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The cultural Mormon: Beyond a belief system

Growing up, I was saturated with religious history and doctrine.



In a house sitting on a hill in Ashton, a piano faces the Tetons on the Wyoming border. At that piano is an elderly woman staring out the large bay window with her delicate fingers tickling the ivory keys of her grand piano. She takes in more than inspiration from her perch. It is a way of life, spirituality and history meshed into an unwavering faith that reaches back to Joseph Smith and the roots of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as she plays Mormon hymns.

Growing up, I was saturated with religious history and doctrine. My grandfather was a bishop in the LDS church who found solace in his horses and faith. Grandmother was a wonderful housewife and mother. She could outcook Emeril and feed an army of grandchildren, aunts, uncles and family friends during occasions of gathering.

I’m not your typical ex-Mormon. I don’t hate the religion or preach believers in the LDS faith are being led astray by a false history. I don’t slam the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price or the Doctrine and Covenants. They have built a history around me.

I fell away from the church at about 14 to question where my heart and mind were regarding God. But when you are raised Mormon, your lifestyle doesn’t simply walk away from it as a whole. The principles, such as loving your family above all other earthly possessions and a solidified value system focused on integrity and preparedness, carry with you for a lifetime.

The lessons of thriftiness and hard work have transferred into my adult life. I still love God and have the deepest affection for my family. The more I go forward, the more I choose to live the core principles of the Mormon faith. Good deeds and being neighborly have become actions that are priceless in a world where people are selfish.

I can’t stop cussing. I drink coffee and alcohol and have the occasional cigarette after a cocktail. I only attend church upon the request by my devout LDS mother or my father, who is an evangelical pastor. Needless to say, they are divorced. Religion has little interest in my life today as a result.

Regardless of my resistance to one organized belief system, the LDS values have carried me through countless trials. I often rely on my mother’s faith in the church and transmit it into my own life during trying times.

I am proud of my heritage. I love that my ancestors braved the wild, pulling handcarts across the Great Plains into Salt Lake City. I embrace the experiences of entering the temples doing baptisms for the dead and being baptized by my grandfather when I was 8 years old. And I admire my brother’s decision to leave home for two years and serve an LDS mission, something I failed to do as the oldest grandson. Multiple people were disappointed in me, without question.

Those who observe the LDS religion from the outside fail to see the good coming from a relatively new, but rich, belief system. To them I say, invite a missionary into your home. Make a new friend and understand a religion that perplexes you. The worst thing that could happen is you ask them to leave and they thank you for your hospitality and time.

The LDS religion is much more than a belief, it is a culture made on the backs of believers who were persecuted and exiled. It is comparable to the effect revolution has on a culture and what you take away from it, and it’s valuable to who Mormons are.

I am an ex-Mormon and proud of where I came from. If the LDS belief is more than a belief, if it extends into the realm of culture and values, I guess I might still be Mormon.

26 Comments on The cultural Mormon: Beyond a belief system

  1. Kirk thanks for your kind article about being LDS or in your case not being LDS. It was a refreshing article that covered not being of your families faith…but yet it was discussed so civilly. It is shocking how much vitriol and hate seems to be acceptable when it comes to discussing differences in belief. I hope you continue to find the love and joy your heart desires!

  2. Ex-anybodies should have your positive attitude and appreciation for their roots. The Talmud says "Do not cast stones into a well from which you once drank" — I am an ex-Catholic who converted to orthodox Judaism 36 years ago. Although most non-orthodox Jews would still view me as quite religious, I am somewhat less observant than I once was, but I still have a deep appreciation for both my Catholic roots and my orthodox Jewish branches (which I believe – to carry the metaphor further – are indeed part of the same tree). I have learned much from both traditions and I see vast beauty in them, which continues to inform every moment of my life.

  3. Duwayne Anderson // Nov 29, 2010 at 1:48 pm //

    I always find it interesting when someone starts clamoring about how typical ex-Mormons "hate" the church. I've yet to see an ex-Mormon that "hates" Mormonism half as much as your typical Mormon "hates" ex Mormons.

    Rather, it seems that the "hate" card is played by Mormons and their apologists as a strawman argument — a diversion, if you will. In this Mormon universe it becomes an act of "hatred" to disagree with Mormon teachings. Thus, in the LDS universe it’s “hatred” to say that the Book of Mormon is a fraud or that Joseph Smith was an adulterer – thought both are statements of fact.

    So let’s ask our LDS friends and neighbors to be fair. If it's “hate” to say the Book of Mormon is false, then we need to call it "hate" when the Book of Mormon says that all other churches belong to the church of the Devil:

    And you should call it “hate” when the Book of Mormon describes black skin as a curse from god:

    And when the Doctrine and Covenants describes ex-Mormons as "sons of Perdition," you should call that “hate” as well:,32,43#26

    And if ex-Mormons are accused of “hatred” for disagreeing with LDS “prophets” then certainly those prophets must be filled with “hatred” for denying ex-Mormons the right to attend temple weddings with family members. After all, what could be more “hateful” than a church that strives to break up families simply because they don’t all subscribe to the church’s mythology and superstition?
    But Mormons, of course, will argue that those things are sacred teachings of the church and in the ultimate irony Mormons and their defenders end up saying it's "hate" to call hate doctrines hate!

    Go figure.

    Personally I have my reservations about whether or not the guy that wrote this opinion piece is an “ex-Mormon” at all. He sounds more like a Mormon apologist in hiding, trying to spread your typical Mormon stereotypes about ex-Mormons. I’d call that an act of hate. Now, wouldn’t that be ironic?

    Duwayne Anderson
    Author of “Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and science”

    • John Thomas // Nov 29, 2010 at 5:13 pm //

      Good post. I grew up LDS and lost my family to it; it stagnated their minds, dead-ended their intelligence and desire for learning while making them holier-than-thou arrogant, willfully ignorant white Americans. It is a cult. Plain and simple. Get over it. Cults become subcultures.

    • wow, you sound angry…

  4. Thanks, Duwayne, for providing a nice contrast to this thoughtful, civil article.

    • DandyStryker // Dec 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm //

      Don't mention it, Nate. You've made my point by suggesting it's not "thoughtful" or "civil" to disagree with your church. I know many people that have left the LDS Church because of that sort of intolerance. By and large they are intelligent and good people, and every time one of them leaves the church, the church's median membership becomes a bit more self righteous and right wing.

      Duwayne Anderson
      Author of "Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and science"

  5. "To them I say, invite a missionary into your home. Make a new friend and understand a religion that perplexes you. The worst thing that could happen is you ask them to leave and they thank you for your hospitality and time."

    I think you misunderstand the purpose of missionary work. It's not to "make friends" – it's to convert people so that they join the Mormon church, so the church can get 10% of their income. If you believe that the church is false, I don't see why you'd counsel people to entertain these high pressure religious salesmen into their home. It's like telling people "well, this vacuum is overpriced and defective, and I refused to spend two years of my life selling it. But the company promotes a culture of hard work and good values, so let the vacuum salesmen into your home!"

    As someone who has seen first-hand the dark side of Mormonism your rose-coloured view of their history and ethics masks the fact that the church was (and in some cases still is) a racist, misogynist, and homophobic organization. Ooh but they teach you the value of a dollar and the ethic of hard work – so what? So did the Nazi Party – Arbeit macht frei!

  6. Joe Brennan // Nov 29, 2010 at 8:29 pm //

    To Duwayne and others: I have been married to a Morman woman for 16 years. I attended church on and off during that period. I have been visited by perhaps 60 missionaries. In the beginning, I was rude and condescending to them. Over the years, I could not help but learn to love the church and mostly the people. They are benevolent and kind people. They have been an amazing source of love and support for my family. Despite my doubts about the religion, Book of Mormon, etc., I grew to appreciate the church and the values that it provided my family. My children are much better because of the mormon church. I don't worry about my kids drinking and doing drugs. I think it is safe to say that there is a MUCH lower rate of drugs and alcohol in Mormon kids. I also learned that they are not a perfect people.

    • DandyStryker // Dec 3, 2010 at 1:22 pm //

      Thanks for your comments, Joe. I also love Mormons — my large and extended family members are all active LDS and I love them immensely. I also enjoy having the home teachers visit our house. And having severed a mission, I know how hard it can be so we always feed the missionaries when they come over.

      Unfortunately the love is not reciprocal. As we've seen in this thread, Mormons can be quite vitriolic when someone disagrees with their church. It's understandable since the church teaches Mormons to disparage "antis" as a way of keeping members from hearing critical dialogue about the LDS Church.

      While Mormons have a lot of love for their active members, I can assure you (as can most ex-Mormons) that they can have a great deal of hatred toward family members that leave the church. It's not all their fault, of course, since they are taught to disparage ex-Mormons and such disparagement (nicely demonstrated by several Mormons in this thread) often breeds hatred.

      Again, thanks for your thoughts,

      Duwayne Anderson
      Author of "Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and science"

      • It is just not true that mormons hate family members who leave the church. I have a sibling who left the church. I love her and she is still my sister and dear friend. Still as much my sister as she ever was. Her activity in the church has nothing to do with my love for her. And that is how the Mormons I know feel about family members who leave the church. I am sincerely sorry if your family has mistreated you, because that would be very wrong.

        Likewise, after 38 years as a Mormon, I have never, ever been taught to disparage ex-mormons or other churches. I have, however, been encouraged to be Christlike to all people.

  7. After all these years, the main problem we had is that we were not getting all the benefits as a family. There was some confusion for my kids and it has held them back from really enjoying the benefits of the church. As a family we were on the fence and I was holding them back. As a result, I decided to get baptise. I still have serious doubts about the church history and the book of mormon. I will say the Book is amazing and I cannot figure out how it was created but all the profits and visits by Jesus and Angels in the early days of the church is difficult for me. I can say without any doubt, the church is great for my family. The church brings a strong feeling of joy and community to my family and the people I know in the church. There are amazing spiritual benefits. The poeple live a good life and are strong contributors in the community.

  8. As to hating ex- mormons – NOT EVEN CLOSE. They encourage them to come back to the church and they are VERY tolerant. They DO NOT hate gays. I have heard it 100 times from my wife, we hate the sin, not the sinner. I have almost never seen a hint of hate for any person irregardless of their situation.

    The church is good – it really is… let the hate go.

  9. I know blacks in the church – there are not many but they are growing. The past about blacks is difficult for me. Assuming God was not the one to change his mind, the church leadership did and again – no hate toward blacks or any.
    Misogynist? I have to admit I had to look it up. Men are definitely the leaders in the church – but the saying – every great man has a great woman behind him is especially true in the Morman church. The woman I know in the church definitely DO NOT PLAY SECOND fiddle to their wives. I have a friend who can be very opinionated and controlling and his wife will put him in his place whenever she needs to.

  10. Say what you want– I read the Book of Mormon as a young man and found truth and happiness. I came to know who I was and my relation to God. I love religion and continue to study all religions, but no religious tradition has provided the depth and sheer joy I find in the theology of Mormonism. I have come to dedicate my life to Jesus Christ. Thank you Joseph Smith for your courage to stand up to those who did not understand.

  11. In the heart you are still a Mormon.
    God loves you.

  12. Kirk, What a refreshing, mature and generous post. Youre positive attitude demonstrates you desire to be a builder, and you adhere to fundamental principals regarding love toward your fellow man and a resistance to being judgemental. Let others worship "how, where or what they may". Behind the negative comments posted, it is easy to discern an opposite attitude which is unfortunate and destructive.

  13. I joined the church 40 years ago and have never been taught to hate anyone. Just the opposite, we are taught to treat others as Jesus would treat them. Just because the church or its members take a stand on moral issues, or try to preserve traditional family values doesn't mean we are promoting hate.
    Two of my four children have left the church – I don't hate them, on the contrary, I try to do my best to include them and show them that I love them and respect their choices. The church teaches that God wants everyone to be able to choose for themselves. Though they have chosen not to participate, many of the values and ethics they were taught have stayed with them. They are His children too.

  14. I'm agreeing with Kirk.

    Coming from a strong LDS background, but currently not active in the church or claim myself as "Mormon", I still find my family roots coming out in my daily life, even though I don't practice the Mormon religion. I don't hate Mormons, ex-Mormons, or non-Mormons.

  15. Kirk, Thank you so much for this AMAZING article. It's very refreshing to hear this point of view when there's so much negativity from people who choose not to be an "active" church member. I commend you for recognizing the positive foundation the gospel and your family gave you and that some of those very basic principles still influence and help you in your daily life.
    Re: "He sounds more like a Mormon apologist in hiding, trying to spread your typical Mormon stereotypes about ex-Mormons. " That's not the case. Some people know how to be mature and respectful. They know better than to spread hate because…like his article states, he was raised with values and morals.

  16. Kirk, I like your article. Thanks for sharing. My response, first, is that you don't have to come from Mormonism to embrace the values you listed here, as I'm sure you agree. I think the key word in all of this discussion is "RELIGION". A religion does not define our relationship with God. Religion, in my opinion, is the things we do, say, follow, perform, etc.. as a result of our love for God. People in a church environment gather together to support one another with others who worship God in similar ways. No "RELIGION" saves anyone. I can go to church, at any church, faithfully and believe and live any doctrine, but if I don't have that relationship between ME and HIM, it means absolutely nothing. I feel we live a certain way and make the choices we do BECAUSE OF that relationship, not because someone or something, ie: religion says we must. One last thought: just because something is history doesn't mean it is right. Just my 2 cents.

  17. Falconer28 // Dec 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm //

    i'm buying his story because he is absolutely right. No one bashes other religions more than Mormons do. I left the church because that is all they did is bash other religions. that is just pure hatred right there. Mormons hate anyone who is different and who won't "convert"

  18. DandyStryker // Dec 3, 2010 at 1:06 pm //

    Thanks for your comments, Ryan. You proved my point. Objectively there was no "hate" in anything I wrote — but right on cue you described it as "hate" because you've been indoctrinated by your leaders to believe that it's an act of "hatred" to publicly and forcefully disagree with them (or embarrass them) and the corporation they lead.

    It's a totally hypocritical stance, of course, since the LDS Church disagrees with a lot of people and institutions, most of which are kinder than the Mormon Church and refrain from calling such disagreements "hate."

    Duwayne Anderson
    Author of "Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and science"

  19. Thanks for expressing your history with the Latter-day Saints – believe it or not, you kinda are a missionary. (Like it or not!) One of my most positive experiences, as I was first reading the "Book of Mormon" in my teenage years, and learning about the church, was from a friend of mine. She and her siblings could (and did) drink me under the table. She said, "David – you are reading the Book of Mormon. You know we are Mormons, but we drink and everything. I want you to know the church is true – we are bad examples. But the church is true." Delnita was, even drinking, a missionary. I hope she sobered up and returned to the church. But, even if not, she made a powerful impression on me as a youth – that I carry with me to this day as a grandfather (and missionary!).

  20. Thank you for this article! It is so refreshing to find someone voicing very similar thoughts to ones I've had myself. I too am an ex-Mormon. I was raised in the church and did some earnest searching in my teenage years at seminary. I ultimately chose not to be an active member. I find that somehow I am able to follow the basic teachings and principles better without the rituals of being active or the arguments over what I consider non-fundamental practices. The process of being active in the church has always seemed to cloud and distort the good it had to offer . . . to me. But that is just my experience. Many of my family members, dear friends, clients, employees & neighbors are active Mormons and based on honest and frank conversations many of them find the opposite to be true – they find that the church helps and supports them in leading a fundamentally good life. I have seen the LDS teachings and community bring great joy and comfort to loved ones and so I cannot find it in my heart to hate or proselytize against that. And like you I have come to see how the core values have stuck with me and been a reliable guiding compass in my own life. I strive always to be good and kind and generous and dedicated and driven, and no-nonsense. Like so many LDS and Non-LDS folks I know, I work all the time to improve my closest relationships with family and dear friends and to hold them in the center of my life – all teachings of my early childhood reinforced by the church. I am saddened by the theological debates that tend to "throw the baby out with the bath water" – meaning disagreements about certain doctrines or historical data leading to an attitude of total rejection and even self-righteous crusading.

    I am thankful to be where I'm at now on my own journey of rigorous spiritual investigation and discovery. I have no desire to embrace and integrate the LDS or any other church in my life. But I am also deeply thankful for the Mormons and what they gave to me growing up.


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