New Religious Beginnings

Some of my friends and family know, and others suspect, that I am either no longer active in the LDS Church or that I am at the very least not as stalwart as I should be. The time has come that I want to publicly clarify my position, and elaborate somewhat on how I have come to this position. There are several motivations for posting this publicly, which I will discuss in a moment. I know this is a bit long, but I want to touch on a lot of things. I’m sure I’ll elaborate further on important points later. First to be clear, I absolutely reject many fundamental doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I no longer wish to affiliate with it and want to make it clear that I in no way endorse it. I expect this will come as a shock to a lot of people that know me. This position has probably been more longstanding than most would expect. I came to this determination concretely well over a year ago after the culmination of several years of intense thought and introspection.

Becoming True to Myself

I was initially simply dissatisfied with myself and aspects of my life. I gradually came to realize that I actually hated parts of myself, that my perspectives were often inconsistent and irrational, and that many of my beliefs were paradoxical and in conflict both with each other and with what I truly valued. I literally spent years mentally sorting it all out and reconfiguring how I thought about things and how I viewed the world in order to address these fundamental problems. I had to reevaluate many of my most fundamental beliefs. I had to discover and remove many significant subconscious mental boundaries that inhibited me socially, intellectually, and spiritually. I had to consciously reconfigure many aspects of how I thought and how I viewed the world. Ultimately, I had to figure out who I was, who I really wanted to be, and what I truly valued. I am now, most simply and accurately, an agnostic: I do not believe that anyone can know whether there is or is not a god. That said, I don’t think that it is likely that there is a god and if there is a god, I find it very implausible that such a being would be anything like what is taught in Mormonism or Christianity. I don’t expect anyone to easily understand how I have come to these conclusions. As I said, it has been a very long and involved process. I will probably write about more of my experience later, though I’m still uncertain how much will appear here. I do want to be clear, though, that I am as confident and comfortable with my current perspectives and decisions as I have been with any in my life. At the very core of my being I am at peace with my beliefs. This is something I never experienced in the Mormon church. There were times when I was not aware of the significant paradoxes in my belief structure and times when I gave little thought to the figurative shelf that was sagging under the weight of so many topics that I hoped to understand in the next life. But it was only after I realized that I honestly did not believe in the church that I discovered the much more thorough inner peace that I have now. In my personal experience, the idea that people cannot be happy outside of the church is utterly false. Furthermore, I do not believe that religion is required (or even all that helpful) for people to live good lives, be good people, and have integrity, morals, etc. In fact, I believe that the fear of God and/or the hope of reward (in the form of blessings either here or in the next life) by God is a very poor reason to motivate values and behaviors. For me, defining my integrity and morals based on what I truly value (rather than what I am supposed to value) is far more powerful. I used to believe that my integrity and values had their foundation in the church; upon closer introspection, the church was simply a red herring (though not harmless, since it actually inhibited the full realization of values I feel are very important).

Why I’m Posting This

As I mentioned, there are several motivations for posting this. First and foremost, I need to be true to myself. I want to be honest with who I am and what I believe. I think the beliefs I’m mentioning here reflect a pretty fundamental shift in my perspective on virtually every topic. I don’t want to have to pretend like I view the world differently than I actually do. Second, I know there are a lot of people that struggle with believing in the church. The culture in the church prevents honest discussion of serious doubts about the church. Those that don’t believe or are uncertain are often mentally and spiritually isolated and can easily feel totally alone. I know because I have been there. Compounding this, the social ramifications of not believing in the church are extremely significant. If you are in that situation to any degree, you’re not nearly as alone as you think. I wish people simply had the freedom to be honest about what they are thinking. At least I can make it more likely that people will feel they can be honest with me. Third, it is common in the church for people to lean on others’ testimonies at various times. Knowing that other people that I admired and thought highly of had strong testimonies of the church strengthened my testimony at times. The problem is, you don’t know when those people have serious doubts because they often keep serious doubts to themselves. I don’t want to be that person for anyone else. I know some people consider me to be quite intelligent. Regardless of whether that’s accurate or not, I don’t want anyone to rely on my supposed strong testimony in the church, particularly if that is reinforced by my supposed intelligence. Honestly, I would prefer that people recognize that there are people like me that leave the church because they honestly don’t believe it and intellectually reject it. And fourth, the culture of the church and—more importantly—the church itself is, frankly, very judgmental. Members of the church often have no idea the negative impact they have on those that are not (for whatever reason) fully-believing, active members of the church. Whether members realize this impact or not, those that are impacted by it do recognize it and feel it. I no longer want people to assume that I am a member of the church and therefore also assume that the stereotypical judgmental poison taints my opinion of them. In reality, I am very open-minded and accepting of people. Ironically, I believe far more strongly in the worth of people now than I ever did while believing in the church. Once again, I want people to be honest with me and to know that I will absolutely accept whoever they are and want to be. My acceptance is not remotely conditional on what God supposedly accepts.

Strengthening Friendships

I am sorry that some of this may seem a little harsh. In the future, it’s likely that I will talk and blog more openly about religious topics. I hope people don’t feel attacked. My intent is not to attack anyone. As I said, I disagree with many fundamentals of the church; however, I adamantly respect others’ beliefs and values. If someone honestly believes in the church and is happy with that belief, then I respect that. I respect their right to believe it and to talk about what they believe—especially since religious perspectives are such a significant part of who we are. I expect the same in return and also want to be able to talk about what I think and believe. Honesty and openness is the foundation of any meaningful friendship. As I said, this will likely come as a shock to many that read this. It will probably also make many people feel sad, disappointed, and possibly angry. I’m sure I will lose some friends over this, though I hope not many. Rather, I hope my friendships become stronger from being open, honest, and genuine. I also don’t want anyone to feel awkward or afraid of bringing up the church because I’ll disagree. Like I said, I really respect others’ beliefs. I am also fine with talking pretty openly about my religious views with most anyone, so you don’t need to be afraid to ask if you want. You are welcome to leave comments here or email me if you prefer. I do ask that comments remain respectful to others regardless of religious orientation.

21 Responses to “New Religious Beginnings”

  1. Gavin says:

    Very good. I am glad that you are sharing your views in such a clear and concise way. You seem quite confident in your beliefs. I hope that you won’t mind responding to a few thoughts.

    1. Why do you believe that the LDS church was the cause of your dissatisfaction with life?
    2. It is the case that people can be consciously irreligious and live moral lives. This is obvious. What is not so clear is how much religion has unconsciously influenced one’s moral decisions. Would a moral agnostic still have his morals if religion never existed? In other words, how does an agnostic get his morals sans religion?
    3. The assertion that the LDS church is judgmental or even causes people to be judgmental does not make sense to me. Do very judgmental people exist within the church? Of course. But as an economist, one must always ask, “Compared to what?” Based on my limited understanding of evolutionary psychology, it seems to be the case that human nature is naturally very judgmental. Can you name any other institution or movement that does a better job of mitigating this negative aspect of human nature than the LDS Church?
  2. Dave Buck says:

    I also believe that the existence of God is fundamentally unknowable. However, as a Mormon, I refer to the fact that I have no way of knowing how to decide logically and therefore I just pick one as “faith”. You are quite familiar. If you are asking yourself a question that can have no evidence for or against, how did you come to a conclusion? (Admittedly, I have the benefit of an invisible man who comes and tells me things and whom I believe to be trustworthy, which makes it easier for me to answer that question to my satisfaction.)

    Question two: in a vacuum of information, are you determining that Mormonism is not true because of personal feelings or is it more of a question of there being one LDS theology and an infinite number of ways God could exist and an infinite number of ways the universe could exist sans supreme being (1/infinity+infinity=somewhat unlikely)?

  3. Undisclosed for Professional Reasons says:

    Since I know you like to read, I would suggest the following book:
    http://amzn.to/k1N8UC

    I think you would find it very intriguing. Don’t worry, it is a very secular and he makes some good points.

    Secondly, I believe if you ever lived outside of Utah, about 50% of your post would really have to be eliminated. You live in Utah County, an area of the world which has one of the highest ratios of Latter-day Saints (and you grew up in Utah, which overall is very saturated). I understand you have done lots of introspective searching and studying, but just remember that the environment in which an experiment is performed is also part of the experiment. I do not doubt you have come to a sturdy conclusion, but your feelings about people passing judgment would certainly seem true in a similar way if you lived in Spain and tried to denounce the Catholic church.

    Furthermore, Dave Buck, whoever you are, thank you for your comments. They have sound logic.

  4. Bill Allsop says:

    I admire your courage and honesty. I do hope you will not suffer from your choice to share your feelings and beliefs. Throughout the history of the world the differences in beliefs and religions has been a cause for mistreatment of neighbors, friends, and nations. In many cases religious differences have been the cause of wars, bloodshed, torture, and even genocide. Even in families it sometimes causes divorce and the splitting of families.

    Many truths can be found in the religious teaching of most churches. One truth I accept in the Mormon Church’s teachings is the eleventh article of faith. This article allows all people the privilege of following the dictates of their own conscience. It should be obvious that this would include the right to change one’s mind, but it is an aspect of this right that is often overlooked.

    My beliefs have changed through the years. I am grateful for those who have loved me and accepted me inspite of this. It can be a lonely road at times.

    Bill Allsop

  5. Gavin says:

    @Dave Buck,

    Your comment that “the existence of God is fundamentally unknowable” is interesting since (1) you are a Mormon, and (2) LDS leaders consistently claim that they do KNOW. This seems to lead to a contradiction. If your statement is true, then the LDS leaders are insincere in claiming that they do know that God exists.

    I think that I have an argument that would resolve this contradiction. I will present it in premise/conclusion format. I am interested in getting feedback from anyone.

    P1: Absolute certainty is not obtainable for anything (even for cogito ergo sum)
    P2: If knowledge required certainty, then knowledge would be unobtainable.
    C1: Therefore one could not know that God existence, nor could one know that anything exists.
    C2: Therefore, the only legitimate position would be pure skepticism.
    – – – – –
    P3: We do know some things (I know that I have 2 hands)
    C3: Therefore, certainty is not necessary for knowledge.
    – – – – –
    P4: It is possible to know God without having absolute certainty.
    C4: Therefore statements (A) and (B) where (A) = the existence of God is fundamentally unknowable (if knowledge requires certainty) and (B) = LDS leaders (and I, myself) can sincerely say that they KNOW (because knowledge does not require absolute certainty) that God does exists just as one can say that they know that they have 2 hands.

    (The first part of P4 needs some unpacking, but I assume that it is sufficient for now to support the conclusion.)

  6. Tyler Young says:

    @Dave
    In response to your quote:

    “You are quite familiar. If you are asking yourself a question that can have no evidence for or against, how did you come to a conclusion? (Admittedly, I have the benefit of an invisible man who comes and tells me things and whom I believe to be trustworthy, which makes it easier for me to answer that question to my satisfaction.)”

    What if I told you that I believe in a tea pot that is orbiting around the earth? This teapot, however, is so small that not even the most powerful microscope can see it. But I have faith that it is there and strongly believe it.

    You would call this silly most likely, and it is. My point is, just because there’s no evidence for or against something doesn’t mean it’s rational to believe in such a thing. I will come to the conclusion that the teapot isn’t there purely based on the fact that it is totally irrational to believe in it, the reason being: absolutely no evidence.

    Although the evidence for/against the teapot and God are identical, the motivation to believe in God is much greater. Many wouldn’t waste time believing in the teapot since it offers no benefit to them. A belief in a supreme being that loves you and will let you into heaven, however, offers amazing benefit, assuming God is real. People are also scared to not believe in him since it has been said that those who don’t believe will burn forever.

    Could it be that so many people believe in God because of the benefits he is said to offer if you believe, and the pain he will inflict if you don’t? And if human beings invented God and the benefits he offers as a way to control people and make people feel better about themselves, could you prove such a notion incorrect?

  7. William says:

    In response to Gavin:

    1. Most simply my dissatisfaction stemmed from not being honest with and true to myself. What I professed to believe as a member of the church and what I honestly believed did not agree and I could not reconcile them. Further, I felt that I could not be honest and open with others about what I really thought or be myself. I was largely constrained by social expectations. Much of this was psychological and independent of religion. Reevaluating religion was one aspect of sorting all of this out.
    2. Yes I believe without religion people would still have morals. Morals and standards are a result of what people value. People value integrity, honesty, relationships, chastity, et al, regardless of what religion has to say on those topics. This is not to say that morality would be unchanged without religion, because religion has certainly affected morality. But the important parts of morality would still exist.
    3. I agree that people are often judgmental by nature. I don’t know how to adequately address this topic in a short paragraph, so I will defer on this topic to a future article.
  8. William says:

    In response to Dave:

    I’m not sure where you got the idea that we are in a vacuum of information and that there is no evidence for or against god. The only place that I can see that you could have inferred that is based on my being an agnostic and not believing that you can know either way. This is very different from saying there is no evidence for or against.

    I think there is plenty of evidence. Taking into account all the knowledge and experiences that I have and the feelings that I have felt, I do not believe there is a god. I do not assert that I know that and recognize I could be wrong. But based on the evidences and arguments that I know of for both sides, I find it very unlikely.

    Also, I don’t think your comments about infinity are very meaningful. If you were to believe anything like what you are describing, you couldn’t even justify believing that you exist.

  9. William says:

    In response to “Undisclosed for Professional Reasons”:

    I am fully aware that I live in Utah County and I am aware of the implications of my upbringing. Based on your comment I believe you probably misunderstood at least 50% of my post.

    My purpose in writing this article was to clarify my position to people that know me. I have therefore tailored what I have said to two types of people: a predominantly Utah Mormon audience, and those that interact with a predominantly Utah Mormon audience. If I were writing to a different audience, it would be a totally different article.

    Furthermore, you seem to be confusing a couple of key things. I have said very little here about how I came to my conclusions. As I said, what I have primarily outlined is why I am making my conclusions public, which is quite different. Please don’t assume that you understand my reasons for not believing, based on my reasons for posting this article. They are not the same.

    I have for many years drawn a very careful distinction between the culture of the church in Utah and the church itself. While I do believe that the culture is largely a product of the doctrines of the church, I do not believe that disliking things about the culture of the church is sufficient grounds for leaving the church. I disagree with the actual church.

    My position is also not simply a disbelief in Mormonism. I probably should have been more clear on this point. I disagree with and reject religion as a whole. And I have been very careful to ensure that I have not rejected religion because I reject Mormonism. The scope of the issue is much broader and more fundamental than Mormonism.

    Finally, your comment seems to imply that I have come to my conclusions largely because of my environment. Quite frankly, if I had lived outside of Utah, I would have become an agnostic much sooner than I did and would have been open about it much more immediately.

  10. This is way too deep of a topic to properly address in a paragraph or two, so let me just say that: 1) I am impressed with the level of introspection and intellectual honesty required to challenge the belief system that defined your life in many ways for your first 20+ years; and 2) There is value in bearing testament to one’s beliefs, and while I am firm in my own convictions against religion, I find a sense of validation in seeing so many people whose opinions I respect, independently come to the same basic conclusion. I can personally attest to the difficulty of leaving the LDS church. There are unfortunate social consequences (as you articulate above), but please know that you have friends that do not require your faith in god in order to remain your friend.

  11. Gavin says:

    @Tyler

    I agree that believing in an orbiting teapot is irrational. I also believe that there are proper and improper motivations for believing in something. One is not justified because they merely wish that something were the case. To assume that some people (both theist and atheist) do this might be justified. To assume that most religious people do this is quite judgmental, condescending, and unjustified.

  12. Pat Barnum says:

    William, your courage and honesty are admirable. It calls to mind a great Emerson quote: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” May you continue to remain firm in what you see with your own eyes!

  13. Proud Reader says:

    I am very impressed with the intellect and confidence that was required to write such a powerful statement and I can honestly say that I am very proud of what you have just done for yourself and for everyone associated with you who have similar views whether expressed or internalized. It takes a plethora of courage to stand as stalwart as you are with your post and your comments and leaving yourself open to brutal attacks.
    Friendship and family bonds are not based on religious views, or at least shouldn’t be, and I will always remain close to William and any others despite their religious views or lack of.
    Mike, I have always held you in the highest regards and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your comment and I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  14. companion says:

    you served a mission for 2 years.
    does that mean you lied to everyone you taught?

    • William says:

      In response to Companion:

      I served faithfully and honorably. I believed in what I was doing while I served, and was sincere. However, people can change their opinions and change their mind about what they believe as they learn, grow, have new experiences, and reevaluate old experiences.

  15. Gavin says:

    I hope that you will eventually post which LDS doctrines you find most egregious.

  16. Mike A. says:

    Well, religion is a choice just like anything else, and frankly it’s better to make a definitive choice than to wallow in indecision. That being said, I cant really agree or disagree with any specific premises upon which your new-found conclusions are based as you have not revealed those with any degree of specificity why you disagree with certain doctrines. I think we’ve always had a rapport that has allowed us to freely disagree with each other, and as such I think it would come as no surprise to you that I disagree with your assessment of the implausibility of God’s character being accurately described by Mormon or Christian teachings. It goes to the core of your epistemological dilemma – because if you cant know whether or not God exists, then how could you know anything about his character? The most basic axiom upon which evaluations of character are based is the supposition of existence. So if you can’t know whether or not God exists, then you can’t know anything about God. Therefore, it is no more likely that he is the God of Christianity than not, because… well… you’re dividing by zero. But certainly you will be the first to review what you wrote, and remark that you said implausible, and not improbable, but little can be made of such a distinction as our basic assessments of what is plausible is premised on what is probable in our own experience. That being the case, your rejection of specific doctrines is ultimately irrelevant if you are unable to first determine whether or not God exists. But you said you can’t know if God exists, which then leads down a terrible rabbit hole of having to define God, existence, and knowledge. These are questions which the most prominent philosophers in the history of the world have been unable to concretely and irrefutably define. So we have to dispense with the universal, with the objective (unless you plan to succeed in universally defining these terms where countless others have failed) and return to what we as individuals have each perceived (with our senses or otherwise), and what we have experienced. And I can’t tell you what you’ve experienced, but I can tell you what I have. I’ve experienced growing up largely alone in my faith. Not just as a member of the Church, but as a person who sincerely believes in God. I have met countless people who were genuinely good people. The vast majority of the people I have known are not of my faith, and many do not believe in God at all. That has never precluded me from believing that they, too, can attain salvation/exaltation. And the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also do not preclude that possibility. You say that you can be a good person without believing in God, of course that is true. You say that fear of God or hope of a reward in the next life is a poor reason to be moral – but that doesnt address the core of Christianity based in obedience out of love as the highest form of morality, followed then by obedience out of duty. Fear or hope for reward are viewed as imperfect motivations even within the Church. So I have lived my life neither obeying in fear or in hopes of a reward. And I have lived my life often not obeying in certain respects. But frankly I havent done much out of love. I dont love a lot of people. I love my wife, I love my family, and then outside of that I feel a sense of duty to be a moral person. A duty to myself, to those I love, to society, and to God. Why God? Because I have had experiences in my life where I cannot deny that I have been able to perceive that which is real, without the use of my senses. Several of those moments have come as the fruit of introspection that resulted in original thought. Those moments could easily be rejected by others and be attributed to the mind’s capacity for thought and reason, but the whole point is that it’s not what other people think about what I experience – it’s about what I experience. And in those moments I experienced something real. A feeling and sensation that has touched me to my core and in those moments, I sensed what was true, what was real. I perceived God. I perceived that God was aware of my existence. I perceived that I have a purpose in God’s eyes. Are those experiences deniable? Absolutely. Do I think you’ve had similar experiences throughout the course of your life? Definitely. But the whole point of those experiences is that they leave you with a choice. If reason could be used to prove the existence of God, then all people who subscribe to the fundamentals of logic could be essentially compelled, or persuaded to believe in God. So now we return to your original contention that it is not possible to know whether or not God exists. And I can tell you that in my experience, you dont need to be able to prove something exists to another person in order to know that it exists for yourself. Knowledge isnt always based on the universal or objective. And it isnt just about filling in what you dont understand with something that makes you feel flowery inside. It’s about seeking to know what is real beyond what your senses can perceive – and I know that there is a God. But I understand that although I’ve contradicted some things in your post, what you posted in one of your responses to a comment is the crux of your position, namely: “people can change their opinions and change their mind about what they believe as they learn, grow, have new experiences, and reevaluate old experiences.” There is nothing beyond your own choice of how to evaluate the experiences you’ve had that can bring you knowledge of God’s existence. And once you choose to know God exists, there is nothing to stop you from later disavowing that knowledge and the implications that come therewith. But likewise, once you choose not to know that God exists, know that there is nothing to stop you from once again choosing to know that God does exist.

    • Mike A. says:

      There are a number of typos in my comment but I am essentially saying 3 things.
      1. If you say you cant know whether or not God exists, then you cant properly assess the probability that God’s character is more likely one way than another
      2. Do say that you cant know something is different than to say you cant objectively prove something to another person using the fundamental principles of logic. You said the former, but I think you mean the latter since absent a discussion of what knowledge is, the former is either meaningless or suggests the latter.
      3. Defining knowledge as that which an individual perceives to be real using their senses or otherwise, you can know if God exists.
      4. Your perception and thereby knowledge regarding the existence of God is subject to your own choice of how to view the experiences you have had in your life.
      5. The choice to know God exists can be made and unmade multiple times in the course of a persons life.

      Additionally, I’d be interested in talking more with you on this subject. I know I’m joining the conversation a year late and could easily be labeled an arrogant hypocrite, but I’ve also spent a great deal of time thinking about and reasoning through various aspects of the Gospel and religion as a whole.
      (hopefully there aren’t as many typos in this response as in the original comment)

  17. Ben Ellis says:

    Hey William,

    Read through this and thought it was interesting. It’s not unlike an experience I had about 4 years ago myself.

    I invite you to read my experience as well.

    You can view it as purely informational, and I’d bee curious as to your reaction.

    The only reason I share it as I was in the EXACT same position as you and take an unconventional/controversial view of ‘testimony’ and ‘conviction’.

    http://wafflecheese.hubpages.com/hub/Is-God-a-Scientist-A-Mormon-Perspective

    Spanks man,
    Ben

  18. Darin Dixon says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience and your logical conclusions, William. I just went through this same process myself recently. I find it absolutely liberating and exciting despite the social ramifications, which are unfortunately inevitable.

    It’s reassuring to know that there are others that have come to the same conclusion through study, introspection, and much thought. I can especially relate to your words describing your relief from cognitive dissonance with LDS doctrine.
    “At the very core of my being I am at peace with my beliefs. This is something I never experienced in the Mormon church. There were times when I was not aware of the significant paradoxes in my belief structure and times when I gave little thought to the figurative shelf that was sagging under the weight of so many topics that I hoped to understand in the next life… In my personal experience, the idea that people cannot be happy outside the church is utterly false.”

    Amen!

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