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It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

Deconversion stories: Why so long?

Why did it take so long for me to leave religion?

I keep coming back to this question, in fact kicking myself over it — all that time and energy gone. Then I cut myself some slack. I remember that it’s hard to get out of a system you’re born into, and one that you’ve believed and invested so much in.

Still, all that aside, why did it take me so long to recognise the now-obvious absurdities and contradictions in Mormon doctrine — actually, in all of theism? And Mormon doctrine is full of absurdities. Translating out of a hat? Pouring oil on someone to heal them from diseases? God living on a planet near the star Kolob? Having to memorise and repeat words and signs to get into heaven? Ridiculous in retrospect. Why did it seem so plausible at the time?

Of course, we can turn to the standard set of devices that humans use to believe the implausible: communal reinforcement, childhood indoctrination, confirmation bias. But recently I realised a little something extra that probably helped keep my belief afloat: It’s very difficult to critique a religion effectively when you still accept some religious ideas. Meeting on Saturday might seem arbitrary, but really, meeting on Sunday is equally so. Believing in chakras is not so absurd when you believe in spirits. Why would it be a problem for a ghost to tell Nephi to kill Laban, when David killed Goliath? And so on. Religious beliefs don’t seem absurd in contrast with other religious beliefs. What we’re able to question depends on what we already accept as true.

In other words, the only solid ground from which to criticise religion is atheism. But how likely is someone to question the whole kit-n-kaboodle all at once? What’s more likely to happen is that we’ll try to preserve as much of the original belief as we can. Much less painful that way. But when you do that, you’re unlikely to question that one little assumption that allows the whole structure to stand: that there’s a god who can do magical things when it wants to. If you accept that one idea, then you can magic your way around any contradiction.

Once you step outside of that bubble and question the idea of a god, then all the absurdities become transparently obvious. But that’s an advanced move, and probably one that people only try when all other options are exhausted. No wonder it can take so long.

2 Comments

  1. I have to tell you "Thanks"! You were just able to describe a small portion of what I have been trying to understand about my own deconversion story – I consider myself a relatively intelligent person – and yet, religion in general (and mormonism specifically) took a while to "get out of my system". And just as you described, now all religion seems completely ridiculous!

  2. I'm gonna have to spend some time looking at the links you have in this one for childhood indoctrination and confirmation bias. You should have seen my bishop's face a few years back when I told him I was concerned about brainwashing my children. Even from my uninformed, uneducated standpoint it was clear that this is what happened to me and what I was expected to do to my kids. Hopefully after reading your links I'll have some more ammunition to be able to illicit some more shock from the bishop!

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