How the LDS Church Prepares Its Members for Atheism (Part 5)

[The following is the last of a five-part essay offered by Mormon Coffee guest contributor Joshua Valentine (aka spartacus).]

Many who consider the issue of Mormons becoming atheists wonder why they go from Mormonism straight to atheism instead of Christianity, which is assumed to be the next closest religion. At there is an article that claims that Mormonism is not reversible into Christianity [1]. Indeed, when considering all the issues here, it seems obvious that the two, despite their supposed relation, are completely at odds. To a significant degree The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints downplays sin, its seriousness, and its power over humans. The LDS Church does effectively help its members out of certain very visible sins and assists its members in avoiding them in the first place.  While the LDS Church officially recognizes small sins as undesirable and even something Christ died for, the consistent message received in talks, teachings, and perhaps more importantly Mormon culture, is that small, concealable sins are not important, certainly not in comparison to the big visible sins that are constantly emphasized — sexual impurity, adultery, consumption of harmful or illicit substances, theft, lying, and murder. Thus, when a member leaves the LDS Church, he or she may be convinced that they don’t have any real problem that requires real attention. If there is no problem, then no solution is sought. Christianity and all other religions are unneeded.

Talk_to_the_HandBut it goes further than just that. There is a common phenomenon in religious activity where some converts coming from one extreme tend to overcorrect to the other extreme: from licentiousness to strictness, or asceticism to hedonism, or from mysticism to rationalism, or religious knowledge to spiritual experience. This is not about the LDS self-serving belief that apostates will become alcoholics, adulterers, or otherwise destroyed and unhappy. Rather, since the LDS Church imposes such an intense and involved program of obedience and dependence on the church for its members to overcome sin and imperfection, ex-Mormons may overcorrect or overreact by outright refusing their need for anything from any religion.  This is not about simply rebelling against human institutions and authority or preserving one’s power of self-determination as discussed earlier. It is something more than just burnout.  When ex-members are approached by another religion, institution, or simply the Christian Gospel, they may not only reject it out of distrust, but also out of this overcorrection to not need any program, authority, or truth to give their assent to or conform their life to. In this way, ex-members have been trained by their church to not take their small sins too seriously and, in overreaction to its intensity, may have a subconscious motivation to continue believing that their sins are not important enough to need any help. So they already believe their little sins are ok, and now they deny a need for religious answers, which irrationally motivates them to continue to think their sins are just harmless mistakes. Again, if you are convinced you do not have a problem, then you do not seek a remedy. And if you do not want any more “help,” you may convince yourself you do not have any need for it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches self-reliance, both in temporal and spiritual concerns. Members may not agree with that statement, but the LDS Church does teach a significant place for human effort in obtaining the approval and blessings of God in this life and in the next. Our actions and our strength have a necessary place in our worthiness for salvation and eternal blessings. This “picking yourself up by your bootstraps” cosmology was described by an online participant as “trusting in the arm of the flesh.”[2] The optimistic humanism of Mormonism, its insistence that humans can and must contribute to their worthiness of salvation and exaltation, can easily fit into the humanistic optimism of atheism that humans can and must solve their own problems and continue as a species and progress on this planet and in this universe.[3] Along the lines of trusting in the flesh, Latter-day Saints are taught to trust their leaders. When they leave, they have determined that their LDS leaders have betrayed them and are untrustworthy. This may lead the ex-Latter-day Saint to seek the objectivism of science in order to avoid being fooled or dependent on particular humans or institutions. Interestingly, however, if this confidence in humans, in the flesh of man, is not reevaluated, then it may lead them to put their trust in the men of science and the institutions of human reason. In any case, the LDS-taught optimism about mankind’s ability to progress by its own effort is offended by the Christian Gospel’s diametrically opposite assessment.

Lastly, as regards compatibility with Christianity, the LDS Church teaches consistently, and in many ways, that human happiness is the ultimate goal. It is the goal of the Mormon God. Heavenly Father’s own happiness is found in his children’s happiness. Happiness and good feelings are indicative of truth. Unhappiness or bad feelings indicate that something is wrong or false. Our happiness is generally the purpose of life — overcoming life’s challenges, learning, and progressing being sources of happiness now and in the future. In light of all of this, Christianity’s view of sin is impractical and even morbid; its gospel is still too “easy,” and its truths are disturbing and repugnant to the mind that has been cultivated by Mormonism.  Atheism, however, embraces the significance of personal happiness, the pragmatism of actions called “sin” by Christianity, and puts forth human progress and happiness as the only purpose worthy of our short lives. In these many ways, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taught its members how to flourish as atheists.

Because Mormonism claims to be a correction of Christianity, members are incessantly, and often only implicitly, taught to disbelieve Christianity.  It is one thing to be fooled into believing lies, but what if Christianity is actually true? It is quite another to realize that you were fooled to disbelieve the truth.  So there is yet another motivation to not fully reconsider what the LDS Church has taught. Particularly in regards to Christianity, there is strong motivation to not even entertain the idea that what the church convinced you was false and corrupt (and that you may even have mocked and scorned) might actually have been true all along. Thus, there is one less option besides atheism.  With their research Mormons may learn that the restoration was false, but do they reconsider the prerequisite belief of the Great Apostasy?  They may realize that the LDS Church’s claims of unity and consistency are false, but do they question the church’s logic that the existence of many Christian denominations means Christianity is false? They realize that the LDS Church is not the one true Christian church, but do they consider that there may not even be such a church in the traditional institutional sense?  Can they conceive that a religion or gospel may be true even if there is not “one true church” of it? Classic Ford Hood OrnamentThey realize that the LDS Church is not as ordered as it claims, but do they question whether God is really a God of order in the simplistic way they were taught?  Will they reconsider all the Mormon assertions against the reliability of the Bible?  Will they reconsider what their Ford dealer taught them about Chevrolet?

Even LDS apologetics betrays members and, upon leaving, they can discard all apologetics as game-playing, as obfuscation, and as seemingly able to make any falsehood appear to be true.  If they are not careful to understand the techniques of LDS apologists and how they differ from other apologists, then they may write off all apologetics as illegitimate. Members are already trained to use any appearance of evil or inaccuracy as an excuse to stop listening to critics. Although the ex-member had to overcome this conditioning long enough to exit the LDS Church, this developed skill may come back into play as a post-Mormon.  So when they hear certain arguments or even just phrases used by apologists of Christianity (which they recognize as having been used by LDS apologists), they may instinctively disregard that argument or point or the apologist altogether, despite the situation for Christianity being completely different than that of Mormonism.  Even if ex-members do try to understand Christianity for themselves, this conditioning may keep them from going into the depth, and possibly truth, of Christianity — just as it kept them from going too deep into and finding the truth about Mormonism for years.

Finally, people entered into the Mormon faith based on the assumptions that such good people would not lie and “must have the truth,” and that God would surely answer a sincere prayer about the Book of Mormon.  They became members believing that the God that exists answered them.  When they learn that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is false, they may still believe that if God existed then He would have answered their prayer revealing that the church was false.  Since they got an affirmation of its truth, it must have been from manipulation; and since God did not intervene, there must not be a God.  None of this may be consciously thought out in the ex-members’ minds.  But where did they get the idea that God would answer a prayer about the Book of Mormon?  Who or what so convinced them that God must answer sincere prayer?

There are so many things taught in the LDS Church — so much about the nature of the universe, and of the nature of God and man, about what faith is, what spiritual experience and personal revelation are, about what is credible and how we determine truth, and about our mistakes and wrong-doing — that lean toward naturalism, agnosticism, and atheism, so many prejudices instilled by the LDS Church that disallow unbiased consideration of other religions, that insofar as ex-members do not search out all of the lingering Mormonism in their beliefs, thinking, feelings and perspective, conscious and subconscious, they may find themselves just as manipulated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints outside of it as they were in it.

Mormonism teaches that its members are “gods in embryo.”  At the very least, the doctrines, teachings, and culture originated and proliferated by Mormonism and the LDS Church give us many reasons to consider Latter-day Saints “atheists in embryo.”[4]


[1] This article by S. Andrew was one of only a few places I could find expanded discussion of this Mormon atheism topic.  The discussion in the comments is also worth reading.

[2] by BigMikeSRT.

[3] There is a Mormon Expression podcast, toward the end of John Larsen’s time hosting it, in which John speaks of how ex-mormon atheists must move on boldly into the world. His guest makes the observation that John’s view seems to be a return to Mormonism in its optimism about mankind’s self-determination. I could not find it again, but it is worth the search and listening. It is admittedly moving, certainly connected to Mormonism’s optimism and faith in man (or “the flesh”), and explicitly shows Mormonism’s compatibility with atheism.

[4] I first read this apt turn of phrase from Aaron Shafovaloff.

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

This entry was posted in LDS Church, Mormon Culture, Truth, Honesty, Prayer, and Inquiry and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to How the LDS Church Prepares Its Members for Atheism (Part 5)

  1. falcon says:

    Jack Garcia, a former Mormon who use to post here, told me it took him five years to get all of the Mormonism out of his head. He also said there were times when he wished that Mormonism was true long after he knew it wasn’t.
    I found that quite an insight into how a cult effects the mind-set of a true believer. The conditioning, especially among those who were very active and in leadership, is deep and pervasive. So I could see where someone would simply throw up their hands and say, “Well if this isn’t true, nothing is!” and become an atheist.
    Fortunately for Jack he transitioned into Christianity and ended up attending a Christian Bible college from which he graduated. I always thought that the details of his story would be good subject material for a book or a documentary.
    By the grace of God, Jack answered the Savior’s call and through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has obtained eternal life.

  2. St.James says:

    “Who or what so convinced them that God must answer sincere prayer?”
    What about James 1:5?

  3. Mike R says:

    Mormon leaders have convinced their followers that the Mormon church is the one true church of Jesus Christ , and that Mormonism is actually Christianity itself . Therefore when a LDS discovers that his/her Church is not what it has claimed to be , then they simply dismiss all churches as having any credence which can cause them to go even further about thinking about “religions ” in general and end up embracing Atheism . People who join the autocratic arrangement that is Mormonism thinking it is authentic Christianity can more easily become soured to all other “christian ” churches and even to “religious ” faith altogether upon discovering that the Mormon church is not what it has claimed to be after all . This is the same scenario to many Jw’s go through when discovering they’ve been fooled by the claims of the Watchtower’s autocratic organization .

    Christians who fellowship at a Baptist church ( for example ) do not look at it as the one only true church , and only true fold of believers in Jesus . If the pastor succumbs to serious moral peoblems or into denying the fundamental doctrines of the Bible , then a person may leave that church and easily find another denomination / non denomination that has kept the faith and preaches sound doctrine . Christians know that salvation is not in joining / fellowshipping at a Church . Complete forgiveness of sins , acceptance by God , and receiving the gift of eternal life , come by surrendering their life to the Savior , the Lord Jesus Christ , not by joining a religious organization . Hopefully more and more Mormons will understand this and not throw the baby( Jesus) out with the bath water( Mormonism ) after learning that the Mormon church is not the one true Church of Jesus and Mormonism is not a synonym for Christianity .

  4. Mike R says:

    St James , I’m not sure where you are coming from by the question you asked . But concerning James 1:5 and Christians praying to God for wisdom , that is important . However , when it comes to evaluating the teachings of new prophets we may encounter these days the first step in identifying them as true messengers from God is to test their teachings with what God’s true prophets/apostles taught. That’s what the apostle John recommended to his flock ( 1 Jn 4:1 ) and that same testing is valid today as well .
    Mormon prophets have failed that test , hence it is of no value to pray about whether to follow them .
    Jesus pre warned all to expect counterfeit prophets with their gospels in the latter days , thus any prophet must be tested — Matt 24:11 . See also Gal 1:8 and 2Tim 4:3,4 which are also appropriate scriptures that depict the danger , and help identify , latter days false prophets .

  5. MJP says:

    And, St. James, no where are we told that God will answer sincere prayer with a specific answer. That is what Mormons suggest when asked to pray about the BoM– they are asked to get an affirmation of its veracity. Praying with that intention is an activity wherein the answer is already suggested, that the Book of Mormon is true.

    Nothing in James 1:5 suggests that God will give the answer we expect, or even recognize at first.

  6. falcon says:

    It’s a pretty tough deal when people have been ignited by the jet fuel of what they think are spiritual experiences and then they find out that the religion that supposedly caused the flame turns out to be false. (Is that a run-on sentence?)
    What that tells us is that “spiritual” experiences can be manufactured. Joseph Smith swerved into a pretty good way of manipulating people with Moroni’s promise. You know the promise. Pray and you will be given a burning in the bosom that the BoM is true. Then you get the burn. You jump into the religion whole hog. Then you find out the whole thing is a sham. What to conclude about the spiritual experience? What to conclude then about God?
    This type of emotional manipulation happens in religions of every stripe. So it’s not a good idea to base your commitment to God on feelings and experiences. Growing in maturity in Christ over the last forty-two years has turned me into a big skeptic and it has ruined a lot of what could have been some great emotional rewards for me. But the foundation I’ve learned to stand on is much more firm.

  7. historybuff says:

    A Mormon’s “spiritual” experiences and need for community can often override their reason and good sense. For example, they all know or should know by now that Joseph Smith recorded at least one patently false “scripture” from God [ ], and that he openly claimed the “Book of Abraham” to be a literal translation of the Prophet Abraham’s teachings, although even the LDS Church now concedes it’s just a common Egyptian funerary papyrus. [ ]. Alarm bells should have gone off.

    Nevertheless they cling desperately to their beliefs in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. If and when they finally do see the light and muster the courage to leave, they very often proceed to reject all truth concerning Jesus Christ and even a basic belief in God. This is serious damage to the soul and Mormon leaders will eventually be held accountable for perpetuating such a spiritually lethal system. In the meantime, we all have a responsibility to assist these victims however we can. Matthew 25: 40

  8. Mike R says:


    Well said .

  9. falcon says:

    ……………and the current party line in the LDS church is that they don’t with-hold information or mislead anyone. The information is right there for folks to access it. Yea right! What have they been telling people for years about polygamy? That the practice was limited because it was just for widows who needed care. Then there’s the picture of Joseph Smith “translating” the golden plates. It’s a total misrepresentation. I could go on with further examples but the bottom line is that deception is a foundational principal of the LDS religion.
    No wonder some/many who leave want nothing to do with religion.

  10. falcon says:

    Folks faced with evidence that contradicts their deeply held beliefs have a few options. One is to deny that the evidence is valid, or ignore the evidence, or come up with some sort of rationalization that what the evidence is verifying really isn’t true.
    The term/technique in Mormonism is called “putting it on the shelf”. These are things that are troubling but not enough to dissuade the Mormon from believing in the one true church. So they put it on the shelf to be examined at a later date. Those who have left the one true church often say that they had so many things on the shelf that pretty soon the shelf just collapsed.
    That could be an interesting theme; the collapsing shelf of Mormonism.

  11. historybuff says:

    The ironic thing to me is that “putting it on the shelf” is not just an underground mental device used by Mormons who are concealing their doubts. Quite to the contrary, this is a technique recommended by LDS apostles and prophets. No less a figure than Brigham Young suggested that doubting Mormons should adopt the practice:

    “In the days of Joseph, when the revelation came to him and Sidney Rigdon, while translating that portion of the New Testament contained in the 29th verse of the third chapter of John, in reference to the different degrees of glory, I was not prepared to say that I believed it, and I had to wait. What did I do? I handed this over to the Lord in my feelings, and said I, ‘I will wait until the spirit of God manifests to me, for or against.’ I did not judge the matter, I did not argue against it, not in the least. I never argued the least against anything Joseph proposed, but if I could not see or understand it, I handed it over to the Lord. This is my counsel to you, my brethren and sisters…” (Journal of Discourses 18:247)

    When your own leaders — even the Prophet — acknowledge that they have serious doubts about the most fundamental of LDS doctrines but then choose to ignore them, and they counsel you to do likewise, one would hope and pray that Mormons would realize the folly of blindly accepting the counsel of such men.

  12. falcon says:

    The LDS “culture” is desperate that people not leave.
    I can’t figure out if it is a real concern by what they consider a loss of salvation or if they just can’t abide by someone saying the religion is not the real deal? Perhaps they see someone leaving as a crack in the foundation of Mormonism that will cause others to doubt and then leave. There seems to be a need for validation by both the membership and leaders of the sect.
    What the culture does is provide some rather simplistic explanations for a person leaving. The leaver is said to have been offended by someone or fallen into serious sins. The follow up explanations are that the leavers can never really be happy having left and they will have fallen into serious sin within a year of leaving. Why the time line? I don’t know.
    We had a TBM posting here for a while that insisted that his review of those who left indicated it was because they had stopped reading the BoM. He didn’t get the irony of his statement. Why would someone continue to read the BoM if they doubted the veracity of the book? It’s the idea that the person should continue to indoctrinate themselves in a religion they no longer believe in. Also, why would someone reading the BoM keep them in the LDS church? There are those who have left and still consider themselves Mormons but see the LDS church as having “fallen away”. YIPES!! There goes the old “the church is perfect but the people aren’t” motto.

  13. Pingback: Wake Up! | Where Mormon Doctrine Falls Apart

  14. WanderingAengus says:

    This was a fantastic essay, Joshua. It resonated with me on so many levels.

    I stopped regularly attending the LDS Church almost 3 years ago after several years more of serious doubt. While I definitely wouldn’t consider myself an atheist, I am – sadly – waking up to the fact that I am, indeed, very much agnostic on most religious issues these days. I wish I wasn’t, but I don’t have a lot of clear, understandable experiences with telling the difference between the influence of the Holy Spirit and my own emotions/thoughts. This is, perhaps, my biggest obstacle; this inability to commit to a God that I’m not entirely sure is committed to me. I want that, but I’m just not sure where to go from here.

    Thanks again for the essay. I’d love to read more about “What now?” etc. on this issue for post-Mormons who find themselves in this place you describe.

Leave a Reply