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Born Again

I like calling my exodus from Mormonism and religion an “awakening” because that’s what it felt like. Domokun reminded me of Plato’s cave allegory and how well it describes what leaving religion has felt like for me.

Imagine prisoners, who have been chained since their childhood deep inside a cave: not only are their limbs immobilized by the chains; their heads are chained in one direction as well, so that their gaze is fixed on a wall.

Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which statues of various animals, plants, and other things are carried by people. The statues cast shadows on the wall, and the prisoners watch these shadows. When one of the statue-carriers speaks, an echo against the wall causes the prisoners to believe that the words come from the shadows.

The prisoners engage in what appears to us to be a game: naming the shapes as they come by. This, however, is the only reality that they know, even though they are seeing merely shadows of images. They are thus conditioned to judge the quality of one another by their skill in quickly naming the shapes and dislike those who play poorly.

Suppose a prisoner is released from his cage and turns around. Behind him he would see the real objects that are casting the shadows. At that moment his eyes will be blinded by the sunlight coming into the cave from its entrance, and the shapes passing by will appear less real than their shadows.

The prisoner then makes an ascent from the cave to the world above. Here the blinding light of the sun he has never seen would confuse him, but as his eyesight adjusts he would be able to see more and more of the real world. Eventually he could look at the sun itself, that which provides illumination and is therefore what allows him to see all things. This moment is a form of enlightenment in many respects and is understood to be analogous to the time when the philosopher comes to know the Form of the Good, which illuminates all that can be known in Plato’s view of metaphysics.

Once enlightened, so to speak, the freed prisoner would not want to return to the cave to free “his fellow bondsmen,” but would be compelled to do so. Another problem lies in the other prisoners not wanting to be freed: descending back into the cave would require that the freed prisoner’s eyes adjust again, and for a time, he would be one of the ones identifying shapes on the wall. His eyes would be swamped by the darkness, and would take time to become acclimated. Therefore, he would not be able to identify the shapes on the wall as well as the other prisoners, making it seem as if his being taken to the surface completely ruined his eyesight.

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Oasis Mailbag: How Do I Tell My Wife That I Don’t Believe Anymore?

The following message (along with the others that I’ve received) makes me really happy that I created the contact form. Can you help Eric out? I think it would help to hear from both sides of this situation. He writes:


I recently stumbled across the link to your blog on the Letters From a Broad site. I immediately paid attention because your philosophical musings and search for meaning post-Mormonism almost exactly mirror my own. You also have a wonderful talent for writing about them, which makes your posts a real joy to read.

Another way in which we are similar is the family heartache our recent ”change of mind“ causes our families. The difference is, I haven’t told my family yet, not even my wife. I realized about two years ago that Mormonism is not true and went through a gradual process of redefining my beliefs, first as a deist, then a hopeful agnostic, and finally (as of this writing!) an agnostic atheist. I was at BYU earning a degree in geology and could not rationalize my religion to make room for the scientific method. Like you, I find inspiration and solace in science and philosophy, and in the innumerable spontaneous moments of joy spent with my children or in nature.

The reason I am writing is because I just read your wife’s post about when you broke the news to her, and the lengthly comments that followed. You see, sooner or later I have to break the news to my own faithful, believing wife. I want this experience to be as painless as possible and am concerned, as you were, of the possibility of divorce or lasting anger. I seriously believe our relationship and her compassion are strong enough to survive, but I need to choose the right time and place.

We are living with our two children in [Outer Darkness] right now and will be here for another 3 1/2 months. Before coming, I told myself I would tell her after we returned home. I didn’t want to make an already difficult ordeal even more difficult, especially since she would be cut off from her support network (mother, sister, and ward family). Lately, however, I have been overwhelmed with a desire to finally come out of the closet and stop hiding the most real part of me of me from the people that matter most. I have so many thoughts I want to share on my blog, but I need them to hear it from me before they stumble across it on my blog. (I briefly—for about 1.5 seconds—considered making another blog for these thoughts and not sharing it with them, but that reeks of the same “double life” crap I am trying to leave behind now.)

I was contemplating telling her a couple of weeks from now (while still in [Outer Darkness]), but when I read your wife’s post I stopped. If her pain and anger will be anything like those your wife experienced, I would rather her be home with her support group—as I will likely not be part of it for a while. The flip side of this is that if the support group is persuasive, it could lead her away from me and even closer to orthodoxy. In [Outer Darkness], at least, there is a chance we could rebuild our relationship from the ground up in love and trust, together.

After all you have been through with Lacey, do either of you have any advice for me at this stage in my journey away from Mormonism? I need to know how to minimize the suffering of my wife (and our possibility of estrangement or divorce), while at the same time allowing for my own freedom and growth.

Feel free to post any or all of this letter on your site, if you like. I am not interested in remaining anonymous. I can’t post these thoughts on my own blog just yet, so I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.


Eric, I hope you won’t mind that I have redacted your message slightly to preserve your anonymity just a while longer. If you really want to out yourself, you can do so in the comments.

Let me gather my thoughts which I’ll post in the comments later. Actual employment is calling. Have to pay the bills somehow! :)

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Write Your Own Epic

There was a required class in the computer engineering curriculum that was only ever taught by one particular professor. This professor had a penchant for creating pointless busywork. His homework for this class consisted of one page reports on each section of the book that we read. He didn’t tell you this at first, but these were no ordinary reports. He expected you to fill up that one side of the page with as much information as possible. Margins should be as tight as possible: usually ¼” all around. The last line of each paragraph should be as long as possible: whitespace was the enemy. Smaller fonts got more points. Color got more points. Diagrams were good but should not take up too much space. None of those criteria were stated up front. The class members discovered them through trial and error over the course of the semester. This is only one illustration of his eccentricities as a professor.

His arbitrariness clashed with my sense of fairness. I had a hard time bringing myself to just do whatever it took to pass the class. I took the class four times before the professor gave me the required C or better in the class. By that fourth semester, I knew the material in the class better than he did. It wasn’t for lack of knowledge that I didn’t pass; I didn’t pass because I didn’t want to bend to his will.

I tell this story to give you the context of why I hate admitting what I’m about to say. One of this professor’s favorite sayings was that each of his students was “special, just like everyone else”. That really bugged me, but I must now confess that he was right. Each of us is unique and special, but that makes us no more special than anyone else.


Lately I’ve been feeling kind of empty. My first reaction was “Oh crap! The Mormons were right. I’m losing the Spirit!” I fell prey to the indoctrination of my youth, but only for a moment. I reassured myself that some other reason must explain the emptiness that I felt every time I thought about life. I just had to find it.

It took me a while to put my finger on the cause: I miss being part of a grand epic. Mormonism put me in the middle of a larger-than-life struggle between God and the forces of evil. It told me that I was a valiant spirit in God’s army before I was born. God took a special interest in the course of my life. Everything that happened was part of his eternal plan. My life would determine my future eternal state. My destiny, if I lived worthy of it, could be to become a god to rule and reign over numberless worlds and their inhabitants. Mormonism gave my life a greater context and purpose than the mundane appearances of my day-to-day existence. It reassured me that I was special, more special than those who had chosen not to embrace the truth.

The initial euphoria of casting off old religious demons and tasting sweet freedom and intellectual integrity has now worn off. The euphoria had anesthetized me while my sense of my own inherent, unearned specialness was being removed. I’m just now becoming aware of the hole that Mormonism vacated.


My brother recently made me aware that Maslow extended his hierarchy of needs beyond what we typically hear about. Usually the hierarchy includes five levels of need (from the lowest to the highest): physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Maslow later included cognitive and aesthetic needs in his hierarchy, but more importantly for me, he made the top of his hierarchy self-transcendence.

My needs for self-actualization are finally being met. My native self is finally finding expression outside the culture-imposed narratives of Mormonism. I am becoming self-determined. This self-actualization has come at a price. I have lost the Mormon myths that gave me a false sense of self-transcendence, Maslow’s next higher level of need.

The hunger that I feel in my heart is born of the questions “Why do I live? What greater purpose will my life hold?” I have to answer these questions on my own for the first time in my life. I no longer have a source of ready-made meaning to turn to. No one-size-fits-all story could possibly anticipate the full effect of my life. I have to write the story as I go. My purpose will be unique (just like everyone else) because my place in the universe is unique (just like everyone else).

What will I do to transcend myself? This is my story, my quest. No other hero can take my place.

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Resistance is Futile

I didn’t really want to be there. The Mormon missionaries had called me and asked if I could visit a young woman with them. I felt obligated to help despite being on the verge of leaving the Mormon church. I hadn’t come out of the closet to anyone except my wife, so I had no good reason to refuse which wouldn’t out me. Besides, I was trying to be as faithful as possible to try one last time to receive a witness of God’s existence.

The urge to leave only got stronger as I sat listening to these two young men pressure and manipulate the young woman. She was obviously reluctant to commit to a religion that was so new to her. Her reluctance to disappoint the three men sitting at her kitchen table won out in the end. She agreed to work toward baptism into the Mormon church within a few weeks.

As we left, I’m sure the missionaries were expecting me to be excited to have participated in introducing someone into God’s church. I was instead feeling the pangs of a conscience struggling to be heard.

It wasn’t long before I had sent in my letter to resign my callings and ending my active participation in the church.


Chris Hedges over at TruthDig attended a seminar where he was taught how to convert people to Christianity. He then wrote an insightful article about the manipulative methods which in many ways resemble Mormon missionary tactics. I kept thinking to myself while reading the article, “So they’re finally taking a page from the Mormon missionary play book.” I think most former Mormon missionaries will recognize the tactics known in my time as the Commitment Pattern: prepare, invite, follow up, resolve concerns, build relationships of trust, etc. Just change some of the argot in the article and it becomes a story about Mormon missionary efforts.

I highly recommend reading the article which lays out how religious converts are often made: identifying the susceptible, building false friendships, promising to cure (sometimes nonexistent) fears and shames, smothering the prospective convert with attention, weakening or cutting ties with old friends and family who don’t belong to the group, introducing new rules which function as tokens of membership, imbuing a sense of group superiority, emphasis on an emotional experience rather than thought or reason, peer pressure, and deconstruction of individual identity in favor of a new group identity. I’ve never seen a more concise summation of exactly how missionary efforts are carried out.

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Marlin K. Jensen on Doubt

I wish the following excerpt from the interview of Marlin K. Jensen had been in The Mormons.

Q: Was there ever a season of doubt after [your conversion experience]?

A: Yes. I went off to college after my mission. I took some philosophy classes. I took some anthropology classes. I’ve tried to read widely. I’m not an intellectual, I don’t think, in any stretch of that word, nor am I a brilliant person. But I do think; I do discuss. I have a substantial library, and I’ve tried to test my belief against other philosophies and other theories of life.

And sure, your question, I think that’s part of life. I think it’s in that questioning, if you’re honest and if you’re really a true seeker—if you’re not just a skeptic sitting back and taking potshots at everything and everybody and their philosophy of life—I think it tends to bring one to a deeper seeking, and I hope that’s what my doubts have done. They’ve caused me, I think, to study and to ponder and to compare and in the long run to become even more convinced that the way I’ve chosen, the way that came to me early in Germany, is the right way.

What an utterly refreshing thing to hear from a General Authority! Why don’t we hear more things like that coming out of General Conference? I have never heard another General Authority make the connection between doubt and being a true seeker. (Maybe I’m just poorly-informed?)

If the LDS culture could accept the reality of doubt (when was the last time that you heard “I believe that the Church is true” or “I hope that Joseph Smith was a prophet but sometimes I’m just not sure” in a public church meeting?) and even see how beneficial doubt can be, perhaps it could start to really help those who doubt secretly for fear of appearing weak.

Other highlights of his interview:

So we need to be better, I think, in the teaching process. We need to make sure that people really are committed before they join the church, and then I think as members, we’ve got to be ever so loving and careful in bringing them into our midst and making them feel a part of our society, our Gospel. Not easy. [emphasis added]

We can accept, I think, the indictment that sometimes we have been provincial, and I think we probably were to some extent on this point. [priesthood for men of African descent]

I think the hardest public relations sell we have to make is that this is the only true church.

And yes, some people argue sometimes, well, for the gay person or the lesbian person, we’re not asking more of them than we’re asking of the single woman who never marries. But I long ago found in talking to them that we do ask for something different: In the case of the gay person, they really have no hope. A single woman, a single man who is heterosexual in their thinking always has the hope, always has the expectation that tomorrow they’re going to meet someone and fall in love and that it can be sanctioned by the church. But a gay person who truly is committed to that way of life in his heart and mind doesn’t have that hope. And to live life without hope on such a core issue, I think, is a very difficult thing.

We, again, as a church need to be, I think, even more charitable than we’ve been, more outreaching in a sense. A religion produces a culture, and culture has its stereotypes, has its mores. It’s very difficult, for instance, in our culture not to be a returning missionary. What about the young man who chooses not to go, or the parents who marry and for whatever reasons don’t have children, or the young woman who grows old without marrying, or the divorced person? I think we can be quite hard—in a sense unwittingly, but nevertheless hard—on those people in our culture, because we have cultural expectations, cultural ideals, and if you measure up to them, it’s a wonderful life. If you don’t, it could be very difficult.

…when I compare our little bit of persecution to what the Jews have suffered for 6,000 years, we’d have to carry their briefcases. What do we have to tell them about what it means to be persecuted or to be exterminated or to have their memory obliterated?

I’ve come to believe that it’s probably the best course for the church to take to dwell on what I might call a sacred history and to talk about those elements: the restoration of the church, the gathering of Israel, the establishment of Zion and the creation of a covenant people. Those are things that not only run throughout history today, but they run through the history from the beginning. Those are the things you’ll find in the Old Testament as well as the New. …

If we could kind of have that as our organizing principle and then as part of that encourage the more traditional, narrative-type history of the church and biographies that have been written and to make our archive available for that, make our assistance available for that, and leave that writing to other Mormon historians and other non-Mormon historians, I think that will gradually dissolve the tension that exists between what is faithful history and what isn’t. We’ll each have our individual roles, and the Lord will be better served in that way.

We don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true in this religion, but there is something that holds sway over just the intellect, and that is the counsel of God. When that comes through men, who may be very fallible, that’s probably very difficult for people to accept.

There were also many humdrum, disappointing comments which towed the party line, but those weren’t especially interesting to me.

Marlin K. (as he was affectionately known to his missionaries) is a great guy. I no longer share his faith and I must admit that he does spin and whitewash some of the issues, but as I’ve said before, what’s a little theology among friends? He gives me a small glimmer of hope that the future of Mormonism may be brighter than I expected.

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