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The Mormon Who Would Be Atheist

Posted by Zenaida

Or is it the other way around? I’ve come to an important realization that I am Mormon. This may sound completely obvious, but it really is an important moment in my life. I have been wandering around trying to navigate the path I was told was straight and narrow, and came to be crooked and winding. Granted, the change could have been my own new direction, but in my effort to return, I found myself hesitating because the path no longer looked real.

There are many things I could site as reasons for doubting the church and even the existence of God, but right at this moment in time, it doesn’t matter to me. (Ask me again tomorrow.) I still feel like a closet atheist in church (or is it closet mormon?). I still find it difficult sometimes to show up in church when I feel marginalized, but I will continue to do it. I still find it difficult to pay tithing to an institution that I don’t know if I wholly want to support, but I will continue to do it. I still don’t have answers, but I am unwilling to let go of this tradition that is such an integral part of my life, and despite its flaws, manages to do a lot of good in the world. The meaning of Israel is “he that striveth with God.” I don’t intend to give up the struggle anytime soon. If I have desire to believe, then that’s enough right now.

I feel great joy in my discovery, which made me want to share it. I also realized that my personal victory will not be seen as such by all. It’s not enough for some and too much for others. Some people are wont to see only limitations in my new perspective. My own former self would not have seen it as a victory. But, I am learning to accept myself and others. I feel much more open to ideas, and try not to dismiss things outright that challenge my world view. I am finding peace in accepting my state of questioning.

Do you ever feel the pull of dual identities, and how do you balance them? How has being open brought growth or change?

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  1. G says:

    thankyou for this post today, zeniada.

    I used to think that I could balance the pull of my ‘dual identities’. but am coming to the realization that the way I am currently doing it is just plain schizophrenic and not healthy.

    So, I don’t have a helpful suggestion… actually in the process right now of deciding which way I’ll fall.
    not so fun.

    but thankyou for your helpful words about how you manage it.

  2. Jay says:


    I know what it feels like to question your faith. It is extremely difficult to come to peace with everything when you have someone telling you what you are supposed to believe (as in the LDS Church and many others). Personally, I decided I would pick what I liked from the LDS Church and toss the things that offend me. The many things I’m unsure of I’ll just have to trust that God knows my heart and if I don’t believe like others of my faith he will that into account. This has given me the most comfort and peace as I work through difficult questions about the LDS faith. Sounds like you are going through a similar thing.

  3. Abby says:

    Yes i do feel the pull of dual identities and like you I’m unwilling to let go of the tradition. it’s an integral part of my life but yet i have questions, questions i cannot ask for fear of being labelled…. I feel like a hypocrite sometimes but only God knows…..at least it’s not just me.

  4. R says:

    I feel a pull of dual or triple or quadruple identities EVERY day. I don’t always balance them and some days it literally makes my head hurt.

    The days where it works though are the days that I just don’t care that I don’t have it all worked out. Those are the days that I revert back to my own idea about God. I become quite possessive about God and I become quite sure that my way is the right way (even if it’s totally different than what I see or hear culturally around me). When I’m in that mindset, I’m quite high and mighty and not open to change.

    However, ironically, that’s when I’m the best me. I don’t worry about making it all work, making all the parts of me live together nicely. And, I treat others better. I think it’s because I’m comfortable and confident in the differences and I live each one to the fullest.

  5. Caroline says:

    I too am learning to accept myself. I spent years kicking myself because I don’t have the ability to believe like other Mormons. I’ve stopped doing that and am learning to just accept myself. I may not bring to the table a strong testimony of all things Mormon, but I have other important things to contribute.

    Recognizing and accepting this has been difficult. My Mormon self wants to contually better myself and improve and gain stronger faith, but a newer self is telling me to find peace in who I am.

  6. Shelli says:

    Thanks for your post Zenaida! I have gone through a similar evolution of feelings and have come to a comparable place, in terms of acknowledging MY beliefs and what this means in relation to my Mormonism. I, too, have concluded that I would like to continue to participate in my Mormon community, which isn’t an easy balancing act. I find myself constantly trying to figure out how to offer a different perspective, without feeling so maligned that I fail to appreciate the very reasons I have decided to continue my involvement. I have found this dynamic to be an excellent laboratory for challenging my personal growth and development, with regards to human relationships—For what it is worth, it helps me when I have this perspective.

  7. Jana says:

    Having embraced a dual religious identity for awhile now, I can say that it is hard at times because others want to be able to easily pigeonhole you into a definable category (mormon, not-mormon, apostate, etc). It can also be difficult when you can’t be open about your identity–for example I suspect that your ward members might be rather shocked if you raised your hand in Sunday School and gave your perspective on a topic after identifying yourself as an atheist-Mormon.

    But of course we all wear different hats, and sometimes–even for TBMs–those roles can cause friction in our religious experience. I’d like to think that we can all recognize that we’re each striving to do our best to make sense of this world and our place in it. Perhaps that’s not asking too much?

  8. JohnR says:

    I’m happy that you’re finding a level of peace. I think everyone has to work to find their own balance–this is a very personal decision. And I think you’re right, too, that you can’t really please others with your decision.

    I wrestled and anguished as an unbeliever in the Church on and off for the better part of the decade. (I just realized that almost half the Exponent bloggers witnessed the last few years of my struggling). For me, living in such an inauthentic space was pure hell. I find it deeply ironic that the Church environment encouraged me to portray myself falsely–that a quiescent or apparently believing John was more acceptable than a questioning and challenging me. My only consolations were my friendships and associations in the Church. When Jana indicated that she was ready to leave, I was more than willing to join her.

    Like you, I don’t think that most members were happy with the choice I made. But the peace of mind and clearness of conscience I feel now are more than worth it.

    I guess that’s my answer–I felt the pull of two identities, and I eventually went with the one that felt most authentic to me. But it took years and years to get to that point.

  9. Natasha says:

    I think that part of difficulty of living with a “dual” identity is that it is easy to adopt the church’s all or-nothing perspective. Either it is true and perfect or not true and worthless. I have given myself permission to no believe, but to enjoy being Mormon. It’s my tradition, it’s my heritage, and I am not going to give it up just because I have my own mind.

  10. hannah says:

    i appreciated your comments. i have great admiration and respect for emma…joseph’s emma. before joseph was martyred, emma gave him a blessing she had written for herself and asked joseph to sign it, or ratify it as the prophet. it was very intimate. she said something to effect….let me discover or come to know who i truly am. i fought tears when i read that because i thought i was the only one who was struggling to find out who they really are! we are told we are daughters of God. we are taught how important and valuable and unique we are. but that is so broad and there are so many…finding exactly who i am and loving that person not as a mormon woman, but has a individual, as a spiritual being, as me…as been so painful. i don’t meet the criteria of a ‘perfect mom or wife.’ i’m not sister hinckly as much as i love and admire her. i’m me, and i want to be okay with me and know God is also. the boxes can be so hurtful. i do believe in a God who knows me and loves me and believes in me. perhaps we are all like emma in wanting to find out what God knows about us already and see us in our skin as He does…and like us for that skin!
    i am rambling. thanks for being an honest spirit that made me feel not so alone.

  11. Kiri Close says:

    At the last X2 Retreat, a good friend of mine (her 1st time at exponent) told me, “Gee, Kiri, I never thought you were on the verge of leaving the church!”.

    But i quickly corrected her and said, “I’ve never been on the verge of LEAVING, but I have always been in the ‘verge'”.

    I was born this way, always on the ‘verge’…well that’s how people view me for some reason, which is wild because i really don’t see myself leaving, or on the verge. I’m just myself. I was just trying to articulate to my friend my true feelings.

    And depending on who i speak to/hears me speak, I am one of the following: pagan, open, spiritual, evil, weirdo, contentious, loving, thinks too much, schizophrenic.

    At some point, LDS members’ views of me mean nothing. Truly, that’s how i feel, and i’m not even trying to be strong and singular. That’s how i really, truly, genuinely feel.

    my authentic feelings about spirituality, scriptures, doctrine, and everything else in the world are mixed and unsettled–i like me that way. this is how i was ‘made’.

    I think if i wasn’t like this, i would bore myself.

    So, Zenaida, it’s okay to ‘come outta the closet’–whichever personality lurks there. I think you’ll find many friends
    who feel the way you do. the exponent retreats are a FAbUlous way to ‘out’ yourself.

    Now…as a philosopher, may i say: CONGRATULATIONS! this ‘shift’ u have now arrived at is a way for you to be more, far more than anything you have seen yourself before. And if it’s gonna hurt, than it’s working. Some people call this growth. I call it ‘art’ if you let the shift overtake you for the rest of your life.

  12. Kiri Close says:

    ‘identities’ to me is kind of a farce humans place on each other and all things(ever so rigidly) at some point, btw.

    so maybe you are entangled in the strictness of ID more than anything?

  13. K says:

    Ultimately people believe what they want to believe. If you do have a desire, and work at believing something, you can convince yourself it is true. You can psych yourself into a physiological response of “warm fuzzies” to support your belief. Some people are better at convincing themselves to believe things than others.

    But, if you have a mood disorder, that technique may fail you. Also, if you look at things from a completely objective opinion, not ruled by emotions, it’s hard to believe in things that defy logic and tangible proof, like deity.

    Mormon peer pressure is a fairly potent thing. You might need therapy to get over that.

  14. davea0511 says:

    I’ve undergone the evolution you’re discussing. We’re taught that if you know the Book of Mormon is true then everything is literally true. Well, that’s not necessarily true. At least not literally so.

    The Book of Mormon could be real, Joseph Smith up through the current prophet could be God’s chosen spokesman for mankind, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every doctrine, from Young’s Adam-God theory to the creation story are “literally” true.

    However, for me, I’ve been able to easily cohabit all revealed doctrines with scientific truths based on a couple of facts … one being that many things are symbolic … such as the creation of the world in 7 days. Another fact being that we are expressly urged to understand physical truths based on physical evidence, and spiritual truths on spiritual evidence, and treat them separately as they are like apples and oranges.

    One can therefore believe in both the eternal nature of God and the Big Bang. Interstingly enough the Big Bang was first forwarded by a Catholic priest as

    Ultimately I believe religion and science are extremely compatible for even the skeptic if they can become a deist, though I know many intelligent skeptics and liberal thinkers who believe in a very personal God. Furthermore, the insistence of no God seems scientifically untenable until one can see in all places of the Universe in all locations, simultaneously.

    I think that ultimately one must accept that there is a purpose of the church, and that it is God’s purpose “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”, and that God uses “schools” of thought that he reveals as we need, just like he did with the Jews and the inferior and sometimes seemingly illogical tenets of Judaic Law. This is the precise reason various truths have been periodically withheld, and why we must assume that certain truths are withheld or substituted with parables that we’ve been told to take as though they were literal. His purposes are not to reveal literal truths, but to help us become better and happy (“man is that he might have joy”), and that is why a prophet may respond to a question about a debatable topic “I don’t think it’s useful”.

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