Monday, 17 September 2012

A personal account from an exceptionally brave ex-Mormon

About a week ago, I read a tweet from Bethany Anderson in which she said she was embarrassed to have spent sixteen years as a devout Mormon.  I live in the UK where we don't have Mormons (I don't think - I mean, I daresay there's the odd one but it's not a faith we have to deal with directly), so I messaged her and asked if she'd be willing to share her story.  It's worth noting that although Mormonism can seem more crackpot to us than conventional Christianity, that's really only because it's less familiar to us; caveat notwithstanding, I'm always intrigued to hear stories about loss of faith from other people, particularly when their starting point was one so unfamiliar to me. Given how alien Mormonism seems from such a distant perspective, I was astonished by how much of Bethany's account was almost achingly familiar; it seems many formerly-religious secularists and humanists have experiences in common, something I think we could all do with remembering from time to time.

It also raises a question that is endlessly intriguing to me; so many of us are brought up to be religious in such similar ways, and only a minority ever escape from it. What is it that those of us able to find our way out have in common, and why do we have it?  Why doesn't faith "take" with some of us, when it is so devastatingly successful with the majority of our peers?  I think these are among the most important questions we secularists and atheists (and antitheists like me) can ask.

Bethany, I am in awe of your bravery; I too was an atheist by your age, but I was several years older before I dared to come out and older again before I started educating myself in the sciences.  We can't help how we're raised, but we can decide to overcome it; I don't think you have anything at all to be embarrassed about.

Here is Bethany's account in her own words.

"Religion to Reason: How I Came To My Senses And Left Mormonism Behind

The summer of 2008; I am only 14 years old, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is my whole life. I’m at Girls' Camp, a Mormon all-girls’ camp that takes place every summer. It is Friday night, which is always the most emotional night at camp; the night we bear our testimonies. As people go up and talk about how much they love Christ and have felt him in their lives we are all quickly in tears. I felt then what I perceived as the spirit of God all around me and my friends, and it wasn’t long until I too was overcome with emotion. But I wasn’t sad, I was the happiest I had ever been - up to that point, at least. I knew Jesus was my savior and I knew he loved me.

A few months later our church leaders decided the Young Men and Women were ready to learn more about the church's official stance on Gay Marriage and Proposition 8. I was confused. I had already heard plenty about gay marriage in the controversy surrounding Prop. 8, and I thought it was OK. I had formed my own opinion before the church had told me what it ought to be, and I didn't understand why they conflicted. What was wrong with a man marrying another man? They didn't want to hurt anybody. Why was I the only one who looked around the room with concern on my face, when everybody else was nodding their approval? If we’re all God’s children, why should some children get fewer rights? It made no sense.

I continued to think about the right people and the wrong people.

In the months to come I struggled to fall asleep at night, wondering what would happen to my cousin who lives in New York. She isn't LDS, she is Jewish. And on top of that she is a lesbian! But she is a good person. Why is she going to be punished? What about all of the Jewish people? They don’t deserve to be punished! My mind raced until I finally fell asleep with tear streaks down my cheeks.

On April 18, 2008, the evening before the Day of Silence [see website for details]. I was at a Church youth activity, making conversation with my friends about this and that. I was pretty excited about the Day of Silence, I jumped at the opportunity to put down bullying and support LGBT community. I asked a friend of mine if she was participating. She thought I was joking, scoffing "of course not". I was once again beset by confusion; was she pro-bullying? Others quickly joined her stance. "Why wouldn't anyone want to participate?", I thought - especially people who believed in loving their neighbors.

I began to notice more and more things the church and I disagreed upon, things I must have overlooked before and that I could no longer ignore. I began searching for another religion, one that might share my basic morals and beliefs. I talked to my atheist brother, Michael, one night, as we shared a lot of ideologies. He gave me some of the best books I've ever read; Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Sam Harris' End of Faith. After reading those I was at peace with my beliefs. Not so much with my still devout father and mother, but one thing at a time, right?

That was around the January of my sixteenth year. Now I'm a secular humanist and I feel great; I had coffee for the first time only a few months ago, and I'm no longer afraid that learning more about science will rob me of my faith.  As a matter of fact, I'm in the process of applying to colleges to get my degree in astrophysics! The future has never been brighter.

If anyone has any questions about my Mormon life and my new atheist experiences, I'd love to hear from you through Twitter, @TheYoungAtheist."


  1. Why doesn't faith "take" with some of us, when it is so devastatingly successful with the majority of our peers?

    I think it has to do with a desire for a coherent world view, and an ability (or inability) to hold multiple conflicting ideas in your mind at the same time. Some people are just fine with the idea of "well, that just doesn't make sense — maybe it's beyond human understanding", and can shrug and go on with their lives. I was never this sort of person. I've always wanted things to make sense, the way that math makes sense. When two ideas or two sets of purported data conflicted, it bothered me intensely. As such, that conflict had to come to a head eventually. I couldn't just ignore the sirens in my head that blared "THESE THINGS CANNOT BOTH BE TRUE!" I also have great confidence in my powers of reason. With enough effort, I can understand any intelligble concept I've tackled. Others seem to give up, or are okay with not understanding. For someone with that sort of "oh, just give me the answers so I don't have to think about it" mentality, religion is an appealing shortcut.

  2. The Mormons do have a presence in some areas of the UK. I live across the road from a pretty large Mormon church in North Wales and often get Mormons calling at my house, putting leaflets through my door, and trying to preach at me while I'm walking to work. Young Mormon men in bad suits are often hanging around the town centre trying to convert the locals.

  3. Mormon (which my phone keeps trying to charmingly auto correct to moron) church at the bottom of the hill I live on. Wasn't to go?

    1. Do you mean "want"? If so, absolutely!