Hi Cathy! Thanks for taking the time to chat with Doubtsy today and to share with us your story and your work.
Thanks for taking the time to interview me!
Great! You’re the author of two books: The Conservative Atheist, which was launched on Doubtsy.com last week, as well as another book, Peddling Servitude, which we just released.
Tell us about you and why you wrote those books.
Yes. I‘m honored to have my work featured on Doubtsy.
My parents converted to Mormonism when I was three years old – it was all I ever knew. It was a very familiar, sometimes comforting situation, but things always seemed off. I knew that was because I was sinful, though, and I worked hard to temper my individuality and thought processes. For forty-five years I tried to be a “good” Mormon – I did almost everything asked of me, including tens of thousands of hours of music for the church. I accepted most callings, felt guilty about the ones I didn’t, went to countless meetings, and studied material suggested, i.e. required, by the church.
Finally, one day, I risked eternal wrath – I was actually genuinely nervous. But, I got onto a well-known ex-Mormon website and started reading. It took ten minutes or so and I was done. Everything suddenly fell into place and I realized I wasn’t alone. Along with the joy of leaving religion behind the anger started boiling over. I had lost so much time to this church! After months of reading, thinking, and research I had to write the books as a cathartic exercise and to hopefully help others figure it all out too.
Wow. Did you tell your loved ones immediately? What were their reactions?
I only told my husband. He is always supportive. He isn’t as assertive about church matters as I am, but he wants no part of it now either. I didn’t tell anyone else for a while, due to a pending family occasion I was determined not to miss. Once that was over I “outed” myself. A few friends and family members were fine with it, but many others weren’t. I have paid a heavy price for my non-belief, but it is something I can’t deny ever again.
I’m so glad to hear that your husband is supportive. As you know, it’s not always the case. So, it seems that writing was your personal therapy. Tell us a little bit about why you wrote the books and why you picked the topics that you wrote about.
I’m very fortunate in that sense, definitely.
I wrote The Conservative Atheist first. I approached it as a way to tell my story, which is why it is more of a memoir-type narrative. I hoped it might provide an “aha” moment to others who had lived or were living the same way I had been. People sometimes assume that, because I’m an atheist, I don’t know what it’s like to live a religious life. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. I lived it through and through, and I tried so very hard to be the kind of person who would earn all the heavenly brownie points and rise right up to the highest level of the celestial kingdom. It mattered so much to be able to be with my family forever – I functioned in fear because I was afraid I would blow it and not be able to see my husband or children ever again. Every member of the church functions in fear – it’s portrayed as great promises, the whole idea of everlasting life in various levels of heaven, but it’s actually threats used to keep members in line.
I wrote Peddling Servitude after that because I saw right away how individuals who leave religion behind are immediately expected to move left in their political leanings. I place more emphasis on religion in the book, though, because I began to understand, more all the time, how incredibly damaging religion is across the board – not only in our personal lives, but in communities, nations, and the world in general. It took some time to digest all the information I was reading and thinking through, and to coalesce it into something I felt could help people in similar situations.
You raise great points in both of your books that have also been discussed and debated on Reddit and other online forums:
“Why do so many people who leave Mormonism gravitate toward atheism?”
“Why do a lot of folks who leave Mormonism change their political beliefs and affiliations and often tend to gravitate toward the left?”
According to your books, you identify as a conservative. How has leaving Mormonism and becoming atheist altered your political views, if it has? What are your thoughts about the impact of leaving Mormonism on one’s political worldview?
I remain strongly conservative, although I have swung moderate on a few issues.
I didn’t necessarily “become” atheist. At first, when I realized I could admit to myself that the church wasn’t true, I felt incredible relief. It took just a few more minutes of reading and thinking to kick all religion to the curb, which was liberating in the extreme. I realized I had never really believed any of it in the first place, but couldn’t admit it to myself, much less anyone else. I would have brought on unwelcome attention from church authorities if I had anyway, and I wouldn’t have risked that. So, it was a simple matter of realizing what I actually had known all along, at least deep down, and allowing that to finally be celebrated and embraced.
However, I also realized that I was going to anger a lot of people very quickly. There was no way I could move left – I had studied liberal positions for years and knew they were counter to everything I valued and held dear in my life. The more I reasoned through things the more I grasped the perfect meshing of conservatism and atheism. Both accord the human condition the highest dignity, protecting and valuing it every way possible, and both allow for, and encourage, individuality, freethinking, self-direction, personal motivation, and independence. I can’t imagine living life without those options.
My worldview follows much the same line of thinking. Our political climate nowadays often insists on citizens accepting overwhelming control in their lives – control over their finances, travel patterns, online habits, thought processes, and deeply personal choices. Oftentimes decisions are made FOR us, without our consent. Governments have become far too powerful and much too vested in absolute control over their citizens. Atheism and conservatism both reject these power-and-control tactics, instead fostering a climate of self-directed purpose and responsibility for one’s own actions, both of which are often sadly lacking in most political systems.
I personally have close friends across the political spectrum (and off) and have had fascinating conversations with many of them. I remember one fascinating observation by a friend that I think is relevant here. During one of our conversations, my friend made the following comment:
“Many leave the god of Mormonism only to replace Him with the god of the State.”
What are your thoughts on this observation?
I think it’s spot-on. I wish I had said it!
It’s exactly how I feel, though. Why leave the jealous, controlling, vindictive god of Mormonism, and, actually, almost every religion, and then willingly accept that same level of power and control that is simply wielded in a different fashion? I have a problem with authority – if it’s genuinely earned, in my opinion, I will generally accord it the respect it deserves and will attempt to learn from that situation. Most authority figures come nowhere close to that, however, and I reject their attempts to control my life and dictate how I should live, in any way. Sometimes we can’t escape it, and sometimes it does benefit us, but, for the most part, we have become MUCH too used to intrusions into our lives and the determination to wrap the proverbial iron fist around our throats.
I love, I LOVE, living as independently as possible – making my own way, choosing my own life path, enjoying what I find wonderful and beautiful and funny and uplifting, and learning what interests me most. Religion and liberalism are harsh and ugly taskmasters – we’re so much better off without them. I have liberal friends I like very much, and we also have very interesting conversations, but I know I can never accept what they promote.
I’m channeling the same friend here and I can see him asking:
“What makes conservatism more moral than liberalism if they both use the same entity (State/Government) to force others to abide by their agenda and platform? How is the initiation of force moral and justified?”
If an administration is truly run by conservatives, the way conservatives would like to see it run, force would not occur. There is nothing moral about force whatsoever, and most conservatives would agree, I believe. Many, if not most, liberals would not – they often feel force is more than justified in order to advance their agenda and create the kind of world they want to live in. Simply because an administration appears to be conservative and/or uses whatever level of force, be it subtle or overt, does not mean it is actually or truly conservative. An actual conservative entity would never require or force citizens to do much of anything. This is largely libertarian territory, which I’m currently studying. Still, conservatives, by and large, simply want to be left alone to live productive, happy lives directed by their own passions and interests.
Some would counter that conservatives are just as guilty as liberals in the use of force through the vehicle of government. For example, conservatives want to impose their – in most cases – religious version of morals on others who do not share their religious version of morals. Gay marriage is one example. Abortion is another example. Prayer in schools was another example. So on and so forth.
What would you say to the assertion that conservatives are just as guilty as liberals in imposing force on others; regardless of the degree of that force?
Administrations are guilty of imposing those “morals”. Again, I believe most conservatives do not condone these actions. Corrupt governments can impose religious standards on huge groups of people and not only appear as though they’re conforming to a societal standard, but can gain even more control over citizens. That’s all religion is anyway – a way to control the masses and make money for self-styled elites. Some conservatives do support these moves, and that is their right, but I hear of very few who actively work to force these things on other people. That is a tactic of the left. Most conservatives, like libertarians, want to just live and let live.
I love this quote in your Peddling Servitude book:
“Who is this god, then, that plays such favorites and clearly beams with delight when observing his church-going, prayer-generating people in the more developed nations? How is the agonizingly thin child with a distended belly who just watched his parents die from starvation in Africa less “good” than a middle-aged, overweight store clerk in America who looks forward to her yearly cruise? Why are supplications for help with a broken-down car or a serious illness carefully attended to by a devoted heavenly being while Muslim women continue to have acid thrown in their faces and their children routinely raped? It is truly breathtaking, in the worst of ways, to read online comments or hear conversations in which the warm, the well-fed, and the complacent attribute the good in their lives to this arbitrary god and blame other people or events for less favorable situations.”
My own version of this was:
“How can a god help Provo Jennifer find her car keys while ignoring the agony and plight of the starving African child getting hacked or the starving child in North Korea eating bark? Is this god really going to bless my greasy pizza? A god that can intervene for my greasy pizza while not intervening in real human suffering is not a god I can get behind.”
So, I think you said it better and more eloquently than I ever could.
This was a concept I struggled with endlessly when I was in the Mormon church. It made absolutely no sense to me. Why was I supposedly better than literally billions of people who weren’t going to be “privileged” to hear the gospel and live the way I did? Why did I get to have such an amazing life, in a prosperous, free country while billions suffered in ways I couldn’t even begin to comprehend? I was taught, as all Mormons are taught, that I simply lived a better life in the pre-existence and, therefore, I earned my spot during this time period and in this country, due to my spiritual diligence. That was just bizarre to me. I’m “me” and I’ll always be “me” – we were taught that our personalities came with us and will be with us in the hereafter. My “me” thought all of this was crazy, which immediately disqualified me from the whole idea of living such an excellent life in the pre-existence. I went around and around on this notion more times than I can count – I thought I was going to lose my mind trying to puzzle it all out. I hated that people suffered so badly and my shallow self decided I was “starving” when I hadn’t eaten in a few hours. The arrogance of even my thoughts and choices was amazing. I couldn’t square any of this in any logical, rational sense.
Very well said.
Another quote from Peddling Servitude that resonated with me:
“Reason is subsumed to, if we are honest with ourselves, what appears to be quite irrational behavior – attempts to communicate with a god who actively hides himself, the reading of ancient texts written by Bronze Age and Iron Age individuals who had no idea the earth wasn’t the center of the universe, ignoring vicious, incestuous, and murderous parts of those texts in favor of information a little more easily followed in this day and age, giving money (sometimes very large sums over time) to religious leaders who often have no accountability whatsoever with regard to the disbursement of those funds, the collecting of religious paraphernalia such as statues of divine beings, rosary beads, crosses, and strange items of clothing in the hope this will gain divine approval, handing the course of one’s life over to religious teachings with no evidence to back them up and, often, totally untrained religious leaders, and learning to “have faith”, the dreaded and obscenely vague admonishment that takes credit when desired events occur and totally absolves spiritual leaders when they don’t.”
You have a gift for writing and in illustrating how crazy religion can be.
I never, EVER saw myself as anything but a devout and dedicated Mormon. I wanted God to be so proud of me and my efforts to live up to his Word. This was a totally unexpected journey. I believe yours was too – I so appreciate the work you do.
Once the journey has to occur, though, it is definitely humbling. Religious individuals, particularly those who are members of churches like the Mormon church, are deeply conditioned to feel, to KNOW, they are better than everyone else and that they warrant a much better place in heaven. They downplay that, of course, but it’s a terrible false modesty. The condescension towards those of other faiths, and especially those with no faith at all, is palpable quite often. I had to accept my absolute averageness as a human being, which was difficult. I wanted to be special – who doesn’t? Faith-based entities use that in the worst of ways.
And so, we are average, nowhere near the top of the evolutionary ladder. That’s okay. Just the fact that we have life itself, with all the crazy, funny, scary, uplifting, challenging, depressing, and useful things that happen, is amazing. I’m grateful. I’m determined to live a life that is guided by reason now – there will be no more irrational behavior or self-deceit. I feel as though a heavy boot has been lifted off the back of my neck. Life is a joyous experience, for the most part, and when we make rational choices guided by our own life experiences, we’re better for it.
I love it. Thank you, Cathy. I really enjoyed talking to you today.
Thank you. I enjoyed this as well.
For more intelligent and witty insights from Cathy L. Mason, check out her new book “Peddling Servitude” here: