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Pick your stigma

February 9, 2009

In my first official escapade at Mormon Matters, the comments gave me a lot of new stuff to think about. It also brought up some stuff that I hadn’t really thought about in quite a while. One comment got me to think about something that I once had really valued, but which I had somehow let slip to the wayside:

Yeah, there’s probably a stigma against those who don’t go on missions. And there’s a stigma against Mormons in general. And there’s a stigma against liberal Mormons. And there’s a stigma against guys with long hair who listen to heavy metal. Obviously I never gave heed to any of them. Who cares. You’re thinking way too hard. If you REALLY hate it that much, you can just come home early. They’ll buy a plane ticket. If you’re already going to be stigmatized by staying home, then being stigmatized by coming home early isn’t any worse.

I think you should go.

It’s the message about stimgas. Interestingly enough, it was this very idea that made me more comfortable with distancing myself away from the church. See, in the interim between not believing and not believing and being comfortable with it, I had this tinge of guilt and inadequacy that would sometimes creep in. I wouldn’t actually let it define my life, because I’m kinda apathetic to looking good to certain other people anyway, but once in a while, I’d think, “What would others think?” Could I take a reputation hit if I weren’t everyone’s perfect Mormon kid that they knew?

One day, I had realized though that I’ll have some kind of stigma, and will be pissing somebody off no matter what I do. If I stay in the church, then my nonMormon Christian friends will look down on that. If I don’t, then people from the church may. For any decision that is possible, there is someone who will oppose it.

Of course, as Arthur and others suggested, when I stopped thinking about it, I didn’t get the answers they might’ve expected. And I think this is often where members and ex-memberes or nonmembers don’t see eye to eye: everyone’s expectations cause them to miscalculate what the consequences of things might be: a member says “stop thinking so hard about it” with the expectation that everything will be fine and point to God  (if the individual will only listen to the still small voice)…but an atheist says “stop thinking so hard about it” with the expectation that everything will be fine and point to the lack of (or no reason to believe in such) (if the individual will only listen to reason).

For me, I came to this conclusion that there are some things I am comfortable standing for. It just so happened that these did not coincide with the things the church would want.

It may puzzle believing members to hear exmembers speak of leaving the church as a “liberating” experience…and they may try to rationalize that these guys are selfish, or proud, or some other such improper mindset. I don’t know if that’s true for anyone or true for some or true for everyone or true for me — regardless, I think that’s what people feel and that’s a good thing. I would certainly like to think that anyone joins to church because it liberates them in some way (whether from sin or despair or whatever else), and as soon as they feel they are not being liberated, they can take a stand for that. Whether they have to leave for a while only to come back, or they leave permanently, or whatever else is the case, then so be it. If I were to go back, I know that it would be under such a conditional.

I am atheist not because of some sin in my past or in my future, and not become of all of those stereotypical readers. I wasn’t even proselytized by a new atheist and taught how my faith must be wrong. In fact, I am nearly as wary and critical of all those who did try to tell me the church was wrong, and I am wary and critical of anti-Mormons who use bad apologetics to try to show the church to be wrong (I happen to think you don’t even have to pull up lies and exaggerations to have good stuff).

No, I am atheist because I feel most at peace with this realization. I am most at peace when I admit to myself and to others that I don’t believe. I just don’t have it in me. Pretending that I do, or pretending and saying that I want to, is a binding lie that causes me stress and grief, and I realized that I don’t need that. I can live my life on my terms, and I will accept what comes my way.

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