Post-Mormon Mette: Trading Immortality in For What?
For those of us who have left fundamentalist religions, we are often asked to answer questions from those who remain. Why? Why choose this? Why leave all the good things, the community, but more importantly, the spiritual blessings and the promises of rewards in the next life? What is it you depend on now?
I’m going to try to explain this, even though I find myself remembering when I was an “all-in” one hundred percent Mormon and that friends tried to tell me answers to this question and they always just sounded like nonsensical gobbled-gook. That is one of the problems when you step over the religious divide, it becomes nearly impossible to communicate because literally words do not mean the same thing over here.
What is it that I gave up?
1. An omnipotent, omnipresent God who sees everything I do and judges me “worthy” or not, listens to my prayers and answers them based on His ideas of what should happen in the world and whether or not my wishes align with those.
2. The promise of an eternal family in a special place in heaven (the Mormon Celestial Kingdom) where there may be polygamy (“we don’t know”), but what matters is that we get there because that’s the only place we’ll experience true joy.
3. A clear vision of what is right and wrong in the world and the promise that the special Mormon “Gift of the Holy Ghost” will prompt me against wrong choices if I’m ever confused.
4. Meaning and purpose. In addition to answering the question “Why am I here?” and “Where do I go after this life?” Mormonism brings daily meaning and purpose. Daily scripture study, prayers with family, and fulfilling callings in the home or in church were ways to make sure that your life was always moving somewhere that mattered.
5. Being special. This was reinforced by talk about “the last days” and special spirits who were saved for this time, and by a “patriarchal blessing” in my teenage years that taught about what God wanted you to do with your life, as well as your future.
These were hard things to give up, and even though my exit was excruciatingly slow over the course of nearly fifteen years, I still didn’t see some of them coming. The last one, for instance, was a hard one for me. I’d always felt like I was meant to be a writer, that it was what God wanted me to do. Stepping away from Mormonism left me with no more certainty about that. What is it to be meant to do anything once you give up a religious system that gave you certainty in everything?
On the other side, however, I have found some things that are of real value to me. I know that I would not have seen them of value before, but they are now very sweet to me. I share them because I hope that they will be of help to people who are in the midst of the first fall into the pit of uncertainty that comes after stepping fully away. Those first few weeks and months are terrifying and it can feel like there is nothing that will ever make you feel whole again. Perhaps these don’t do that in the same way, but in a weird way, they are better.
1. The God I believe in now isn’t necessarily omnipotent, but is all-loving. I never feel like I have to wait to be worthy until my prayers will be answered. I never ask for tangible things, either. I ask for wisdom or help to find an answer, and I always find those. God is always accessible, accepting, and fills me with a warmth of love — and sometimes a need to DO something.
2. Instead of feeling like there is a set of rules about “right” and “wrong” that make it so everything is perfectly clear, I’m embracing (or trying to embrace) the ability to choose for myself even if it isn’t clearly right or wrong, even if it’s just as simple as wearing a tank top and shorts if it’s hot.
3. While I’ve lost a number of friends and feel estranged from several family members, I’ve found so many new friends in my vulnerable and authentic sharing of my journey. This is my new ward and while they may not help me move furniture or bring me casseroles when I’m sick, they support me in a thousand emotional ways I never had before.
4. I can change. Ironically, this was a message of Mormonism that I’m not sure I really saw practiced much. Mormonism rejects the idea of original sin, or so it says, but there’s plenty of talk of the “natural man” which seems to be exactly the same thing, except without any grace. The idea that I can radically change who I am and become a new person is truly miraculous to me.
5. Letting go of lists of sins and embracing uncertainty has meant that I’m no longer tied to an idea of perfection. I don’t think about myself that way anymore. I make mistakes, yes. But I also am just who I am and don’t need forgiveness to be that.
I admit there are Mormons who agree with me on every one of these points. These are the Mormons I still maintain relationships with, who I still admire and think of as on the same journey I’m on. But they don’t appear to be in leadership. They are, like I once was, the loyal resistance. I hope they have the energy to continue where they are. I didn’t have it. I don’t wish I could go back, though, because I don’t need to. This is a good place to me. Welcome, if it’s new to you.