Finding Personal Meaning and Purpose in a Faith Transition

In a faith transition many face feelings of groundlessness akin to crisis level vertigo. They may feel that their life is completely falling apart; that nothing is what it seemed and they struggle to cope with such a huge shift. They face reprocessing every principle, every value and potentially every reason for every thing in their life! Their foundation has crumbled and going through this trauma, there are stages of grief explaining the psychology of it all.

Coming through the states of grief we have an opportunity for rebuilding. A chance to examine every stone of our foundation thoroughly in order to determine if it is safe to keep or deserves to be jettisoned. As the popular phrase goes, we hope we “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. But what is the baby? And what is the water? These are deep and serious inquiries we can now rely on our own authority and discernment to answer and interpret.

Finding a New Why

In leaving Mormonism, many struggle with the task of finding a new point to doing anything. There is a real sense of pointlessness to life. If we’re not on track for an eternal salvation, what is our reason, what’s the point? We function better and have a healthy outlook when we have a raison d’être (reason for being/purpose). We can find a new why. This is all related to learning to trust our own inner authority first. We’ve been taught and become accustomed to dismiss and even distrust our own internal voice. It can be associated with pride, with the natural man and not with meekness or humility or following the brethren or the command of God. We can take it back though and own our own authority to decide what gives us meaning. It’s not up to an organization to tell us where we find our meaning! That is what they have been doing though. All the quotes and meme-worthy mantras. For example, that “I learn something new every time I go to the temple”. This makes us ignore the internal voice saying that it is uncomfortable or makes no sense or is a waste of time to go see the same movie for the nth time again for date night rather than to actually talk to each other or enjoy some time together. There are countless more examples.

When we’ve been programmed and taught from our youth to believe that the natural state of man is pure evil, it’s no wonder we cling to the church and the gospel to sanctify and cleanse us. But where did this idea come from that we are so so wicked? The very church that in one breath gives us the problem and then in the next teaches us that they (and only they) have the solution. It’s not a problem actually though, the vast majority of people are good and decent humans. There are always some bad apples, but don’t be fooled into thinking that religion cures the bad apples. We’re not so flawed that we can’t know good and evil and naturally yearn for righteousness.

Principles in the Boy Scout Law

The church teaches us many righteous principles, and these are what keeps people in the pews. People don’t stay because Joseph said (over a decade after the fact) that he saw God. People stay because it feels right, the principles of love and truth and service that the church espouses are the real content of the gospel. Just like Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts, the oath and law are full of principles to live by. The sad thing is the mormon church doesn’t follow the principles it expects of church members. Even if the church doesn’t follow the principles, the members (along with most other religions and cultures) accept them as righteous principles. Not because God’s messengers told them, but because they ring true ethically. Well, most of them, some like polygamy, racism, secret oaths and lying for the lord just don’t ring true.

The church has successfully fooled many into believing that they have a monopoly on these principles, and that the reason we follow them, the point to living and the meaning we can find from our life is in following the principles so that at judgement day we are found worthy and can enter the pearly gates. But the truth is, there is no monopoly. The church didn’t invent and doesn’t own these principles. They have bastardized them into things they say are under their authority. They want us to believe that in leaving the church we also leave all goodness behind, all these principles for truth and honesty and decency must also be abandoned.

In leaving a religion it’s up to the individual (couple or family) to decide what their values are. What principles do they value most. It’s no longer something delivered to them in conference talks and devotionals and sunday school lessons. It becomes a “choose your own adventure” experience. It becomes what we think about during our quiet moments or what gets us through hard times. There are even exercises and worksheets to guide individuals through prioritizing values into your values and make a family mission statement to act as the guiding light (here’s a values exercise sheet to try if you’re interested). The amazing thing is everyone is different, there is no universal “right” answer here about what values to focus on. These values even change over time and during different phases of life.

So, when people leave a high-demand religion like Mormonism, don’t expect them to exhibit evil or to throw away the principles they’ve appreciated in the religion. The principles will likely be what in the end gives them purpose and meaning, though it can be a long struggle to get there. One scripture that always stood out to me personally, has found new meaning during the work of defining and following my own values.

“God is love” now has new meaning. It’s not talking about an anthropomorphic being, it’s talking about the principle. My God is now simply love, because it is one of my principal and guiding values. In the end I sincerely believe that “All you need is LOVE“.

As I’ve left the church, I’ve not left the principles I hold dear. These might not always match up with the church prescribed values, but I am left with the values that are truly valuable to me. No one and no organization has the authority to tell me what to think. No authority to tell me what values I should think are valuable. No authority to dictate the very meaning and purpose I should derive from my own life and existence. These are personal and unique to each of us. Dare I say that these are actually more meaningful when I’ve taken the conscious effort to define them for myself.

It takes deep integrity to leave the mormon church. Ironically, the very integrity we feel we’ve learned from our faith, is in many cases what gives us the ground to leave it. We research it and with integrity decide we can’t stay. There is no reconciling our values and integrity with an organization that preaches integrity, but when analyzed, we find it lacking this same integrity. It’d be ironic, if it weren’t so tragic.We learn to follow our own moral compass and conscience – that is what the church works hard to teach us. But in exercising that freedom to think, those that loved us, find us distrustful and confusing. It triggers their own cognitive dissonance, and they literally can’t understand or even explore the ideas we now espouse without questioning their own foundations. It’s not their fault, it’s how our minds work. Challenging even parts of our own worldview is alarming and scary! The values of conformity and obedience are opposed to us claiming our own authority and following our own voice. They use fear tactics and shame those of us with different views and perspectives. Thoughts that are unapproved by the “Brethren” are to be rejected in their world view. Afterall, this is what they’ve been taught from their youth too, and are continually taught today.

The president of the church today, Russell M Nelson, recently used this exact tactic of fear-mongering to reinforce the idea that members need to grip their foundations tighter out of fear, rather than examining it rationally. His view is that the alternative to a life with God, must be filled with fear, because he is filled with fear when considering it. Avoiding the scary God-less life is his motivation and where he finds the security and belonging in his culture. He mistakenly (at best) feels that since his own life without God would be a scary place, that the same is true for everyone else. So he is paradoxically, fearing the fear he projects on others who don’t share his views, and reassures himself that this is the definition of being filled with peace. So who is living the life filled with fear? These are the places unbelievers and sceptics are marginalized because the believing faithful members literally don’t have the space in their faith for other ideas. No room for anything but the latest and current ideas of the “Brethren”, which in the end are very fear-based and controlling.

President Nelson teaches that “life without God is a life filled with fear. Life with God is a life filled with peas.”

Have you felt anything similar? What values and principles help you get through the feelings of groundlessness?

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