Leaving a religion you deeply believed in isn’t easy. In fact it can be very difficult. This is not something you should do without thoughtful consideration of the ramifications. On my mission I often watched people convert from one religion to another. They suffered. They were cast out of their homes as young teenagers because their parents were catholic and they expected their kids to stay catholic. Sometimes getting baptized Mormon meant leaving their family and loved ones forever, not because they wanted to leave their family, but because their family had a religion and bringing in a new one was just too much for them to handle. Having traversed the path of leaving my religion of birth I have gotten a little insight into what can occur should you make the choice to speak up and openly say you no longer believe. Here are 5 reasons you might wish you had never left the church. (Inspired by this article.)
1. Offending People
Friends and family that are still part of the religion will be offended by any opinion you voice that runs counter to their religion. If you point out a bit of bothersome history or post some evidence of your reasons for leaving on social media, they will confront you, they will call you, they will ask you to please stop attacking their faith. It doesn’t matter if the point you are making is true or not. Anything that disparages the faith you once held is offensive to those that remain. With the single act of leaving you will likely offend more people in your life than another way.
2. Understanding Doctrine
You will be accused of not understanding the doctrine. The problem is if you ask a member to define what doctrine is, you will soon discover that is pretty much impossible. The reason is the religion often claims that their doctrines never change. That is probably because the core of most religions think God never changes and thus his doctrines don’t change either. This leads to some really upsetting discussions in regards to doctrine. Especially if it has changed, which it does all the time. Those that remain in the religion can’t see it or acknowledge it. Thus pinning down doctrine is a really slippery thing. If you get into a doctrinal discussion after you leave the church with a person still remaining it will be an extremely frustrating experience for both of you.
3. It’s too hard
Staying in the faith is easy compared to leaving it. You might have to sacrifice some time and money to your religion to stay in sure, but all religions require some level of commitment, that is why they succeed. In an odd twist of psychology our beliefs are formed after our efforts not the other way a round. Ben Franklin was the first to point this out. Admitting you might have been mistaken about the thing you were so sure was true, that is possibly one of the most difficult things you will ever face. To make it worse once you leave, the ones you left behind will accuse you of being lazy or sinful. You might want to ask them when was the last time they considered honestly that they might be wrong setting aside the fear or eternal damnation for just a moment to considered things rationally. If you do that though, things will likely escalate right up to where the believer is offended again. So you will be faced with some hard choices. Keep your mouth shut when you want to speak your mind and voice your opinion or speak up and inevitably face all sorts of accusation from those that remain about your choices. Leaving means your children’s friends will change, your community won’t be the same, likely people will gossip about you and even avoid you in public. People that were never of the faith will be treated better than you because in the eyes of the ones you have left you are now a traitor and not to be trusted. Compare rejection and loss of trust by everyone you love to donating a little money and time to the religion, you tell me which is harder.
My religion was Mormon, I still identify with my pioneer ancestors. If you don’t think the Mormons got it right you are automatically anti-mormon. In fact any document or bit of evidence that might convince you Mormons were wrong about the claim theirs is the one true church of God is considered ‘anti-mormon’ material. It doesn’t matter if it is true or not because that is not the definition of anti. The only definition as best I can tell is ‘anti’ stuff is everything that would make you doubt or question your belief. This is common to most religions. It is the nature of ideology. If you are right then others must be wrong. By leaving, you automatically become anti-everything in the view of those that still believe. Their religion means everything to them. For the believer it is a source of happiness and joy. If you leave and point out any of the errors in their faith, it makes you anti-happiness as far as they are concerned.
Sin is all your fault now that you have no religion to take all the guilt away. Back in the faith forgiveness was easy compared your life post religion. No longer will supplication and sorrow be enough make up for your mistakes. It’s all on you. If you mess up, you got to fix it. God isn’t gonna just make it all better with a wave of magical atonement. Worse yet those same friends and loved ones that still believe will accuse you of just wanting to sin and party it all up. Somehow they will not be able to see your perspective at all. You will realize that there is no magical poof to make your mistakes all better. You have to deal with it. All that repentance stuff, where you try to make amends, etc you still have to do it to resolve your integrity and forgive yourself and move on. Sure there might be some peccadillos that you can do guilt free. But is it really worth giving up the idea that God has a plan and it will all workout? If something bad happens to you our your family and it is your fault, it’s your fault. You no longer get to rationalize it away as God’s will. It was your screw up and you have to live with it. When you realize there is no magic way to kiss the boo boo and make it all better it, means you are ultimately responsible and that isn’t easy.
So why leave?
Given all these reasons to stay in church, you might be asking why leave? Religion often teaches some great morals, it often creates a sense of community and bonds people together in striving for common good. Why with all these negatives to leaving would a person leave? I can only think of one. Integrity! If your faith requires you to declare it true when you can prove it is not. It means it is asking you to lie to other people. It might be for all sorts of good reasons. It might be to protect budding testimonies it might be because it is a great way to raise kids. It might be the only way to see your children married, it might be the only way to keep peace between a spouse that believes and one that doesn’t. But as miss chill says it so eloquently. The church is an ultimatum. You have to believe in it or at least pretend you do. It’s not that they kick you out for not believing. They will happily let you stay and even take your tithing dollars without an ounce of belief. You can even stay and not pay tithing and they will only bug you once a year about it. You can not believe and teach sunday school or serve as a bishop or leader. All you have to do is not tell anyone about your doubts… you have to lie to yourself and others. Since my disaffection I have found so many people that still serve and do their best to follow this NOM route. I hold none of you any ill will. In a lot of ways it is much easier to stay in the church to keep your family together or to not risk your job or backlash of your community. There are good moral teachings and the average ward is a group of people generally trying to help each other. Eventually though you might come to the point where you have to decide if pretending is worth it. You will have to decide if your integrity means more than the warm hug of conformity.
Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.
– Gordon B. Hinckley
It can be very difficult to face the matter. So hard that we will do our very best to prop up our faith against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We will fight ourselves to avoid facing the matter. We will justify awful things that bother us at our very core1 to avoid facing the matter. But the matter will always be there and the more we learn, the more it will force us to look at it and acknowledge it. Eventually we will have to face it.
It can be devastating leaving your religion once you realize it isn’t what you thought it was, only you can decide if your integrity is worth it. All because you know something you didn’t a few months ago. All because you gained insight and learned something. No wonder they tell you to stop thinking about it. Ignorance truly is bliss.
So will you run the risk of regret and speak up about your loss of faith? Will you go on pretending? There are most definitely consequences either way. I’ve always been taught to do what is right and let the consequence follow. But it’s not my call as to which path is right for you. It’s yours.
- such as polygamy, polyandry, underage brides, fraudulent banks, attacks on freedom ↩