For a long time I justified the bad fruit of the Church by telling myself how great of a life style it was. Despite the doctrinal contradictions, the regressive social values, and the hypocritical actions of its leaders, the Church had a structure that helped me be a better person. If I stayed, I perhaps might even be able to make people more sensitive to these controversial issues in a faith promoting way. For a time with this mindset, the pros in my mind outweighed the cons.
And then one day, they didn’t anymore. My shelf breaker was imagining God actually commanding an angel to threaten Joseph if he didn’t marry 14 year old Helen Mar Kimball. That reality of that event actually happening and its implications disturbed me. Why was I trying to be more like the prophet Joseph, or God, if that was the fruit of it? If that was celestial marriage, I’ll take hard pass. Over time, I came to realize that there are much better role models for building a “Zion”-like society for humanity outside the Church than in it.
So I left.
The thing that my friends always seem to want to know is if I am happy now. I am so happy, and the happiness I feel now is completely different than the kind I felt in the Church. Before, happiness was the reward of righteousness, the gift of a loving God. Whenever I got too happy, I “knew” that I could count on a trial to come to test my faith, and when hard times came, they were a test to prove if I would choose God and His church above everything else, including my own happiness. It didn’t matter how big or how small the trial, it was always a high stakes battle in the eternal war for my soul, and happiness was my reward if I was faithful. Happiness in the Church was exhausting.
I was obsessed with constantly being happy. Because happiness and righteousness have such a strong correlation in the scriptures, I was determined to always be happy and wear it on my sleeve. Happiness was also a tool for conversion – I wanted people to see how happy I was and then have the desire to join the Church. My happiness wasn’t about fulfillment, about real service, about loving those around me. My happiness was simply completing a checklist and then forcing myself through sheer willpower to put a smile on my face.
The happiness I feel now is more deep and rich than I felt back then. I had glimpses of this kind of happiness in the Church. Back then I thought that those were the moments other people were missing out on. Now I realize the Church stopped me from feeling those things more in my life. Everything the Church promised it would give me – love, inner peace, self confidence, a sense of awe towards the universe, a burning in my bosom, all have happened to me outside of the Church but to a greater degree. If my happiness was a box of crayons, the Church gave me my primary colors. Now I have a box with more colors than I knew existed.
If I was LDS and heard an ex-Mormon talking about being happier outside of the Church than in it, I would immediately think that “wickedness never was happiness”. I would say that the happiness I feel was counterfeit, created by Satan to confuse God’s children. I would say that this happiness was temporary, just a blip of happiness before God took it away to humble me. And maybe God wouldn’t take it away in this life, maybe he would wait until judgement day, but my happiness couldn’t possibly be eternal happiness.
Oh, how ironic. Because that temporary, counterfeit happiness was what I found in Mormonism. The happiness brought by Mormonism is only as real as the truthfulness of Mormonism. The less true you believe it is, the less joy you will feel in it. And unfortunately, the more people know about the Church’s factual history, the less inclined they are to believe it. One part of the Doctrine and Covenants says that people cannot be saved in ignorance, and I really believe that people cannot feel joy when they are ignorant of the world around them.
So what do I believe now? Is the summation of my beliefs simply to oppose the Church? Of course not. I believe in progress, and I have faith that humanity can continue to progress like we have for thousands of years. We are not perfect like God was supposed to be, but we have a much better track record at improving each other’s lives.Each of us has a responsibility in our spheres of influence to correct error and put forward ideas to compete in the marketplace of free thought. I think it is important to call out the Church, call out other religions, call out the government, call out academia, and whoever else inhibits progress. If there is a better way, then we should put the idea forward and debate it. No idea is too sacred to be subjected to criticism. This is how we make progress.
There is a better way than Mormonism. There is a way of living where you can still be a good, moral person. You don’t have to drink, you don’t have to gamble, you don’t have become an adulterer and you don’t have to become a vegan. You can still be the same you. But instead of sitting for three hours talking about why God in the Old Testament is so angry or President Monson giving a blessing in the Navy, lets talk about real solutions to illness and poverty. Let’s talk less about blacks and the priesthood and more about blacks and police brutality. Let’s talk less about Young Women values and more about getting our daughters STEM degrees. Let’s talk about less about the Spirt and more about good epistemology. Let’s spend less time home teaching and more time in our friends homes.
Let’s spend more time being happy and progressing together.