[The following is the fourth of a five-part essay offered by Mormon Coffee guest contributor Joshua Valentine (aka spartacus).]
Members who learn the truth about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Mormonism most often feel betrayed and duped by their church, friends, and family. If they leave the church, they often go through a burn out period, not wanting to deal with religion at all. They are understandably resistant to even considering any other religion any time soon for fear of being taken in again. Many go through a period of anger. The realization of being manipulated, being put through so much, and losing so much of their lives for a lie, is understandably infuriating. The necessary and reasonable thing to do, when ready and rested, is to reevaluate one’s beliefs. Often this includes a period of studying the LDS Church even more. Whether before leaving or after, many Mormons feel embarrassed by all the things they did and believed, which they now see as so obviously untrue or even silly. They understandably never want to be manipulated, or to allow their lives to be controlled by anyone else again.
This last, control, is a strong motivation toward atheism. While in many ways the atheistic worldview can be bleak, in that there is no longer someone watching out for you, there is also a strong sense of self-determination, of your decisions being wholly your own, under your own control. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have relinquished leadership and control of so much of their lives for so long, and upon learning the truth, realized that so much of it was a waste and harmful, that any sense of letting go of their new found control, of submitting themselves to anything — an organization or even a belief — is simply unacceptable. Ex-Mormon atheists speak of the difficulty of getting atheists to come together and embrace a long-term vision and goal (there is a Mormon Expression podcast, toward the end of his time hosting it, in which John Larsen mentions this issue). While there may be something about an atheist worldview that inhibits this activity, the victim of Joseph Smith and the LDS Church has all the motivation to keep all control and not relinquish it to anyone or anything, a group, a movement, an ideal, or even the actual God.
The ex-member is motivated to stay away from religion for fatigue, for fear of being duped, and for fear of relinquishing control. And these can lead to a life of practical, if not consciously chosen, atheism. But, as we have seen, the very teachings of Mormonism and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may set up its members to turn away from faith and even provide the content of an atheistic worldview. If these teachings are not reevaluated, then the ex-member may embrace atheism not solely based on rational and accurate arguments and evidence, but also from false biases, skewed perceptions, and feelings trained into them by the LDS Church. The man or woman who leaves must be resolute and steadfast in rooting out and reconsidering all that they have received from Mormonism; not just doctrines and history, but all of the assumptions and implications of the teachings that they were not even aware of, but that are still determining the way they think about and see the world. Unfortunately, there are several possible motivations for not reevaluating everything learned from their church.
No one wants to believe that they believed something false. No one wants to believe that they believed something obviously false. No one wants to believe they dedicated their lives to something untrue, let alone a lie. No one wants to admit that they have been fooled. No one wants to believe they have perpetuated a lie or been involved in the manipulation and duping of others to believe the same lie. This self-preservation is one reason why people of all groups hesitate, if not refuse, to really consider the possibility that their beliefs are false, and risk having to leave their church, discard their philosophy, or relinquish their life vision. Many members of the LDS Church resist the arguments of critics and respond to the evidence against their church often so irrationally, not just because of the way their church has taught them to respond, but for fears like these. But what about those who leave?
Just as members do not wish to consider that they are wrong and will deny the facts out of self-preservation, those who leave may continue to do the same. When a member exits the church, they have a subconscious motivation not to discover all of the false beliefs they have embraced. So, they continue to believe them. They come to the conclusion that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not true, that its scriptures, prophets, and gods are not real. But they may not want to know just how much they were duped into believing, just how much they took for granted, just how many false beliefs they have taught their children and friends. Most do a lot of research about the church’s history and unique teachings, but they may not reconsider the less explicit teachings and their implications. This includes what faith is, how it relates to reason, what spiritual experience really is, and when mystery and complexity are acceptable.