How the LDS Church Prepares Its Members for Atheism (Part 4)

[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.

stringsThis 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.

How the LDS Church Prepares Its Members for Atheism (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

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18 Responses to How the LDS Church Prepares Its Members for Atheism (Part 4)

  1. falcon says:

    ……………..and then there are the Mormons who figure out that it’s all a sham but stick around in a sort of ambivalent state because “the church does a lot of good”. They are in limbo, not becoming atheists exactly, but are now religious culture fellow-travelers.
    In-some-ways they have the best of both worlds. I say this because people join groups to get their needs met and leave groups when they are no longer getting their needs met. These folks may hold on to their temple recommends like a sort of achievement badge but they aren’t going to hang out at the temple.
    Here’s a good one from Lighthouse Ministries:
    “Unfortunately, Thomas Stewart Ferguson seems to have had a very difficult time communicating his loss of faith to those he was close to. He told us, for instance, that he did not dare tell one of his sons the truth about the Book of Mormon because the shock would cause him too much emotional trauma. He felt that he may have to put the matter off until the situation changed. While he no longer believed in the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, he continued to attend the Mormon Church.”
    “Why not say the right things and keep your membership in the great fraternity, enjoying the good things you like and discarding the ones you can’t swallow (and keeping your mouth shut)? Hypocritical? Maybe…. thousands of members have done, and are doing, what I suggest you consider doing. Silence is golden – etc…. So why try to be heroic and fight the myths – the Mormon one or any other that does more good than ill?”
    “Perhaps you and I have been spoofed by Joseph Smith. Now that we have the inside dope – why not spoof a little back and stay aboard? Please consider this letter confidential – for obvious reasons. I want to stay aboard the good ship, Mormonism – for various reasons that I think valid. First, several of my dearly loved family members want desperately to believe and do believe it and they each need it. It does them far more good than harm. Belonging, with my eyes wide open is actually fun, less expensive than formerly, and no strain at all…. I never get up and bear testimony… You might give my suggestions a trial run – and if you find you have to burn all the bridges between yourselves and the Church, then go ahead and ask for excommunication. (The day will probably come – but it is far off – when the leadership of the Church will change the excommunication rules and delete as grounds non-belief in the 2 books mentioned and in Joseph Smith as a prophet etc.., but if you wait for that day, you probably will have died. It is a long way off – tithing would drop too much for one thing….”

  2. falcon says:

    You might enjoy this survey John Dehlin did a couple of years ago regarding “disbelieving” Mormons.

  3. falcon says:

    Mormons of the unbelieving kind are not monolithic. I don’t know what the demographic break-down would be but my guess that most of those who leave go because they aren’t that into Mormonism. Let’s face it, when you have only a one-third active membership, you have a lot of folks who faded out and really didn’t think much about it. They just don’t “do” Mormonism.
    It takes a particular kind of person who will go all temple participation gung-ho. A not very big number of even the “actives”. There are those who leave by one means or another who eventually find themselves back in some form of belief system. I’d bet that the number of those who are inactive or who have left who don’t believe in “God” at some level is fairly small. I don’t think the atheist bunch pulls in to many recruits.

  4. historybuff says:

    I would be shocked to learn that the Mormon Church has a 66% activity rate among members. When I lived overseas as a Mormon, most branches had membership records for about 250 people and church attendance of about 20. In the United States, we figured that each ward had roughly 300 Mormons on the membership rolls, with about 60 attending meetings, and another 60 not attending and not on the rolls.

    An awful lot of Mormons get baptized by the missionaries and placed on the membership rolls, then drop out within two months. (Evidently a lot of people get baptized to please a missionary. The missionaries are very nice kids and they’re trained in effective sales techniques, but when the missionary leaves the area their converts tend to fall away.) I realize that these statistics are anecdotal, but I would think an activity rate of about 18% among Mormons is more realistic. Does anyone have a better figure?

  5. falcon says:

    Here’s an article from my favorite site.

  6. falcon says:

    The LDS religion has a terrible time holding on to converts for a variety of reasons. If an LDS member is “home grown” there’s probably a better chance since (the member) can be “Mormonized” especially in a place like Utah. I just don’t think that many people are that into the requirements and expectations of the church.
    As a Christian, my life is centered on Christ not some religious group or church. That’s difficult for active Mormons to figure out. We’ve had a number show-up here over the years who want to know what church I belong to. That’s because, I think, the LDS church makes such a big show with its members of being the “one true church”.
    The LDS church holds for them all these eternal promises that can only be accessed through the LDS system. The idea that I’m depending on my faith in Christ, a part from any works I can do, for eternal life, is a totally foreign concept to them. They are conditioned to think that they have to “earn” their reward. What is that reward? Becoming a god, having a forever family, getting your own planetary system to rule, producing spirit babies, perhaps even hanging out with the other gods and learning the ropes and progressing.
    Andy Watson told me he had a Mormon acquittance that said he’d do “the work in the next world”. For those Mormons who can’t be bothered now, that’s their escape hatch.

  7. Joshua Valentine says:

    1) Thanks for the link. I’ve skimmed through that survey several times before. It is interesting, but I wish, and I’m sure the surveyors do too, that they had been able to do more with it. I know Dehlin was trying to help LDS leadership with it, so it ends up only asking questions I would expect on an official church survey – which history issues affected you, who could you talk to, how did members respond to you, what could bring you back, etc.

  8. Joshua Valentine says:

    2) I didn’t draw it out much in this article – the damage the LDS Church does with its self-centeredness, being the one and only true Church, etc, etc.. It really is just an introductory survey of the types of influences that Mormonism has that can result in members becoming atheists. If I ever get the time and opportunity I hope to expand it into a larger, cited essay or series of articles heavily supported by examples, quotes, and statistics and such. MC and MRM have pointed out in previous articles how the LDS Church is a middle-man between its members and God. I think it is fair to say that, in practice, the LDS Church replaces God. We’ve mentioned here before about how LDS have a relationship/covenant/contract with their Church while we offer a relationship with God. But there are all kinds of ways that the LDS Church replaces God with itself – language used usually for God or topics you expect to hear God mentioned, instead is speaking about the LDS Church; as I do mention in this article (previous section) the LDS Church spends so much time talking about itself as the one and true church that exists today instead of who the one and true God is and how He truly exists; in teachings and practice the LDS Church not only prepares its members for atheism but supplants God. It would make a good (thankfully single) blog post. I offer it to Sharon, if she would like to write on the idea; you all have heard enough from me probably for a while:)

  9. Joshua Valentine says:

    3) Relevant to your last comment Falcon are the following Book of Mormon verses:

    “21 And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

    22 And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.” 2 Nephi 28


    ” 32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

    33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.” Alma 34

    And one more, maybe useful at Manti….

    ” 35 O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.” Alma 37

  10. falcon says:

    It would be fun to be able to do a demographic break-down of categories of those who are active, inactive and former Mormons; do an examination of the subsets. I’m sure there are a large number who don’t even give Mormonism much of a thought.
    I’ve run into different times and there is definitely a variety out there. The Mormon missionaries could be kept busy full time just calling on the inactives and formers. But it would probably be a waste of time because the closing rate on this group would be very low.

  11. falcon says:

    When you stop to think about it, the fact that there are so many inactive and former LDS folks, is not surprising. It’s a lot like guys who join the Free Masons but never get beyond the entry level “degree”. Then there are others who are very active and work their way up the ladder of achievement in the organization. Some people like that sort of fraternal ritualistic group but most don’t. I was wondering about how many of those who are active in the LDS church are in the temple program and someone I know who has a familiarity with the group estimated that it’s probably around 25%.
    I’ve read stories of folks who leave the LDS church but the church won’t leave them alone. They have the missionaries banging on their doors trying to pitch the group to them again. It’s probably done because they run out of fresh leads to recruit.
    I’m a former Catholic who spent a few years in my early twenties as an agnostic/atheist. But when I came to Christ in faith it wasn’t all that much of a leap because of my religious training. Former Mormons who are now atheists probably have a little more difficult journey as Joshua has pointed out. In Mormonism there is a pantheon of gods and the individual believes he will become a god. So becoming a Christian and identifying “God” would take a mental adjustment, I’d think.

  12. falcon says:

    I shouldn’t take the discussion this direction but it did come to me as I was walking the four canine members of the family around the yard of our farm this morning. We always have to have some pack-formation with the head dog everyday who, of course, is me. I call it the “morning meeting”.

    Anyway, I think a theological perspective from our old buddy John Calvin might be relevant.

    Basically, Calvinism is known by an acronym: T.U.L.I.P.

    Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
    Unconditional Election
    Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
    Irresistible Grace
    Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

    These five categories do not comprise Calvinism in totality. They simply represent some of its main points.
    So let’s say that Calvin was, at least, on-to something here. Could a former Mormon, who is now an atheist, resist God’s grace. Calvin would say, I think, no. I can give a personal testimony here for what it’s worth. When I came to Christ in faith, I was a total unbeliever. In fact I was hostile towards Christianity up to the point that God began to peck at me. Well soon the pecking became an avalanche of heaviness that drove me to my knees. Is that “irresistible grace”? I don’t know but I couldn’t/didn’t resist.
    Do people get hardened against God and does God simply give them over to their own depravity of their unbelief? Well I guess that depends on what “election” means as Paul discusses it in the first chapter of Ephesians.
    Anyway, sorry if I took this some place where we don’t want to go. I’ll go out now and do my daily pounding of the road with my bike and think some more.

  13. falcon says:

    I don’t know. Could be that these Mormons who become atheists just weren’t valiant enough in the pre-existence. Well they could have been born black with the Curse of Cain which keeps them out of the priesthood and becoming gods. OOPS! I forgot. The Mormon god changed his mind, when, some time in the 1970s?
    I have a question. If these former Mormons who are now atheists are still on the rolls of the LDS church, wouldn’t they end up on some level of the Mormon heaven scale, 1-3. As long as they don’t remove their names from the rolls, they will avoid Outer Darkness, right?

  14. historybuff says:

    Falcon —

    Although you suggested in jest that some inactive and now-atheistic LDS choose to remain on the membership rolls of the Church in order to avoid the halls of Hell, let me assure you that I know of many such former Mormons who have done just that. I believe these current atheists refer to it as “hedging their bets”……

  15. falcon says:

    What a joke! If you’re on the rolls of the one true church then you’re golden. It’s all about membership. You don’t even have to believe any of it, participate or pay a tithe. You just won’t get to the top of the pyramid. Maybe you can pay someone to do the work for you after you croak.

  16. historybuff says:

    They never said they thought it was a sure thing. They were just hedging their bets….

    Kind of like buying a lottery ticket, I guess….

  17. RikkiJ says:


    Nice series – I totally agree with you. If the foundation is the Bible, then you cannot be shaken. The Bible has not been shaken through the centuries. If your foundation is based on anything else (ie. Book of Mormon), then your foundation will be shaken either in this life or the next.

    As 2 Nephi 9:38 states,

    And, in fine[sic], wo unto all those who die in their sins; for they shall return to God, and behold his face, and remain in their sins.

    To the lurkers: Mormonism is not the answer, only Jesus is. You might ask what is the question. The question is: How does one get to Celestial Kingdom?

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