The seductiveness of being certain: When I was a child, moments of doubt would cross my mind. “What are the chances that I was born into the one true church, in the greatest country in the world (because my religion tells me so), and that I truly have all the answers to life’s difficult questions?” It seemed too good to be true! I felt something deep within me, begging me to challenge my basic assumptions, but I would immediately shut down that line of thinking and feel guilty for doubting. I felt like I must be such an ungrateful little brat to bite the hand that fed me, to question the religion that was already central to my identity and the source of all my blessings. I shamed myself back into submission. Besides, it felt really safe and comfortable to believe I had answers and a sure foundation.
As I moved into my teenage years, I was so sure that the church was true that doubts didn’t even surface as conscious thoughts anymore. My most basic, core assumption was that the LDS church was God’s one church on the earth, and that I absolutely had to follow its teachings to be happy. When I went to the temple to receive my endowment two days before my wedding, I was horrified to discover that women really are secondary to men in the church. This concept flew in the face of what I had wanted to be – a strong, confident woman, a scientist, equal to my husband in our marriage, independent and amazing. But I was so certain that the church was true, that instead of disbelieving what I had learned in the temple or brushing it off, I questioned my own goals and inner voice. I accepted that God didn’t love women as much as he loved men, a devastating blow to my self-esteem and spirituality, because the truthfulness of the church was even more central to my identity than my gender or self-respect.
In my adult life, I thought I must be the worst kind of person because I was so lucky to have the true church, a comfortable life and all the answers, and yet I was mostly unhappy. It seemed like something must not be right. Depression is the repression of expression, and I paid the price for shutting down my inner voice. Because I had sold myself out for the church, it took several years and a mountain of evidence before I could even ask the question “What if the church ISN’T true?” Like everyone else, my confirmation bias was always ready with excuses to defend my most basic assumption. It was just so hard to admit that my entire world view was warped, that I was wrong, and that I had been wrong for my entire life! What made it harder for me than others to admit I was wrong and move on?
The Fixed Mindset: In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck explains that the “fixed mindset” is the belief that your talents and abilities are innate, and there isn’t much you can do to change them. Conversely, the “growth mindset” is the belief that your achievements are based on your efforts. I started to realize that I’m just about the most fixed mindset person on earth. This explained a lot about the differences between myself and my husband. He is very growth mindset, which enabled him to see that the church wasn’t true much earlier. No wonder it was much more difficult for me to decide that the church wasn’t true.
A fixed-mindset depends on the idea of superiority, and then uses defensiveness to keep yourself superior. We have been told we are the chosen generation, that our spirits were saved for this dispensation of time, that we are special to have found the true church, and this means we can have true happiness. Dweck explains: “The problem is when special begins to mean better than others. A more valuable human being. A superior person. An entitled person.” Buying into this view raises the stakes for being wrong. That’s the blessing and the curse of leaving the church: you have to realize that you’re just like everyone else on the entire planet. It makes you not special anymore, but helps you connect with people in a way you never could before.
The good news is that you can change your mindset – in the end it’s just a belief. It can be hard to break old habits, but it is possible to transform yourself from a fixed to a growth mindset. You can become comfortable with challenge and uncertainty. You can see your true self, without the distortion that inevitably comes from trying to prove yourself. You can be less self-conscious and less anxious and worried about judgment. You can develop yourself in new ways without fear of failure.
The gift of being wrong: I started to realize that I had been given an incredible gift: the perspective of intimately understanding what it feels like to be 100% certain that something is true – and then to disprove that to myself. To accept that I was WRONG on something so crucially important to me that I built my life around it. Which begs the question: what other underlying assumptions in my life are wrong? Well, here are some examples that I’ve found in my personal life over the past year:
- What other people think of me does not define me.
- I’m a smart person, but I sometimes make bad decisions.
- Although I consider myself socially capable, I have a mild autism spectrum disorder.
- I am accountable for my choices even if I was just being obedient.
- No one else is responsible for my emotions.
- Even though I consider myself a nice person, I can be hostile, mean, or even cruel.
- I can put down my idealism and face reality without losing a sense of hope.
- My emotions don’t mean something is true, they are just information on how I’m feeling.
- My contributions are still valuable even when they are average.
- I’m emotionally immature (ouch!) after being focused for so long on one version of what I “should” be.
Challenging myself in this way has been SO HARD. And I know it’s far from over. I felt much more comfortable as a card-carrying member destined for special VIP heaven. Following a set of rules allowed me to consider myself a “good person.” Now I have to recognize the light and dark inside of me, to see that it’s not a binary of good and bad, but just me trying every day to be my best self. Because I experienced being fundamentally, devastatingly wrong about the LDS church, and have been better off by challenging that assumption, I learned that I could challenge other deeply held beliefs and continue to grow. Also I have hope that I will be able to effectively change other harmful beliefs because I was brave and overcame a world view that I no longer value.
And finally, I can have more empathy for people whose world views differ from mine because I know what that’s like. I know how it feels to be so invested in a paradigm that you can’t see out of it. I know what it’s like to fall flat on my face, and I know how it feels to get back up again, even when I’m not sure I have the strength. I have the gift and the power and experience of being dead wrong about something very important, and moving on.
I really enjoyed your post. Some of the premises you made really hit home. It seems that some are common to all of us who have taken an alternate faith journey. It can only be called a “faith crisis” if we turn it into that. I prefer a “faith journey”. Life is a journey.
A MUST READ: NAVIGATING MORMON FAITH CRISIS, by Thomas W. McConkie
This is a new book by Tom McConkie that I found very helpful. It allowed me to see doubt as a beautiful and useful tool that we don’t need permission to have. God gave us the ability to reason and doubt, to propel us to new heights and new discoveries. Doubt helps us shed our cocoon of past beliefs as we see new truths. Because we discover new truths, it doesn’t mean that our old beliefs are invalid, they only helped us get to where we are now.
The Traveller who welcomes diverging views is a mature Traveller. His book talks about maturity in seeking truth. Not feeling threatened by other views. And have a sense of personal security in knowing who and what you are, and what you believe. The mature Traveller seeks other views.
Tom’s conclusion for himself, was to return to the Church after being away for 15 years. However, he honors whatever conclusion a reader may come to regarding their personal path. The book is largely about having permission to have doubts. I highly recommend it for anyone who is on a transitional journey.
I’d also recommend that John Dehlin do a podcast interview with Tom.
Best wishes in your journey.
Another amazing book is: The Challenge to Honesty, by Frances Menlove.
She talks about the ‘certainty of knowing’. How in the LDS church it is important to say “I know” that such and such is true. She debunks that and gives permission for a believer to simply say in faith, “I believe”.
One more book: The God Who Weeps, by Terryl and Fiona Givens.
An amazing book about the nature of a loving and personal God, much different from the Old Testament God that is taught in current Mormon culture. The Givens also talk about the silliness of ‘knowing’; that faith and belief are enough until we leave this earth — at which point we can then say “I know” whether it’s all true or not.
I can highly recommend these books.
A podcast by John Dehlin with Frances Menlove would be amazing. He has already done one with the Givens on Mormon Stories.org.
Great article, Marisa, I enjoyed reading your thoughts and insights. Just an observation that I’m embarrassed took me so long to recognize: Because less than .2% of the world views reality through a LDS lens, one would expect LDS folks to become more skeptical and questioning of their extremely peculiar paradigm simply by virtue of coming into constant contact with the other 99.8% of the world. But the fact is, Mormons don’t really come into contact with the other 99.8% of the world. They spend the overwhelming majority of their time socializing with like-minded family and church friends. So even though they have an extremely peculiar paradigm that only .2% of the world has, their constant socializing with like-minded Mormons prevents or at least delays their ability to recognize they have an extremely peculiar way of looking at the world and understanding life and reality. I think that helps explain why Mormons tend to lag a good 15 years behind their non-LDS peers in seriously questioning their inherited paradigm. Most non-LDS folks do that in their college years, during their first time away from their parents. By contrast, in those years LDS young adults are attending church universities and serving full-time missions–getting further indoctrinated with their inherited paradigm. And even though only .2% of the world shares their paradigm, they don’t get the sense of how extremely peculiar their paradigm is because the overwhelming majority of the peers with whom they most closely associate during those years are like-minded Mormons. As a result, most Mormons don’t begin to seriously reexamine their inherited paradigm until their 30s. (And of course, most never do.) But three cheers for us late bloomers! Better late than never!
This is interesting. I have sometimes felt so frustrated that I didn’t “grow up” while I was in college, as you said. But it’s very true – better late than never! Mormons may make up 0.2% of the world but they are 80-90% of the people who matter most in my world, even living outside of Utah, and I suspect that is similar for a lot of Mormons. I really like what you said.
I’ve been looking for a blog that gives me some guidance on, “Okay, what now?” This was lovely.
Beautifully worded. I had never considered this painful journey to be a gift until now. It seems more like a curse most of the time. Thanks for offering that perspective
This made me want to cry: “This concept flew in the face of what I had wanted to be – a strong, confident woman, a scientist, equal to my husband in our marriage, independent and amazing. But I was so certain that the church was true, that instead of disbelieving what I had learned in the temple or brushing it off, I questioned my own goals and inner voice. I accepted that God didn’t love women as much as he loved men, a devastating blow to my self-esteem and spirituality, because the truthfulness of the church was even more central to my identity than my gender or self-respect.”
I’m so happy that this past year has been one of self discovery for you. It’s amazing how freeing it can be to let yourself be you—wholly and completely, accepting the good and the bad (ouch, as you said). Best wishes in your personal progress, and thanks for sharing your thoughts with the rest of us.
You’re a courageous woman, Marisa. Congratulations for having the guts to challenge the limited LDS paradigm you inherited and for acting on your realization that the church isn’t what it claims to be. And I’m so glad that you write and talk about the insidious number the church does on women. Many Mormon women can’t see the rampant sexism that pervades church doctrine and practice (because of the number that’s been done on them). And many of the ones who can see it won’t speak up about it because they fear having a “spirit of contention.” Not so you. Brava!
Thanks Monica! It’s maddening sometimes how women in the church (and many other churches) can’t see the sexism and even defend it. It’s easy for me to speak up since I’m free from the authority of the church and have already experienced the social rejection. Now I just hope I can help other women to see it and start living their own lives!
Thanks for sharing, Marissa! When you wrote about the “fixed mindset” I laughed to myself as I saw a parallel to being damned in the mormon sense. Since mormons do not believe in a traditional christian hell but instead believe that to be damned means you are stuck and can no longer progress in the eternities. In other words, you are stuck in your lower heaven or glory. It’s ironic because they are the DAMNED ones, missing out on growth opportunities due to their defensive positions protecting their special status as a choosen people.
I like the learning concept of confidence through experience and not just being confident because someone told you that you’re awesome. To me it seems that being out of the church frees me to better experience life and grow.
I happy for you and your life path. I am curious to see where the future takes us all.
Wow, Marisa, thank you! You’re first paragraph pulled me right in. I also loved this part: Depression is the repression of expression. First of all, it’s difficult to see what’s being repressed, and once seen, how to express it; add to that all the conditioned limiting beliefs about what it means to be a woman, and no wonder things feel so overwhelming at times.
It is such a learning process that I sometimes feel I was cheated out of experiencing from a younger age, but I also recognize the value of it even more through having these difficult experiences than perhaps I otherwise would have.
However, there’s also the fact that I feel quite a bit of resistance from myself at times too, simply because of all the hard work involved as I slowly uncover and try to change unhealthy ingrained habits and patterns of thinking.
It’s incredibly emotionally difficult, yet so rewarding at the same time. At any rate, it certainly makes me feel all fired up and alive!
I’m Jennifer Pearce, by the way. Sorry my user name is a bit cryptic.
I absolutely loved this! I have felt this so much in my 2 year journey out, but couldn’t quite pinpoint what I was feeling. You worded it so perfectly, and now I know- I love that I can admit I was wrong, I have learned so much since admitting I was wrong my entire life, and when people ask me what I now believe I just say “I don’t know, but I’m OK with that!” My empathy has increased, my religion-centered ego has faded, and my relationships with those around me are 100x more genuine. Thank you for your insight!
Thank you Marisa. I, too, am troubled by much of the rhetoric given to the youth — especially the ‘us vs. them’ view of the world. (‘The world is wicked, nasty, scary and becoming more so –and we are righteous, clean and superior and need to remain so.’)
To think of ourselves as teachers in the world is to automatically think of others as ‘in need of our teaching’. What a terribly self-centered, prideful way of being that interferes with the beautiful exchange that can happen between 2 people when both sides receive the humanity of the other and learn from each other. We set the youth up for such insidious arrogance when we stroke their egos with, “You are a royal generation. You will save our nation. You will rise up and be leaders and saviors.”
What a terrible message to set a child up with! That they are superior to the world, the flattery to the soul that they are more important, more valuable, more loved, more needed. What could be a more certain way to remain ignorant? Assuring ourselves continually that we are right and others are wrong virtually precludes true learning and growth.
I feel passionately about this (as may be obvious). At one point my husband & I and our family moved out of Utah. I made a new group of friends in our new neighborhood, none of them LDS. On more than one occasion it became painfully obvious to me that I was just leagues behind many of these women in maturity. I was so ashamed to see myself acting like a judgmental, foolishly pompous teenager while surrounded by loving, mature souls. It really threw me for a loop – to see how stunted I was, emotionally and spiritually. (I had fit right in with all my LDS friends back in Utah, I couldn’t see it at all while I remained immersed in the culture.) It was painful to find myself so lacking, yet I am grateful for that sting of pain. I wouldn’t have grown otherwise. [I also want to make it clear that despite all I’ve just written, I cannot blame others for my lack of maturity. Being willing to be wrong and undertaking the difficult task of searching my own soul to the depths was something I needed to choose for myself. No one else could do it for me. I think this is something every soul must wrestle with, in or out of the church. But it would help if church culture didn’t suppress it.]
What exactly is the LDS paradigm? I’ve always thought that our religión was based on the two great commandments. Love God. Love your neighbor. Are you saying that the LDS mind set does not fulfill that criteria?
The attack on divinely authenticated perceptual certainty (my fancy name for the witness of the Spirit) and the very possibility of direct revelation from God to His children on earth for the purpose of instructing those children in the principles of eternal life or anything connected with it continues unabated.
Once this process was completed for the entire Church under the influences of Hellenization and other intellectual currents during the first two centuries after the apostles, the church itself was taken from the earth and new explanations for why direct revelation had ceased had to be created to negotiate the spiritual void in the remaining human religious institutions. Revelation ceased, angelic ministrations and miracles ceased, and dreams and visions ceased, ex post facto, because they were no longer necessary for our salvation once Jesus had done his work and God’s power had “been given unto men.”
From that point on, the scriptures (finally becoming the closed canon of the OT and NT), tradition, and the analysis of the doctors of the Church became the standard.
Now, the atomized, radically autonomous authentic self becomes the frame of reference through which all other things in the universe are referenced. Because such a self can never be certain (even that it is, indeed, a self) of virtually anything beyond its bodily needs, its own internal thought world, and the fundamental physical laws governing organic life, such as self must, especially when immersed in a social environment and popular culture that celebrates the idea that nothing is permanent or stable and that all values, ideas, and concepts – and particularly concepts relating to the meaning and purpose of existence and of the moral/ethical rules governing human relations – are arbitrary, relative, and culturally constructed, retreat from both epistemic realism as well as imagination.
That retreat is into a kind of mushy, soupy nihilism that is really a form of intellectually sloppy and psychologically self-serving solipsism in which certainty and lack of doubt become psychopathological (if not sociopathological) and doubt, skepticism, and indeterminate existential uncertainty become signs of intellectual and psychological maturity and sophistication. And the deeper and more fundamental the questions or concepts, the greater the doubt, uncertainty, and skepticism should be.
How did you realize that women were secondary to men in the church? What is in the endowment process that makes it so clear? I left the church before I ever went though any of that, I don’t know. I am really interested and curious.
Hi Megan! I explain the whole story here:
Inbreeding aside and the high rates of prescription drug use among many many Mormons, and even illegal drug use in and among the learned mental illnesses can easily seem to make many LDS folks feel helpless and hopeless. Knowing that there are those that care can and does make a huge difference.