My wife and I have been warned throughout our lives about the tragedy that would materialize if we were ever foolish enough to leave the church. Apostates, we were taught, become drug addicts, get divorced, declare bankruptcy and more or less stumble into the gaping jaws of hell. Being well-acquainted with at least as many non-Mormons as Mormons, I knew at least from my adult years onward that these were exaggerations. But when my wife and I finally decided to quit paying tithing and attending church, I quelled any worry I felt by telling myself that if we were making a mistake, we would surely find out swiftly, if not painfully.
And the results were swift; but they were also something short of painful. Since leaving the church, my wife and I find ourselves with more family time than we have ever had (because we attend no Mormon meetings or appointments), more money for charitable contributions and family vacations than we have ever had (because we no longer pay tithing) and most important by far, a sense of peace I had not previously experienced during my adulthood. The reasons for this peace are complicated, and I’m not sure I understand them all. But at least a few of the reasons are easily identifiable.
Being LDS is stressful, and it is difficult to appreciate how stressful it is until you fully divorce yourself from all church commitments and correspondence. When I was a member, the church made astounding demands on my family’s time, especially time that most people would think belongs to families (e.g., Saturday mornings, Tuesday evenings, Sunday mornings and afternoons). After I left the church, I stumbled upon a research article on “time affluence” (and the benefits of reclaiming your time as your own) and the article helped me realize why, even though I had always felt a powerful sense of duty while a member of the church, I had rarely found much joy in my membership. I recall that even as a missionary I had moments when I quietly admitted to myself that I hated proselytizing and was probably experiencing depressive episodes, but my feelings were irrelevant and I had to press forward. I was convinced at that time that there was no greater work than preaching the gospel, so what did it matter if I felt terrible sometimes?
A second way in which leaving the church has brought me peace is that it has allowed me to live authentically. For most of my adult years there have been portions of LDS doctrine that have bothered me, but because I had no constructive means of discussing my concerns, I generally kept quiet about them and played the Peter Priesthood I was expected to play in Mormon circles. I remember watching a documentary about boys in a yeshiva and feeling envious about the freedom of orthodox Jews (but perhaps not Jewesses) to argue about what their scriptures meant. Where in the LDS church do members debate? For years I acted as though all was well with my testimony, and now I feel the peace that comes from living according to what I believe, with the freedom to adapt if my beliefs change. Free of any imposed code of conduct based on a religious order, I even have the freedom to follow my beliefs if they change again. There is no such thing as being excommunicated from atheism, and ultimately, I’m going to follow the truth wherever it leads me.
But perhaps the greatest source of peace in my life outside the church comes from experiencing a deep meaningfulness that is neither mysterious nor contrived. I now believe that life has no meaning independent of the meaning we assign to it ourselves, and I feel empowered by that belief. I no longer depend on a mysterious, semi-estranged and highly unlikely father from a distant corner of the universe to tell me what my place in the cosmos is and what I should do about it. The meaning of my life is not available in obtuse verses or in mandatory weekly meetings. I have constructed my life’s meaning for myself, by contemplating what ends I want to achieve (for myself and everyone else I care about) and how best to achieve them. No one else can do this for me, and I don’t want them to.
So in my case at least, the fruits of apostasy have included more control over my time, a greater sense of being true to myself and an increased sense of meaning in life. If these are the gaping jaws of hell, then I recommend them to everyone.