Apostasy Project: My Apostasy Story: Matthew Duff
For many years, Matthew Duff was a happy and faithful member of the Mormon Church. But his love of debate and ideas led him down a path to doubt and eventual non-belief
Last year I told my wife I no longer believed in the Mormon Church’s claims. I told her in a rather public, untactful way. My wife continues to believe and we still bring our four children to the Mormon Church. This is my more tactful way to approach the topic. It is a story of falling in love with Mormonism and then falling away. It is about how my life remains fulfilling and rewarding despite losing my faith.
Falling In Love with Mormonism
I was baptised as a Mormon three weeks before my 18th birthday. I had run away from home and moved in with a family of Latter Day Saints. In this small, New England town in Maine this kind family brought me into their home. I had been raised to believe in God, but there was nothing formal about our faith. A talk by a returning missionary who had served in Australia greatly touched my heart and I asked to speak with the local missionaries. That was the beginning of my whirlwind romance with Mormonism.
The message the missionaries presented was a more beautiful portrayal of life than anything I had, up to that time, experienced. I fell in love with what members of the LDS faith call “the Restored Gospel” and studied it constantly. Perhaps more importantly, I changed my life in very meaningful ways. The LDS faith produced beautiful fruits for me at that time. It helped give me strength in areas of my life where I felt most weak. I was happy before I was a Latter Day Saint. I was incredibly happy when I was a Latter Day Saint. Life was great.
I served a two year proselyting mission in Denver, Colorado, after finishing high school and turning 19. I attended Brigham Young University in Idaho for a year and met my wonderful wife Kylee. I was excited to live the life of a Latter Day Saint with her. I then transferred to Brigham Young University (in Provo, Utah) and was a teacher’s assistant in the Religion Department. I loved it. Religion courses were my favourite courses to take.
A few years after graduating from BYU our family (now with three kids) found ourselves living in beautiful Colorado. I participated a great deal in online discussions about faith and Mormonism. A Mormon apostle had encouraged members of the faith to participate in online discussion and I had taken that counsel to heart. I felt our position (and my experiences) was defensible and loved discussing it with others. The hardest people to discuss it with were atheists, however. Discussing the gospel with “anti-Mormons” or mainstream Christians was not difficult, and I found no compelling reasons to doubt my faith because of their statements. But debating with atheists or agnostics was difficult. I simply had no good response for them. After a period of time I decided that “it was reasonable” for someone to disbelieve. I continued to believe, however, because my experiences were “too powerful” to doubt. Maybe more importantly, I believed faith was a virtue, so I continued to believe because I thought believing was virtuous. So while I acknowledged that some may find our lack of evidence and outlandish stories a compelling enough reason not to believe, I felt even more spiritually powerful believing, despite the reasonableness of doubt. That was until I heard one specific quote from a Mormon author, and sat next to someone who had thought many of the principles through in far more depth than I had.
“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”– J. Reuben Clark and D. Michael Quinn, The Church Years (Provo UT, 1983), p 24.
This quote entirely changed my perspective. Previously if someone presented contradictory evidence to Mormonism I tried to figure out how I could make it make sense in the context of the gospel. I gave every doctrine the benefit of the doubt in the face of contradictory evidence. I moved forward with faith. But, to me, J. Reuben Clark’s insightful quote gave me the permission to not withhold certain scrutiny when discussing spiritual things. It permitted me to let the truth stand on its own (without circular reasoning) to see if it could withstand scrutiny. I started pondering and thinking about the gospel in a new way. Previously I had put certain things on the shelf and said “We can address those in the next life. Those don’t make sense now but they will make sense when our understanding is made whole.” But now I did not put things on the shelf.
I began to extensively study epistemology. I found that what we were taught at church about epistemology couldn’t stand much scrutiny.
I began to believe that if God really loved us he wouldn’t expect us to believe in Him on bad evidence (disregarding the circular logic that is used as a rebuttal). I started searching for truth with a new focus. A loving God would not require me to believe when there wasn’t good reason to believe. I stopped believing in many tenets of Mormonism but believed that there was a deist God who was the cause of my spiritual experiences but who didn’t meddle in our affairs.
Then a co-worker asked me a question for which I didn’t have a good answer. He said “Why is religious faith good?” I gave a few quick rebuttals (this life is a test, we must walk by faith, not by sight, etc.) but his reasoning was far stronger than my own. It was stronger because as a principle it was more consistent and more likely to lead someone to truth. It was more “true” than my current principle, so I had to adopt it.
Driving home from work that day something changed in my brain. It was almost exactly like when I started to believe. When I started to believe something just clicked and I realised I believed. The same thing happened when I stopped believing. It was like something just clicked in my brain. I think of our beliefs as the sum of our experience combined with the morals and philosophical teachings that we are taught. While we choose (in a way) the experiences and teachings that we listen to and accept we don’t really choose the sum of those things. Belief (or lack of it) to me is involuntary. It is simply the sum of many different factors in our life. Some of those factors are chosen and others are not. I do not believe my wife could choose to disbelieve right now – the sum of her experiences, knowledge and teachings currently do not lead to that conclusion. I do not believe that I could choose to believe right now – the sum of my experiences, knowledge and teachings don’t lead to that conclusion.
My experience with apostasy has been mixed. Some people have told me I am going to hell and that I won’t be with my family in the next life. They say I am too prideful and rely on the “wisdom of man” too much or that I am spiritually lazy and that is why I don’t believe. They have many theories about my lack of belief. Others have been incredibly loving and supportive during my apostasy. Mormons are just like most people. Many have been loving and some have been mean-spirited. My wife has been amazingly supportive. While my lack of belief isn’t what she signed up for when we were married she understands, mostly, why I think the way I do. I would honestly say our marriage has never been stronger. I have learned that she loves me for me, not just my status as a Priesthood-holding, believing Latter Day Saint. She loves me as an individual, I know that now, and I know our marriage is trial tested.
My local congregation has been great. While I definitely feel like an outsider now, I also feel welcomed despite our differences. The local Bishop in my area has been great and we meet monthly just to chat. We have great, incredibly open discussions and I feel his honest love for myself and my family. This helps a great deal considering my wife and kids (and myself) still attend the local congregation (called a “ward” in Mormonism) often. I have no horror stories to tell about local leadership like some others do. They have been loving and supportive.
I was incredibly happy before I was a Mormon. I was a very happy person when I was a Mormon. I am very happy now. My conclusions are different, but I am the same person throughout my different perspectives on life. Some people become quite bitter after they leave a faith. I honestly loved being Mormon, but I believe I have better information and understanding now than when I was a Mormon. That personal, better understanding and information has led to a different conclusion. While I surely disagree with some beliefs (and approaches when it comes to being honest about the church’s history) in the Mormon faith, now I hold no hard feelings against the church. I think the church is a collection of people doing their best with the information they have (they likely think the same of me!). My experience in Mormonism was so positive. But that positive experience hasn’t stopped when I stopped believing. Life is just as rewarding, exciting and meaningful now.
Many people who leave Mormonism are bitter towards the church. I have found a great sense of community amongst other people who have left the faith but lack the bitterness. We discuss philosophical questions, Mormonism and our newfound perspective on it and just life in general. It is a great community.
Changing our foundational beliefs about how the world works and how to make sense of it can be difficult. There is a feeling of loss that comes when you change something so drastic concerning your world view. But life is full of wonder and beauty. You just need to find what makes you fulfilled and happy. For me it is my wife, family, discovering new truths and serving others to reduce the suffering in the world. Those things have stayed constant despite my apostasy. I find great happiness in them.