I was born in Utah, stronghold of the Mormon church, to students at Brigham Young University. From the moment of my birth, my parents undertook to raise me in Mormonism. My father has ancestors who moved from England to settle Utah after converting (in Mormonism, such a person is said to be “of pioneer stock”); my mother’s parents converted from Lutheranism.
We moved out of Utah when I was aged one, and my parents continued their programme of indoctrination. Over the next decade, they would have two more sons, and they extended the programme to them as well. They successfully made Mormons of all three of their sons, and each of us was baptized in his turn as he turned eight, as is the custom among Mormon families.
I oscillated in my zeal for “the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ”, with peaks as I was baptized and just before my deconversion. At these peaks, I would bring my “triple combination” (The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price, three books of Mormon scripture, bound in a single volume) to school, read diligently from The Book of Mormon as the “prophets” commanded, and enjoyed to write stories on themes from Mormonism. At my most zealous, I would occasionally ridicule others’ religions and religious symbols without remorse, for I thought I belonged to the true church of Jesus Christ, and The Book of Mormon says (I Ne. xiv: 10):
Behold, there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church [the church of the devil], which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.
Chastisement or hostile reactions only inflated my sense of righteousness; I thought of these reactions as “persecution”, and thus compared myself to such righteous and legendary characters as Abinadi, a prophet from The Book of Mormon whom the wicked King Noah burnt to death for delivering God’s rebuke to him and his court.
A further example of my self-righteousness: in middle school, as children in becoming adolescents found a new interest in sex and swear-words, I maintained God’s favour (as I supposed) in resisting these trends, and even threatened to terminate an important and long-standing friendship over this. (I never did).
In time, I entered high school and Mormon seminary. On the way to seminary one early morning, my mother introduced conservative talk radio to me by playing it as she drove me thither. I was already very conservative, having several of Glenn Beck’s books in my possession; I followed the 2008 and 2012 elections with great interest and was appropriately distressed when Barack Obama won both. Throughout high school, I listened to such figures as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Medved, and Mike Gallagher at every opportunity, all of whom I esteemed then but contemn now.
The youth of my congregation would gather from time to time at a leader’s house and hear an address from a leader. On one such occasion, a leader gave an address defending the veracity of the Book of Mormon. This awakened doubts in me, having been told in school that horses only came to the Americas with the Europeans, while the Book of Mormon, whose setting is the Americas at the time of the Roman Empire, mentions horses many times. Nevertheless, I suppressed this doubt, aided by Wikipedia’s inclusion of Mormon apologetics. While sitting in church, it struck me how very businesslike the Mormon church was in its operations, on another occasion that “I need a religion like I need a favourite sports team!”, and on still another occasion that the primary purpose of the church was to propagate the church. But I suppressed these thoughts also, for it was forbidden to think them, and I dreaded severe punishment if I dared to express them.
I began learning LISP (“the language of artificial intelligence”), and I wanted to try a bit of artificial intelligence by writing a program to practise formal logic. In my search for valid argument forms, I found RationalWiki, which has unfavourable things to say about Joseph Smith and the Mormon church. The things said resembled my idea of “anti-Mormon slander”, so, being more skeptically inclined than not, I took to the Internet, and entered the simple term “mormonism” into DuckDuckGo. I did not at all suspect that the Mormon church bought a higher ranking in Google search terms for “mormonism”, but I used DuckDuckGo rather than Google because I was concerned about privacy. I wanted a second opinion on Mormonism, but I feared the repercussions from my parents for reading “anti-Mormon lies”.
Very near the top of my search results was Recovery from Mormonism. The concept of “recovery from Mormonism” intrigued me, so I read the site, and found a large archive of former members’ strongly-worded grievances against church leaders. I could not simply dismiss the complainants as thin-skinned, as I had been taught to do; their grievances seemed very significant, and the offenders seemed unworthy of their holy offices. It did not occur to me at all that they were lying, and it seemed highly unlikely that everyone was lying. As I read more and more accounts, the idea occurred to me that, contrary to what I was taught, there was no divine inspiration in the appointment of church officers, and the abuses recorded were enabled by the system.
I also found the website of Richard Packham, a former lawyer and linguist, who wrote an interesting article on linguistic problems with Mormonism, as well as the “Letter to a CES Director”, another doubting Mormon’s list of problems with the doctrine of the church, which he wrote to an officer of the “Church Educational System” (CES) in search for answers; the CES director failed to provide any. I learned, not only from the content of these websites but also from their very existence, that there were many hundreds of people like me who were not afraid to question Mormonism, and they had powerful and well-sourced reasons for their unbelief.
The combined force of these documents and the information therein completely blasted my belief in Mormonism. I continued to read the aforementioned websites, and found that the stories of Jesus are no better evinced than the stories of The Book of Mormon, and that there is no good evidence of any gods whatever. Thus I suddenly thought, as though an electric light were illuminated, “Agnostic atheism is the only reasonable position!”
On the eighteenth of December, 2014, I confessed my unbelief to my parents. I received a stern talking-to from them, many tears were shed on all sides, and they still maintained that they could make a good Mormon out of me. Therefore, they sent me to Brigham Young University (BYU) in August 2015; BYU bars disaffiliated Mormons from attending and will not hesitate to evict and expel Mormon students who deconvert. BYU is wholly owned by the Mormon church, and the Mormon “apostles” sit on its board of directors.
My deconversion coincided with a reversal of my political opinions. Very many Mormons are highly conservative; conservatism in Mormonism has a very long history. A general application of skepticism drove me to analyze all my beliefs, and by analysis, my conservatism disintegrated. Via RationalWiki I found the excellent We Hunted The Mammoth, and via We Hunted The Mammoth, I learned of the very ugly contingents of misogynists and racists that infest the Internet — GamerGate, “men’s rights activists”, “pick-up artists”, and others, whose acts range from utterly risible to absolutely horrendous. Though I have read about them for more than a year, I still cannot comprehend how these people can be so monstrous, yet at the same time so contemptible, if they are not the ultimate combination of all-consuming hatred and insuperable incompetence.
Thus I am gone from conservative Mormon to liberal atheist. That is the course of my life as far as it has run, “and thus it is; amen.”