So it’s been about two and a half years since I was active in the LDS Church, and about eight months since the time I consider to be the point where I actually left the faith (despite having been inactive for a year and a half before that). I’ve spoken at length on this subject, especially recently on this blog, and I’ve no wish to beat a dead horse. Suffice it to say that, between what I’ve already said and a lot of research I’ve done in the interim, I cannot believe in the Church or take its claims at any sort of face value. My opinion of the Church in general now is basically this: an organization, mostly filled with people doing their best to be the best people they can be in the way they’ve been taught, that, despite dubious and/or peculiar beginnings, now exists as a force both for great good and great ill, depending on both the issue and the specific people involved. If there is divinity and/or goodness in the Church, it is there because some people in it seek to be good people; it’s not an intrinsic divinity. But it is there. If there is evil in the Church, it is because fallible people are in it whose opinions hold more sway than perhaps they should, and too much emphasis is placed on contradictory, nonsensical points. But, before I get too off-topic, the point is that I’m never going to be able to go back to being an active, believing, temple-recommend-holding member again. I know too much. However, the cost has been more than I expected.
Compared to a lot of ex-Mormons, my situation has been “ideal.” I didn’t have a wife or children to be torn apart from. I wasn’t serving in an active position in a ward (especially not one high up, like a bishopric or higher) when I found out the Church wasn’t true. I didn’t really even lose any friends, though that’s mainly because I’m not the kind of guy who has a giant amount of friends to begin with. And, with a few exceptions, most people’s reactions have been, “Believe whatever you need to believe. I’m not going to drag you kicking and screaming in either direction.” I had already fallen through the cracks of the Church’s inefficient midsingles program (my inactivity coincided with my 31st birthday, the point when I became too old for the YSA program, too single to really fit in to a family ward, and too “works on Sunday too much” to attend a midsingles ward), so in essence I got lost in transit, like somebody’s luggage that was supposed to go from Newark to Los Angeles, but instead ended up outside the LDS Church. And, for a while, my life wasn’t really different, other than a change of underwear and a few people on Facebook praying for my soul or whatever.
But I’ve lost the community.
Now, fitting into the LDS community was a not a thing I ever did, even when I was active, as many posts on this blog can attest to. And my current, shall we say, melancholy, is not because I’ve “lost the Spirit” or some such. I’ve actually felt what many would consider the Spirit on several recent occasions which are irrelevant to this post. However, as time has gone on, I’ve noticed a few patterns with people, and it has started to take its toll.
With people who are still members, even people who have remained my good friends, there now exists a bit of a wall. Certain subjects simply remain taboo. There are things I’ve found that I cannot share, simply in the name of preserving the peace, whether it be “anti-Mormon” material (especially if it’s, say, a non-partisan study from scientists who’ve had almost no exposure to Mormonism; how the heck would they have a pony in the fight?) or a funny bit of fluff that may be poking fun at a sacred subject, or experiences (good and bad) I’ve had since leaving that would’ve been impossible to have when I was still a member, or even just something incredibly insightful with the word “fuck” in it (yeah, I said it; please disregard this entire blog now if it’s important for you to do so). And, in return, I’ve noticed that people are a lot less prone to talk about Church-related stuff around me, even if it’s just something funny that happened in sacrament meeting, or a bit of wisdom that a bishop shared with them, probably also in interest of keeping the peace (and those who do share Church stuff with me are very transparent in their “bring him back to the fold” motive, though fortunately that’s been rare in my case). Neither my LDS friends nor I will ever be able to be 100% comfortable around each other anymore. That’s simply the nature of the beast. It does make things lonely, though.
So what about joining an ex-Mormon community instead? The problem is that what unites the ex-Mormon community is, by definition, opposition. People in it have to remain dedicated to that cause to remain a part of the crowd. What many members don’t realize, however, is that, unlike faithful LDS members, the status of “ex-Mormon” isn’t nearly as all-consuming as the status of “Mormon” is. For some people it can be, I suppose, and most who leave have to go through a period where they untangle themselves from what they thought was true for so long. But at the end of the day, we’re all people. People have different interests, likes, dislikes, personalities, and idiosyncrasies. One thing the Church does well is unite people under a (supposedly) positive banner. “Come to us and we will make you better,” they say. The ex-Mormon community cannot offer that same promise. Nor should it. Its promise is, “Come to us and we will show you that this Church isn’t the only way to be better, and you don’t have to accept or deal with all the other stuff that’s making you worse.” It doesn’t tell you how to be better, though. It’s not a philosophy. The paths people take after leaving the Church are as diverse as the people involved. Some find another Christian faith to follow. Some let go of Christianity but hang on to belief in God and/or divinity. Some end up in atheism. I think a lot end up in atheism because they’ve found out so many flaws with Mormonism that they can’t bring themselves to believe in anything after putting so much labor, blood, sweat, and tears into a system that didn’t ultimately live up to its own ideals. You can’t make a positive belief system defined by opposition to something not wholly negative, just like you can’t make a fair and balanced news channel from opposition to a political party that isn’t wholly negative (yeah, I went there too). And, while it can be important and even cathartic to get together with a group of ex-Mormons and let out all your issues and maybe have a good time, it’s not what appeals to me. Just as I’d be the guy in the back of a priesthood meeting thinking, “This whole thing is faulty logic at best, and I can’t just sit here and take it,” I’d be the guy in the back of the ex-Mormon get-together thinking, “I don’t want to drink. Coffee tastes like burned pizza. Yes, we all have issues with the Church, now how about that local sports team or shared cultural event?”
I don’t just want catharsis. I want community.
I wanted community within the Church, but couldn’t find it. Outside the Church, I don’t even know how to find a community. Within the Church it was automatic: these people who live near you are the people you’ll see every Sunday, and the people you’ll see in activities during the week. These are your friends, or at least a decent pool from which you can hopefully draw some friends. And you all speak the same language, too, figuratively speaking. You can walk up to a random stranger in Church and gush about how great Joseph Smith/President Uchtdorf/whatever is and already have something in common. Outside the Church, there’s no such thing. About all anyone has in common is weather patterns and how much it sucks to be tired or hungry. Within the Church-based support system, I didn’t really know how to make friends; outside it, I’m thoroughly and totally hosed. It doesn’t help that I’m now over 30, not in college, and work a job with a ton of night hours, limiting my time to go do a play or join some local community group or something.
I talked with a recent ex-convert (or however you term people who’ve recently left) who was advised to stay within the Church even if they didn’t believe anymore simply to keep that support system. After all, you sure as heck can’t call the elders’ quorum to help move your stuff, or have visiting teachers watch over your sick mother, or whatever, if you don’t both believe in the same religion (for starters, how do they even know you need help if you’re not crying about it in Relief Society?). I can’t live like that, though. I have to do what I believe is right for me, even if it means I lose those opportunities. It still hurts.
It also doesn’t help that, romantically, things are a lot more complicated now. Since my ideal relationship is no longer mandated by the Church, I’ve (potentially) had the option to reach outside those definitions and experiment a little. And no, that doesn’t mean I’ve been going out having one-night stands or anything, but it has meant that I’ve been able to go out with people without the immediate pressure of “will this person be the person I marry?” And while I’ve learned a lot, I wish that I could’ve done this ten or fifteen years ago, because I really do want to have a family of my own when I’m still young enough to keep up with kids, and spending time in relationships where I’m not focusing on marriage seems to be wasting time. Don’t get me wrong, the dating experiences I’ve had are very important to me, and I want to keep having them. But finding someone who wanted to marry me in the Church was already a giant challenge for me. Finding a girl who wants to have kids with someone my age or in my position who’s outside the Church seems nearly impossible, especially since finding someone with the same moral system as me suddenly got more complicated. I want someone to come home to, or who comes home to me, or we both come home to each other, or however the employment situation would work…look, I’m open-minded; the point is, I want to be with someone who is as devoted to me as I am to them, and that’s doubly hard to find outside the Church in an environment that doesn’t specifically push that narrative.
So there’s loneliness.
When your best friend literally can’t afford to see you. When the girl you’re sort-of dating has contacted you only once over the past week just to say, “Sorry about the rash,” (uh, out of context that sounds a lot worse than it actually is; don’t read into it) and normally all you talk about between dates is scheduling anyway. When all of these people who have left the Church keep complaining about how well-meaning ward members keep trying to bring them back, and you realize that you’ve heard maybe one peep from anyone Church-related for more than two years (I’m not complaining, really, but it is odd how clean of a break I made). When you go to a party with a bunch of ex-Mormons but don’t drink anything, and so haven’t been invited to another one since. When your sister who also left the Church tells you about great parties and get-togethers and so on that she goes to that sound like a visit to a foreign country without a guide.
When you’ve spent almost an entire week without human contact other than the work-based or store clerk type, and it hasn’t been the first time in recent history, nor will it be the last. When most people your age are too busy living their own lives to have room for you to be a significant part of it. When online dating hasn’t worked because your message gets lost amidst a sea of creepy guys sending inappropriate pictures. When the most social thing you do is talk over video games that haven’t been relevant in decades, spending hours and hours working on a series of videos and a website that, ultimately, will have ten viewers at most if you’re lucky, because you can’t, don’t know how, or are too scared to peddle it to a wider community, so you playact at running a popular series without any numbers to back it up. When people tell you all about their lives or problems, and you listen because it’s what they need, but you don’t want to alienate anyone with your problems, so you put them in a blog instead.
When you’re too Mo for the Exmo community, but too apostate for the membership. When you’re too introverted to just go to a bar or something, but you feel entirely out-of-place at a gaming/comics store or other nerd nirvana. When you like acting, music, and theatre, but never quite mesh with music or theatre people. Jack of all trades.
When you’re not hot, but you’re not cold, you’re lukewarm. And nobody wants that, not even God.
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” — Revelations 3:16