Aug 17, 2010
John Larsen is joined by Nyal, Jim and Zilpha to discuss common mistakes that are made when people leave the Church.
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By John Larsen
Tags: Adultery, Alcohol, belief, children, Communication, counseling, Culture, Damage, divorce, Emma Smith, ex-Mormon, family, Feelings, Friends, In Sacred Loneliness, Internet, leaving, Motherhood, NOM, Offense, Parents, polygamy, Promises, sex, sexuality, Sin, Swinging, testimony, unitarian, Venting, wife, women, Work
One of my favorites! Great job guys.
The one point I wanted to address what Nyal saying that you should always be true to yourself. I agreed with Zilpha that some people actually do put their children’s happiness above their own and may choose to suffer in silence for the sake of their family. When they look back on their life, I’m sure that they will look back proudly at the sacrifice they made in order to keep their family together rather than disgust at how they lived a lie. I really despise when doubting/disbelieving members are labeled as cowards for not disclosing their true beliefs. I see it as a noble sacrifice for the greater good of their family.
I wish I had heard this podcast about three years ago. Fabulous advice, great comments.
It is hard to reconcile the stuff you have every right to say, and the stuff you should say for the sake of maintaining the peace. In the end, sometimes it comes down to the choice: Is it better to be right, or is it better to be with your family?
So, there’s a lot we hold back. There are things we do not bring up for the sake of peace. Should it be this way? No. Is it fair? Of course not. But, neither is believing in something only to find out it is not what you thought it was.
For those who remain connected with the Church for the sake of family, spouse or children. I feel the need to defend the choice. Maybe it is not ideal for everyone, but these are the people that have decided that love trumps everything. Who says it cannot work, that they cannot be happy? How can you argue with that kind of committment, with that picture of love?
Maybe I am naive, but in my estimation, the ability for a believer and a nonbeliever to elevate their relationship above the confines of Mormonism, well, that’s amazing. I have a knee-jerk reaction to generalizing something so complex. It is never so simple.
Thanks for the excellent podcast.
My divorce was almost final when someone told me about a word that I had never heard before- polyandry. It wasn’t long before I was having a crisis of faith in addition to my relationship crisis. I haven’t told most of my friends or my family about my new disbelief. I know it would be very disappointing to most of them. I appreciate the advice to take things slow. Even though I am single now I still feel undecided about things such as premarital sex. Keeping the commandments is still a part of my psyche somehow, and it will take awhile for me to sort out what I no longer want to follow. It was pretty easy to stop paying tithing however.
I think part of the reason that members of the church have forged an identity as ‘mormon’ – for a lot of reasons. But one of them that comes to mind for me is how the temple covenants grow out of the covenant of Abraham. If God tells Abraham to kill his only son, and Abraham is willing to do it — any other unpleasant or crazy thing the church asks you to do you can say ‘well at least I’m not being tested as Abraham’. — Its contradictions like that, that are embedded in the theology, that help forge the identity, where to throw down facts is ad hominem, against the person. You can’t bring up certain facts without seriously upsetting a true believer.
I did not know whether to laugh out loud or burst into tears when the caller (Richard?) told how he revealed his apostasy to his wife at a restaurant. About a month ago, I, too, chose a dinner date setting to confess my atheism to my wife. But my wife did not storm out of the restaurant; she held her ground, shot me a whithering glance and asked, “why are we married?” Where was this podcast when I needed it? (However, there is some small consolation in knowing that I am not the only jackass who thought that a restaurant would be the ideal location to have a discussion like this.)
Although I agree that there are better and worse ways to broach this topic with a believing spouse, my conclusion is that even the most artful, sensitive approach will not eliminate the hellish consequences of such a revelation in most cases. I now frequently find myself wishing that I had just kept my damn mouth shut about the whole thing.
Thanks for the sympathy. I had no idea how many have tried the exact same method. Well, it seemed like a good idea. She really was so distraught while the words were coming out of my lips, she just shook her head saying “No, no, no… No!” And then she stood up, crying, and stormed out. When I caught up with her she was standing next to the car crying and just wanted to go home.
We had a long discussion that night and struggled for the following several months. I believe we started “counseling” with our Bishop and Stake President (who is my very good friend and former HT partner) who both generously came to our house separately to discuss marriage and the faith issues with us. It was a horrible experience for me because it felt so one sided. They both tried to convince me to keep my mouth shut about my “crisis of faith” and let my wife raise them as fully Mormon, with me by her side, supporting.
The worst part (for me) was that they tried to argue that since we started our marriage as LDS and were married in the temple where we covenanted to raise our children in the church, that I was obligated to continue to do so even when I no longer believe. I thought: Well, if we were married as agnostics or atheist (or even Jewish or Muslim) and she converted to Mormonism, would they have the same attitude about her raising our children outside the church? Without the privilege of informing her children of her new found faith nor hoping to teach them the “truths” she has discovered? Would they counsel her to support her husband in raising them as good Jewish, Muslim or atheist kids? It was just so obviously one-sided from my view.
I now frequently find myself wishing that I had just kept my damn mouth shut about the whole thing.
If it’s any consolation I said the same thing many, many times. Especially during the first few weeks – even months. I told her that if I had known how she was going to react I would have probably kept it all to myself. That I thought she would understand and want to love and support me through my crisis of faith, rather than become angry and resentful towards me for it. Oh well, one learns something every day – or should at least aspire to. :p
I thought: Well, if we were married as agnostics or atheist (or even Jewish or Muslim) and she converted to Mormonism, would they have the same attitude about her raising our children outside the church?
You nailed it, Richard. It is completely, 100% one-sided. If you convert to the church from another background, they’ll want you to teach your children your new Mormon faith regardless of prior agreements with your spouse. If you marry LDS and then later leave the church, they’ll want you to keep your mouth shut about your new beliefs. It isn’t about honoring prior commitments nor is it about always teaching the children the beliefs of the parents; it’s about LDS beliefs taking priority over all.
My own feelings are that a person has the right to teach his or her children their current religious beliefs regardless of what they believed before or agreed to before. Or in other words, everyone should be prepared for the possibility of living in an interfaith marriage someday, even those who marry in the faith.
Just wanted to drop by and say I enjoyed this one. I also have a restaurant experience, but it was with an RM girlfriend that I waited for (as an RM myself, during my last year at BYU). 3+ years for naught. Oh well. It wouldn’t have lasted. By then, I was already in agreement with your panelist who muttered, “Burn it down” …
It was uncomfortable to listen to, having made most of those mistakes myself….The problem is that early on in the process you are thinking that what you are reading and discovering must be false and that you’ll work it out to strengthen your faith and not have to bring your spouse into it… But it just gets worse.
Then, by the time you realize what’s really going on you are pretty far down the road ahead of your spouse.
My restaurant experience was a bit different. I actually think it was a wise choice. I’d already discussed my doubts with my ex-wife and had been unable to discuss it with her without her bawling, screaming or just plain not listening. When I decided to remove my garments and stop paying tithing, I knew that the information wouldn’t go over too well so I chose to discuss it at a restaurant where the discussion would be forced to be calm, unemotional and flow in both directions.
Sometimes that’s the only way you can get your spouse to calm down and listen…and talk rationally.
I didn’t make a single solitary mistake when I left. Not a one.
And what made this all possible was that the church and its members were super supportive and helpful as I transitioned away from church activity.
Please! I am terrible at remembering dates and anniversaries. I confessed my non-belief to my lovely wife on the anniversary of her little sister’s death (died at age 20 of lukemia). I’d take a dramatic restaurant experience over that hellish day any time.
Holy crap, that must have been AWFUL! Sorry to hear about your mistake. I agree, my restaurant mistake sounds mild in comparison. I hope the wounds have healed since then. Good luck!
You earned my vote for Best Bad Timing Award.
Another Awesome podcast…!
The bottom line for most TBM’s is that it is 100% impossible for anyone to leave the church legitimately and thus no matter what we are usually seen as hateful, mean, or contentious. This fact, coupled with the legitimate anger that most people who leave have towards the church for its dishonesty is the perfect storm.
The point about the church being inseparable from the identity of its members is huge. But just because a person “feels” personally attacked does not make that true.
I totally get that our TBM family members are severely disappointed that we left Mormonism. The human experience is full of all kinds of disappointments and hardships. It just seems really dysfunctional to me that I am not allowed to politely ask legitimate questions, cordially have legitimate disagreements without being automatically demonized even though I have done nothing hateful or even close to that.
Unfortunately, it seems that more often than not, the religion of Mormonism is valued over and above the relationship with anyone who chooses to leave, regardless of their reasons. In fact, much of the time, they have no interest in the reasons because they ultimately have no interest in the relationship unless it’s on their terms (you must accept that Mormonism is true). It’s their way or the highway which is very sad. But that is not something within the control of those who leave, nor is it our fault or responsibility.
I have no desire whatsoever to go around trying to offend Mormons. I am totally opposed to garment burning at temple square and things of that nature. But I am interested in truth and honesty.
Healthy, mutually respectful relationships involve two parties who both grant each other the right to believe, feel, and think whatever they want, even if they don’t necessarily agree. I mean, very few people on the planet agree on every single thing so it would be absurd to assign that as a prerequisite for a healthy, mutually respectful relationship.
I’m all for compassion, sensitivity and politeness, but in this situation, it doesn’t really matter how compassionate or sensitive a person is. No one should ever have to feel bad about seeking truth and honesty.
As a therapist, I sit with clients all the time that need to face things they absolutely do not want to see and yet very much need to see in order to move towards relational health. This is most often a painful and disruptive experience but without it there would be no growth. Obviously, the difference in that situation is the fact that my clients have signed up to be disrupted while our TBM family members have not. In fact, I would say disruption is the opposite of what Mormonism is all about and therein lies part of the problem. The similarity in these situations is that both therapy and dealing with life after Mormonism both involve relationships. The question is do people want to move towards relational health (which ALWAYS involves pain and disruption) or not? The problem arises when one party does and the other party does not. The next question is should the party who does feel bad about their desire for health?
The comparison of “anti-mormon” literature to porn was perfect!
For me, the point is not to change anyone’s mind about Mormonism. My desire is to have authentic, healthy, mature relationships with everyone in my life. It is unfortunate when others do not share that desire but that is outside of my control. I have no desire to control other people’s behavior or beliefs.
Once a person concludes that Mormonism is untrue, they are in a bind that is going to have negative repercussions, no matter what they do. You’re damned if you stay (hypocritically living an unauthentic existence, pretending to believe something you feel is untrue), and damned if you don’t (automatically marginalized as less than in some way even though this may never be verbalized by the TBM’s in your life).
I disagree that a person “can’t leave because of the situation that is created by the culture”. While it may be very painful on many levels and utterly agonizing to the point of losing all kinds of things, it still can be done. The question one has to ask is how much am I willing to risk losing? I totally agree that Mormonism is the author of this horrible bind. I also think that the individual Mormons who willingly choose of their own free will to agree with the structure as it is are also responsible for facilitating and perpetuating it.
I agree it is hard to find a counselor who understands the issues of leaving something like Mormonism and this is one of the reasons I became one. I have seen a few people who have left and my hope is to see more.
Yes, some people who leave do everything the church says not to like an angry teenager, which often has negative repercussions. In my case, I actually was an angry teenager (this was back in the late eighties/early 90′s)!
I TOTALLY agree with the last point that it is IMPERATIVE to be true to yourself. AWESOME words from Nyal:
“If you love your family you should want to share who you are with them. You shouldn’t want to deceive them or put a spin on who you are for them. If you love them, share who you are with them.”
It would be great that if in almost every case they will love you back and be glad you’re “back.” In my case, it’s been made very clear throughout my entire life, that the real me is very much NOT wanted and a phony version of me is far more preferred.
Wow. That last paragraph hits the nail on the head for me. I finally feel like I’m back. I am the person I used to be 12 years ago before I joined the church. I just wrote a blog post last week about this very same subject.
I am still struggling with the social aspects of not believing in the church and ‘coming out’ to people. It’s been a hard road for me, that I have traveled alone most of the time. But I am finally happy. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I am ME. I am happy and real and ME. It’s both awesome and scary at the same time.
This podcast is great. Thank you.
I really enjoyed this episode. I am in the early stages of this process having left the church just a few months ago. My biggest challenge is that for us the the final straw was that we couldn’t, in good conscience, baptize our eight year old daughter. It was nice to know that we are not the only ones dealing with these same reactions from family and friends. It’s hard to be true to ones self and feel like they need to hide the truth about who they really are from so many. But, as was said on the show it’s sometimes better to go along than to try to explain your feelings to people who don’t really want to understand you. I think you could do several shows on this topic.
I left the church mainly because I was gay (as most of you know already) and I think the biggest mistake I made was “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.
It became most obvious to me when I started dating an Indian boyfriend. He smudged, created dream catchers, prayer ties, went to lodges, etc., and I started to get very jealous that I personally didn’t have a culture to identify with.
Then I realized that I *do* have a culture full of mystical, magical, legends that I don’t have to take literally if I don’t want to. Now I use religious imagery to mean what it means to me. It helps that I have a non-mormon friend who loves to hear the stories on that same sort of symbolic way.
Instead of “getting on a high horse” we talk about “getting up on our rameumptom” and my artwork is full of the magical images from my past … the urim and thummim, visions, the heavenly host … all meaning whatever inspires me now. The church says we have to take it all literally … but we don’t. Now I love to re-contextualize it all and it gives me a sense of culture without being painful to think about. I even visited the sacred grove and had my own special visions and knowledge that I felt was “revealed” in a very personal way … that had nothing to do with the dogma of the church. It’s a beauitful place, by the way!
Forgive if I misspelled some words it’s been too long since I saw them in print!
oh yeah and my favorite re-contextualized mormon symbol is my CTR dogtag that I wear as a good luck charm from time to time. Because, I mean, how gay is that?!?!
Wes & Nate – great insights!
As Richard said:
“The worst part (for me) was that they tried to argue that since we started our marriage as LDS and were married in the temple where we covenanted to raise our children in the church, that I was obligated to continue to do so even when I no longer believe. I thought: Well, if we were married as agnostics or atheist (or even Jewish or Muslim) and she converted to Mormonism, would they have the same attitude about her raising our children outside the church? Without the privilege of informing her children of her new found faith nor hoping to teach them the “truths” she has discovered? Would they counsel her to support her husband in raising them as good Jewish, Muslim or atheist kids? It was just so obviously one-sided from my view.”
It’s sad that GAs and TBMs have so much difficulty in seeing the inherent hypocrisy and unfairness of that. If it is wrong for those of other religions to ostracize, disown, persecute or condemn friends or family members who convert to Mormonism, how can it be right for Mormons to be similarly intolerant or condemnatory towards other Mormons, who honestly come to the conclusion that they have been misled or duped, for refusing to pretend that they still believe? They excuse that, I suppose, by claiming that Since Mormonism is the one and only true religion, it is the only one that can justifiably treat ex-members in that way. Of course, many other religions adamantly claim the same thing for themselves. At least Mormons do not claim that those who leave the “true” faith deserve to be executed as claimed by many Muslims and as demanded by a strictly literal reading of the Old Testament.
John, your comments about sin reminded me of Robert A. Heinlein’s definition of sin, which I will paraphrase as follows, with only minor modifications and qualifications:
“Sin is any culpable and conscious action or negligent inaction that unnecessarily endangers or harms someone other than oneself. Harming oneself (provided that one succeeds in harming only oneself) is not sinful; it is merely stupid.”
This is the only definition of sin that makes even the slightest bit of sense to me.
Congratulations to all of you for another excellent podcast!
If you don’t believe in God or the bible then there is no reason to pay any attention to the word ‘sin’. To sin, according to the word’s orgins, is to break the laws of God. And the laws of God don’t always coincide with not harming people. Yesterday the world believed that God made laws for his children as a way to test their allegiance. Today the world doesn’t always believe that. It is better to throw out the word than to muddy it’s definition.
Josh, you made some good points. The fact that the supposed laws of God don’t always coincide with not harming people is one of the main reasons why I find it so hard to take the prevailing concepts of God seriously. I find it impossible to believe that a just and reasonable god would give us laws and instructions that have no other purpose than to merely test our capacity for blind, unquestioning obedience and allegiance (unless it is his purpose to discover and weed out those who are too foolish and mentally lazy to reason things out for themselves).
As I have said before, those who deal honestly and charitably with their fellow beings without any expectation or hope of reward or punishment in the hereafter are far more deserving of any such reward than the most devoutly religious person who does so in order to be so rewarded or out of fear of eternal punishment for failure to act kindly and fairly towards others.
If there is such a thing as God and a hereafter, I would not be surprised to find that honest atheists and agnostics who dealt honestly and compassionately with others, despite their lack of belief in a divine being, were much more highly regarded by God than the vast majority of Prophets and other religious leaders.
I really enjoyed this podcast too. I especially liked what was said about being sensitive to your family’s beliefs as you would someone who was Jehovah’s Witness, etc.
My leaving the church was directly related to my coming out as a lesbian. My family’s reaction was–”but, we’re all going to the celestial kingdom. That’s all we’re working for. . .and you won’t be there.” I just said “we don’t know that”. But, what else could I say? That’s totally heavy. I taught “eternal progression” and “perseverance” on my mission, so I know what they think. How do I just say “well, I don’t/can’t believe that anymore”?
Anyway, keep up the good work on this podcast. I’m hooked.
Why did you have to bring up swinging??? Now my brother thinks that people without spiritual beliefs all become swingers. ahhhhhh. I told him it only happens to those that lost there spiritual beliefs…
Absolutely fantastic show! Possibly the best one yet.
Personally I would like to have that “To resign or not resign that is the question!” issue explored further and deeper in the future.
Great pod cast. I believe it may be a mistake to suddenly see yourself as a different person or you life in the church as a mistake. I guess I have always thought I had a pretty complex view of the church and what I see as truth. I do not think I have taken some major turn in my life. I think I am the same person working on learning and trying to figure out how to best live my life. That has not change. In my opinion I have not given up my moral compass at all. I am still studying things out in my mind and doing what feels right and true.
I definitely identified with the spinning compass analogy. (I’ve even experienced the ex Mormon tequila shot contest)
The question is: What do I believe in, what do I understand about myself without Mormonism?
I’m not unhappy, but I feel like a helium balloon without a string, high as a kite without a sense of direction.
I’m looking forward to the time when the compass stops spinning.
New listener as of 3 months ago, but am absolutely loving this podcast. So helpful on the journey!
This one in particular is absolutely inspired (in a non TBM sense). Very helpful and timely – I only wish we would have come across it earlier. You all are awesome, and I’m very grateful for the time that you take and your courage in addressing these items.
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