Why I Chucked My Mormon Faith and Became an Atheist
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My faith died in a public library.
It was a sunny day -- Perfect weather to have your faith crushed. I had biked the short ride from my house to the San Clemente Library, a small building in one of Southern California's last small towns. With a hand-scribbled slip of paper in one hand, I walked the stacks looking for a book I had read about on the Internet: Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith .
I sought the book to find confirmation of something that had troubled me for nearly two years. See, as a lifelong Mormon, I understood that the church's founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., was martyred by an armed mob in a jail cell in Carthage, Ill. But something I read in a magazine article and later researched online told me I didn't have the whole story. Brodie's book held the answer I desperately needed.
I was about to join the record numbers of young Americans who are lose their faith each year. Preachers and pastors lament the loss of faith of 30-something and younger Americans. They debate how to best reach out to an entire generation that, for the first time in our country's history, is becoming nonreligious.
What they don't understand is that we're not just leaving because church services aren't hip enough or because their sermons against homosexuality are just a little too harsh; we're leaving because we've discovered that when it comes to biology, geography and history, our conservative pastors and holy texts are dead wrong. It's important to recognize the role that the Internet plays in our abandoning doctrine for disbelief.
My own story highlights the role that technology and information play in my transition from faith to atheism. To illustrate that, let me back up a couple of decades.
I was the first of seven children to two Brigham Young University students. The day I was born, my mother opened up a copy of the Book of Mormon, the most important book of scripture in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and began reading to me. Mom and Dad named me after a prominent local church elder.
Childhood memories include lessons on Noah and the ark and Wednesday night youth group activities. My family followed church mandates as though they came straight from God himself: my first date wasn't until I turned 16; R-rated movies were banned from the house.
Okay, well, most edicts were followed -- A dirty VHS tape I found in a street gutter introduced me to pornography and gave my left hand something to do besides flipping scripture pages. (By the way, you kids these days don't know how good you have it with Internet porn.)
When I left the U.S. in 1996 for a 2-year mission in the Republic of Peru, the Internet was little more than a frivolous novelty. Only once had I gone online, and that was with two high school friends to harass people in a dating chat room.
In Peru, mission rules forbade us from watching TV or reading newspapers. Official church materials and letters from home were the only source of news. I just happened to be in a barber shop with a blaring television the day Princess Diana was killed in a traffic accident; Otherwise I probably wouldn't have heard the news until I returned home.
One day, though, Mom sent me a Time magazine article profiling the church's vast media and agribusiness empire. Living in a poverty-stricken country, with children sometimes playing barfeoot or naked in the filthy dirt roads, learning about the church's wealth bothered me.