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Oasis Mailbag: How Do I Tell My Wife That I Don’t Believe Anymore?

The following message (along with the others that I’ve received) makes me really happy that I created the contact form. Can you help Eric out? I think it would help to hear from both sides of this situation. He writes:


I recently stumbled across the link to your blog on the Letters From a Broad site. I immediately paid attention because your philosophical musings and search for meaning post-Mormonism almost exactly mirror my own. You also have a wonderful talent for writing about them, which makes your posts a real joy to read.

Another way in which we are similar is the family heartache our recent ”change of mind“ causes our families. The difference is, I haven’t told my family yet, not even my wife. I realized about two years ago that Mormonism is not true and went through a gradual process of redefining my beliefs, first as a deist, then a hopeful agnostic, and finally (as of this writing!) an agnostic atheist. I was at BYU earning a degree in geology and could not rationalize my religion to make room for the scientific method. Like you, I find inspiration and solace in science and philosophy, and in the innumerable spontaneous moments of joy spent with my children or in nature.

The reason I am writing is because I just read your wife’s post about when you broke the news to her, and the lengthly comments that followed. You see, sooner or later I have to break the news to my own faithful, believing wife. I want this experience to be as painless as possible and am concerned, as you were, of the possibility of divorce or lasting anger. I seriously believe our relationship and her compassion are strong enough to survive, but I need to choose the right time and place.

We are living with our two children in [Outer Darkness] right now and will be here for another 3 1/2 months. Before coming, I told myself I would tell her after we returned home. I didn’t want to make an already difficult ordeal even more difficult, especially since she would be cut off from her support network (mother, sister, and ward family). Lately, however, I have been overwhelmed with a desire to finally come out of the closet and stop hiding the most real part of me of me from the people that matter most. I have so many thoughts I want to share on my blog, but I need them to hear it from me before they stumble across it on my blog. (I briefly—for about 1.5 seconds—considered making another blog for these thoughts and not sharing it with them, but that reeks of the same “double life” crap I am trying to leave behind now.)

I was contemplating telling her a couple of weeks from now (while still in [Outer Darkness]), but when I read your wife’s post I stopped. If her pain and anger will be anything like those your wife experienced, I would rather her be home with her support group—as I will likely not be part of it for a while. The flip side of this is that if the support group is persuasive, it could lead her away from me and even closer to orthodoxy. In [Outer Darkness], at least, there is a chance we could rebuild our relationship from the ground up in love and trust, together.

After all you have been through with Lacey, do either of you have any advice for me at this stage in my journey away from Mormonism? I need to know how to minimize the suffering of my wife (and our possibility of estrangement or divorce), while at the same time allowing for my own freedom and growth.

Feel free to post any or all of this letter on your site, if you like. I am not interested in remaining anonymous. I can’t post these thoughts on my own blog just yet, so I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.


Eric, I hope you won’t mind that I have redacted your message slightly to preserve your anonymity just a while longer. If you really want to out yourself, you can do so in the comments.

Let me gather my thoughts which I’ll post in the comments later. Actual employment is calling. Have to pay the bills somehow! :)

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  1. Jonathan Blake said,

    June 13, 2007 @ 10:28 am

    We lay aside the expectation of a particular result,
    and do the right thing because it is right.
    We do our duty, we stand and fight.
    We do not do so without profound compassion for others.
    (Krishna to Arjuna, Bhagavad Gita)

    I was referred to this quotation when I asked similar questions on Mormon+Mystic right before I came out to Lacey. It helped me to get over my fear of doing the right thing. That’s all I could be expected to do. In my case, the right thing was to communicate with my wife with honesty and love.

    I was also told to remember that this is real life: there are no take-backs or do-overs. This is not a game, so take it seriously. One of my personal failings (and strengths) is that I can be very emotionally detached from a situation. This can lead me to be careless with others’ feelings so I had to watch myself.

    I decided to prioritize my marriage. I resolved to do all that I could in good conscience to make sure that my wife and I stay together. I have made compromises and concessions on what I wanted to do in order to preserve our marriage. This has been good for me because it reined in some of the impulses to go a little crazy with my new-found freedom. In order to prevent myself from resenting Lacey and these restrictions, I constantly reminded myself why I chose to take those restrictions upon myself: to preserve my marriage.

    I’m usually not very articulate in person. For me, it helped to compose my thoughts into a letter that I shared with my wife, as you read. In any case, this is the time to be as selfless as possible. This is probably going to be a big shock to your wife, but you’ve known about it for two years. This is her time. I tried as best I could to swallow my pride and to return a soft answer to wrath. I answered questions honestly and empathetically. I tried to put myself in Lacey’s shoes as much as I could.

    It took a while for things to return to normal for us. Emotion was barely below the surface and could be provoked by completely unrelated things. I persisted in being understanding. Humor helps tremendously although it took a while before we could laugh about the situation.

    I really wish that Lacey and I could make this journey out of Mormonism together, but I am not willing to attempt to force that on her. She’s a strong, capable woman and I trust her to make her own decisions. It is really tempting for me to try to drop subtle clues about why I believe Mormonism is false, but that only tends to poison our relationship. And really, no one is going to listen until they are ready to listen. We can do very little to hasten that readiness. They may never be ready to listen and believe as we do, and in our most intimate relationships, we must be OK with that.

    I try to support Lacey in her church activity. I want her full support, so I try to give her my full support.

    We’ve been trying to work even harder to foster intimacy in our marriage. It has been too easy for us to get lazy about our relationship. We’re trying to go on more dates and make sure that we spend quality time together every day.

    One difficulty that we’ve faced is how and what to teach our children. It really pains me to see my daughters indoctrinated (as I see it) at church and at home. I would prefer to allow them to make up their own minds even if they disagree with me. It’s hard to see them spoon-fed ready-made answers that stifle free thinking. I’ve often had to bite my tongue.

    When my four-year-old daughter asked a question the other day about something Heavenly Father did, I responded by saying something like “Mommy believes that Heavenly Father … But I don’t believe that there is a Heavenly Father. What do you think?” After reading the essay on mixed marriages in Parenting Beyond Belief, I try to always present Mommy’s beliefs and my beliefs and then ask what my daughter thinks. I don’t correct her so much as guide her. In the end, if my daughters decide to be true-believing Mormons, I’ll accept that as long as I think they’ve given it real thought.

    I think it really helped that I reached out to my family and explained to them what was going on. I think it actually strengthened some relationships. I made a special effort to ask certain members of my family for their help. I wrote them a letter (anyone see a pattern?) explaining that I no longer believed in Mormonism. I further explained that I still loved Lacey and our daughters and that I still wanted to do all I could to help them be happy. I expressed my regret that I couldn’t help them through a belief in Mormonism anymore, but I humbly asked for their help in keeping my marriage and family together. I have good family and they rose to the occasion. Most people will help you if you ask for it.

    There are lifestyle changes that may go along with leaving Mormonism. This can put a strain on the marriage, so I really thought to myself about the changes that I might make before I made any decisions. Drinking alcohol, for example, could be a wall of separation. I decided it wasn’t worth it. I’ve still never sipped a single drop of alcohol but no I abstain for my marriage, not because of the LDS church tells me to.

    In the end, all you can do is do the right thing in a spirit of love and reconciliation. After that, you must accept the results that flow from correct action whatever those consequences may be.

  2. CV Rick said,

    June 13, 2007 @ 4:49 pm

    I agree with Jonathan that you should compose a letter. Some feel that it is passive-aggressive to do so, but the truth is that it’s much easier to include all your thoughts and organize yourself in a letter. When you’re communicating in person, verbally, there is a tendency to allow an emotional roller coaster to dictate your pacing and it’s easy to get lost and sidetracked.

    I knew a couple who were going through an equally difficult discovery process and they made a rule to communicate everything related to the source of tension and change in the form of letters to each for One Week. Through that method they avoided a lot of hurt feelings and were able to expose everything they felt without accusations and without anger.

    Just a thought. It’s hard and I don’t envy you this experience.

  3. Eric said,

    June 13, 2007 @ 4:52 pm

    I am the same “Eric” who wrote the letter to John, and which he was so gracious to post. I think I kind of liked being anonymous, and besides Outer Darkness sounds so much more exotic than [removed at commentor's request]…

    Jonathan, your response was very helpful. My comment is mainly to help me sort out my thoughts on the matter and raise a few additional questions.

    I will also need to be careful about dropping clues about the Church being false. Although I am careful now, this is mainly out of an effort to not to reveal the extent of my beliefs before I am ready to share them. Voluntary “confession” (not the right word, but close) is one of the few cards I have left, and I need to play it.

    I like your idea of writing a letter. No matter how well I may compose something in my mind, it’ll likely fall to pieces in the emotion of the moment. A letter will set the ground for all the discussions that follow, and could resolve some potential misunderstandings up front.

    Teaching our children will probably be a point of contention for a while. Of course I have no problem with them going to church, but I definitely want them to be freethinkers. Presenting both sides of the argument and letting them decide is probably the only way to go, even if the compromise isn’t 100% satisfactory for either parent.

    One day, my four-year-old asked about the devil and I told her it wasn’t real. This is one area where I don’t want my children to acquire any emotional baggage. Of course, it raised a few warning flags with my wife, so I dropped the issue. Next time, I will take the “Mommy believes …, Daddy believes ….” approach.

    The way you reached out to your family expressing your regrets at not being able to help them from within Mormonism and requesting their help in your relationships struck me as profound. It would be easy to write a letter to the tune of “I still love you but these are my beliefs and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Requesting their help as you work towards a common goal (your family) involves them and deemphasizes the very differences raised by the letter. I need to resist the urge to write above them or justify my beliefs, and focus instead on the love and values we share.

    It is interesting that you and I have arrived at many of the same decisions. Like you, I will not drink alcohol, even though I no longer consider it to be wrong. I will probably also continue to attend sacrament meeting with them each Sunday (the other two meetings are out of the question, I think). I don’t want to resign my membership completely, but I think I should be honest with my bishop.

    Tithing is another issue. I cannot honestly pay 10% of my income to the Church when only about 0.2% of my contribution goes to the poor, the rest being spent on buildings and indoctrination materials. And although I am grateful for my BYU education, I would rather donate to the Geology Department directly.

    I have decided to instead donate the same 10% (on my own income) to charities which I know are actively working to eradicate poverty and suffering in Third World countries and have the track record to prove it. I am not sure how my wife will respond to this, but I would die inside each month giving that money back to the Church.

    The most pressing question I have now is: When do I tell her? If I tell her now, it could be even more devastating because she is in a foreign country without her support group and friends to comfort her. However, there is a chance we could rebuild our relationship, together, without orthodox (but well-meaning) church leaders and family members interfering.

    If I wait until I get home, she will be surrounded by her support group, making dealing with it potentially easier. However, I am concerned that she may pull herself even closer to the church at the expense of our relationship. Of course, this is her right; I am not trying to change her beliefs. Also, the longer I wait, the more risk I take that she will catch me on an ex-Mormon/atheistic web page. This would generate mountains of distrust and could hurt her far more than coming out of the closet alone.

    I welcome everyone’s thoughts.

  4. C. L. Hanson said,

    June 13, 2007 @ 9:16 pm

    It’s good that you’re approaching this in terms of thinking about her feelings and your focus is on how to preserve and strengthen your marriage and family. Trying to deconvert the believing spouse generally does more harm than good to one’s marriage.

    Every person and every relationship is different, so I don’t think there’s a simple answer that works every time. I have a few general suggestions just from observing what has happened to other people in this situation:

    I would avoid presenting a list of reasons why the church is bad and wrong — that encourages debate and dispute over the subject. Just make it clear that it’s not something you’re unsure or wavering about. Start with a simple explanation (“I could not rationalize my religion to make room for the scientific method” is sufficient), and only follow up with as many details as she asks for.

    Make it very clear that it isn’t an attack on her or a rejection of your family. Redouble your efforts to demonstrate your love and commitment. Don’t let others paint this as “If you loved them more, you’d try harder to believe.” No matter how much you love them, you can’t will yourself to believe something you don’t believe.

    I agree with your analysis of the situation with her support system, i.e. the fact that’s she’s away from her familiar friends and family may be good or bad for her when dealing with this news, and it’s extremely difficult to predict which it will be. (It keeps her from hearing good advice as well as bad advice during the difficult initial stages.) However, keeping the family together through a strain like this will require a lot of work on her part, and she’ll need her own support system eventually. This is why I recommended the faces east forum to Jonathan’s wife. They understand from a believer’s perspective how difficult it is to be in a mixed-faith marriage, and they offer positive support for believers who are committed to making it work. Obviously this doesn’t replace her real-life friends and family, but as they say on their forum “Too often leaders and LDS friends say and do things that undermine the marriage,” so seeing the perspective of people who are making it work can perhaps balance things out if she has friends who think the marriage/family is worthless if one spouse leaves the church.

    Still, I would recommend telling her sooner rather than later. The reason I suggest going with sooner is that if you keep posting things like this to the Internet (particularly LDS-interest blogs) with your real name and a link back to your blog, she’ll find out about this soon enough — probably before your stay in Mongolia is over. And you don’t want her to hear about it from a friend or relative who read this post…

  5. Eric said,

    June 14, 2007 @ 6:13 am

    CV Rick,

    Thanks for the suggestion. I don’t express myself in person very well anyway, so I think a letter is important in my case. I appreciate your reminder that writing can be a passive aggressive activity. I obviously don’t want to come across aggressively, so I’ll need to be careful about how I present my feelings.


    Excellent advice! I appreciate your balanced analysis of the situation and your concern for my wife. Faces East looks like a wonderful resource — for both of us. The few posts I read helped me see the situation from her perspective. It was not that long ago that I saw the same way, but it requires effort to step into someone else’s shoes and little refreshers don’t hurt.

    My sincerest thanks to all of you.

  6. How Do I Tell My Wife That I Don’t Believe Anymore? | Main Street Plaza said,

    June 14, 2007 @ 8:46 pm

    [...] [crossposted at Green Oasis] [...]

  7. Merry Prankster said,

    June 18, 2007 @ 8:44 am

    The sad part of these situations is that the problem is not the disbelieving spouse, but the Church itself. Too often, Mormon marriages are built upon the church instead of upon the relationship between the spouses. If the marriage is built upon the church, a spouse’s newly discovered disbelief will probably destroy the marriage. If the marriage is built upon the relationship of the spouses, it will probably survive.

    A marriage has to be built on honesty and trust, so Jonathan should tell his wife about his unbelief. But how he approaches this topic with his wife can make all of the difference in the world. Openly attacking the church or going on a tirade against Joseph Smith is probably not a good idea. A better approach would be to break it to her gently and slowly over time. She needs to be reassured that he still loves her, wants to be with her, cares for her, would do anything not to purposely hurt her and the marriage can work and be happy inspite of his disbelief.

    The following verses from 1 Corinthians 7:13-14 should be emphasized much more in Mormonism:

    13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

    14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”

    Several years ago, the wife of a disbeliever posted these suggestions on the NOM board:

    “Don’t expect her to change too quickly. My husband expected me to be okay with this as soon as he told me. Remember that it probably took you months or years to come to terms with the church; give her the same time. Because my husband pushed me too much too soon, I resisted and shut off. I wouldn’t listen because I felt that he was trying to force me to believe him. When he stopped pushing me, I was more willing to listen and accept him.

    “Make your views clear, but have some conversations about the church or religion in general that don’t revolve around your approach religion. I felt like I couldn’t talk about the church with him because he would constantly criticize it or try to show me what was wrong. I’m not saying you should hide your views, but make sure she feels comfortable discussing hers. I felt like I would be attacked if I told him about Relief Society or how I felt. For a while, our religious discussions were all about him. Try to keep them balanced so she doesn’t shut off and drop the topic completely (which I did for a while and resented).

    “Don’t say things like “If you knew what I knew, you couldn’t believe anymore,” “the church is a controlling cult,” or “the leaders are all liars.” When he said things like this, I thought he was condescending and disrespectful. This attitude didn’t help me to respect his position.

    “Remind her how much you love her–very often. I hope you do anyway, but she needs a lot of support right now, and she might not feel like she can tell ANYONE (I didn’t).

    “I like to lurk at this forum that Prairie Chuck started:
    The above forum is support for part-Mormon families. She may not be willing to look at it at first, but it may eventually help

    “Let her be angry for a bit. After he came out, I was really mad at him for a couple of weeks. I couldn’t talk about the church with him at all without getting angry at first. This stage didn’t last very long, but I needed it to get over this.

    “You say you wish she believed the same way you do about the church. She is probably wishing the same thing. You both have to come to terms with these conflicting wishes in your own way.

    “I find Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief a very appropriate description of what I went through.

    “Denial and Isolation–I didn’t want this to be true, and if I ignored it, it would go away. For me, this stage mostly occurred before the “coming out” talk. I saw signs, but ignored them and hoped they’d go away.

    “Anger–I thought my husband was a big jerk to lay this problem on my back. How could he do this to me?!

    “Bargaining–I thought I could bargain with God and my husband to fix the problem (ie you come to the temple and I’ll read your NOM board)

    “Depression–I was quite sad, but this step didn’t last long for me. It may last much longer for some

    “Acceptance–This is almost where I am now. It took me a year to get here, but I do accept my husband’s beliefs. We have agreed to disagree. Of course, I revert back to anger and bargaining on occasion, but mostly we’re at acceptance.

    “I brought up the grieving process because this is a grief issue. I grieved the ideal Mormon life I had lost, I grieved because I thought my perfect marriage was going to fall apart. I grieved because I thought he had taken the priesthood, the temple, and an important part of my life away. Look back to your TBM days and imagine what you’d do if your spouse became NOM.

    “I am not bitter; I am not angry; I don’t think my husband is heading to hell. I do miss the idea of the perfect Mormon family, but who really has that anyway? Now, I just want my family to be happy.”

    Hope all of this helps.


  8. Jonathan Blake said,

    June 19, 2007 @ 7:42 am

    I’m glad Eric brought this topic up. I’ve learned a few things so far. Each person’s situation is unique and calls for unique actions.

  9. His Sexy Wife said,

    June 19, 2007 @ 4:51 pm

    Well, I started a comment a while back but never left it because my husband had summed it up pretty well. I think there as also been added many wonderful ideas.
    So I just wish your wife the best Eric and if she needs anyone to talk to email Jon and he can email you my address for her if she’s interested in my support

    She can peruse my blog and in the topic of Jon’s changes it has what my emotions were about his coming out. I don’t really talk about it a lot, just the emotions right after it happened and when we told people.
    I find that we are able to live in harmony and fights are not usually about our religious differences, though they are on occasion. (My blog is more about day to day things that I do, I use it has a journal and every once in a while I have interesting things to say.)

    I am able to live each day without it being a burden on my shoulders now.
    I think we have a very good open and honest marriage and that has helped us. We have hard times but we make it through.

    I actually get more frustrated with people wondering how I’m doing. I know they worry and it’s nice to be thought of, but if I’m not okay I’ll go to those I’m close too, like my sisters or some friends.
    I feel as though people are still sorry for me, when I am not sorry for myself.
    Well I might be a little sad for myself, but I don’t want others feeling sad for me or my circumstance.
    I have a very loving husband who cares for me deeply and cares for my daughters. Even though he can’t read my mind, he tries to support me emotionally the best he can.

  10. His Sexy Wife said,

    June 19, 2007 @ 4:53 pm

    Oh, my blog is the “Is it Naptime Yet” blog on his sidebar.

  11. Eric said,

    June 19, 2007 @ 5:14 pm


    Thank you. Your perspective is refreshing. I appreciated the perspective of the believing member who had to go through this. With a little effort, I know we can make it work and reestablish our committment to each other in the process.

    His Sexy Wife,

    Thanks! Your blog post is very powerful and I’m sure it captures many of the emotions common to this experience. The way you have both endured this change and built a strong marriage in the process is an inspiration. I will definitely refer her to your blog.


    Thanks again for opening this discussion. Hearing from several different perspectives allows me to better understand our own situation.

  12. chosha said,

    June 25, 2007 @ 7:42 am

    You’ve already taken on board a lot of advice and worked out for yourself some ways to make it easier. The last detail you seem to be concerned about is timing – when will it hurt her least, when will it threaten your marriage least, when is she more likely to move toward or away from you in order to cope?

    Just tell her. Can you imagine how she will feel when you explain that you’ve been ‘faking it’ for a long time now? Do you think adding more months to that is going to be helpful? Regardless of how it will affect her life and marriage, she’s a grown woman – don’t you think she’d rather know the truth about her husband and learn to deal with it?

    Though I hope you two can work it out and stay together, the one other piece of advice I will add is that you need to realise going in that she might not be willing to continue in this marriage, and that that is one of several valid responses. It depends what is core to her understanding of marriage is, both in an Earthly and eternal sense. Someone said something before about some marriages being “based on the church”. I don’t know what they mean by that exactly, but my impression was that it meant a marriage held together by a shared church lifestyle. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a person’s core belief system and the need some, maybe most, people have to share their lives with someone whose core values match their own.

    Basically I’m just saying that not every couple can work things out the way that the M.P. and her husband did, and for the sake of your relationship with your wife (which, whether a spousal one or not, will impact on your kids forever), don’t be hurtful or bitter if she makes the decision you weren’t hoping for. She could have every respect for your right to believe as you choose, and still not be able to deal with it as part of a marriage she wants to be wholly committed to, and in ways that gel with her core values and beliefs.

    Let’s hope she can get to where M.P is instead. A good marriage is worth the effort to try, always.

  13. Eric said,

    June 25, 2007 @ 5:24 pm


    Thank you for your comment. You are right, of course, that prolonged deception is not the answer either. I have told her, and we are now working through all of the emotions surrounding the issue.

    I realize, now more than when I wrote this letter, that the outcome really is outside my control. I realize that what I had been doing was trying to control the situation; like a strategist, I tried to calculate the odds and play only the cards that would guarantee success. This is not a healthy way to approach a relationship involving two grown, loving but independent adults. Now that there is nothing to hide, I can live honestly and compassionately without fear that doing so will in some way compromise our happiness.

    We have a long and potentially difficult path ahead, my wife and I. I still believe we can walk it together. But ultimately it is not a marriage we are trying to save — it is each other.

  14. chosha said,

    June 25, 2007 @ 5:57 pm

    I’m so glad you told her. You description of strategy is exactly what I was feeling but couldn’t quite articulate. Good luck with that path ahead. I hope it leads you both to somewhere happy.

  15. Jonathan Blake said,

    June 25, 2007 @ 9:20 pm


    I wish you and your wife the best. Please let us know what you learn in the process.


    Let me expand on what I mean by a marriage being based on the church. Many marriages are based primarily on something external to the holistic relationship between two people: money, sex, religion, emotional dependence, children, etc. These marriages are vulnerable if that single foundation is removed. A marriage based solely on children may break apart once the children are out of the house. A marriage based on religion may end if the religious values of either partner changes. A marriage needs to be multidimensional to withstand the vicissitudes of life.

    From my perspective, it’s tragic when someone puts more importance on false religious hopes than on their flesh-and-blood partner. I understand their motivation because I believed once. I hope that I would have been as understanding as my wife has been if the tables were turned.

    Modern Mormonism places a lot of emphasis on cultivating a feeling of certainty in its doctrines and religious claims. It also claims to provide exclusive, infinite benefits to the families of its adherents. The combination of those two conditions can lead a believer to feel justified in leaving a non-believing spouse. The believer feels certain that their spouse is endangering their eternal welfare. In my experience, this feeling of certainty is unwittingly based on specious reasoning. It would be tragic to break a marriage based on this feeling.

    This is a good example of how Mormonism can threaten family relationships, contrary to its family-first self image.

  16. chosha said,

    June 25, 2007 @ 11:03 pm


    What you’ve just described is hardly specific to the LDS church. There are plenty of religions (and other kinds of cultural groups) that anywhere from encourage to demand that their members marry like-minded individuals. Mormons are not exactly on the harsh end of that scale, either. They do not actively shun those who leave like the Amish (and others) do. They also don’t condone “shame killings” like some cultural and religious groups do.

    Also, your logic is geared towards smearing the church’s image. Is it objectively reasonable to think that the ‘family first’ concept should be followed to the exclusion of other fundamental doctrinces that pertain to the family? Should members be encouraged to cheat on their taxes (more money for their family) or lie to the police when a family member commits a crime (protect the family member) even though this dishonesty, lack of accountability and law-breaking would actually harm their family overall? Similarly, if a family is more broken than united by unbelief, then the greatest benefit to the family is in separation. If the family functions better and more lovingly together, then that is the best solution. Note though that this is an individual decision – in my long experience with the LDS church I know of no-one who has ever been advised by their church leaders to leave a spouse for unbelief. Quite the opposite actually. I accept that your experience may differ, but that is mine. For the sake of the discussion, however, I will be clear and add that no matter what catchy phrase someone dreamed up to encourage members to prioritise family over work, social groups, etc, the LDS church has never hidden the fact that its truest motto is ‘God first’ – it is a basic Christian (Jewish and Islamic) teaching after all.

    I know you find that tragic – lives based on ‘false’ religious belief – yet your actions are similarly based on what you believe to be true. As they should be.

  17. Jonathan Blake said,

    June 26, 2007 @ 8:03 am

    What you’ve just described is hardly specific to the LDS church. There are plenty of religions (and other kinds of cultural groups) that anywhere from encourage to demand that their members marry like-minded individuals. Mormons are not exactly on the harsh end of that scale, either. They do not actively shun those who leave like the Amish (and others) do. They also don’t condone “shame killings” like some cultural and religious groups do.

    What you’re saying is true. I only single out Mormonism because it is relevant to this post and to my life. All religion can divide a marriage. However, I think some LDS members have a blind spot for their own faith in this regard. Mormonism does shun those who don’t conform to its norms even though it is not the worst offender. Even when a person isn’t formally shunned (excommunicated), the culture of the church tends to separate member from non-member. Again, this isn’t specific to the LDS faith. C.S. Lewis described how almost all human groups suffer from this divisiveness in The Inner Ring.

    In my opinion, pure religion and undefiled would resist the human urge to tribalism, unconditionally uniting all of humanity in one.

    Also, your logic is geared towards smearing the church’s image. Is it objectively reasonable to think that the ‘family first’ concept should be followed to the exclusion of other fundamental doctrinces that pertain to the family?

    I plead guilty: I want to smear the image of the church. It’s family oriented image is false in many ways and therefore deserving of being pulled down. Many of its practices and attitudes actually harm families. This topic deserves a post of its own.

    I know you find that tragic – lives based on ‘false’ religious belief – yet your actions are similarly based on what you believe to be true. As they should be.

    Point taken. I don’t expect anyone to act contrary to their beliefs. What I regret is the inflated sense of certainty in the LDS church that can lead to unwarranted actions. I wish that the LDS culture would be more honest about doubt and accept it as normal, even beneficial. I would like LDS spouses to be encouraged to honestly say to themselves “I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, but I have my doubts. I have had experiences that lead me to believe. I really hope that it is true, but I can’t be sure. It’s OK to be unsure. My spouse is not defective because of unbelief. I won’t let our conflicting beliefs separate us because we can’t be certain whose beliefs are right.” Let’s have a bit of healthy skepticism about our own beliefs.

  18. chosha said,

    June 26, 2007 @ 7:04 pm

    JB: Interesting. I sometimes wonder just how different things are in places where the demographic is so heavily LDS, as opposed to places like Australia (where I am) where LDS makes up a tiny percentage of the wider Christian community. Sometimes people describe aspects of ‘the church’ that are contrary to my experience and I have to assume they’re actually aspects of the Mormon social culture, grown over time, rather than actual LDS doctrine. For example, I know what you mean in regards to the certainty factor – the way testimonies tend to be worded and the doctrine that we can KNOW the truth of things, etc – but in practice I don’t feel any pressure to conceal my doubts. I’ve always been encouraged to question things and work out for myself how I think and feel about gospel teachings. Maybe I just got lucky and had great teachers, or maybe it’s just that in Utahn/US LDS communities it has become culturally unacceptable to express doubt about the gospel, even though there is plenty of scope for uncertainty in the actual scriptures/doctrines.

    I find it interesting that people think that religion divides people. I’m not saying it never does (and I don’t always disagree with division either, depends on the reasons for it), but most of the time I find that people divide themselves, and religion is just one of the tools they use to do it…or justify it. Non-religious people use nationality and social groups and economics, etc. If you look closely at people using religion to divide, it’s usually fairly easy to pinpoint where they are departing from what their religion actually teaches. I’m really disappointed that you’ve experienced that from a Mormon community, but there are assholes in every religion and culture, no?.

    In my experience when people do avoid members who decide they don’t believe any more, it’s not so much about seeing that person as ‘defective’, but rather about being suddenly thrust out of your comfort zone. Someone with whom you had a shared understanding about something important and deeply personal in your life (spirituality/values) is suddenly declaring it all to be a load of bunk. It’s hard to know where that leaves you, where you now stand in their eyes and whether they even want to know you any more. And being human, it’s easier to avoid the situation than to confront it. I’m sure you understand all this, because you would have been through some of it with your wife. For example, when you believed the information she taught your kids, you probably saw that teaching in a much better light. Then suddenly you saw her, in part, as someone who was ‘indoctrinating’ your children with lies. That’s got to have taken some working out, on both your parts. There’s just so much scope for hurt and misunderstanding.

    By the by, excommunication from the LDS church doesn’t really equate to Amish shunning (where a person basically becomes dead to their family and community). Excommunicated members are not alienated – they can, and are encouraged to, attend church meetings and activities. Excommunication is fairly rare, but I know at least three members of the church here whose experience with excommunication (though not easy) was made easier by the support they received from the members all the way through, and all three have since been rebaptised.

  19. Jonathan Blake said,

    June 27, 2007 @ 9:02 am

    You’re right: I should allow for geographic/cultural variation within the church. The pressures that I have experienced are subtle, like the way Mormons word their convictions. I don’t remember the last time I heard someone say “I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet.” If someone said that in a testimony meeting, it would go against societal norms. That person would be marking themselves in the eyes of most other congregants as weak in the faith.

    The kinds of questions that are encouraged by the culture is another subtle pressure. It encourages questions about the truth of the Book of Mormon, where we come from, why we’re here, where we’re going, etc. It doesn’t encourage questions about how those answers are obtained. For an example of a question that is discouraged, do Alma 32 and Moroni 10 teach a valid method for learning truth? I’ve never heard that questioned inside of official church meetings.

    The culture also discourages seeking certain types of evidence, like the historicity of the church’s claims and the true character of Joseph Smith. Any claims which the members perceive as derogatory are dismissed as having an anti-Mormon bias.

    In any case, I have personally found that the LDS culture is decidedly anti-intellectual and anti-skeptical.

    Again, you’re right (I’m saying this a lot lately) that religion is only one factor that people use to divide themselves from each other. Since I see religion as a completely artificial distinction, I regret it more than most.

    I think people are shunned from LDS culture for a mixture of reasons. Discomfort is certainly one reason. Relationships formed around church activities and shared views must be reformed from scratch. I still maintain that some believers will view the former believers as defective. It’s a natural defense mechanism when someone rejects your beliefs. It’s easier to blame the person than to reëxamine our beliefs. Everyone does this to some degree. It’s why a lot of ad hominem arguments are born.

    Thank you for your comments here, chosa. I respect your fairness and non-violent tone.

  20. Lessie said,

    June 27, 2007 @ 2:28 pm

    This is probably a bit of a thread jack, but I’m curious. I stumbled on Jana’s post over at Sunstone and then came here. Most of the examples in the comments both at Jana’s post and here have been from husbands who’ve come out to wives, or from wives of husbands who’ve come out (Chanson excluded, obviously, but she was already “out” when she met her spouse, right?). Well, in my situation, I’m the wife, and I’m the one having to come out. My husband has been incredibly supportive, but I haven’t come out to the rest of my family for fear of being treated like an inferior (my mom has given my dad twenty years of hell for telling her about his own disbelief). Anyway, I was wondering if women have a harder time with their husbands’ being non-believers because of some latent fear of losing the supposed blessings of the priesthood? This could be way off base, I just know that I hear of very few women who come to disbelief first, even Jana’s ideas about the after life came after John’s disbelief (although I am in no way suggesting that Jana’s conclusions are not wholly her own). So, what about women who need to “come out” and is there a corollary between priesthood loss and the anger that women feel when their hubbies leave the church?

  21. Jonathan Blake said,

    June 27, 2007 @ 6:21 pm

    Interesting questions. I’ve also often wondered about the breakdown by gender of Mormons who leave the fold for reasons of conscience. Using the unscientific sampling method of personal experience, it’s my impression that men leave the church more often.

  22. chosha said,

    June 27, 2007 @ 8:50 pm

    JB: Man, I’m writing more on here this week than I am on my own blog!

    “religion as a completely artificial distinction”

    I don’t know about this (though this is not so much disagreeing with you as exploring a philosophical point). Let’s assume for a moment that all religion is false (stop smiling like the world just became brighter :) ) Why did religions emerge? Partly I know to explain natural phenomena, but wouldn’t it also represent a recognition of values and a desire to be with people who think alike? In other words, even if the information a religion is based on is false, I don’t think identifying with people on the basis of religious beliefs is any more artificial than doing so based on political affiliations or nationality or any other construct.

    “I still maintain that some believers will view the former believers as defective. It’s a natural defense mechanism when someone rejects your beliefs. It’s easier to blame the person than to reëxamine our beliefs.”

    It’s only a natural defense mechanism if you’re not secure in your own beliefs. Why would I feel the need to reexamine my beliefs just because someone else rejected them? If that was the case I’d question everything I think and feel, because there’s always someone ready to disagree, no matter what the topic. I do analyse and question, but not as some kind of reactive response to other people’s opinions.

    Here’s a cheeky question for you: do you see believers as defective for continuing to believe in things that are ‘obviously’ false?

  23. chosha said,

    June 27, 2007 @ 9:46 pm

    I just realised that that sentence at the end of the first paragraph sounds like I don’t think it matters if religion is based on truth…that wasn’t my meaning. What I meant was, setting aside whether religion is based on fact or not, the idea that people would identify with people who have the same beliefs, in and of itself, seems natural.

  24. shamasin said,

    June 27, 2007 @ 10:56 pm

    Hi! I’m eric’s wife, and first of all I want to say thanks to all of you for your points of view..
    He did broke my heart and I am not sure when I will be able to put it together.. but one think I know And that is that I love him and that love doesn’t come from science or philosophy, comes from my soul from our souls..
    And the only answer to that is my God our God… love is what seal us together and I believe that there is nothing in this world
    That love can’t change.. if you have love you will be able to win every battle in life. I became member of this church when I was 16, which means
    I had the opportunity to see the world and learned many things before I got baptized. Then when I get baptized in the church I really believe
    It give all the answers that for several years I look for, it did help, it make me a better person in every way.. then I realize by
    Logic because that was the way I look at the church and many other thinks before, by logic… I felt that it was true for me
    Then I take the decision on my own that the church was what I wanted..
    Please don’t feel offended by my comments. I think that some people who are born in the church don’t have the chance
    To feel or believe by themselves since some times they been push by their families then latter in life they feel confuse but afraid of
    Say it and they keep going on in their lives been unhappy.. So what my husband did was brave.. and in the other hand a convert believe
    Because he or she want to believe. And I don’t think that the church push us to believe, is us , we have the last word in everything.
    I am a believer and I respect others believes… I respect my husband as long as he respect me and love me I will stand for him, I can’t denied that
    I feel afraid of the future, I’m afraid that my parents history will come back in me, and my children will suffer and have the stain of divorce
    Their whole life…I always promes to myself that I never let anybody take any advantage of me, and in some ways knowing that my husband
    Was a believer kind of help me to feel secure and protect, I can’t say that I feel that way anymore…I need to learn how to trust him again
    I know that the church make some mistakes, but I still believe that God is here… one day I did question myself about everything
    And I did look for answers too and couldn’t find many… but deeply in my heart and soul I did feel the power of God and I realized that my
    Life will be better if I stop looking for answers that I may never find in life or death it doesn’t mean that I don’t ask anymore I do but in a different way.
    I take the good thing in life and they make me a better person in every way and even if you believe that the church is not true and that the people’
    Make some mistakes, let me tell you that still is hope and the church do have good things too, I learn how to see and how to separed them from my life
    Because the bad things will make me a bitter person so I don’t want that..if it is true or not all I want in life is to be happy and have hope in my future and if the church help me and Help others with that, it’s wrong? I know that you may thing oppose to me and I respect that.. I also know that I will find good and bad people In and out side the church…it is not just the church mistake, remember that we are a very complicate animal in this world…we are humans and for naturalize we are Always unhappy or disagree for some things.. like my sister she doesn’t like her beautiful curly hair so she spends 1 hr. every day striating it (thanks goodness you don’t know me Or she’ll be mad at me for telling you that her hair is curly and no straight like people think)…is very funny you will see that we All are different we are similar because we all are humans but at the same time we are very different and of course because that we all think different… And that is The beautiful thing of live.. the diversity…the most import thing is to make your life and the life of the people that you love happy and better and I know that this world Will be a better world if we do so, I know this, not because the church, I know it because me. To finish at last is that it doesn’t matter what it is if it make you a better person and if it help you to live Better then is for you, and I also know.. that there is always second chances..Thank you all….and sorry for my grammar I am not a natural English speaker… too long.

  25. Eric said,

    June 27, 2007 @ 11:44 pm


    I am so sorry to have broken your heart. That was never my intention and is the reason this process has been so difficult for me (as you can see above). Please know that I am not critical of your beliefs. I see all of the good in the Church and am not critical of it in general, just some of the policies which cause others harm. You have always been an example of the best the Church brings out in people. There would be very little to be critical of if all members lived the way you do.

    I know the road ahead will be rough. But I never intended for you to walk it alone. Let’s take all of the wonderful things that are left in our marriage and create a happy paradise for our little family here on earth.

    And if you are right and there is a loving God in heaven, I hope at the end he will approve of my efforts and not separate us forever.

    Te amo, corazón.

  26. chosha said,

    June 28, 2007 @ 5:42 am


    I can understand your feeling of needing to rebuild trust, but at least you can trust that he will be honest with you, and that is a pretty good place to start. People who love each other can work a lot of problems out, if they communicate honestly. And though this might be a strange and upsetting situation for you, you also know that he has not done anything deliberately to hurt you. In fact, in being open and honest about something he knows might be difficult for you, I think he’s shown you a lot of trust and respect.

    Good luck in working it all through.

  27. Jonathan Blake said,

    June 28, 2007 @ 9:27 am


    Thank you for expressing your thoughts. You have my empathy for such a confusing time. I often argue that Mormonism sometimes divides families, but I am truly happy when I am proven wrong. You seem like a thoughtful loving person. I hope that you can rebuild your trust in your husband. I think you’ll find that he is still the same loving husband he was before he told you about his disbelief. May you find happiness and peace together.

    P.S. Don’t worry about grammar. I am illiterate in any language other than English. :)


    In other words, even if the information a religion is based on is false, I don’t think identifying with people on the basis of religious beliefs is any more artificial than doing so based on political affiliations or nationality or any other construct.

    I agree. Those distinctions are only useful when used pragmatically. I object when membership in a group begins to tell you that you’re more worthy, smart, attractive, etc. than others outside the group, and you use that to belittle the outsiders. The extreme version of this leads to dehumanizing the outsider. It reminds me of Pink Floyd’s Us and Them.

    It’s only a natural defense mechanism if you’re not secure in your own beliefs. Why would I feel the need to reexamine my beliefs just because someone else rejected them?

    From my own experience, I didn’t really believe that people left the church because they disagreed with its core doctrines. I thought they didn’t understand them, or they were just sinners who had lost communion with the Spirit. It was a revelation to me that people resigned from the church as a matter of principle. Learning this challenged my assumptions. The foundation of my beliefs was insecure, though I didn’t really know it at the time. I suspect that many members of the church are like I was: believing but unaware.

    When they hear my story and others like it, members of the church must decide whether or not my concerns are valid. I suspect that many don’t really engage my viewpoints enough to make a considered judgment. There are a number of defense mechanisms which prevent them from doing so, one of which is to blame the apostate.

    Here’s a cheeky question for you: do you see believers as defective for continuing to believe in things that are ‘obviously’ false?

    I don’t think the teachings of the church are obviously false. Much of the information that caused me to disbelieve isn’t readily available to those who aren’t looking for it. If you look, you can find it, but not many people spend their time looking for reasons to disbelieve their basic assumptions.

    I can’t deny that I see believers as mistaken, but I don’t attribute that mistake to being less intelligent or less worthy. Less informed, perhaps. If I had to lay some blame on members’ doorstep, it would be that they are too afraid of information. They hide from information that may contradict their beliefs.

    If someone had accused me of this when I was a believer, I would have denied it. I was acquainted with most of the so-called anti-Mormon literature out there. I was aware of the most common answers to those concerns. However, I accepted those explanations without much research on my own because I wanted to believe. I used intellectually dishonest defenses to protect my belief.

    For example, I learned about the Adam-God doctrine on my mission. That was bizarre! It contradicted my understanding of the Godhead. How could a prophet of God preach such nonsense? I allowed my fellow missionaries to comfort me by saying that it was just a misinterpretation of a single passage of a single talk by Brigham Young. I read that passage from the Journal of Discourses and satisfied myself that it was ambiguous enough to allow for misinterpretation and possibly even a mistranscription. I left it at that because I was restored to my comfort zone. The truth is that Brigham Young taught Adam-God often and unambiguously. It was even part of the temple Endowment for a time. I convinced myself that the anti-Mormons lied about Adam-God when they actually told more truth than I knew. My primary goal was to preserve my comfort in my beliefs, not find out the truth.

    Mormons are only human. I don’t think they’re generally malicious or deceptive. I do think many remain willfully ignorant on some issues. If we consider the group as a single individual, the group behaves dysfunctionally in many respects.

  28. chosha said,

    July 1, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

    JB: Sorry for the misunderstanding. I didn’t mean that there was no reason to reexamine ones beliefs, from time to time. I meant my question in a different sense, wondering why people feel so threatened or in need of defence, just because someone else doesn’t believe what they do. I don’t think it’s healthy to need external validation so badly.

    Someone took the time to come over to my blog and tell me to ‘never stop being curious’. They didn’t realise who they were talking to. I’m ever curious. So much so that I had checked out your carefully planted link long before they dropped by. I never gave a rat’s about the Adam-God thing – prophets of every generation are flawed and make mistakes – but the information on the Book of Abraham was in a completely different vein. It actually did show not only human flaws, but actual deception and disproof of claims. High fives to you and everyone else with your agenda…beliefs destroyed, any trust I had in Joseph Smith gone. Nicely done.

    Here’s my dilemma. I find my views, convictions, on the values I have learned and lived by basically unchanged. I am unequivocally a better person than I would have been for having lived the Gospel (I haven’t always been a member, and I know exactly how I’ve changed as a person). All around me I see people, families, who are happier and more united because of the values they embrace. Their children, some of whom I love more than my own life, will unquestionably (in my opinion and experience) have better lives by following the principles their parents are raising them with. Lived properly, with sincerity, I have never found a belief system that was more logical to me or brought more happiness. These church values you talk about that ‘harm the family’…it’s alien to my experience. I don’t even know what the hell you’re talking about when you say it. I don’t feel free with new knowledge or released from unnecessary rules or any of the other shit that people say when they leave the church. I feel hurt by the fact that I have no way to explain to these children why I do not believe in certain things anymore without unintentionally influencing them to believe that nothing their parents taught them is true, that by telling them one truth that I may influence them against fifty others. I can’t even describe to you how sad I feel right now.

  29. Eric said,

    July 1, 2007 @ 5:11 pm


    I don’t have any easy answer to this dilemma. You have nailed the hardest part about losing faith. The fact is that the Church has undeniably helped most of us be much better people than we would otherwise have been. I can’t think of a better moral foundation for my kids, and I support my wife’s efforts to continue to raise them in the Church. How do we teach our children good moral values and provide them with perspective that will help them weather their teenage years without at some level discouraging free thinking?

    You have also expressed the sadness and emptiness that comes with losing faith. I think this is inevitable. I think back on my own moments of despair several years ago as I felt myself being pulled uncontrollably away from the security of my beliefs and towards an uncertain future. I am not sure that for many people knowing the truth is worth the loss. This is why I don’t share my beliefs with believing members. As long as their beliefs do not harm them (or cause less harm than good), I see no reason to pull the rug out from under their feet.

    In my case, peace and acceptance came through philosophy. It took a long time for me to derive the satisfaction that Mormonism once provided, however. There are still moments when I long for the hope and immortality I lost. Jonathan alludes to this sentiment beautifully in his last post.

    I wish there was an easier way…

  30. Jonathan Blake said,

    July 1, 2007 @ 6:18 pm

    What can I say? If you’re expecting me to be happy, I’m not. I’m actually quite sad. I sympathize with your distress. Losing the foundations of our deepest beliefs is very painful. I accept what blame I deserve, but I also wish the LDS church would be more forthright about its history. It would save members the shock of finding out these facts. The internet is making this kind of discovery more inevitable everyday. If you want to research both sides of the Book of Abraham issue, Mormonthink has a good article. You can also read more from the faithful LDS perspective (although I obviously don’t find their methods satisfactory).

    You may have read how I described my feelings during deconversion:

    Lightning flashed leaving behind a violent upheaval and rumbling thunder to reëcho and rebound within the halls of my opened mind.… Dazed, it took me time to reorient myself and survey the wreckage of my self.

    I was not speaking figuratively about the destruction of my self. The truth pained me. How I had defined myself was stripped away from me. I am still figuring out where I stand in the world. I think a lot of us go through a grieving period for our lost beliefs. The darkness eventually passes. The freedom and light comes afterward.

    It is possible to live a happy life based on good principles without Mormonism. You can decide to live exactly how you want, even if that means living a Mormon lifestyle. I still live according to most of its principles with a few exceptions. Mormonism can be a vehicle to a more principled life, but it isn’t the only way, no matter what we hear in church.

    I can’t give you advice about where to go from here. If you want to reconcile yourself to living in the church while not believing everything, there are places such as The Cultural Hall or New Order Mormon to help explore that option.

    I wish I could be of more help. If there’s something that I can do, please let me know.

  31. Jonathan Blake said,

    July 1, 2007 @ 6:26 pm


    You made me remember. Parenting Beyond Belief is an excellent book about how to raise children for non-believers. I highly recommend it. I believe it is possible to instill good principles in your children while nurturing freethought. I’m optimistic about human nature. Our children don’t need God to be good, but they do need our guidance.

  32. chosha said,

    July 1, 2007 @ 8:26 pm

    “Losing the foundations of our deepest beliefs is very painful.”

    That’s the hardest thing about this. The foundations of my beliefs were never based in Joseph Smith. I just never had any clear evidence indicating he was false. In some respects for me this changes nothing, and in a few ways it changes everything. In other words, I’ve only lost faith in a few things, but the ripple effect is going to be as if I had lost faith in everything. For no good reason.

    “I am not sure that for many people knowing the truth is worth the loss. This is why I don’t share my beliefs with believing members. As long as their beliefs do not harm them (or cause less harm than good), I see no reason to pull the rug out from under their feet.”

    I think perhaps you don’t grasp the reach of the internet. You ARE sharing your beliefs with believing members. All the time. I don’t mean that to sound like an accusation – do whatever you think is right. But don’t be unrealistic either and imagine that just because you didn’t say anything to your nextdoor neighbour that what you do on the net doesn’t count. Here I stand, proof that it’s so.

    “Our children don’t need God to be good, but they do need our guidance.”

    True. Might be worth reading, though I do still believe in God.

  33. chosha said,

    July 1, 2007 @ 9:51 pm

    I feel an irrational anger that I can’t shake off and I’m not usually a ‘shoot the messenger’ kind of girl, so it can’t serve any good purpose to continue this conversation right now. In the main I think I just can’t deal with people at the moment who keep wanting to tell me that ‘the church’ lied to me. The church for me is the ward I attend, and the one I grew up in. It’s the friends I hold most dear and the leaders who loved me unconditionally even back when I was wasn’t particularly lovable, and taught me by example how to live with integrity and care about the world. Repeating information you honestly believe isn’t lying. Lying requires intent. They didn’t lie to me.

    Thanks for what I’m sure you intended to be kind words, or helpful. Mostly it’s just advice about things I’m not feeling or don’t relate to. Maybe our paths will cross some other time.

  34. Jonathan Blake said,

    July 2, 2007 @ 8:38 am

    chosa, I don’t know if you’re still reading, but I agree that those people weren’t lying to you. Please be well. Please reach out to your friends and family for support.

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