A reader recently posted a comment that really resonated with me, so much so that I had to write a post about it. The comment was in response to John’s post asking readers what have been the most difficult aspects of transitioning away from Mormonism. Here’s what reader “itscomplicated” had to say:
“Feeling I’ve been ‘Catfished’ by God. I had this longterm, committed relationship with a Mormon-version of God. Now that my Mormon belief system has crumbled, I feel like I don’t know the “real” God. And this disconnected feeling is happening at the worst time possible. It feels like my world is crumbling around me, and all I want is the peace that only the Lord can provide in moments of tumult. And I have no peace.”
I feel like I know exactly how that reader feels because I remember feeling that way all too well.
As a believing Mormon, I felt like I had a close relationship with God. We used to talk all the time: driving in the car, sitting in a meeting, working in the garden, or reading my scriptures–whatever I was doing, there was usually a conversation between me and God running in the background of my mind. He was always there when I needed to talk, and he often gave me good advice, encouragement, comfort, and helped me see solutions to my problems. God and I were tight.
Then, one morning in October of 2006, I literally and figuratively woke up. I had gone to bed the night before as a 100% believing Mormon with no serious doubts, and when I woke up I had this overwhelming sense that none of it was true. None of it. Including God.
My reaction to having my world unexpectedly turned upside down was to commit myself to rebuilding my testimony. I had been effectively conditioned over decades to believe in Mormonism, and although I no longer felt like I had a testimony, my conditioning caused me to feel I had an obligation to rebuild one. So that’s what I set out to do. I doubled up on scripture reading, prayer, temple attendance, home teaching, fast offerings, tithing, and even volunteered to take on a second calling.
A few months into my testimony rebuilding efforts, two LDS friends who did not know each other told me over the same weekend that they no longer believed in Mormonism. My reaction was instinctive: even though I no longer had a testimony, I felt an obligation to help them regain a testimony just as I was trying to do. I listened to their concerns, all of which were intellectual and historical, and I decided to take it upon myself to find the answers to their questions and help steer them back onto the right path.
So began my foray into the hitherto unexplored (by me) territory of church history and, well, you can guess how that turned out. The more I researched, the more I realized my friends had valid points. And gradually, my mind became open to the idea that maybe the problem wasn’t with me and my friends, but with Mormonism.
I still remember vividly the final nail in the coffin of my hopes of rebuilding my testimony (the acknowledged date of authorship of the Egyptian papyrii that Joseph Smith said were written by Abraham), and how bad it felt when I learned about it (and in a FAIR publication of all places!). It was like that night on Christmas Eve when I sneaked out of my room and saw my parents putting presents from Santa under the Christmas tree. Although a part of me already suspected there wasn’t any Santa, it still felt bad when my suspicions were confirmed. Discovering the truth about Santa made the world a less magical place, and I liked the magical world of childhood. Learning the truth about the Book of Abraham was hard for the same reason. Truth was forcing me to bid a final farewell to the magical thinking of my former perspective as a believing Mormon, and my heart still wasn’t ready for that.
After losing my faith in God and Mormonism, I felt such an intense sense of betrayal. For a while I actually felt angry at God, and it’s embarrassing to admit how long it took me to recognize the absurdity of my being angry at someone I no longer believed existed. The “Catfished” analogy is perfect for describing the betrayal you feel when you realize that the deity with whom you’ve had a lifelong, long-distance relationship doesn’t actually exist.
But fortunately, there truly is a bright side to the disillusionment. When the disillusionment, grief, and anger subside, we’re ready for growth, maturity, and independence. From our new perspective, we’re able to look back and recognize both the truths and the falsehoods in our former beliefs, and to be grateful for the role our former beliefs played as stepping stones in life. For example, discovering Santa is your parents is usually disheartening and disillusioning for children, but presumably none of us is still angry and sad about it. We’re not angry and sad about it anymore because we’ve grown up and matured. And part of that maturation is coming to recognize the beautiful truth behind the Santa myth: that children have loving and generous adults in their lives that give them presents in Santa’s name.
The same thing goes with discovering your God doesn’t exist. At first, it can be crushing; it can feel like you’ve lost a parent or a best friend. But there’s also a beautiful truth standing behind the disillusionment: You are, you always were, and you always will be, your own God.
You might be inclined to dismiss that idea as blasphemous. But maybe that’s because you don’t give yourself enough credit and never have. Of course, it wouldn’t be your fault that you don’t give yourself enough credit, because you were taught from your early childhood that you, as you naturally are, are an “enemy to God”. You were taught that you are even less than the dust of the Earth, because at least the dust obeys God. You were taught that you were fallen, dirty, rebellious, unworthy, prideful, sinful, wicked, and a host of other negative labels. In short, you were taught from your early childhood to have a negative self-image; you were taught to view yourself as being naturally defective.
And you were taught to believe in this guy called God, who you were told is Perfect. And you were told He wanted you to be Perfect just like Him. And you were told you could become Perfect–not on your own because you’ll never be good enough–through a Savior’s achievements. And you were encouraged to develop a dependency on this God and this Savior, to look to them for a solution to your problems and “imperfections”. And you were taught that if anything good comes into your life, God deserves the credit. And you were taught that if you ever accomplish anything noteworthy, that’s only because God intervened and made up for your natural deficiency.
So it’s no surprise if you resist the idea that your whole life you’ve been your own Santa Claus putting spiritual gifts under your own Christmas tree without even realizing it. You were conditioned for decades to think yourself incapable of thinking or doing anything great all on your own.
Just think back to when you’d prepare a lesson or talk for church. Every now and then a really insightful idea would come into your mind–I mean a really good one, much better than average. To whom did you give the credit for that idea? God. You called it “inspiration”. And to whom did you give credit for your mediocre ideas? Yourself. But the truth is, all the good stuff you thought was too good to be coming from within yourself was coming from you.
You’re so much stronger, better, and more capable than you’ve ever imagined; you’ve just been trained your whole life not to see it, and to never give yourself credit for the many evidences of your innate strength and greatness.
Having been out of the LDS church for almost five years, looking back now on my 36 years within Mormonism I’ve come to see what I consider a very beautiful truth behind the Mormon myth in which I once believed so completely: that the person I developed such a close relationship with–God–was just my idea of my highest and best self. My ideal self. The person I wanted to be.
I came to realize that God was just an old religious word for my natural potential as a human being; calling me, pulling me toward itself, urging me to grow and develop.
That growth process has of course involved some intense growing pains, including the most painful of all: discovering that my God—an old white-haired, white-bearded white man sitting in his throne on a marble slab floating out in space–was just a myth. But with that realization has come an exciting discovery: that I am stronger, better, and more capable than I was ever taught to believe I was; that I don’t need to look to some imaginary deity to help me solve my problems; that I am capable of bringing blessings into my own life, and into the lives of others, with good and loving thoughts, words, and actions.
One of the wonderful ironies of life is that the death of your belief in God ultimately opens your eyes to the fact that God has always been closer and more real than you ever imagined. God isn’t a divine astronaut observing human affairs from some distant sector of outer-space. God is, always has been, and always will be, as close as your own heart and mind.