I was raised Mormon. My father was raised Mormon. His family had been pioneers that came over from Ireland and made the trek to Utah. My mother was raised pseudo Baptist before converting to Mormon not long after she met my dad.
This essay is not about how I left Mormonism or why it’s a terrible religion. This is about how I left religion because it was terrible for me. I try very hard to refrain from judging others for their religious beliefs. It’s not my place to judge what someone else needs for their mental and spiritual well-being. This is simply my experience.
I grew up believing in the things my parents taught me. Jesus was our savior. God was our father. He created us in his own image. We needed to live our lives so that we were worthy to return to him. We would live in heaven and my family would be together forever after we died.
For myself, I didn’t really care about most of this stuff. I think I’m not a “why are we here” questioning kind of person. Maybe because I grew up thinking I already knew the answers. Maybe it’s just the way I was born.
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with depression and suicidal ideation. Some might think that those don’t have anything to do with religion but I disagree.
For me, shame was a very effective deterrent that kept me in line. Disappointing my family was a constant fear. Guilt after having done something wrong was almost unbearable. The strive for perfection and the failure of achieving it was a significant burden on my already fragile mental health.
I was not only a terrible person, I was evil as well.
As a teenager, I began to acknowledge a discrepancy between my own personal beliefs and the standard beliefs of the church.
I didn’t understand the shame associated with sexuality. I felt that shame. I really felt it, but I didn’t know why I needed to when sexuality is such a natural and important part of our humanity.
I didn’t buy into the church’s stance on homosexuality. I’ve always been a firm believer that sexual preference is not a choice. I also think one of the most important things you can do in this life is to be true to yourself. So the ability to be openly gay(lgbtq+) should not only be acceptable but expected and respected.
There were also a lot of gender discrepancies in the structure and beliefs of the church that didn’t fit with my Feminist sensibilities.
I felt strongly that there was absolutely no reason to force the expectations of my religion onto other people. So I’ve always been pro-choice.
I also always felt to some degree that we were all worshipping the same god, just in different religious languages. I was unusually open minded but I kept it to myself.
By the time I graduated high school, I’d started to figure these things out about myself. I didn’t need the answers that religion provides to so many people. So I rebelled a little. Got a tattoo. Smoke, drank, messed around with boys. I played with the idea of leaving the church but decided that faking it would just be easier than disappointing my family. So I’d go along with the life that was expected of me. I avoided asking myself questions like “Do I really believe in God” because it didn’t matter. I was going to whether it was true or not.
I was in crisis at 24. I was married to a good religious man (a story for another time). But I was lost and alone. I left church in the middle of the service because I had an appointment at home with my bath tub and a butcher knife.
Living this false life was killing me and I was stuck at an impasse. If I believed and left the church I was guilty of the worst apostasy, worthy of a special place in hell. If I stayed in the church I would continue to die a little every day trying to be something I wasn’t. If I killed myself, I would go to hell but it wouldn’t be so bad. I’d be forgiven and go to heaven eventually.
Killing myself seemed to be the best option. When that attempt failed, I was put on suicide watch and wasn’t alone for 2 weeks.
At this point, I decided that I needed to leave the church. I also left my husband. I distanced myself from my religious family. And I drowned myself in all of the things I wasn’t supposed to do (again, that’s another story).
I never had any moments in the 24 years of religious life that ever made me question whether my parents were right and there was a God. Every moment of “feeling the spirit” has been replicated through unholy mediums at other times in my life. The feeling I got while singing holy hymns in the temple is the same feeling I get listening to Gerard Way singing the high notes driving my car with the wind in my hair. The feeling I got sitting with my family at church is the same I get sitting at dinner with my family on holidays when we don’t fight. I found nothing special in any of my religious experiences.
I’ve always said that inside, I have a filing cabinet full of manila folders, each holding various opinions and beliefs. It took years to go through all of those envelopes, analyze what was already there, study in myself what it was that I believed and re-enter the folder back into the system. Sometimes still, I open my mouth and spout an opinion from an outdated folder that hasn’t come up in the last decade.
I remember the moment I stopped believing in god. I was sitting at my computer at work, inputting data into an excel spreadsheet and im-ing with a new friend I’d made. They asked me if I believed in an after-life. I took several minutes to think about that. To reexamine my after-life file. Then there was one single second of clarity.
I wrote “No”. All of the bullshit, all of the pressure, all of the fear and anxiety and need for perfection, and the worry of “eternal life” lifted right off my body. The idea of complete and total blackness after death, that after this life there is nothingness was the most life altering and liberating thought I’ve ever had. I felt free for the first time in my life.
That one thought led to logical conclusions. If no after-life then no god. If no god then no religion. If no religion then no shame, no guilt, no hate, no pressure. No religion = Freedom.
It changed my whole life, my whole world, my whole perspective.
I’ve had 10 years to reanalyze and edit the contents of my filing cabinet. At times, I’ve claimed agnosticism but for the most part I’ve settled on atheist. I seek and find the answers to my questions inside myself.
If there’s anything else that I believe, it’s that there is a flow to the universe that we don’t understand. That is bigger than what humanity can understand. If people want to call that flow a God, that is their truth. I think it’s more like physics.
But of everything I believe, there is one thing that stands above all the others. Every single person has a basic human right to religious beliefs as they see fit. But that’s where it ends. Religious beliefs extend no further than your own skin. It can not be forced on anyone else. Universal decisions can not be made based on faith.
The world can not be held hostage due to religious beliefs (any of them).
The fact that it is, makes me so incredibly disappointed in humanity. I don’t think we’ll know world peace until we know freedom from religion.