What I Believe Now After My Mormon Faith Crisis
Going through a faith crisis hurts. At times, it literally feels like you are dying. You feel lost because your worldview was your life’s map and now it is completely shattered. You feel alone because you don’t feel comfortable telling other believers about what you are going through. And you feel scared because for the first time in your life, you are finding yourself face to face with life’s toughest questions without sure answers.
Living on the passive income from my first company, I spend my time experimenting with ways to live life to its fullest. I am a dad, entrepreneur, and lifelong learner. This blog is where I share what I’m learning along the way, hopeful that it will help you on your path to becoming the most fulfilled YOU!
Putting My Life Together After My Faith Crisis
A faith crisis can be so disorienting and heartbreaking that some people’s lives fall apart (See “Why I Almost Left the Mormon Church”). They might lose their friends and social support. They may end up getting divorced. And they might even turn to substance abuse to numb the pain, sending their life into a complete tailspin.
After going through my own Mormon faith crisis, I totally understand how this can happen and I feel deep sorrow for those it has happened to. When your worldview evaporates, you feel completely lost and confused. You want to fill the void as soon as possible in order to numb the pain. This can lead you to pre-maturely adopt a worldview that isn’t in your best interest, and acting on it can lead to ever more heartache and pain.
At times during my own faith crisis, I felt tempted to throw my whole life under the bus and just start over. In these moments, it helped to remember that I didn’t need to act right away. I could take my time, wait for the pain to subside, and then figure out a rational way to move forward. Looking back, I now see that taking things slowly saved my life.
Over many months, I was able to carefully examine the shattered pieces of my worldview and decide which ones to put back together. The world slowly started to make more sense than it ever had before, filling my life with the greatest peace I’ve ever felt. So, even though my faith crisis was initially painful and heart wrenching, I now view it as one of the most meaningful and positive experiences of my life. Instead of viewing it as a “faith crisis,” I now simply see it as a “faith transition.”
Deciding What to Believe
I think the first step in recovering from a faith crisis is deciding on some kind of procedure for picking which beliefs to hold onto and which ones to leave behind. Before my faith crisis, I believed that I could simply ask God and He would confirm my beliefs for me through positive feelings, but during my faith crisis, this belief fell to the wayside. After reading various articles about cults, I realized that many cult members adopted their negative beliefs on the same basis as I had adopted my religious beliefs.1 Feeling something was true wouldn’t be enough for me anymore.
Feeling something was true wouldn’t be enough for me anymore.
Over time, I’ve found that what works the best for me is to adopt beliefs that are (1) logical, (2) practical, and (3) simple.
I view a belief as being logical if it seems to be true based on the currently available evidence. For instance, when you examine the evidence coming from anthropology, psychology, and biology, the concept of evolution is self-evident. I don’t have to “try” to believe it. It just makes sense.
Some beliefs can’t be scientifically proven one way or the other. For me, this is where faith comes into play. If an idea leads me to live a better life, I put my faith in it. If not, I leave it behind. Why weigh myself down or waste my time pondering beliefs that have no practical utility? Life’s too short.
I often find that the most self-evident and practical beliefs are often the simplest. For instance, God loves everyone. It is a simple idea. No mental gymnastics are required to make it fit.
The Purpose of Life
After my worldview was shattered, I felt a strong need to believe something about the purpose of life. I came to the conclusion that for me, the purpose of life is finding and sharing lasting happiness. This belief helps me move forward each day with motivation to make my life and other people’s lives better.
What About the Afterlife?
I am very grateful that I grew up with a belief system that takes a very positive view of the afterlife. Mormon leaders have taught that everyone will have an equal opportunity to be saved and that almost everyone will inherit a kingdom of glory. This is far more open-minded and beautiful to me than believing in a strict Heaven/Hell dichotomy.
Mormon beliefs about the afterlife can get fairly complicated though, and as I mentioned before I prefer to maintain simplicity in my belief system. Beyond anything, I have a deep belief that everything at its most basic core is good. God, the universe, nature, my fellow man, etc. For this reason, I really don’t feel any compelling need to know where I am going after this life. I just trust that whatever happens, it will be good. That’s enough for me.
I just trust that whatever happens, it will be good. That’s enough for me.
While believing in an afterlife can definitely provide peace, I think that worrying about the afterlife too much can become detrimental. It can be unhealthy if we get more concerned about scoring points for the afterlife than living to our full potential at this moment. It could also be detrimental if we feel excessive guilt about our mistakes, worrying about some future punishment from God. I also think focusing too much on the next life might result in us neglecting to take care of the planet. Adopting a “Jesus is coming anyway, so who cares about global warming” mindset should be avoided at all costs in my opinion.
What About Baptism?
I think viewing baptism as a promise “to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort”2 is a beautiful thing. I also love the idea that we are renewing this promise each week as we take the sacrament.
I also really like the idea of being pure before God, but I’d prefer to believe that every human, whether they have access to Mormon baptism or not, is pure just the way they are. I believe that every human is, at their core, good. When we are in situations that meet our needs, we thrive and our goodness shines through. When we are in situations that fail to meet our needs, we struggle and our good intentions get overshadowed. This belief helps me in my effort to have unconditional love towards every person I interact with (See "How to Develop Unconditional Love: A Scientific Guide"). No matter what behavior someone demonstrates, I can trust that deep down they are good.
Instead of believing that everyone needs to be purified to return to God, I’d rather believe that everyone is, at their core, already good enough just the way they are. I’d rather view mistakes as wonderful learning opportunities than as something that stains my soul and separates me from God.
So, when it comes to baptism, I prefer to focus on making a promise to help others and simply leave the idea of needing baptism for purity/salvation behind.
What About Family History Work?
I can’t express how much I love Mormonism’s focus on families. Families are at the very center of Mormon theology, which I think is really cool. One thing that Mormon leaders encourage is learning more about your ancestors, which has a proven link to increased self-esteem and family functioning.3
Mormons believe that they can perform ordinances such as baptism on behalf of their deceased ancestors. I think this is awesome for two reasons: (1) It suggests that everyone will have a chance to be saved, and (2) It gives Mormons a chance to deeply connect with their ancestors.
While I definitely think it is important to have a way to connect with my ancestors, I personally haven’t felt much of a connection through these practices. I enjoy learning more about my ancestors, but repeating a bunch of ordinances over and over again just doesn’t feel meaningful to me. I personally think God would rather us spend our time saving the millions of people who are currently suffering from lack of clean water, impoverishment, and poverty than spend so much time trying to save people who no longer live on this earth. It just seems more practical to me.
There were moments during my faith crisis when I felt like giving up on believing in God, but it just didn’t feel right. For some reason or another, I find it comforting to believe that there is a greater power out there. Mormons believe that God is literally their father, and I still enjoy thinking about God as a father figure. Whether He actually has human features or not, I don’t really care to worry about, but I like the idea of a God who knows and cares about me.
While I do believe God cares about me, I’m slowly moving away from a belief that He is involved in the personal details of my life. This way of thinking was helpful for me in some ways in the past, but currently I prefer to believe that God typically doesn’t interfere with our lives. Much like a good parent doesn’t helicopter a child once they’ve left for college, I think that God, in large measure, leaves us alone because He knows it is best for our personal growth.
Another Mormon belief that I have always liked is the idea that every human has the potential to become like God. I think this is awesome because it really builds your self-esteem to believe that you have such amazing potential within you. I don’t know how literally I believe this now, but I do like the idea of there being godlike potential in every human being.
There are many things I love about Jesus Christ. I love the values he stood for such as caring for the poor, being open minded, giving up one’s greed, forgiving everyone, being patient, and so much more. He wasn’t afraid to question traditions, and He helped correct many misunderstandings of His current time. He also wasn’t afraid to die for what He believed in.
While I get a lot of value out of His teachings and out of the values He stood for, I personally don’t feel a need to believe that He is God’s only begotten son sent to die for mankind. Like I mentioned before, the purpose of life to me is to find and share lasting happiness, and whether Jesus died for me or not doesn’t seem to help me lead a more fulfilling life. I love Jesus as an amazing person, but whether He is divine or not just doesn’t really feel relevant to me.
Sometimes when I am at church, I feel frustrated because I feel like we spend so much time worshiping Jesus, but not actually learning from Him. Before every testimony meeting, we are told to keep our testimonies focused on Christ, but I feel like we are focusing on the less-useful aspects of Christ. I don’t think God wants us to spend so much of our time confessing our love and gratitude for a deity, whether that deity is His Son or not. I think He’d rather us spend our time at church learning how to live better, be better, and help better. I’d love to hear a testimony in which someone talks about how something Christ taught led them to better love someone.
During Joseph Smith’s time, there were a lot of not-so-positive religious beliefs floating around. Many preachers focused on fire-and-brimstone, fear-based teachings, and I think Joseph Smith made progress in moving away from that. I love many of the things that Joseph Smith taught, and as I’ve already mentioned so far, there are many aspects of Mormon theology that I love.
So, do I believe in the restoration? Yes and no. I believe Joseph Smith restored a lot of good ideas, but I do not believe that he restored “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth”4 I prefer to believe that there are good and bad aspects of every religion, and that it is up to each person to discover for him/herself what to believe. I think God wants us to think for ourselves instead of letting an organization think for us.
Similarly, I view prophets as teaching both good and not-so-good ideas. I find a lot of value in many of the things that I’ve heard from Mormon leaders, but I no longer view them as always speaking on behalf of God. While I don’t think we should go around bad-mouthing them all the time, I think it is appropriate to approach their teachings with a healthy dose of skepticism.
The Book of Mormon
I now view the Book of Mormon the same way I view any other religious book as having both good and not-so-good ideas. I’ve gotten value out of many passages found in the Book of Mormon, but I don’t necessarily view it as being “true” or as being evidence that the church is “true.” I’m sure many parts of The Book of Mormon were inspired but whether they are a record of actual historical events doesn’t really matter to me. I only care about what their words can teach me about living a more meaningful life.
I think it is awesome that Mormons believe in seeking knowledge no matter it’s source. In fact, Joseph Smith taught that “We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up,” be they from Presbyterians, Baptists or anyone else, “or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons’”5 But I wonder if the average Mormon really has time to seek out “all the good and true principles in the world” when we feel so much pressure to read the Book of Mormon every day, prepare for Sunday School by reading “Come Follow Me”, study the general conference talks, and on and on. For me, it helps to simply view the scriptures as one of many great resources to learn from. This prevents me from feeling tied down, giving me the time to explore all of the world’s best ideas.
I really like how personalizable Mormon prayers are. Many other Christian religions have pre-written, repeated prayers, whereas Mormons simply address God and then speak what’s on their mind. I especially enjoy telling God what I am grateful for and asking Him to watch over people who I’m worried about. While I’m skeptical about the degree to which God answers prayers, I think that talking to God can be helpful in developing gratitude and compassion.
Am I Still a Mormon?
There are all different types of Mormons. Some try to believe everything taught by Mormon leaders. Some don’t. Are Mormons who believe more of what is taught more Mormon than those who do not? I don’t think so.
Every religion has a set of values, beliefs, and behaviors. I view values as being the core of a religion, and just like most of the world’s religions, Mormons value love, family, peace, service, understanding, growth, patience, acceptance, etc. So while no Mormon can perfectly adopt every single belief and behavior, I think each of us is doing our best to cherish and hold onto the values behind our religious practice. That’s what being a Mormon means to me (See "Why Every Mormon Should Embrace Being a 'Buffet Mormon'").
After going through a faith crisis, it can be tempting to simply throw away your religious worldview and adopt a completely new one. This might work for some people, but I personally think it is important to appreciate the best aspects of where you came from. Sure, like any other religions, my childhood religion has its shortcomings, but I’m trying my best to appreciate and hold onto the positive. I’m trying to view my own belief system more objectively, and find beliefs that are logical, practical, and simple. I find that such beliefs allow me to move forward each day with greater purpose and energy.
What beliefs help you move forward?