It's tough on those of us who don't believe. I know, I know, we get to sleep in on Sundays and spend our extra 10% with abandon, but it's hard to turn your back on something that helped mold who you are.
Ambivalent is the word. I feel pulled in two directions. On the one hand, I can't imagine my life without the overpowering architecture of Mormonism looming over it. On the other, I don't like a lot of the shadows that it cast over my life.
Like a lot of Utah Mormons, my family was organized around the church almost exclusively. Almost all our friends were from the church, and almost all our free time was spent there or at other church activities. Between Scouts, Young Women, Relief Society and my parents' callings, church occupied more time than anything besides school for me or work for my parents.
When I was an adolescent, my father was called to be a mission president in a foreign country. (Incidentally, I think it's insulting the way they ignore the spouses of Mission Presidents, but that's a rant for another day.) Instantly our whole life was changed.
This came as quite a shock. First of all, we were a solidly middle class family in a middle class Utah ward and my dad was fairly young. He was nowhere near retirement age, had no assets to speak of besides our house, and was a Young Men's advisor. The highest calling he had ever held was 1st counselor in the Bishopric.
Nevertheless, my parents both quit their jobs with no prospects of getting them back and sold our house at way below market value--talk about a motivated seller. I left my school and all the friends I had accumulated since kindergarten and moved to a foreign country, where a new house, a new language, and a new life awaited me.
Needless to say, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was exposed to so many new people and places and experiences that I never could have had back in Utah. At the same time, being a Mormon and living in a different country always made me the outsider looking in. Adolescence isn't easy for most kids, but I think Mormon adolescents experience a special kind of hell. When you're just trying to figure out what's right and wrong, it doesn't help to have the constant pressure to be perfect weighing on your every decision. I wanted to be able to have fun, and not worry about whether I was procrastinating the day of my repentance.
It was hard fitting in as the outsider, and all the Mormon pressure weighed on me a lot; consequently or unrelatedly, I went through alternating cycles of depression and elation. I would be happy (due in large part to my new, exotic locale and friends) and then, suddenly, depressed that I was so unworthy and faithless. Like manic depression, Mormonism seemed to allow me to reach greater heights (by magically transforming my life through the move) but also reach new lows by drumming into me how unworthy and faithless I was.
I remember at one point casually asking my mom what would happen if I were to die accidentally. She said they'd almost certainly be released immediately and sent home. It sounds weird, but one of the factors that argued against suicide in my adolescent brain was not screwing up this sweet gig for my parents.
I hated going to Seminary and I disliked Church, but I loved hanging out with the office missionaries. My many friendships with the Elders passing through had no religious overtones; we were just normal friends who all happened to be in a foreign country for an overtly religious reason. Again, the Church brought all these great people into my orbit, but I didn't receive anything of value to me from the religious end of the Church, just the administrative end.
During one summer break during high school, my dad wanted me to do a mini-mission for a couple weeks. I had a blast doing typical missionary things, throwing rotten fruit off balconies, almost getting killed on my bicycle, constant practical joking living with three other guys, but I didn't enjoy the religious part. I fell asleep during scripture study, after lunch, and at church. I tried hard to follow the rules, but I didn't get anything out of it. I recently came across a letter one of the sister missionaries in my zone wrote me when I left after the two weeks. It said, joking of course, that I should be ashamed because I didn't give away a single Book of Mormon and that they all knew I was an apostate. (I know, she was very prescient.)
Similarly, I loved my real mission (a few years later) for all the friends I made on it, both Elders and families we met, and for all the places I would never have been able to visit without it. On the religious end, I struggled with faith and doubt and guilt, and ultimately, I came to hate the petty bureaucracy that seemed to dominate the Mission leadership. I had "spiritual experiences," but they seemed unrelated to the heavy-handed rules and dull lessons that the Church imposed.
So I find myself most deeply shaped by experiences that are uniquely Mormon, yet I am completely without faith in the positive influence of the very institution that made them possible. Mormonism turned out great for me--it let me live several years abroad and expanded my horizons--but it also made me more miserable than I can express. That is why I am ambivalent about my Mormonism; it made me who I am today, but it also made me an outsider. I'm too deeply marked by my upbringing and life experiences to fit in with others, but I can never be part of a believing Mormon community either.
I guess that's why I can't leave it alone, because it never leaves me.