The Mormon Atheist
Have you ever heard anyone make the following endorsement in front of the congregation at your church? “I know my church is true.”
This post concerns people who are in-the-closet, and not concerning sexual preference. A few years back, my dad was confined to a nursing home. His second wife had long since left him and his children had all grown up and moved away. About half of them weren’t speaking to him anymore. So, rendered unable to drive due to disorientation and no longer the crusty old geyser among young hoodlums at his small town corner garage, my dad was taken into the city where he became two things for definite sure: a devout Atheist, and lonely.
Of course, my dad had been an Atheist since I was a small child, though our local church was Lutheran and my mom sang there one year with the Christmas program, so really the only thing he became was lonely. I had tried unsuccessfully for years to get him to believe in Jesus and read the Bible. Finally, in his twilight years, I suggested he convert to Judaism.
“Dad, look,” I reasoned. “You’ll get visitors from synagogue, and you can still be an atheist.” True story.
* * * * * * * * * *
About 20 years ago I seriously dated a guy whose family was technically Levite for over a year. Since then, I’ve observed that many prominent Jewish people are quite vocal about their atheism. I know Catholic atheists, too. Some of them go to church on Christmas and Easter and when a nephew gets baptized, etc., you know, Godfather-style, but they don’t pray (meaning, they don’t say the Rosary every night at 6 pm) or talk about God except when they’re cursing.
What does it mean to be in-the-closet about your atheism? Well, let me explain.
I wound up married to the very first Mormon I ever met (knowingly). We met under unique circumstances of which his Bishop probably wouldn’t have approved. He was a return missionary with wonderful parents who liked me, and I thought he seemed nice, but he wasn’t the kind of person I would have seriously dated left to my own devices, so the marriage was a very awkward, forced situation (long story). This guy had some really odd habits, too. He had problems in the past with gambling. I didn’t drink, but he liked to take me drinking. I mean, he took perverse joy in getting me inebriated, which is difficult to do since I would always stop at one cocktail. I didn’t have a drivers licence either (oversight of the multiple people who raised me), but he made sure I got one once we were married, and then within the first week took me out drinking then insisted I drive home. We then got stopped at a tollbooth because neither of us any money. It was the wee hours of the morning, and I was mad about it for a month.
He admitted when we were first dating (meaning, we were friends but we actually talked about sensitive issues) that he liked sneaking around and doing things he was sure no one would ever find out about, but the things he did were considered horrible sins, which included fornication, maybe even with men. He was very angry with his parents and I couldn’t understand why. I asked him why he didn’t just quit the church so he wouldn’t be so miserable all the time and “try to live like normal people.” I thought that might tame his compulsions somewhat.
His answer was “I can’t, because I know my church is true.”
I struggled for the three years we were married. He went to SA meetings at one point where he had a Jewish coach. During this period I had a new peer group as it were at church, among people I never would have spent any time around were it not for my dysfunctional Mormon husband. I was essentially treated like a young single adult because he was gone so darned much. The guy actually didn’t come home at night. Certain married women hated me, but I began to want a family the more I attended church and I began to believe Church teachings as I lived the commandments, and I could always find real genuine church members who liked me if I looked hard enough. Three years later, I knew it was time to go, and I asked him for a divorce, and got it. I wanted to have children, but not with him. My Branch President understood.
I moved far away until I was legally divorced, and married Mormon women continued to despise and distrust me no matter where I went, but I eventually married again (Mandy’s dad). My first Mormon husband met with a bad end, which I’ll tell you about someday. Not today.
* * * * * * * * * *
When Mandy turned 8 years old, people on her dad’s side began clamoring for her to be baptized. We had been attending church regularly and I held a Relief Society calling. Other children in Mandy’s Primary class were getting baptized. Her father and I had divorced before Mandy turned 2 years old, and I could feel a big dispute coming on about where the baptism took place and who attended, so I put my foot down.
“Mandy isn’t getting baptized,” I said. So then I was the bad guy, but I felt I had sound Scriptural principles on my side: “Where does it say a child should be baptized at age eight?”
“Well, eight years old is the age of accountability,” I was told, so I pointed out that Baptism was supposed to be about a believer’s testimony of the gospel, and if Mandy didn’t have one yet she shouldn’t be baptized. I also pointed out to everyone who asked that Mandy’s dad never even took her to church the Sundays he had her. “I pack dresses for her to wear to church, and when I unpack her suitcase at the end of your visits, her dresses come back out looking the same way I folded them and put them in,” I explained. The argument was over.
The Church of Jesus Christ is under 200 years old, so being an atheist Mormon may not be culturally possible yet, as it is with some of the more established faiths like Catholicism and Judaism. But it still exists. Mandy’s dad is like some practicing Catholics I’ve known: He took her to church to celebrate Easter, but the Sunday afterward, there was no way in Hell anyone could drag him to church.
Mandy loves church, and she brings her Bible to school. Her teacher has seen her reading it. We used to spend the day Sunday going to churches. We went to the Mormon church but we also went to a Protestant church up the road because I grew up Protestant. There are two churches we go to now that Mandy really likes. When her dad came to pick her up on Good Friday, she handed him a flier.
“Look, Dad,” she said. “There are going to be super heroes at The Father’s House for Easter.” He gave me a dirty look. I’m sure he thought the whole thing was my idea, but I was just as amazed as I’m sure he was. Unlike my previous husband, Mandy’s dad had NOT been a return missionary.
I laughed it off. “Oh, well… one of the things some of the pentecostal churches do here in Rochester around the holidays is, they put on free musicals as an outreach and invite the community. One Christmas we saw It’s a Wonderful Life and another year, How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” I tried to explain. As an aside to Mandy: “I think your dad already has plans to take you out-of-town.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Yesterday, I talked to friends of mine on the phone as I used to do on any given Sunday morning. “Which service are you going to?” I asked my friend Linda at 8:30.
“You need to go today,” she said. “The sermon is ABOUT YOU.” Of course I went. The topic was dysfunctional family relationships. I knew Mandy wanted to go to church, and I really thought her dad would love to hear the sermon, too. It was very, very funny and so, so true. It may not be in the Bible, but if you can laugh about something with an adversary, sometimes a solution comes easier. I am always willing to find a solution.
“What do you mean, Mandy’s sleeping?” I asked him at the hotel. “It’s 10:00 in the morning.” That’s his favorite excuse for not going to church: “oh, we weren’t awake at that hour.” I usually find out later that they had been playing video games until 5 a.m.–not just that night but for every night of the visit. On one visit, Mandy actually slept for two straight days.
I went back in but came out again, the sermon was so compelling. “It’s 10:30, come on! Ask Mandy if she wants to talk to Mommy.” He put her on the phone.
“Mandy, do you want to come to church today?” I asked her. “Yes,” she said. “Put your church clothes on as quickly as you can and call Mommy back, OK? Church starts at 11:30.” She said she would call me back. Her father called me back twenty minutes later to say that Mandy would not be ready for church. “That’s OK,” I told him, “you can get here at five minutes to noon and not miss ANY of the sermon!”
At that point he got really irate. “You’re not listening to me!” he kept yelling. Then when he calmed down, he said, “Mandy wanted to go swimming one more time in the hotel pool.”
Classic. He took his daughter swimming instead of to church. When I saw her afterward, she was wearing her church clothing and had blue circles under her puffy eyes. (She didn’t tell me about staying up until 5 a.m. every night playing video games until after I got her safely home.)
So, yes, folks, there ARE Mormon Atheists, but at least they know their church is true.