Content Warning: mental health, parental death, racism, religious shaming
I’m a Californian stuck in a Utahn body. Does that make sense? Not particularly. I’m comfortable making half-sensical statements. I grew up in Santa Barbara as the youngest of six children and found myself joining a long line of collegiate volleyball players. I played for UCLA and BYU until I felt “inspired” to quit volleyball and start having kids. 15 years later, and here I am… 4 beautiful kids, 1 wonderful wife, 8 years tenure at a South Jordan tech company, 2 deteriorating knees, and 3 years of Post-Mormondomhood.
When people recognize me, it is from one of two places: 1) Comedy Sportz Utah, where I’ve performed since 2009, or 2) Marriage on a Tightrope, the mixed-faith marriage podcast that my wife and I have co-hosted since 2018.
Our Mormon Stories interview can be found here.
What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?
I’m convinced that I have always had undiagnosed ADHD. The structure of the LDS Church provided a perfect blueprint for me to focus. I was too scattered to make my own lists of what needed to get done, but the church had that part figured out. All I had to do was follow the list!
What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most important to you?
I was a big fan of the beliefs that set us apart. Hell no, we don’t drink coffee! Or swear! Wait… I gravitated to what made us different. I loved the belief in modern revelation. God still loves us everyone, which is why we have a prophet today! That was my favorite thing to teach on and off the mission.
What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the LDS Church?
As strange as it sounds, my mission being delayed due to some pre-mission sinning was a orthodoxy sealing experience. I had received my call to Barcelona, Spain and didn’t feel right about the whole thing. I spoke to my bishop and confessed some pretty serious (or so I felt at the time) sins. I ended up having to resubmit my papers 9 months later. About 3 months into that delay, I almost slipped up again. The next day, while playing sports at the church, I had a serious accident where I cracked my head open, cracked a vertebrae, and tore a number of muscles in my back. The first thought I can remember after regaining consciousness was, “This is a warning from God. Don’t screw up your mission again.” Not exactly the loving message that a Father sends His son, but it literally knocked some sense into me, and I went hard for mission prep after that point. Add in the fun factoid that I met my wife the first day of the MTC, and you have yourself quite the spiritual knot left to untangle!
How did you lose your faith in Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
It’s a tale as old as….the internet. In 2014, I stumbled upon the Gospel Topics Essays while preparing to teach an Elder’s Quorum lesson. All of a sudden, I was confronted with information that clearly and directly contradicted not only what I had been taught, but what the spirit had told me in a few vivid spiritual experiences. I was thrown for a loop. It scared me so badly, I immediately built a wobbly shelf to put it all on and doubled down on my church calling. That experience, combined with the tragic loss of my father when he was struck by a drunk driver, pushed me into an 18-month-long depression. Feeling in a better mental space to revisit what I had learned in 2014, I dove headfirst into the rabbit hole in 2017. I never did find the bottom of the hole, but the first few feet of dirt was enough to convince me that the LDS Church was not what it claimed to be.
What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?
Stick with me here. The most harmful parts of Mormonism was none of it. That was harmful. The fact that I was so bought into everything the LDS Church taught was the most harmful part. I didn’t have a unique, individual set of beliefs and values. I had what the church told me. Here’s an example: in high school debate, I prepared and won a debate on capital punishment. I was assigned to argue against the use of capital punishment. My research also convinced me that capital punishment was not an effective way to reduce violent crimes. Fast-forward to the MTC, and our district had a discussion on that topic. I voiced my opinion, and my wife’s companion grabbed her copy of Mormon Doctrine to show me the section on Blood Atonement and capital punishment. In an instant, I dropped my arguments and said, “I stand corrected. If an Apostle taught this, then I must have it wrong.”
That is what I mean about none of Mormonism being the most harmful part of it for me. It took away my personal voice without me even realizing it was happening.
How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?
The psychology of the human mind is fascinating and powerful. We can convince ourselves of just about anything. The emotion, feelings and thoughts I had during the spiritual experiences of my religious past were real. I don’t deny having them. However, I now believe that I was incorrectly taught how to interpret the meaning of those feelings. Every human on earth has those same experiences. They can be powerful, life-changing, inspiring. Emotions can serve a number of good purposes, but they are not a reliable way of deducing what is True and what is not.
What was transitioning out of Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism) like for you? What was most painful about it? What was most healing or joyful about the transition?
I stubbed my toe and fell down a few cliffs during my dark nights of the soul. It was tough. I think the most painful aspect of it was quickly realizing that almost no one wanted to sit in the dark with me to understand what was going on. Family, friends, ward members, local leaders. Most of them didn’t want to hear anything about it, and those that did just wanted to explain why I was wrong. I was a tall, charismatic, white, male that thrived in the LDS Church. I wanted to continue to thrive. I was naive to think I could continue normal activity in the LDS Church with everyone feeling fine about me talking through what I had learned. That wounded me and still does today.
I wrote the following poem that highlights what it’s like to go through crisis of faith, and how many of us didn’t ask for such an impossibly difficult change to happen.
Good morning, today I think I’ll change.
The question is, in what ways?
Should I finally put my running shoes on?
And never stop ‘til the muffin top’s gone?
Nah, I want deeper, torturous things
That make it unclear what this new change brings
I want it to hurt, flip me upside down
It better alienate me from others in town
Hopefully my mom will ask herself why
And count me out unless it makes my spouse cry
Good morning, today I think I’ll change
Let’s take stability and rearrange
Things were great, I want it worse
I wrote a happy chorus, let’s do a sad verse
Give me something that causes doubt
Raises blood pressure, makes hair fall out
Takes what I love and spits in its face
Erases comfort so I feel out of place
Who wouldn’t want a change this deep?
Where solid ground splits beneath your feet
Strips out hope that you’ll live again
And clouds your mind as to where you’ve been
It’d be nice if I feared my own survival
And bonus points if my Dad’s death feels final
I mean, who doesn’t want an existential crisis
Where destiny and fate are traded for a roll of the dices
Good morning…change? I think I will
Right after my anxiety meds are filled
And I defend myself to my faithful boss
It’s only my reputation, no big loss.
So what do you think? Wanna change with me?
2 panic attacks, and I’m workin’ on 3.
I promise you’ll love it, and never regret
To often be seen as an untrustable threat
No? Ok…maybe I’m asking too soon
I’ll check back with you in the afternoon
And if nightfall comes and you’re nowhere around
Don’t worry, silence is now a familiar sound
In the middle of all the pain was this incredible excitement about discovering how I really felt, what I actually believed, and how I wanted to live my life. 80% of me remained unchanged. Mormonism had taught me plenty of good. But the 20% that did change, continues to change, was and remains the most joyful part of this transition. I feel free to explore different philosophies, different ways of living, and yes…different brews of coffee.
In what ways did LDS Church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?
First of all, I’m extremely lucky to have had good experiences with local leaders. They were never unkind or too busy to talk. In a way, that made things more difficult. I had these great leaders who always treated me kindly, but at the same time, weren’t willing to take action and improve the situations of people like me. Almost all of my conversations with local leadership focused on bettering the experience of those on the fringes. Of course they all want that to happen! But when it came to actually doing something about it, no one was willing. I was told by my Stake President, “If given the choice between a transparent and faith-promoting discussion, I want the discussion to be faith-promoting.” Even if the faith-promoting discussion was not truthful, that’s the direction he wanted it to take. I was told I couldn’t ordain my son to be a deacon, and wouldn’t be asked to pray, hold a calling, or give a talk.
My experience with members largely went the same way. I received a lot of push back for asking the question “What if Nephi SHOULDN’T have killed Laban? Is it ok to explore that idea?” Or “I have a hard time with Official Declaration 2. If so many prophets were wrong about race, how do I know that the current prophet isn’t wrong about LGBTQ+ people?” I had a number of people gritting their teeth as they pointed at, and corrected me.
Were there LDS Church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?
Absolutely. It wasn’t all negative. Like I mentioned above, leaders were respectful and kind. There were 3-5 people who would text me after one of my edgy comments at church, to share that they were so glad I said something. That helped me feel heard and valued. There were two individuals who didn’t agree with me, but would sit and let me express anything I wanted. They didn’t try to correct me. They just sat there and listened. One of them verbalized how sorry he was. That this must be so hard to go through. I was already close to both of these friends, but it brought us even closer.
What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
Oh boy…podcasts were big for me. Mormon Discussions (Bill Reel), Radio Free Mormon, Mormon Stories (John Dehlin), A Year of Polygamy (Lindsay Hansen Park), and Naked Mormonism (Bryce Blankenangel), to name a few.
Music played a significant role as well. I built a “Faith” playlist and still listen to it. The songs helped me process so much. Here’s the playlist if anyone wants to listen!
What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?
One mistake was necessary in learning to do better – how I talked about my questions, doubts, and transition with those who still believe. Early on, I was pretty aggressive with a few close friends. I deeply underestimated how strongly the backfire effect would rear its ugly head. I was attacking them with facts instead of focusing on how I felt. Through these mistakes, I learned more effective ways of communicating and eventually was able to hold space for those who believed differently than I did. I was asking them to respect my different beliefs, so I needed to do the same for them.
When I stopped wearing garments, I didn’t tell my spouse. Stupid me…of course she’s going to notice quickly! It took less than 2 days. Hiding behavioral changes from my wife was a mistake. I am grateful to have learned this lesson early and only fell into that trap once.
How has your leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc.?
Removing religion as a common language with family eroded intimacy. In some of those relationships, both parties put in effort to repair that disconnect and strengthen our bond, rather than further sever it. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case with everyone. Which is understandable. When I quit baseball in favor of volleyball, I naturally drifted away from those friendships that revolved around baseball. When I left my comedy group at BYU for Comedy Sportz, I naturally drifted away from those at BYU. It isn’t anyone’s fault. You lose common interests and some relationships fade away, while others pop up and become the new normal.
How have you navigated communication and relationships with believing family and friends? Any tips to keeping those people in your life?
I sat down with each family member to tell them that I no longer accepted the truth claims of the LDS Church. That I loved them, and would never bring this topic up again. That if they had any questions or wanted to talk about it, I was an open book. This was a positive way to reveal devastating news.
Some advice? Give it time. At first, you may feel an urge to bring the LDS Church into every conversation. That’s fine. I felt it too. When you’re going through a transition, it seems like the only thing that matters in the world. But the person on the other side of your conversation isn’t experiencing the same thing. Just…listen…to them. They’re talking about their new job? Ask questions about it. Be interested. If they ask you questions back, and your transition fits into the conversation, feel free to bring it up! Over time, the pain subsides. The urge to constantly think and talk about your transition starts to fade. Loved ones feel safer in their relationship with you, because they see you’re just the same ol’ Allan who loves them. He just believes differently and will burn in eternity for it! See! Progress! 🙂
Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?
I still believe in treating others with respect and kindness. Charity and service are still central values that I hold dearly. Strength of community has also stuck with me.
In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?
I no longer have any appetite for Fox News. I think that explains it all. Other than some coffee and alcohol, I really don’t see many behavioral changes. My beliefs have dramatically changed though. I consider myself an Optimistic Nihilist. That basically means that there is no purpose to life, we are all ants on a log – so might as well make the most of the time we have and help others do the same!
What are your thoughts/beliefs now about God and Jesus?
I think it’s just as arrogant to say you “know” God doesn’t exist as it is say you “know” he does exist. In this regard, I wouldn’t classify myself as an atheist. Full disclosure – I try hard to be a “middle ground” person when discussing these topics publicly. It’s important to know that I do have strong opinions and beliefs about this question.
I am highly doubtful that the Judeo-Christian God exists. If there is a God, this person, persons, thing, has never interacted with us. As soon as I allow God to have a role in what happens on Earth, it doesn’t make sense to me anymore. This would be a God that allows His children to go 98,000+ years having zero clue about Him, suffering in the world in brutal conditions, only to start talking to a small group of His children in the Middle East. And in the modern day, this God cares enough to tell less than 2% of his children how they should live their lives, but can’t reveal how to solve the millions of malnourished children dying? It just doesn’t make sense to me anymore. If this God exists, He has a LOT of explaining to do, not the other way around.
I believe Christ existed. I believe he was an incredible, revolutionary leader. Through the study, pondering, and even prayer I have done on Christ, I’ve come to feel that he never claimed to be the son of God, and never predicted his resurrection. These claims all came into existence long after he died.
How do you now make sense of death and the afterlife?
I don’t remember anything before I was born. I won’t remember anything after I die. This finite time I have on Earth is the only life I am guaranteed to live. If I make the most of this time, and be the best person I can be, there is nothing to worry about upon dying. How else am I supposed to live?
Without the LDS Church telling you what is “right” and “wrong,” how do you establish your own sense of morality/right/wrong?
I believe humankind is generally good. There is far more good in the world than evil. It’s my belief that morality and a sense of right/wrong come from within. Most of us are pulled to take constructive actions as opposed to destructive ones. Want to check where you stand on this scale? The last time you went to the grocery store, was effort made to put the shopping cart back in the cart return? This is a low effort kind act to take! Something that will have zero impact on whether you go to heaven or hell. We can all examine ourselves, and identify areas for improvement. That improvement is on US to make. Not on our ability to listen and/or submit to any outside authority.
It’s also extremely important for me to recognize good advice and helpful ways to live, regardless of who might be saying it. Guess what, post-Mormons? If we were being objective, we could probably sit down and make a list of 100 Russell M. Nelson quotes that would help us live more fulfilling lives – without having to believe like he does. One of my biggest fears is being closed off to good ideas because of my own biases.
Do you still value “spirituality” in your life (spirituality defined as “connection to something bigger than yourself”), and if so, what are your main sources of spiritual fulfillment?
Yes. I believe that there is something special about connecting with others. Being a part of something bigger than myself is one of the most, if not the most, motivating powers in my life. The difference between how I feel now, versus when I was a full believer, is that I don’t feel the need to define what that connection is. I can recognize and crave that connection, all without trying to make unreasonable claims about what such a connection might be.
To what extent have you found healthy and meaningful community to replace the role of the ward/stake in your life?
The mixed-faith community has been heaven-sent. (I recognize the irony of using that term!) Being in a mixed-faith marriage creates an interesting situation. The community at church doesn’t work for me the same it used to, and yet the Post-Mormon community doesn’t fully work either. But put me in a room of mixed-faithers? Right at home! My wife and I feel called to the mixed-faith work.
What meaning and purpose does life have to you now that you no longer believe in Mormonism?
This question doesn’t make sense to me anymore. There is no meaning or purpose to life. Life just…is. Here we are, alive – now what? Make it what you want it to be. As long as you aren’t hurting people along the way, do whatever you want!
If you are a parent, how has losing your faith in Mormonism affected how you parent?
More listening. More asking as to how my children feel about things. Less certainty – but in a curious, not scary, way. It’s made me stop and really examine my feelings around whatever situation might be at hand. How do I feel about sexual activity before marriage? How much of that is from my prior conditioning? It’s difficult, but rewarding to work through these things.
If you are married or have a significant other, how has leaving Mormonism affected this relationship?
Ummmm….how much time do you have?!? If you have 100 hours, you can go listen to every episode of our podcast, Marriage on a Tightrope. We do the podcast to document all of the struggles and victories throughout our mixed-faith marriage. Here’s the CliffsNotes version. Leaving the church initially put a serious strain on our marriage. Once we had decided that this would not end our marriage, the growth began. We pushed through every discussion, hurdle, and painful moment. It was because of those struggles that we have earned a stronger marriage, not in spite of them.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your mental health?
Leaving Mormonism was a kick to the brain. Anxiety and depression absolutely crept in. The sad reality is that the length of time I experienced anxiety and depression could have been dramatically reduced. Being rejected by family, friends, and the LDS community was all stacked on top of trying to figure out my new place in the world.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your sexual health?
Let’s just say this….we’re both glad that cursing isn’t a Temple Recommend question! Half-joking aside, my sexual health has only improved. In most aspects, not much has changed, but improvement has stemmed from the removal of my stigmas surrounding sex. More open conversations, the willingness to explore and try new things, and being ok with something new being tried but ultimately not enjoyed.
What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
Complete intellectual and philosophical freedom. I can judge an idea for myself, instead of taking someone else’s word for it.
What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?
Life isn’t a perfect journey. Perfection isn’t the goal for me. I try sitting in stillness for a few moments each day to relearn what my body and mind need. Right now, it’s physical healing. Worn down joints, for example, and extra weight is a heavy mental load as well.
What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?
Don’t feel like you have to keep your chin up at all times. Embrace the sadness and learn from it. It’s ok to experience negative emotions.
Be quick to apologize when you do wrong, and refuse to apologize for becoming who you need to be. Your thoughts and beliefs are just as valid as everyone else’s. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
If you have remained active or semi-active in the church as a non-believer or semi-believer, why do you remain active?
My wife is still an active, believing member of the LDS Church. I join her in church participation as much as I can handle. Supporting her in what she values in turn provides value to me. It isn’t a perfect process, but it’s one worth fighting through.
What have been the hardest parts about remaining active?
Hearing wonderful people in my neighborhood say incredibly hurtful things, all with a smile on their face. They don’t even realize the hurt they may be causing to someone listening. Flip that coin over though…this concept has helped me remain conscious that I can be capable of the same hurt if I am not careful with my word choice.
How have you made it work? What have you enjoyed about remaining active?
I give myself the space to step away if I need to. That applies to church attendance, our mixed-faith marriage podcast, working through mixed-faith conflicts with my wife, and so on. It’s ok to press pause on those things when you just need a moment to think about something else and hit reset.