Thank you, Richard. Here's my story:
I was raised Mormon by loving, caring, sincere parents who honestly see Mormonism as the path to happiness. Despite the usual teenage phases of doubt and rebellion, I would have considered myself a very devout Mormon as well – until several months ago. As most people of faith, I would say that I struggled with some inner conflict, but I did my best to resolve it and suppress doubt. I served faithfully as a Mormon missionary and still consider that to have been a life-improving experience.
Studying for an English class at BYU, I stumbled upon information detailing the claims against the validity of the Book of Abraham. I was not totally unaware of these claims before, but I had never investigated them very thoroughly. To my extreme disappointment, the case against the Book of Abraham seemed very strong. It would require a willful suspension of disbelief to claim that the book is what it purports to be.
This was devastating to me and ignited an obsession with finding out everything I could about the claims of the Church, critical or otherwise. One disappointment after another, I sadly realized that the Mormon Church is not what I thought it was. For any curious Non-Mormons or Mormons reading who haven't gone through this process themselves, run a simple Google search on the following topics: Adam-God, Book of Mormon anachronisms, Blood Atonement, Brigham Young's teachings on Blacks, Joseph's Seer Stone (Reading the Book of Mormon from a Hat), Joseph Smith's Wives (especially Helen Mar Kimball), Kinderhook Plates, Mormonism and Freemasonry, Zelph.
Some of these teachings are more atrocious and blatantly false than others, but they all paint a picture of the Church that is vastly different from the romanticized, Sunday school version. The straw that broke the camel's back for me was realizing what conclusions I would have to draw if I accepted Joseph Smith's polygamy as part of his prophetic mission (which Mormonism claims it was – see D&C 132).
Helen Mar Kimball was 14 years old when Joseph Smith took her as his 26th wife. By scriptural admission and first-hand testimony of wives, Joseph's polygamy did involve sex at least some of the time (see D&C 132 again, or read Compton's In Sacred Lonliness). Helen Mar Kimball mentioned in her journal that at that age, she didn't even know what sex was. The marriage appears to have been the result of intense pressure from Joseph and from Helen's father, Heber C. Kimball (a prominent Mormon leader of the time). Helen had a sweetheart and wanted to live a normal childhood.
So here's the epiphany where I fully admitted to myself that Mormonism is false. If I accept Joseph Smith as a prophet, I have to accept the idea that sometimes it's OK (indeed sanctioned by God) for a 38 year old man to have sex with a 14 year old girl. Even if Joseph never had sex with her, the implication of marriage is that it would have been ok if he had. I can not accept that under any circumstances. Especially given the personal experience I have watching loved ones suffer the emotional trauma of sexual abuse, I can not accept the idea that God would sanction that.
I went and bought a pack of smokes. It was official; I don't believe this crap.
Around the same time as I was studying the history of the Mormon church, I came into contact with the writings of the so called “New Atheists” – Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, etc. I realized something. Whenever absurd Mormon claims came under fire, we would always defer to the authority of the Bible, with its similarly absurd claims.
“How could God ask Joseph Smith to marry 14 year old girls?”
Response: “Well He asked Abraham to marry another wife. He even asked him to kill his own son.”
Well yes, in the Bible God does ask Abraham to kill his son. He also instructs His people that women should be killed if they don't scream loud enough during a rape; that homosexuality, not being Christian, and even picking up sticks on Saturday warrant the death penalty; that non-virgin brides should be left dead on their father's doorsteps – but does that make Mormonisms claims justified or does it just mean that the Bible is equally bogus? Reading Dawkins and Harris, I realized it was OK (in fact only reasonable) to claim the latter.
So in a few devastating months I went from Mormon to Atheist. I would, to clarify, call myself a “Spiritual Atheist”. That is to say that, while I'm not prepared to subscribe to any particular mythology, I can't deny that transcendent experiences occur as a result of meditation and prayer (for whatever reason). Just because I feel a relief from guilt as a result of prayer does not mean that Jesus will be returning to Missouri to reinstitute polygamy and animal sacrifice anytime soon. It just means that prayer and meditation have the capacity to relieve guilt and change lives. I especially identify with Harris's ideas on this subject – that spirituality needs to be divorced from the dogmatic claims of specific religions.
Going through this change has been rough, but I see it as necesary and something I must fight through. The hardest thing, of course, is the fact that my family and nearly all of my friends are devout Mormons. How do those relationships evolve? From my perspective, it's sad that a flawed mythology can present an obstacle to these important relationships – but it has. In the case of my family, many tears have been shed.
As time has gone on, however, the wounds have been slowly healing. I transfered to the University of Utah, and am currently living in Salt Lake, which is much more liberal and secular than the rest of Utah. I work at the Apple Store and serve at a restaurant on the weekends.
I hope, if there's someone reading going through something similar that you'll at least know you aren't alone. I'm convinced this is one of the most difficult situations anyone can be in. An authoritarian religious institution, especially one as culturally dominant as the Mormon church is in Utah, is very difficult to leave.
Exmormon atheist in Utah