I didn’t want to hijack your “Ask the Mormon” thread by posting there, so I’m glad you started this one so I can talk about my experiences…
I was born Jewish, but my parents coverted to the Mormon Church when I was about 4, and that’s how I was raised. I did all the standard Mormon things growing up – I went to church, attended Primary and later Seminary, served a mission, attended BYU, had a wide variety of church callings, paid my tithing, kept the Word of Wisdom, etc., etc., etc.
The problem is, however, that I never managed to gain a testimony about any of it. I did a lot of soulful praying over the years, and never felt that I got an personally satisfying answer. I could rationalize things by attempting to see the “hand of God” in my life and take those events as answers to my prayers, but I never got the promised “burning in the bosom” or any other deep feeling that made be believe that it was all true.
My freshman year at BYU I asked my religion professor what would happen to somebody who lived a righteous life and worked hard to obey the teachings of the church, but who never actually gained a testimony. He said that this was not possible, since the very act of following the church’s teachings would invariably lead to a testimony. I took him at his word, which is why I decided to go on a mission and continue going to church for the next 8 or 9 years. To be honest, though, I always felt like a hypocrite – bearing my testimony of things I didn’t really believe in, in the hopes that if I said them often enough I would eventually come to believe them.
Things got worse for me after I graduated colllege and law school (both at BYU) and returned home. I desperately wanted to find a nice Mormon girl and live the “proper” life, but a part of me just rebelled against the thought of pretending to be a worthy temple-goer when I really just didn’t believe it, and the thought of lying to my children just really made me ill.
I also found myself getting into a vicious circle regarding faith. Supposedly, as pointed out by my religious teacher, faith and testimony would come if I continued to live the teachings of the church. Therefore, if I didn’t have a testimony, it must be because I wasn’t following the teachings fully. However, and this was the kicker, without a testimony in the first place, it became harder and harder for me to have the desire to follow the teachings. Paying tithing, fasting, home teaching, etc., all became more and more difficult without any underlying belief in their validity. And, of course, the less I followed the teachings, the more it becamse my fault for not having the testimony that would have given me the desire to follow the teachings in the first place. This, of course, got me feeling very depressed.
It got to the point that I realized the ONLY reasons I was going to church was for the social aspects and to make my family happy. I didn’t have any “problems” with the church, and I wasn’t angry with anybody – I simply had no desire whatsoever to keep going. And so, as I approached my 30th birthday, I simply stopped going. I told my bishop right away about my decision so they wouln’t think I had died, and over the next 6 months or so I worked up the courage to tell my parents.
I basically went into limbo for the next 5 or 6 years. Even though I didn’t have any faith in the underlying principles of the church (and I’m not just talking about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon here – try as I might, I never managed to even find a testimony in the existence of God, which I always felt was a pretty fundamental lack on my part), I was raised in a certain lifestyle and it was integral to who I was. I had no desire to start smoking and drinking, and I felt desparately uncomfortable around non-Mormon women who might have different values and expectations from the ones I had based on how I was raised. I just couldn’t stand the thought of going to a bar to pick up a woman, and I refused to attend any church-related functions for fear of being hypocrytical. I basically accepted the fact that I would live alone the rest of my lfe, while being neither extremely happy nor depressed.
Anyway, the story does have a happy ending (at least it looks like it will). About a year ago I met a really wonderful woman who shared all of my values and who, like me, is also completely non-religious. The difference is that she was raised in a non-religious home to begin with. She doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, and loves the fact that I don’t either. And we both feel that it’s possible to raise children to be good people without appealing to God as a justification for why they should be good. We are actually getting married next month, as a matter of fact. I’d say it was a match made in heaven, but, well, you know…
Anyway… As I said, I don’t have any bitterness toward the church, although I do think I wasted a good chunk of my life (primarily those “limbo” years as I tried to figure out what to do with myself). I am definitely not an “anti-Mormon” and I certainly don’t try to convince others to leave the church. My older brother is married with 6 kids and VERY Mormon, and I say more power to him. If being Mormon makes him happy, then why on earth would I want him to change? At the same time, however, I can’t see myself ever going back to church. Never again will I pretend to be something I’m not.
I fully acknowldge that I could be wrong, and if I meet God after I die I’ll have a lot of explaining to do. But I will no longer beat myself over the head for not following teachings that I simply do not believe in. I’m a good person – I love my neighbor as myself and will try to raise my children to do the same. That may not be enough to get me to the Celestial kingdom, but I suspect I wouldn’t really enjoy myself even if I got there.
OK, this was a LOT longer than I intended. Thanks again for asking the question, cadolphin.