I once had it all. My father was a God. I was going to become just like him. I had already started designing the planets I would one day create. I wielded enormous power. I believed I could move mountains with a flick of my wrist, cure sickness with magical olive oil and call down the wrath of heaven just by shaking dust off my shoes. I knew the secrets of the universe including where the garden of Eden had been and Bigfoot’s first name.
Best of all, I was immortal and could never really die. My awesome big brother had given me an amazing gift. I looked down on lesser humans and pitied their limited vision and knowledge. I wanted to share with them all my wisdom and power the way my Kolobian father had shared with me. Many foolishly rejected the teachings I offered. I found solace in knowing that the great sorting hat in the sky would surely place me in House Celestial. I felt bad for the non-believers but had sure knowledge they would still get into one of the lesser kingdoms.
I was so happy. I didn’t mind three hours of meetings. I gladly enjoyed my daily scripture study. I was proud to don the world’s ugliest underwear. I felt honored when God himself, speaking through his servants, the prophets, asked humble me to clean his toilets. Tithing wasn’t a sacrifice, it was a blessing. I knew every dollar I gave would be returned ten-fold through mysterious, mystical methods. I could boldly proclaim to the world my moral superiority because I preferred my caffeine at the temperature the Lord found pleasing. I saved my body for marriage. Tattoos were simply not an option. I covered my shoulders and gently chided those who wanted multiple ear piercings. I mostly succeeded in not touching my own jiggly bits but when I did, I made sure I felt really, really super ashamed.
I gave up two years of my life to serve a mission. I have literally spent months in leadership meetings. I tried my best to imitate Elder David A. Bednar’s hypnotic General Conference Voice when asked to speak in Sacrament. I openly wept like Elder Henry B. Eyring while exhorting others to hasten the work. I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Elohim, our Heavenly Father, would yet reveal many plain and precious things pertaining to the Kingdom of God on Earth. I was pure in heart, Zion through and through. If commanded to smite off a head, I would go and do it without hesitation or reservation because revelation and inspiration were the only proclamation I required to save a nation. So heck yes, I was more man than others because I was Mormon!
I gladly did everything I was asked. What a small price to pay if it meant I could be with my loved ones forever. I would continue to sit at the head of my family. A patriarch in perpetuity up on that glorious stand. Presiding and conducting over generations so numerous they would extend back beyond the overflow and into the gym. I would be their God just as I had a God. World’s without end in one eternal round.
My beautiful bride had many talents and skills that I never cared about. I knew when I met her at a BYU scavenger hunt family home evening that she appeared to have a strong testimony. That was good enough for me. Six weeks later we were kneeling across from each other on a very expensive rug in a Disney like castle called a Mormon Temple. Not long after, she began fulfilling her divine nature. She knew her job was to continually bring forth life after life even on into the afterlife because she’d been foreordained to do this in the preexistence.
Everything was great. Fabulous. Just perfect in every possible way. Except I had some concerns. Little things that just didn’t quite add up. I learned I had a “shelf”. A place where I could put issues I didn’t understand. I was taught that there were mysteries I would have to wait for. Evidence I would have to ignore. Logic and reason I would have to switch off. And I did. I wasn’t going to let a few nagging doubts get in the way of the wonderful plan that God himself had revealed to me through my patriarchal blessing. I had a horoscope for my entire life that was custom prepared just for me. All those blessings and promises would be mine if the price was right. That price was me exercising blind faith, obeying everything I’d been taught always, praying daily and paying monthly.
Then a friend from my mission made an announcement on Facebook. He told the world he wasn’t a member of the one true church anymore. I was shocked, I wept for him. I wanted to help him. Bring him back into the fold. Get him back on the boat. I reached out to him. What had happened? He had been so strong. He told me he’d come across some information. I assured him it was all Anti-Mormon lies. He didn’t flinch. I told him every question had an answer. I asked him to share his doubts with me and I would carry the burden with him. I would research everything and save him. I would not rest until he was back holding strongly to the iron rod.
He sent me an email that contained a letter. A letter written by some punk named Jeremy Runnells. Jeremy had had questions like mine but he didn’t do the right thing with them. He didn’t smush his doubts deep down into a dark place where you don’t have to think about them. He foolishly listed his questions. Responding to a request from his Grandfather to share them with a church educator. As I read through his letter my shelf started to crack a little. Each issue he raised was a hammer blow knocking my shelf harder and harder. When I reached the end of the CES Letter, my shelf was sagging mightily. I rolled up my sleeves and started doing my own research. I read some essays the Church put out. I checked and cross-checked websites and books. Every fact led to another. I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. After one more evening spent researching, I was faced with the stark realization that there was only one answer that satisfied every question I’d ever had about everything I’d been told and all that I’d learned. That simple answer: “It’s all made up.” In that instant, my shelf crashed to the ground. All my doubts lay spread across the floor, glistening in the sun. It turns out these doubts were treasures that I had ignored.
As I wept and mourned, it hit me. All those promises that had been made to me were false. The sacrifices I had made were for nothing. And the worst part, there was no way to un-know what I now knew. I tried to fake it but I couldn’t. I went to my leaders who responded by taking away my temple recommend. This meant I couldn’t be there for my sister when she got married. Date night with my wife would have to be somewhere else. The more I went to my leaders for help and answers, the more things they took away. I was released from a teaching calling I loved so I wouldn’t corrupt others.
All I wanted was the same answers Jeremy sought. I finally realized those answers were never coming. Those answers don’t exist. I was shocked to find the Church had power to take even more from me than my recommend and my calling. I lost my status in my community. I lost my employment at a small company run by devout members. I lost the love of my wife who valued me only when I honored my priesthood. I lost the respect of my children who are taught every week by their Church teachers that people like me are to be pitied and prayed for. The Church’s organized reaction to my faith transition devastated my once happy union and harmed my traditional marriage.
Jeremy’s letter ruined my life. He took everything from me I valued. It was all burned to the ground. From these ashes, I built my new life. This time, I am just a human, mortal like everybody else. The connections I forge with new friends and lost loved ones feel deeper and more real. A giant, unaccountable Orwellian organization no longer listens in and guides every relationship. My future is unknown but that makes it more exciting.
I enjoy some of the pleasures that had been forbidden. Coffee is amazing. Beer isn’t so bad. I’m shopping for my first tattoo. Jiggly bits sometimes get jiggled with no shame involved. I make mistakes but I’ve learned to own them. As Steinbeck said, now that I don’t have to be perfect I can just be good. I have a lot more free time and a lot more money. Life is more fun than it has ever been and I feel more connected in a genuine way to everything.
As for leaving the church alone after I left, I’ve discovered it won’t leave me alone. Like a crazy ex that feels the need to trash you, it keeps harping on about me over its bully pulpit. Telling those I care about how I must be a lazy offended sinner to walk away from it. Its hateful vitriol poisons my marriage. Causes my children to look down on me. The actions of the Church alienate many around me. I know a lot of the so-called love and attention I receive from those still stuck in their prison of faith is motivated by a naive desire to get me to return to my cell. I know a lot of my friendships have ended because others don’t want to catch my disease of doubt. Sometimes it hurts. It hurts like crazy. But I know these people. I know them well. I was them once. I know they have shelves and doubts because this is normal for all humans. I can choose not to be Mormon but they can’t choose to not be human. I hope one day they wake up like I have.
It is truly glorious out here. I am glad I don’t have answers to every question because I am now free to question every answer. I am able to save money and travel more. I have a second Saturday every single week. I’m not as stressed running around trying to save dead people. I’m not required to have a secret plan to convert co-workers and casual acquaintances. When the Mormon Church comes out with painful and outdated policies that hurt people I care about, I don’t have to feel guilty. I am no longer their representative. I am my own General Authority and I don’t even have to force people to refer to me by my middle initial. I have finally found joy and peace in this life. I treasure it even more because I don’t know how long it will last. I’m not a god in embryo, I’m just a normal human being, like everyone else. And my underwear is a lot cooler now.
Yes, Jeremy Runnells, you ruined everything. Thank you for that amazing gift.
Note: For several years I’ve been watching and listening to former Mormons go through faith transitions. The above is a fictional letter written as a tribute that combines thousands of their experiences. This is for those who’ve had the courage to share their stories. Let their bravery be an inspiration to the many still stuck in the pews.