On My Divergence From Mormonism

Interesting evening I’ve spent here at my computer. I started out normally, checking out my daily blogroll, and decided to check out Jason’s xanga (even though I’d stated that I’d make myself scarce, due to his politically- and religiously-charged commentary). While I’d intended to read it and pretend I hadn’t, I ended up responding to his response, and even blew the dust off of my old King James Version to refute some of his points.

It was not precisely a revelation to me to discover that all the scripture I’d had in mind was from the Book of Mormon, not the bible. Since informally leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I’ve discovered that much of their dogma is in fact from the Book of Mormon (supposedly translated from ancient American writings unearthed in 1830’s New York) and the Doctrine and Covenants (writings and revelations of Joseph Smith and other early church leaders), not from the bible itself.

My divergence from the Church has been a long, slow process. I’ve revisited this several times in the past years. As a youth, I never had the burning realization that the Church was true, although it wasn’t for lack of trying. I went to Church every Sunday, went to Young Women’s meetings every Wednesday night, went to Girls’ Camp every summer, sang in the choir, prayed daily, read the scriptures, and did all the other things the Church Leaders told us we should do. My Mom and Tom (stepdad #1) even got married in the Washington D.C. temple and were sealed “for Time and all Eternity,” in an exclusive temple ceremony which I was too young to attend at age 12, and during which I sliced wedding-cake strawberries in the temple parking lot with Sister Baker.

It wasn’t until Mom and Tom got divorced two years later that I started to doubt the Church. Being that they’d been married and “sealed” in the temple, the Church would still consider them married even if Mom managed to get a legal divorce. Assuming Mom still believed the principles of the Gospel (which she did at the time), that would mean that she would have to spend Eternity with Tom as her husband after she finally died. She wasn’t into that, so she arranged to be excommunicated, which wasn’t difficult. Once she found herself another lover, she simply went to Church, sat down with the Bishop (pastor, father, what-have-you) in his office, and admitted that she had committed adultery after leaving Tom. No problem, here’s your pink slip, don’t let the chapel doors hit you in the ass on your way out.

Free and clear of any eternal commitments. Amen!

Of course, during all these theological shenanigans, I was still attending church and early-morning seminary (bible study classes at 5am before school). Being that Mom didn’t have her driver’s license yet, I was getting rides from my Aunt Sammie. She had asked to be excommunicated in the 1970’s, I think, or the early 80’s, and hadn’t yet returned to the Church at this point—she just gave me rides to and from. Once my older friends started getting their driver’s licenses, they started giving me rides to church and seminary—and this is where I realized I had started to really fall away.

One morning, I either overslept or just decided I wasn’t going to church. I don’t recall how it happened, and I don’t remember who was supposed to give me a ride or how I cancelled said ride. At any rate, I slept in until about 10:30 or so (which was absolutely luxurious for a Sunday, considering that church started at 9am and ended at noon). I had just gotten up and thrown on clothes when there was a knock at the door. Mom answered it, to find my friend Michelle standing there in her church dress. She had noticed I wasn’t at church, and skipped the Sunday School portion of the morning to drive across town to my apartment. She told me she came to see if I was OK and to bring me to the last meeting of the morning, and encouraged me to throw on any old dress and jump in the car. Even though she had been so selfless and had come to help, I made up some lame excuse about how I’d already missed two thirds of the meetings, and the actual worship service (Sacrament Meeting) was first, and entreated her to go back without me so she wouldn’t miss the last meeting of the day.

She didn’t go out of her way to help me after that, and I started skipping church more and more often. By my Senior year in high school, as I recall, I went to church about as much as I went to class in college.

Speaking of… once I got to college, that was when things really began to unravel. Again, not for lack of trying. My first semester at BGSU, I looked up the church and arranged for a ride with one of the English professors who happened to be Mormon. Sang with her in the choir, went with her to area conferences… and began my discovery that church is more of a social institution than a religious one. Being that there were so many college students at the Bowling Green Ward, they had a separate Young Adult Sunday School. This after I’d just been so glad to have graduated from the 12-to-17 age bracket, and gotten to attend real, grown-up Sunday School for a few months. I knew very few people in the BG Ward, and most of the ones I got to know seemed almost plastic to me. I’d grown up with my old congregation; I couldn’t identify with these people, no matter what their beliefs. I stopped going to church in BG sometime during the Spring semester.

I didn’t give my religion much thought for another year or so, when I started dating Aaron. I knew my morals and my basic principles hadn’t changed; I was still a virgin at age 19, and was particularly proud of the fact. Aaron had heard about Mormonism in one of his classes at St. John’s High School, so I got to answer a lot of odd questions about “Joe Smith’s magic glasses” and magic underwear (especially after this aired on 60 Minutes), and only much later did I get questions about polygamy. He was quite a trooper, too, and dated me for a year an a half before I finally decided to, um, submit to my carnal desires.

Before that, though, I met Amy.

Rooming with Amy was one of my two major influences away from Mormonism (and Christianity in general), with the other being Sociology 101. Soc taught me how much of religion is a societal structure, and how some religions were developed specifically by ancient governments in order to keep people in check—or, rather, to make them happy with their lot in life, so as to avoid a revolt. That really got me thinking, and long discussions with Amy fueled the fire. I watched Amy turn from agnostic to atheist in the four years we roomed together (or, at least, she began to admit her atheism more freely over time). I don’t remember the exact subjects we discussed over the years, but I remember how it made me feel; looking back on what I had once believed to be unshakeable truth, I felt I’d been brainwashed. It all sounded so ridiculous to me.

I still know it inside and out, though. I can still tell you all about the three levels of Heaven, or about the planet God lives on, or about Joseph Smith’s First Vision (how it’s taught to modern Church-goers, anyway), or I can sing you one of several dozen exclusively Mormon hymns still buried in my head somewhere, or I can tell you about baptism for the dead, or tell you some Book of Mormon stories.

A couple years ago, I actually picked up Volume I of the Book of Mormon Stories VHS set at Goodwill. I made Aaron watch it, too—actually, he was kind of curious. And he was flabbergasted when the climax of the story came about, too. To capitulate: Nephi and his dad and brothers are about to split Jerusalem, but they have to get the record of their family (inscribed on a set of brass plates) from this evil dude named Laban, who owns them. So, Nephi is scared shitless, but he knows he has to come up with something. And, lucky Nephi—when he walks up to Laban’s house, guess who is shitfaced drunk? Yup. Now, in the words of 1 Nephi, Chapter 4:

10. And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.

11. And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.

18. Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

At which point Aaron says, “What?!” Having assumed, of course, that it was only a test, and that God wouldn’t ask Nephi to kill the drunk dude, then put on his clothes and pretend to be him to get the brass plates from his servant. Heh.

When I was involved in the Church, they called the stuff presented in the following links “anti-Mormon,” and they told us to stay away from it. Now I see why. Want to check out some fucked-up religion? This is what I’ve been checking out all evening:

I think that’s the longest LJ entry I’ve ever written. I’m going to bed now. Whew.

4 thoughts on On My Divergence From Mormonism

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  1. I’d like to see that video. For some reason I seem to attract mormons who regularly visited my apartment in BG asking for me by name and now send me hand-addressed letters in the mail. Every now and then I’ll see something in the handout thing and think.. hmm that makes sense.. then I talk to you and am like.. ah.. yeah.. that’s strange. Anyway, it’s still interesting to hear about.

  2. Well, next time you’re in town and come to visit, I’ll dig that out and subject you to it. 🙂

    As for me, I think I might have finally shaken the missionaries. They haven’t found me since we moved to Toledo, anyway. If they bug me again, though, I’m going to write somebody and ask to have my name removed from the membership rolls. I guess you can do that.

    Too bad non-members can’t file some sort of no-solicitation thing. Heh.

  3. I’m actually glad you posted what you did the past few days (as far as church stuff goes) on my site. Like I said about the political stuff though…whatever. I was just trying to have some fun with that stuff. I try to not take the whole debate side of that stuff seriously anymore.

    I’m not trying to offend people with what I post. I’m just trying to get some people to think about things in a different light. That’s it. I’m glad you participated and I hope you continue to do so.

  4. Hey, that’s cool. I may continue to post about the religious stuff, but I’m going to stay out of the politics. It’s like, everybody’s got their opinion, and nothing I say or do can really change that. —It’s kind of like that with religion, too, to a point, but it can be fun to try to get your point across.