There are a few questions that I almost always hear posed by still faithful LDS members to those of us who have decided to part ways with the Mormon faith, which are normally a combination of the following:
I think this is a valid concern and I’d like to address it.
When you’re a part of the LDS community, a huge amount of importance is linked to your “testimony.” Having a testimony is basically the probability you feel that certain statements, events, or books are true. While a lot of religions stress faith, Mormonism stresses “knowing.” You don’t get up on Fast Sunday to say, “I have faith that the Church / Book of Mormon / Joseph Smith is true and/or was a prophet.” Rather, you say, “I know the Church / Book of Mormon / Joseph Smith is true and/or was a prophet.” The denial of receiving such a testimony from the LDS god after having received it, is considered a very grave sin. Therefore, it stands to reason that our Mormon friends and family are really worried about our departures. Depending on how we received our witness that Mormonism was true, we could be guilty of a sin worse than murder!
One of the cornerstone’s to receiving this witness is the promise written about in the Book of Mormon. Moroni, one of the Nephites who, according to the narrative, helped create the record, writes a promise. He promises that if anyone reads the book and asks the LDS god in the name of Christ whether or not the book is true, that an answer will be received in the affirmative.
Millions have read the Book of Mormon, tried the promise, and swear they felt something tell them it was true. I would venture to say most ex Mormons tried the experiment and became or stayed Mormon’s as long as they did because they felt something. Which means everyone is wrong, Mormons are right, and we all need to go get baptized, right?!
Well… not so fast.
One common thread found among all religions and faiths is some sort of confirmation experience. Voices, dreams, burned images on toast – you get the picture. Everyone looks for some sort of sign from the divine that they’re on the right path. Which then begs the question, why can you get divine confirmation within almost every religion? Are some better than others? Is there a possibility that our brains create this sensation when we hope something is true?
The same feeling that I felt when I prayed and asked the LDS god if the Book of Mormon was true, is a feeling I’ve felt time and time again since I’ve left. I’ve felt it while hiking in the mountains. I’ve felt it while listening to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. I’ve felt it while drinking alcohol (traditionally taught to drive away the Spirit) with good friends while discussing life and future goals. For me, the “Spirit” is nothing more than a feeling of human emotion. It’s the feeling I get when I’m happy.
I don’t have the answer to all of life’s questions. I’m not a theologian nor a neuroscientist; however, I do think the answer to our LDS friends and family is quite simple. Our experiences within the framework of Mormonism were often great. They were often amazing. However, more likely than not, they were a result of confirmation bias and more importantly, we continue to feel those same great feelings after we’ve left. We even continue to feel those same feeling and have great experiences while participating in things banned by Mormon dogma.
For those of you who are interested in learning more about these types of feelings and emotions, I found the following TED talk by Jonathan Haidt useful: