Mormons have a funny way of dealing with "apostates" like me. It would be hard to continue faithfully in the church if all around you there were members leaving for rational, or even spiritual reasons. So the church and its members engage in widespread apostate defamation, this way the active members don't have to wrestle with the possibility that they're living a lie. Those who leave the church are usually bunched into one of the following categories:
They just couldn't handle it--These former members simply couldn't handle living a righteous life. Maybe they tried for awhile, but in the end the call of booze, whores, and all kinds of miscellaneous debauchery were simply too much to resist. Stories of these members are common place at church, and they usually go something like this:
"I saw Jim the other day at the grocery store. *voice grows somber* He had a six pack of beer in his shopping cart."
As the story goes, Jim's carnal desire to drink beer was so strong that it caused him to lose his testimony and ultimately . . . the spirit. Now Jim is seen at grocery stores buying hard drinks, which he no doubt consumes alone in his basement, the place where he has spent most of his time since becoming a degenerate drunkard. Mormons will never wonder if Jim stopped believing in the church before he started drinking. They'll assume that it was the sweet alcohol-y nectar that led Jim astray.
They never really believed--This is a group that I've often found myself being pinned to. When these folks stop going to church, the assumption is that they were never really converted in the first place. Afterall, if they had a "real" testimony there's no way they would ever leave the church, right? People will say that these former-members "borrowed" the testimony of friends and family for too long without ever developing their own. These people simply left too soon. If they'd hung around a while longer, and just kept praying about it, certainly the testimony they never had would have come.
They were offended--Mormons like to say that the Gospel is perfect, but the people who live it aren't(This statement is only 1/2 true)! When these people leave the church, it is assumed that it is because they've been hurt or offended by a fellow member. This is never viewed as a legitimate reason for inactivity, and these members are often talked about as simply "just not getting it."
None of these groups really applied to me. I started at BYU in 2004, fresh off a mission, with a strong testimony to match. I had always lived and believed in the gospel--no shortcuts. I didn't drink, smoke, have sex, or even shop on Sundays. My testimony was real, and I enjoyed living the gospel.
My faith crisis was not a result of being offended, or the desire to whore it up in Provo. My faith crisis was just that--a crisis. There were tears, desperate prayers, and hours spent in the temple, meditating and hoping that it was all true. The core of this struggle took place years ago, but the pain and agony I went through still feels fresh when I write about it.
One of the hardest parts of leaving the church is knowing that I gave it my all, yet I continue to be thrown into a category of apostate losers. I won't be remembered by friends and family as the guy who, after months of prayerful tears could not bring himself to believe anymore. Instead I'll be remembered as the guy who never believed in the first place, the guy who was deceived by "some book," or the guy who just couldn't handle living the commandments.
I'm tired of letting other people dictate my story.