Imagine yourself going home to your parents’ house for a family reunion. You go up in the attic to look for something and while poking around you find a small chest with some papers in it. You examine the documents and learn, to your horror, that you were born the opposite sex! So if you are now a man you learn you were born a female, and if you are a woman you learn you were born a male. Your parents had wanted a son or daughter and since you were born the opposite of what they wanted, they had arranged for a sex-change operation while you were still an infant. Everything that you had thought about yourself, others, and the world was built on a lie! All the time you were growing up you felt different and did not know why. The way you looked at life was based on who you thought you were and on what you believed to be true. Your world would just crumble around you! You would not know what to trust, let alone who to trust! You would have to re-learn almost everything; the way you interacted with others, the way you dressed, and more, assuming you decided to become the gender you were born as.
Even if you stayed the artificial gender there would be psychological ramifications. What if you had married? What if every major decision you made was based on what you thought was truth—that you were a man (or a woman)? There would be so much fallout your head would be spinning! You would most likely experience rage, despair, grief, sorrow, anguish, more anger, mistrust, confusion, and run through a whole gamut of emotions.
This is the closest analogy I can think of to describe what someone coming out of Mormonism goes through. The longer they were members of the Church and the more they genuinely believed it to be true, the more severe the trauma coming out. Someone who had been LDS all his or her life will experience greater hardship than someone who had been a convert of only a year or two. But even those who leave after just a couple years experience a great sense of loss when they leave.
Leaving Mormonism is not as simple as waking up one morning and deciding to rip up one’s temple recommend. It doesn’t come after hearing or reading a couple negative things about the Church; if it were just a few contradictions you could easily readjust your thinking or put them on a “back burner” to deal with later. For an active, believing Mormon to conclude that Mormonism is not true is to discover the following:
He or she did not exist before birth. There are not millions of spirit children waiting to be born. Drinking ice tea will not keep them out of heaven. They will not be married forever. They will not continue to have children in heaven. From their new perspective they feel like they spent two years of their lives spreading a false gospel (assuming they went on missions). They don’t have a heavenly Mother, Jesus is not their older brother, and many other cherished doctrines turn out to have been false beliefs.
They realize or believe that many of their decisions were based on false premises. For example, they may know family, friends, or ward members who refused medical treatment because they were given a priesthood blessing and told they would be healed, only to die instead. Can you imagine the LDS woman who conceived a child out of wedlock and gave the baby up for adoption on the counsel of the First Presidency and later came to the conclusion the Church isn’t true? Can you imagine the personal devastation she would feel after believing she had followed a false prophet and given up her child? Mormons make decisions about careers, moving, dating, marrying, health, life and death, sex, number of children, all based on the premise Mormonism is true; when they perceive it is not, their worlds are turned upside down.
When someone leaves the Church there is often some fear; fear of being shunned by peers, fear their spouse will leave them and take the kids, and sometimes concern about losing their jobs with LDS employers. Some have family members who will no longer talk to them. Their “friends” disappear. They must start over.
Sadly, the majority of those leaving Mormonism fall away from a belief in God altogether, becoming atheist or agnostic. Many of them become hostile toward religion in general and want nothing to do with it. A minority of those leaving the Church will adopt new religious worldviews, such as “cosmic humanism,” a.k.a. the New Spirituality, which includes a wide variety of groups and beliefs that embrace the concept of a Higher Power. In general, they embrace the belief that many roads lead to heaven. A smaller percentage of people leaving Mormonism become what can be termed “born again Christians;” those who place saving faith in the traditional biblical view of Jesus Christ. People who embrace this view often make enormous efforts to bring others out of Mormonism; not out of hostility, but out of a genuine love and concern for their souls. Regardless of what path they follow, ex-Mormons have experienced a life-changing event and need the love and support of family and friends.
We recommend watching the movie The Truman Show for a similar perspective on what people leaving the Church feel like. They easily identify with the main character, Truman, played by Jim Carrey. Truman has been raised since birth in a carefully crafted environment. He believes it is the real world when, in fact, it is a huge movie set. Everything has been constructed in such a way as to keep Truman from discovering the truth. When he begins to notice things that just don’t make sense, the show’s producer takes extravagant measures to cover things up. Good entertainment with unintended parallels to Mormonism.