If I told you I’d been raised a Muslim, and that after 20 years and careful thought I decided to leave my life-long faith, what would you think?
And how would you react if you asked me “Why?” and I replied “Even though I loved my religious community, and even though I tried and wanted to, even though I lived my life according to the teachings of my church, I just didn’t believe Mohamed was a prophet, and I never felt a confirmation that the church was true.”
You’d probably give me a supportive pat on the back and congratulate me for making such a difficult decision. You’d probably say “it must have been really scary to face your religious family and tell them you didn’t believe what they’d been teaching you your whole life. I can’t imagine what kind of rejection and judgement you had to face, making a decision like that.”
And you know what would probably come out of your mouth next?
“Good for you for getting out of there.” Because everyone thinks Islam is violent and crazy, even though most of us know nothing about it. The nuances, the beauty underlying the culture and religion.
I digress. I didn’t grow up Muslim. I grew up Mormon. And there’s nothing “good” about losing your religion. Not at first.
Because, for many, losing your religion means losing your community. It means losing your family. It means losing your friends. It means that you have to rebuild your life from the ground up, and the whole time that you’re doing that, everyone is standing in some great pity-circle around you, wondering which sin brought you down. Everyone is standing there with their mouths agape, wondering how it’s possible that you’re so stupid when the answer is so obvious.
(Don’t worry. Sometimes we wonder the same thing from the other side of the fence. <– That was a joke. You can laugh. Don’t be offended).
But I think people like me need to make it very clear – shout it from the roof tops, really – that there’s nothing wrong with us. That many people leave their varying faiths for all kinds of reasons. Reasons that have nothing to do with wanting to party at the gay disco, or become an alcoholic.
I’m here to tell you that the majority of people who leave their churches aren’t sucked into Satan’s snare and drowned by their addiction to coffee or locked in a room with their porn.
They leave because the things the church promises don’t “come to pass” per say. Some people, like me, fervently read and fasted and prayed about the BoM and the Bible 3 times in a row and never got an answer (which actually wasn’t enough to make me want to leave. Everything that followed – like extremely painful self reflection and being threatened by church leaders to shut up or face religious reprimand for the minor infraction of having questions – influenced that decision). Other people disagree that God would choose so-and-so person with such-and-such history to be a prophet or a pope. Others find a new religion. Others just never feel comfortable, and leave. And still others find that they can’t support the teachings of their faith, and refuse to be hypocrites.
That’s life. It’s normal. Humans are volatile and different and we all carry with us certain beliefs about the way the world should be. If you were a Republican at a dinner party full of Democrats and they just kept bashing your ideas about the world, you’d eventually get tired of arguing…and leave. And no one would blame the alcohol or the length of your sleeves for your departure.
It’s that simple.
That’s not to say there aren’t people who fall into all sorts of vices which destroy their lives. But those choices have nothing to do with how much they believe in God – I assure you. How many gang members wear a cross and pray to a virgin before shooting up a neighborhood? How many Sunday School teachers hold temple recommends and continue to profess their faith in God after being caught in a compromising position with a child, or someone else’s spouse? How many people justify the caffeine levels in their Coke (3 times higher than that of tea or coffee) because it’s not explicitly listed in the WoW?
People make choices all the time, choices that don’t reflect what their church preaches. But they move on through their days, their faith in God and their religion unwavered.
Why is it that no one blinks at a religious pedophile, but everyone cries at the idea of a moral atheist?
So if you’ve managed to read this far, you’re probably wondering: where the hell is this coming from, Nikki? Why are you making us uncomfortable? We’re offended!
Well it’s because of this: I’m tired of watching parents/families choose their churches over their children. Luckily, my parents love me enough to just look at me sideways and wonder what the hell went wrong. But they still love me, even if they don’t understand me. They’re good parents that understand that despite doing their best, I’m going to make my own , thoughtfully made decisions.
But it feels like every week, I see a friend get completely launched from their family. If you aren’t going to go to church, you’re not going to enter the house or be part of the family. We choose dogma over you.
I’m tired of friends who commit suicide because a church leader convinces their family that withdrawing love and access to the family will force their hand and they’ll return to the faith.
I’m tired of seeing parents who gift trips and cars to their faithful children, and nothing but disappointment to the one who “fell away.”
I’m tired of hearing people whisper behind backs (or to your face) that you’re just in a phase, and that when you settle down and have kids you’ll come back. Undermining the intelligence and agency of another person is wrong.
I’m sick of LGBT kids feeling like they were born broken. Mistakes. Unclean. Perverted. (I swear, I will smash the next person who makes a comment like that near me. They will walk away with less teeth than they arrived with).
So here’s the deal: If you are choosing your religion over your children, you are doing it wrong. YOU are the mistakes. There is no God reigning over any religion that would agree with a parent abandoning or persecuting their child for something as insignificant as a difference of beliefs.
We who have left our churches and have not decided to join a new one understand the concerns many of you may feel for our eternal salvation and souls. Please rest assured that we are not worried about those things, and we do not want you to be, either. If we are happy, be happy for us! Support us in as many endeavors as you feel you are able. We will never ask you to make yourselves uncomfortable for our sakes.
But, if you find that the presence of someone who does not share your faith makes you uncomfortable, you should probably really, really reflect on what’s motivating that fear. Because it’s not normal.