The household I grew up in was Protestant, but not extremely religious. Some Sundays my mom would take my sister and I to church, others we would just stay home and have leisurely Sunday morning breakfasts. My dad didn’t attend church with us very often because he didn’t like crowds of people, but he would come with us some Sundays. I attended Sunday school, and apparently even some sort of vacation bible school at some point based on the certificate of completion that I recently found in some of my stuff. The vacation bible school must have been when I was fairly young, because I don’t remember it at all. I do remember getting involved with the church choir when I was in middle school because I loved to sing and because a lot of my group of friends were in it. To be honest though, it was probably more because of my friends.
Choir practice happened after school once a week at the church, so we’d all take the school bus that went to the Green after school because the church was located right on the Green. We had time to kill before practice started, so we’d usually go the shops that lined the Green. Especially the candy shop. Then we’d hang out either on the Green, the front steps of the church, or if the weather wasn’t nice we’d retreat inside the church itself. We had fun during choir practice itself too, but a lot of the appeal was being able to wander around the Green before.
The youth choir and Sunday school classes also would put on plays for the entire congregation, and my group of friends and I also became involved in that. These were big productions that involved set pieces and costumes and we had a lot of fun performing them.
Like I said before, religion wasn’t ever really a big deal in my household, it was always just kind of there. I grew up just assuming that what I was taught was “Truth”, and that everybody was taught and believed the same things that I was taught to believe. It wasn’t until I was in middle school and one of my classmate’s father came in to show the class something that I found out that not everyone was Christian. My classmate was Jewish, and it blew my mind. I can’t remember what it was that my classmate’s father came in for now, possibly something to do with food, but the knowledge that not everyone believed in Jesus came as a complete shock. I had assumed that everything that I was being taught at church and at home was just more “knowledge” like what I would learn in school, and never thought that other’s might not all believe the same thing.
When I started high school I was still a “Christian”, but that didn’t really mean much. I had never really had to look at or defend my beliefs. I was brought up Protestant, so that’s what I was. When I started dating Justin I would go with him and his family to another Protestant church a few towns over most Sundays. It was a church that I had gone to as well as the one on the Green while I was growing up because my grandmother lived in that town and attended that church. I liked that church better than the one on the Green because the Minister was more of a storyteller than a preacher. He was funny and he always made his sermons interesting. The church was a old stone church right on the shore, and it had beautiful stained glass windows. But of course the biggest draw was being able to spend more time with Justin. He went to church because he had to to keep his mother happy, and didn’t take it seriously most of the time. We would sit in the back of the room by the doors in a couple of great big wooden chairs instead of in the pews with everyone else. I think it was around this time, that I started to realize that it was possible that not everyone believed in God. If I thought a lot about religion, or why I believed what I did I might have come to this conclusion sooner.
I think that I might have realized that there were a lot more religions in the world than just the one that I had grown up in sooner than this, but I still assumed that everyone believed in God, just in different forms. I had become somewhat interested in Wicca near the end of middle school, but like my being “Christian” never really looked much into it. After Justin and I became friends with John and Lauren, I started referring to myself as being “Wiccan” though. John and Lauren were Wiccan, and it seemed a lot more interesting than being Christian. Not to mention rebellious. I was starting to look into my beliefs some, but not too thoroughly at this point, and Wicca called to me in some way. I didn’t really take any of it all that seriously though.
I went through the rest of high school as some kind of weird Christian and Wiccan hybrid, and didn’t really think all that much about religion again until I started dating the man who would later become my husband. He grew up in an LDS household and I asked him a lot about his church. I didn’t like what I heard, and would have animated discussions with him about how messed up his church was. He didn’t really care all that much, he would defend his church and try to explain things better, but his religion was never really a big deal to him. He went because he was supposed to, and believed what he was told to. His religion only became an issue once in our relationship when he all of the sudden decided he had to go on a mission and dumped me. We talked it over the next day and when I told him that he didn’t have to dump me to go on his mission and that I’d wait for him for the 2 years that he would be gone, we got back together. Only instead of going on his mission he ended up deciding that he didn’t want to go to church anymore and stopped going.
When we got married, we were married by the Minister of the the stone church on the water. We attended that church for the first year or so after we were married. But during this time we were living in his parents house, who were still members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and my mother in law is a very religious person. I ended up asking my husband about the church he grew up in again and this time I was interested in checking it out. A short time later I was baptized into that church. Part of the reason for this was because I was still ashamed of being arrested a few years earlier and I figured if I became devoutly religious people would have to stop judging me for my past.
Making the decision to join the LDS church was probably the first time that I ever really looked at or really thought about my beliefs. But even then I didn’t really have to think very much about it because the church very clearly told me what I was supposed to believe if I was to be a member of this church. It told me how I was supposed to live my life, and promised me that if I did as I was told, I would be happy. I decided if I was going to join this church, I was going to be a model member. I almost wasn’t allowed to join though, because during the interview process before the baptism ceremony could be performed the fact that I had had same sex relationships in the past came up. I had to denounce my prior behaviors as sinful and express remorse for my actions, as well as claim that I no longer had any attraction to members of the same sex and that these sorts of actions would never be repeated by me. I wanted a chance to see if this church could in fact make me as happy as it claimed that it could, so I denied who I really was and denounced my attraction to the same sex as sinful. In order to become a part of this church my thinking on homosexuality had to change from believing that people were born either being straight, or gay, or bisexual, or anywhere else along the spectrum and that there was no choice involved, to believing that being homosexual was a choice and a sin.
This was just one thing among many that I had to change about myself and my world view in order to be a part of the church. I changed how I dressed, and removed all but one piercing from each ear. I changed the movies I watched, the books I read, the music I listened to. I threw myself into scripture study and learned all I could about church history. Like I said before, I was going to be a model member of the church. I was determined to do everything that I needed to in order to be found worthy of going to the temple, because I was told that if I made it there I would know all there was to know about the religion. That great truths would be revealed to me. And also that I had to attend the temple if I wanted to make it to the highest kingdom of heaven.
Our first apartment was owned by the parents of one of my husband’s friends. It seemed perfect at first, especially when my husband had a health crisis that kept him out of work for a little while and then he was temporarily laid off for the winter season until work picked up again at his job. Our landlords told us not to worry about the rent, that we could pay them back once we got back on our feet. But when my husband lost his job permanently a few months later, they were much less understanding about it. Our landlord, a former Bishop in the church, told us that he wanted us out of the apartment by that weekend, just a few days away. He also informed us that we were worthless and would never amount to anything. He changed his mind a few days later and decided that would be allowed to stay if we could find a way to pay our own rent by the end of the month. You see, we had paid our rent for that month already, but he decided that it didn’t really count because we had had help from the church in order to do so. But it didn’t matter that he had decided that we would be allowed to stay, because we had already made up our minds that we no longer wanted to live there with him for a landlord. My father in law offered to help us get caught up on our rent and start off with a clean slate, and we asked him if he would be willing to help us move instead. We had decided that it was time to get out of New England and start over in the West. We were moving to Utah.
When we made it out to Utah, we threw ourselves into being the best members of the church that we could be. That should have been one of the happiest times of our life according to the church, but instead the stress of all the constant demands on our time by the church caused us to constantly be fighting with each other. But we still couldn’t be honest with ourselves, the church said that we should be happy, so we must be happy. This was also the time when I was constantly being told that all of my mental health issues could be taken away, if only I was good enough and prayed hard enough. And when my mental health issues just kept getting worse instead of better, I blamed myself, because I must have been doing something wrong. Because of my mental health issues, we had some problems with making it to church every week , and because we weren’t making it to church every week I wasn’t being the model church member that I should have been and that’s why my prayers weren’t being answered.
We were also being made to feel like we weren’t a real family because we didn’t have any children. We were pressured to have children, and when I was not able to conceive for whatever reason, I was made to feel like I was less of a woman because of it. We tried for years to have children, but it never happened. We were made to feel guilty about it, and were told that because we didn’t have children our time was worth less and that we should happily volunteer as much of our time as the church wanted us to.
I started to have some doubts about whether or not the church was the best place for me, but because I was taught that if I left the church I would no longer make it to heaven, I stayed and tried harder to be perfect. I started to regret ever having joined the church, and felt extremely guilty for those thoughts. I decided that we needed to buckle down and do anything and everything that we could to be found worthy to enter the temple. Because if I could just make it there, then I would learn things and life would finally make sense to me and I could finally be happy.
But when we did finally make it to the temple, I didn’t actually learn any new truths. There was just more things that I needed to memorize if I ever wanted to be allowed into the highest kingdom of heaven. Life did not get any better. My mental health did not improve. I had done everything that was asked of me and although I was promised that I would be happy, I was finally having to admit to myself that I was not happy. When I stopped and really looked at my life, I realized that all of my actions for the last few years in the church were motivated by fear and guilt. I was told that if I didn’t do exactly as the church told me, I would go to hell. I was told that if I wasn’t happy, it was because I was doing something wrong and that I needed to try even harder, give even more of myself to the church. We slowly stopped going to church, and then eventually admitted to ourselves that we didn’t have any plans of ever going back. We had not been to church in a year or more, but the thought of actually admitting that we were leaving the church was terrifying. I knew that my life had improved in the time that we had not been going to church, but I was still afraid that we were making a big mistake because I had been told that anyone who decided to leave the church was in the grasp of the devil. I had been taught that I couldn’t really be happy outside the church, and was very confused with the fact that I was happier outside the church. My husband and I got along better. My mental health had improved significantly. All the stress from all the demands of the church had gone away. Looking back, I had to admit that the years that I was in the church were actually the unhappiest, most stressful years I have ever experienced. When I decided that I wasn’t going back to church, in order to deal with the fear that I was making a big mistake I had justify my decision to myself. I told myself that I didn’t want to go to their highest heaven because if I wasn’t happy with having to live by all the rules of the church while alive, and didn’t want to be around other members of the church now, there was no way that that was how I wanted to spend the rest of eternity. I reminded myself that their idea of heaven would actually be a kind of hell for me.
After I got over my guilt and fear for leaving the church, I started to do a bit more in depth research into the church. I soon realized that a lot of the things that I was taught were in fact contradictory, and that the church wasn’t in fact true at all. I now no longer look at the the LDS church as a “church” but instead see it as a cult.
I thought that when I left the LDS church I could just go back to the religion I had grown up with, but I realized that I no longer believed in any Christian religion. Once I had opened my eyes and really examined my beliefs, I realized that I could no longer call myself Christian, or even religious in anyway. But because my family and my husband’s family are both still religious it was hard to admit that I no longer believed what they wanted me to. So I would tell my family that after leaving the LDS church I was taking a break from religion for a while.
But now, years after leaving the church I have come to realize that I am not just “taking a break from religion”. I have in fact had more than enough religion in my life already. In the years that I have been living in Utah, I have been forced to live with religion shaping the laws of the state. I have had to deal with being discriminated against because I am not the “right” religion. I have gone from being devoutly Christian to not being able to stomach religion at all. I still have not been honest with my family, but I am now being honest with myself. When I really look at my beliefs, I realize that I am in fact an atheist. I do not need religion in my life to be a good person.