God's love and it was wonderful to feel as if I knew where I belonged. However, there were also questions to which I couldn't find answers. How could all the other good people of the world reject the truthfulness of the church? Acceptance of the church should simply be a matter of good and evil. The Lord would want all good people in his church, so why didn't all the good people believe? Our family tried to "fellowship" some neighbors who were very good people, but they ended up not being baptized. Were they really evil underneath that exterior? What about countless others who lived seemingly spiritual lives without the true gospel? I simply resolved these questions by accepting the fact that they were beyond me and that all would be explained when I! reached the appropriate level of perfection.
I felt (and still feel) integrity is important and I was always bothered by young children who would bear their testimonies that they knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. How could they know when I was still struggling for a witness? When I bore my testimony, I must confess I usually gave into the pressure and claimed knowledge about the truthfulness of the basic Mormon tenets. Despite all my efforts and despite the fact that I believed with all my heart, I never received the "burning in the bosom." Before my mission I fasted and prayed for three days to get the assurance that the Book of Mormon was true. I did everything that I was supposed to, but it didn't come. I didn't understand why. Once again it was probably because I wasn't ready for spiritual understanding. The D&C says that to some it is given to believe on the words of others. Maybe I was in that category. Nevertheless, I still strongly believed.
I was taught that the way to gain a strong testimony is to act as if you had one. If you want to be spiritual, act as if you were. This strategy is largely effective and it served me well on my mission. I did have a testimony. I worked hard at being a good missionary, but I never thought that my mission was the "best two years of my life." I thought it was difficult and stressful. As I tried to find people to baptize, I couldn't help but think about the lifestyle change I was asking my investigators to make. I was asking them to alienate themselves from family and friends, to go to church every week for at least 3 hours and listen to often boring and unprepared lessons and sermons, to live a dietary code against their culture (What's so horrible about tea?), to donate at least 10% of their income, and to dedicate their lives in callings and in building up the kingdom of God. I was asking them to choose a life full of stress and hard work. Why? So they could feel supe! rior to other people? Although I do believe that the church helps many people by providing them opportunities for growth (public speaking, leadership opportunities, parenting skills, etc.), I didn't feel the church was beneficial to everyone. I couldn't in my heart believe that God would condemn to hell those who weren't baptized. I felt like saying "Don't worry about it. It's only a suggestion. Live a good life. Just wait till you die, then someone will be baptized in your behalf." What kind of missionary was I? I spent many hours in prayer and fasting trying to resolve the issue, but once again I must not have been ready for any answers.
After serving my mission and graduating from BYU, I was married in the temple. Like others in my situation, the church was the focus of my life. Everyone thought I was the stalwart Mormon, but I found this label to be increasingly burdensome. I was responsible and reliable, a returned missionary married in the temple. I went to church every week, paid a full tithing, fulfilled my callings. I took it all very seriously and tried to follow all the admonitions of the church leaders. It was too much. Temple work, hometeaching, speaking assignments, service projects, callings, daily prayer and scripture study, on and on and on. I did my best but I never managed to do it all. Was it really my best? No, I was capable of doing more and that's why I reasoned my testimony was not as strong as it should have been. It was my own fault for not doing enough. I became tired of feeling guilty. Nevertheless, I was dedicated. More and more responsibility was placed on me because I! was perceived as one of the strong ones. I found the calling of ward mission leader particularly stressful because my attitude had not changed much from my mission.
I tried hard to reach that next level of perfection where living a righteous life would be effortless. Eventually it would get easier, right? But it never did. I was increasingly discouraged because no matter what I did, I did not seem to be getting any closer to perfection. I wasn't in fact changing at all. In a basic sense the essence of my nature was unchanged. I had been sacrificing and serving and berating myself and stressing for many years, but if God was going to judge me based on my heart, then it had not grown. Was all this running around doing home teaching every month (to people who did not want to be hometaught) going to buy me a bigger mansion in the hereafter? Of course not. Righteousness cannot be measured by such outward acts. Was my life richer and happier because of the church? No. The church was demanding my time in many meaningless and unpleasant activities. If all of this was not making me better, or even more righteous, then why was I doing i! t?
About this time we moved overseas. I decided to take advantage of the fact that no members knew me. If I didn't have the label of "super Mormon" maybe I could convince them that I was spiritually needy and needed to be taught rather than to teach. Unfortunately as soon as I came to church for the first time, I was asked to be Elders Quorum president. After all, not only was I a returned missionary and married in the temple, but I was American as well - so surely I was in a position to lead the English members out of their problems! Initially I accepted the calling from the bishop, but after contemplating what my life was going to be like as a spiritual leader in a country where the church was weak, I told the stake president that I wasn't the right guy. I realized I could not attend church regularly without becoming burdened with responsibility. I felt I needed to reevaluate my life. I needed to change my attitude toward religion. I couldn't do this if I was constantl! y in crisis mode because of my church responsibilities. The only way I could get some space was by becoming semi-inactive. After all, I thought, by abandoning the church for a while I would learn to miss it and discover how it did help and how it could further help me. It seemed like a way to increase my spirituality in the long run.
Weeks slipped into months. I discovered that I was less stressed and happier without the church. I still felt guilty and felt that someday I would have to repent and come back to the fold, but I was enjoying the lack of religious stress. My wife pestered me because I didn't seem to be making much effort in the realm of spiritual meditation. It was true; I was enjoying myself and wasn't even sure of what kind of efforts I should be making. I guess I thought that after having some distance, sooner or later I would have a spiritual epiphany. In the meantime I made non-Mormon friends. I enjoyed not being one of the "peculiar people." For the first time in my life I started looking at the Mormon church from a new perspective. Gradually I began to dare to consider the possibility that not only was the church not for me, but that it wasn't true at all. This was not an easy thing. Often I felt as if I were gambling with my eternal salvation. Also, abandoning my belief syste! m left a big emptiness in my life. Finding some information on the web and reading stories from others in a similar situation was a big help for me.
Reading now about the inconsistencies and illogic of the doctrine makes me wonder how I believed it for so long. While I was an active member I never really considered that it wasn't true. Challenging my belief in the church has been a struggle but now it's finally coming to resolution.
One of the things I dislike most about the Mormon church is its lack of honesty. Doubts and negative feelings are not to be shared. Not only that, but doubts are to be denied. There is no true free agency. Anything that does not agree with the stance of church leaders is obviously from the devil. One should pray for an answer keeping in mind that there is only one right answer. If you don't receive that answer then you should ask again, or become more worthy, or try to understand that maybe the Lord wants you to choose the correct answer on your own, or maybe you're just being tested.
There is a sort of spiritual bullying that happens. If you don't feel and act how you're supposed to then you will reap unhappiness. Your children will become delinquents. You'll probably end up getting a divorce. Your reward will be eternal damnation. Guilt is heavily used. "How dare you jeopardize my forever family" my sister wrote when she found out I wasn't toeing the line. There are of course many people whom I like and admire in the church. There are a few who seem to be truly spiritual people. The most spiritual are the least bullying. It's as if all but the most spiritual depend heavily on the testimony of others. If so many believe then it must be true.
Of course it's a wonderful organization in many ways. It's a wonderful environment to raise your children; teach them to be moral. It helps husbands and wives love each other. It's a society where one can feel included -- a part of something -- a big extended family. It satisfies the need many of us have to feel a purpose and direction in life. It's a valuable instrument on one's journey of self improvement. Unfortunately it's many other things too. There are all kinds of doctrinal and historical issues that do not make a lot of sense. Don't question, just accept, believe, have faith.
For better or for worse, I have deeply questioned. And I don't believe. The value of the church is not an issue for me. I cannot pretend to believe because it is a beneficial social organization. If the church taught me anything, it was to value integrity.
I'm sorry to hurt my parents, siblings, friends. I'm sorry to undermine their faith. Sometimes I regret that my children won't be raised the same way I was. But then I think that I am glad that they will not bear the formulaic testimonies in fast and testimony meeting. I'm glad that they will not be told what to think all their lives. This has been a huge step for me and there has been much anguish and uncertainty, but I don't regret it. I feel true freedom. It is scary, but I feel like I'm finally growing up and I'm in control of my life.
I guess I do feel a little resentment about the church. My life was controlled by that institution for too long. It's pointless to try to explain my position to true believing Mormons; They will just think I have been deceived by Satan. I don't resent any members in the church because I feel that they are just as I was - just trying to do the right thing. The one good thing about being raised Mormon is that I think my experiences have made me more tolerant -- even of those who are not tolerant. However I still become annoyed when Mormon family and friends look at me and figuratively shake their heads sadly.