Sundays: Why I’m Not at Church

It is very, very important to me that before you read this post you understand a few things.
1. This is my opinion and experience, and mine only. I’m not trying to convince you of anything or change your beliefs.
2. I have intentionally left out specific details. This is a much more nuanced discussion than I can possibly convey in a blog post. If you want to talk specifics, please feel free to contact me privately.
3. It’s not my intention to hurt or damage your religious views. If religion is working well for you, I’m glad. I know it helps a lot of people, and I’ve found that the best choice is to find what works for you and stick with it. Please read this as it is intended: a guide to understanding me. It’s nothing more than that.

It has recently come to my attention that there are some misconceptions about what has caused me to stop attending church. I don’t know that the people who hold these misconceptions will ever read this post, but I do know that many of the people I care about do read my blog. I have no delusions of my ability to stop the gossip that happens about me behind my back, but I do hope to at least set the record straight for those people who care enough about me to actually read my thoughts or ask me to explain my choices and decisions.

I didn’t stop going to church because of feminism. Yes, I had a feminist awakening right around the time I also went through a serious faith transition, but the two are separate and distinct.

As part of my feminist awakening, I realized that I matter. That I am not inferior to half the world’s population simply because of my sex (a misconception that society has done a pretty bang-up job of spreading around and that religion, in general, has held pretty tightly to in action though they profess otherwise with their words). That I am not any more or less important than any other human being on this earth. That I matter, that you matter, that the guy down the street matters, the kid who threw a baseball at your car window matters, the starving child in Africa matters, the NASA leader and the homicidal prisoner matter. The single mother, the gay man, the prostitute and the opera singer all matter. Hitler matters, Mother Teresa matters, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein matter, Harriet Tubman and Joan of Arc matter. All of us. None more or less than others. We all matter.

Does this mean I think everyone can do whatever they want and there should be no consequences? No, it doesn’t. I believe we are each accountable for our own actions and for the way we treat other people on this earth, no matter who they are or what they may have (or may not have) done. I believe in kindness, in love, in empathy, in compassion, and in trying to do the best you can with the knowledge you have. And, as part of my therapy (something I’ve been doing for years now), I have come to believe that anything contrary to love is an outward manifestation of fear, and that love is the only cure for fear.

An inevitable product of my feminist awakening (which, if you’re more comfortable, could be termed “humanist” instead of feminist – feminism seems to have a nasty negative connotation in our society that humanism doesn’t carry) was a reexamination of my life and why I do what I do. I let go of the long-held belief that my sole purpose on this earth is to bear and raise children. I let go of the guilt that I’ve felt for years and years because I don’t love being a stay-at-home parent, and the pressure I’ve felt (especially as a product of my religious culture – thank you, Saturday’s Warrior) to have a lot of children. I stopped trying to find happiness and fulfillment in something that simply didn’t make me happy or even begin to fulfill me. I allowed myself to explore my interests, my feelings, and to stop trying to be what I’ve been told to be. Instead, I learned to be who I already am and how to stop trying to hide that.

This intense examination expanded to my view of religion (specifically, to my view of the LDS religion). It became glaringly obvious to me that I wasn’t on equal footing in my church. That I had no divine female role model, and no human female role model whom I could emulate or look up to as a guide. That my only allowed connection to divinity is through a man. My church is run by men, for men, and about men. I just happen to be an appendage and a handy tool to use to raise more men. Wasn’t I lucky to have a good man as a husband? (This was actually posed to me by a leader as the obvious solution to my concerns: I have a good husband, so why should I even worry about having a direct relationship with God? This infuriates me on so many levels, but that is beyond the scope of this post.)

And once I realized this, once I allowed myself to want more and to feel that I deserved to know more, I started to look for answers. Where was this Heavenly Mother I’d been taught about? And what loving Heavenly Father could ever submit his daughters to an eternity of polygamy? (Honestly, polygamy has troubled me as long as I can remember, and I’ve never been able to come to terms with that one.) But even more personally, why would God tell me that there is only one way to be happy? That the only way I could ever find “true happiness” was to become a mother, give up everything else in my life, and clean up poop and get yelled at about how much they hate homework, drive them all over creation, and at the end of the day hate my life? Why would God tell me that the very thing that has fueled my anxiety, depression, eating disorder, and ultimately made me suicidal was the thing that was going to make me happy? I’m imperfect (extremely so), yet I am able to recognize and acknowledge that my children are all different and that they find happiness and fulfillment in different ways. So how could a perfect God miss this? And so I started to look for answers. I started searching for proof that God really does love women – really does love me, and care about me as an individual and not simply as a conduit for getting more men here.

What I found was not what I bargained for.

To make a very, very long story very short, I found myself in a place where I no longer even wanted to believe in God. Where I honestly hoped that there isn’t any such being. To me, it seems that if God does exist, he/she/they care very little for the human race. It pains me very deeply to think that such a being might exist, that this being is supposedly my “loving parent”, and even more to think that I may be expected to revere and worship said deity.

God, as I understood, was all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful. If you take away any of those three characteristics, then God is no longer who I was taught to believe in. The all-loving father figure. The omnipotent being, who knows my heart and my desires and only waits for me to express them so he can grant them. The being with the power to create and destroy, and to bind on earth and in heaven. Take away any of these things, and God is no longer God.

But there is so much unnecessary suffering on this earth. So many innocent people suffer unimaginable pain; so many innocent children suffer and die at the hands of other humans. I simply cannot convince myself to believe in a god who allows so much horror. If god is all-powerful, then god has the capacity to stop this needless and senseless pain. Yet it still happens, on a global scale. If god is all-loving, then god has the desire to stop unnecessary pain and suffering. Yet again, these children die terrible agonizing deaths. And if god is all-knowing, then god knows my heart and will not condemn me for not attending church or following the cultural expectations. But I’m shunned, avoided, and seen as dangerous, all in the name of god’s religion.

And so I don’t attend church any more. Because religion teaches me contradictory views of god. And tells me which people deserve to be loved and which people don’t. And because I am considered “dangerous” because I ask hard questions that no one has answers to. And because I’ve literally run myself ragged trying to be “good enough” for god, only to be told over and over that I will never be good enough, no matter how hard I try.

So you won’t see me at church much. You might see me in a tank top (scandalous, I know). You might see me at the store on a Sunday afternoon, or reading a book or magazine about Secular Humanism. You might find me marching in the Gay Pride Parade or supporting the Let Women Pray movement. You might see these things and assume I’ve “sinned” or been offended. That I left my church because I want to disobey the rules or I’m too lazy to do what it takes to be a “good” Mormon.

But I’ll ask you to withhold judgement of me and others like me. You have no idea what I’ve been through to get where I am now. You have no idea, unless you have experienced it yourself, the hell I endured in the midst of my faith transition. You have no idea what my heart holds. And no matter how much I want to make you understand, I can’t condense the last three years of my life into a simple blog post. I can’t convey to you the countless hours I’ve spent wondering and worrying and searching for answers.

Trust me when I say I’m happier this way. It’s not easy – I’m terribly uncomfortable when I know I’m disappointing people or when I’m not conforming, and it’s hard enough to navigate marriage and parenting without adding a difference in religion to the mix. But this is who I am. This is what I believe, and right now this is how I make it through each day without reverting back to my depressed, anxious, disordered, suicidal self.

I’m comfortable with who I am now. I’m finally at ease because I’m no longer trying to be something I’m not. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to like me, and you don’t have to be my friend. I’m not asking you to do things that make you uncomfortable. What I am asking is that you leave judgement of me to god, if there is such a being, and simply treat me like a good person. Because that’s what I am, religious or not.

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5 Responses to Sundays: Why I’m Not at Church

  1. Steve D says:

    Helps me to understand some of my feelings as well. I have been confused with the church for a long time. But I realized that the guilt I felt for doing the things I was told not to do was taught to me by the very thing I was confused about. I looked past that guilt and found what I believe I am here for, My family small and broke but happy.

  2. You are loved my dear! We should have spoken earlier! I’ve NEVER EVER been completely a stay at home mom. Hello! I love my kids, but I am a better mom when I work. May be some Utah LDS culture has been chiseled in! You are never suppose to feel guilty for taking care of yourself! I don’t know who has been your guild, but hmmm . . . disappointing indeed! You are so dang smart, and beautiful! Not to know that you matter is tragic! So sorry that its brought you to this end. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not the LDS culture. (some folks get that a little mixed up). You are loved. Sometimes life sucks! Its not your fault. So sorry for your pain! So sorry!

  3. Annette says:

    I’m so sorry that these past years have been so difficult for you and that you’ve felt so much judgement from others. I love you and I’m glad you’ve found things that leave you feeling fulfilled. And anyone who really knows you will know how kind and wonderful you are.

  4. Rodney says:

    Just want you to know that I love you and I care about you. And I respect the fact that you have to find your way in life just like all the rest of us have to.

  5. Grandma says:

    Just know I love you no matter what! I am here for you.

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