Flock Off: Ex-Mormon Atheists of Utah
The ex-Mormon Atheists of Utah Valley group organize to support each other and challenge the state’s pervasive Mormon culture.
The Atheists of Utah Valley is a support group for former-Mormons-turned-atheists in Salt Lake City.
A Mormon missionary who loses his faith while he’s out in the field has picked a strange time to abandon his beliefs. Yet, for Andrew Johnson, this is precisely what happened.
Johnson says he started doubting Mormonism when he was 18, but out of a desire to please his family, and still not knowing who he was, he turned in his mission papers and set out to serve a mission. After 18 months, however, he was exposed to contraband by a secular humanist, stuff like the movie Religulous and Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion.
“I remember having a distinct moment where I was like, ‘There is no God,’ and that was a liberating moment,” Johnson says. “I tried to do the rest of my mission without being too much of a hypocrite.”
Johnson felt like he couldn’t keep pretending he was a believer. He resolved to share his disbelief with his family even though he knew it wouldn’t be easy.
When Johnson mustered the courage to divulge his revelation, it wasn’t well received at first, especially by Johnson’s disappointed mother. But after a while, he says, things calmed down. That’s when he discovered a support group for ex-Mormons-turned-atheists in Salt Lake City.
After attending a few meetings, Johnson realized he couldn’t be alone in his religious skepticism, even in the heart of Mormon country. With help from others, Johnson formed the Atheists of Utah Valley, where like-minded individuals convene to support each other. Meeting over coffee in Provo, they plan group discussions, occasionally with guest speakers, and they plot group activities like hiking trips and sky-diving jaunts. They’ve talked about joining the Adopt A Highway program and lobbying the Utah Valley University library to stay open on Sundays.
According to Johnson, such a group is vitally important in a religiously charged environment. Those who leave the Mormon religion often don’t know where to turn, and they can quickly be overcome with feelings of desperation.
“When I [became] an atheist, I thought I was the only one,” Johnson says.
He’s not. It’s common for young adults to become uninterested in religion and to pursue their own goals and interests, and this increasing “spiritual disengagement” is drawing the attention of researchers. The percentage of Americans claiming “no religion” doubled in about two decades, up from 8.1 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008, according to a 2010 article in Christianity Today that cites various studies. A substantial 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds claimed no religion, up from 11 percent in 1990. Also, 73 percent of these younger people came from religious homes.
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