Tom Hopkins, Musician, Composer, Ex Mormon
My name is Tom Hopkins. I’m a father, humanitarian, composer, music producer, and guitarist. This is the story of my own journey growing up as a Mormon and finally breaking free.
I was a sincere, knowledgeable, believing, and faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for most of my life. I grew up in a loving, active Mormon family environment. My parents were strict, but good people. I don’t remember seeing my parents fight, or raise their voices at each other in my presence. My father and brothers were scholars in the church. Our home was a well-stocked library of Church books, and my father’s goal was to read every book ever published by the Church and its leaders. I love that he tried to answer our questions and concerns about our Mormon faith, and could show us the source material for the information. He was a long time Gospel Doctrine teacher, Choir Director, and a counselor in the bishopric. He was also one of my best friends.
Even as a teenager I read the scriptures constantly. Before going on my mission, I studied the Book of Mormon from cover to cover at least 6 times. I also studied it throughout my life after that. As a sixteen-year-old priest, I was the assistant to the Bishop, and I proselytized, influenced, and baptized several people. I was a hard working full time missionary in Thailand and I meticulously obeyed all the mission rules. I loved my mission. Before I arrived in Thailand, I was told that the average baptism rate was one convert baptism per missionary, per mission. My average was at least one convert baptism per month. My missionary friends told me that the mission president never missed an opportunity to ‘motivate’ the other missionaries, by telling them stories about me. You can imagine how that affected my social life with some of the other missionaries.
After my mission, I proselytized and baptized the girl I married in the temple in 1985, and we have 4 children. I was a Gospel Doctrine Teacher, a Scout Master, a High Priest and 2nd counselor in the Bishopric, a counselor in the Sunday School Presidency, and Stake Mission Presidency, and many other callings… and of coarse, I was a faithful home teacher and tithe and offering payer.
Despite all this, certain doctrines or aspects of my Mormon faith never felt right to me. But just like every other faithful member of the Church that I knew, I accepted some things on faith, expecting that some day, perhaps after I die, it would all make sense. Though I studied literature that answered many ‘anti Mormon’ arguments, particularly those from other Christian faiths, I didn’t give my own concerns, questions, or negative feelings much energy or credibility. Why?
Throughout my life, I was taught, and I taught others how to ‘gain a testimony’. According to the Book of Mormon, gaining a testimony requires a “desire to believe”, and letting that desire grow in you like a seed. Skepticism and a thoroughly open and honest investigation into the extraordinary claims of the Church are not part of the process.
“When considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn’t. Religion is one area of our lives where people imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies.” (Sam Harris)
I was taught and indoctrinated to believe that the Mormon Church represented everything in life that was good and true, and the only way to eternal happiness, and anything that was contrary to the teachings of the Church was false, evil, ‘of the devil’, and leads to unhappiness. So, this means in effect, if I want to be a good person, and live a happy life, and I do, then according to what I was taught, I have to believe in the Mormon Church, and bring myself in alignment with it. And if I don’t, then I am either evil, or ignorant.
Like all the believers I knew, I thought there was something wrong with any person who didn’t believe. I judged them. I assumed that they must not be praying or reading the scriptures enough, or that they didn’t understand the gospel properly, or they were not obeying the commandments, and therefore not worthy of the ‘spirit of the Lord’ to receive inspiration and revelation.
Perhaps the most powerful reason I didn’t want to give credibility to my feelings of doubt about the church, is that I love my parents, family and dear Mormon friends; they are good people, and I wanted them to love and accept me, and be proud of me.
So, whether or not it is true that God is a glorified man living on a glass ball near the planet Kolob, as described in the Pearl Of Great Price and D&C 130, or if any of the supernatural events and incredible claims described in the Church actually happened or not; I felt stuck. I felt like I had to play the game, and believe in these extraordinary events and theology, and dedicate my life to the Church. To give any credibility to my doubts would not just rock the boat, it would be a total upheaval of my peaceful family life. If I decided to act on any conviction contrary to my Mormon faith, I would have to muster the courage to be willing to have my whole life turned upside down.
There is good reason why humans have the ability to think, reason, and doubt. “I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.” (Sam Harris)
In my late twenties, a few years and two children into our marriage, one of my guitar students, who was an attorney and former returned missionary, said to me, “Tom, you have opened up a whole new world for me, I would like to do the same for you”. He proceeded to tell me some very disturbing things about the Church; some of which I knew about, some I didn’t. I thought I was fairly knowledgeable, and I put up a pretty good defense. But I had to admit that what he said made sense, rang true, and disturbed me more than any other discussion about the church that I had ever had. That night, when I came home, I cried secretly, and wondered for the first time in my life if maybe the Church may not be true. But I didn’t want to look into any of the things he said. I just ignored it. I went back to doubling my efforts to increase my testimony. It took 15 years before I had the courage to look into what he said that night.
I was also taught and believed, and taught others this as well, that all of us are sinners who fall short of perfect obedience to the gospel, and are in constant need of repentance and forgiveness through the atonement of Christ, “that they might always have His spirit to be with them”.
The more perfectly I practiced my Mormon faith, the more I lived in an emotional world of guilt and shame, and always seeking forgiveness. I was obsessed with trying to be worthy to have ‘the spirit’ with me. My journals, especially my missionary journal is full of nit picky, self-deprecating, guilt driven statements. I could never be good enough! This of course, translates into being critical of others too.
My basic routine of daily prayer, scripture study, church activities, seminary and institute classes, regular temple attendance, weekly Sacrament meeting, Priesthood meeting, and Sunday School, etc… served to constantly indoctrinate and reaffirm my faith. When I took the sacrament, or went to the temple, I made covenants to be obedient to the strict commandments of God and the Church standards. But I knew as I made those promises, that I, like everyone else in the room, would fall short of perfection, and need to repent again, and again. This routine can, and often did lead to shame and hopelessness, two-faced hypocritical behavior, and a habit of making and breaking commitments lightly. It can be the perfect recipe for the creation of addictions.
When my own short falls became serious, and unwanted addictions started to form, I realized I had a deeper-seated problem that required professional help, self-inquiry, and new commitments. I began to look closer at my core beliefs that affected my behaviors. I discovered that my religious beliefs and practices were literally feeding my addictions, and when I ‘fell away’ from the Church, my addictions ‘fell away’ as well.
I was determined to be a man of integrity. With help, I got to the point where I felt like I would rather lose everything, face public humiliation, and die with my integrity, than to live without it. My integrity became more important to me than my ‘need’ to believe in the Mormon Church. Armed with this new courage to be completely honest and follow my convictions no matter what the cost, I was finally willing to deeply investigate my questions and concerns about the Church. It was a daunting task! I sometimes just threw my hands up in the air and asked, “how am I ever going to sift through all this information!? I just don’t have time! It’s overwhelming! Even the scholars that do this full-time, and are more educated than I, don’t agree with each other!” Like Joseph Smith, I felt like asking, “who of all these parties are right… and how will I know it?” I asked myself all the time, “from all that I have experienced and observed in life, what is most likely to be true?”
Not surprisingly, I could divide these scholars into two groups; non-Mormon scholars and Mormon scholars, or apologists. In addition to prayer, asking God continually for guidance, I decided to focus on Mormon Scholars, (including my father and brothers) in two areas:
1) What does the Church and its scholars have to say about this?
2) On what points do both Mormon and Non Mormon Scholars agree?
The more I studied, pondered, and prayed, the more clear it became that the Mormon Church was not what I had believed it to be. I found mountains of credible information that both sides agree with, discrediting the church in almost every subject. The Mormon apologists that acknowledged and wrote about the issues, sometimes made elaborate explanations that simply didn’t hold water for me, and amounted to conjecture and excuses, or criticisms that don’t change the basic issue. The bottom line was that I found the Mormon Church to be full of ulterior motives and deceit.
From my experience, I compare the Mormon Church to an adulterer. A male adulterer tells his wife every detail about what he did that day, saying all kinds of things that are absolutely true and verifiable. He deceives her by conveniently leaving out the most important details that she needs to know in order to make a clear decision about her marriage. The Church does the same thing; in all their literature, movies and publications, they teach some good principles, and tell their members all kinds of things that are true and verifiable, or are at least socially acceptable to the members, but they conveniently leave out the most important details that a member or an investigator needs to know in order to make a clear educated decision about joining the church, or staying a member of the church.
The adulterer does not want his wife to know the whole truth. He manipulates her by first controlling as best he can, the information she is exposed to. But if she finds out the information and he is accused, he tells his wife not to listen to that information. He tries to discredit that information, discredit the source of that information, or the person who is giving the information. Perhaps, he just ignores that information and tells her to do the same. Quite often, he will make up another elaborate lie to explain or justify his actions. He does everything he can to restore her faith in him. Can you see how the Church does this same thing?
Why do they do this?
Though I have experienced individuals in the Church who are power hungry, or greedy, I don’t believe the Church or its leaders as a whole do this maliciously, or that they are motivated by greed for tithing dollars. I think they do it because they believe that the ends justify the means. In other words, they, like me, have also been psychologically indoctrinated to believe that the Church is true, and they can’t stand the idea of their friends and family, or anyone suffering needlessly, or going to hell, or a lower degree of glory because they don’t believe, or are not active in the Church.
That’s why Pres. Boyd K Packer could sincerely make this famously ridiculous comment; “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful…”
I beg to differ. The truth is always useful! Especially when it discredits what millions all over the world believe to be true. These millions of believers are living their lives, making all their decisions based on the faith that the current and former leaders of the Church are telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and literally speak as authorized representatives of the Creator of the Universe.
“Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Religious Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved”. (Tim Minchin)
When I realized the truth about the Church, I really didn’t know what to do. I was lost for a time. I felt duped, manipulated and angry. I asked myself, what does this mean? What about the beautiful spiritual experiences I had within the church? What about the beautiful blessings I had experienced, the goodness of my parents and others, the gifts of healing, personal inspiration and revelation I had experienced within the church? Are those things false also? The answer is no. I believe those things were real, and now I see that they are a part of nearly everyone’s life experience to some degree or another. I was surprised to discover a whole world of spiritual depth and beauty outside of the church.
I found certain books extremely helpful in my transition out of Mormonism. I devoured book after book… I couldn’t get enough; especially books that helped me understand what I was going through. They gave me insights and suggestions for practices that support a spiritual life, and helped me see that my spiritual experiences both in and out of the Church were valid, even if the Church wasn’t true. I think that was one of the hardest parts; the thought of not knowing what was real anymore when it comes to God and spiritual experiences. What is true, what is ‘right and wrong’, how do I really feel about a certain subject, and how do I change my spiritual practices now to support my new insights and convictions? What do I tell, or teach my children and my family? It’s like being a baby, or a teenager, and discovering the world for the first time. Sometimes I had to learn by touching a proverbial ‘hot stove’, and getting burned.
My journey as a Mormon has been a blessing to me. Very much like a wife who has escaped an abusive relationship. It helped mold me, and discover who I am. I am still grateful for having been a sincere member of the church; but I am even more grateful that I am an Ex-Mormon.
When I set aside my Mormon Faith, I awakened to a whole new world of love and appreciation for people of all walks of life. I no longer feel isolated from the rest of humanity. I no longer think of non-believers as evil, or ignorant, or in need of ‘the gospel’. I no longer think that something must be wrong with a person who is skeptical and doesn’t believe. In fact, I see that as a virtue. I no longer judge people by what positions they hold in the church, or whether they can pass a temple recommend interview, or are worthy of the ‘Spirit’. I no longer think of God as a judgmental being, or that non-believers will go to a lower kingdom of glory. I no longer suffer shame, addictions, or the feeling of constant unworthiness. For the first time in my life, I feel like I truly love my neighbor as myself.
I live a peaceful, productive, ethical and joyful life of service because that is what I want to create in the world. I love life. Is it perfect? No… or rather, it’s perfectly imperfect. Though my marriage did not survive, I love my former spouse and we are good friends, we do things together and we face the challenges of raising our children together.
Leaving the Church can be hard, but I promise you, it will get better! When I was going through the thick of it, I needed someone to talk to. I didn’t know who to turn to, and I felt extremely lonely. I couldn’t talk to my wife or family about it. … It was terrible. Find someone you can talk to! Eventually, when my wife could see that I was honest and sincere, and the information was credible, slowly she and my children began to be willing to look at the evidence discrediting the Church and talk to me about it. All of us are now very happy living outside the Church. The only thing I really miss is the sociality of regularly seeing our Church friends. I still love them, and wish the best for them.
I hope that I helped to open up a whole new world for you! I wish you good luck on your journey, especially if you are looking into leaving the Mormon faith! I am truly enjoying new adventures, and I’m free, and it feels so good!!! May you be blessed to be free as well.
Resources that Tom finds useful:
- Samharris.org and Quotes by Sam Harris
Scholarly Books you can buy at Deseret Book
- Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman
- Joseph Smith and The Beginnings of Mormonism by Richard Bushman
Books you used to be able to get at Deseret Book
- An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins by Grant Palmer
- Mormon Enigma (a Biography of Emma Smith) by Linda King Newell and Valerie Tippetts Avery
Other Books that I found helpful
- The End of Faith by Sam Harris
- Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
- The Pagan Christ by Tom Harpur
- The Jesus Mysteries by Peter Gandy and Timothy Freke
Other Books that helped me understand Spirituality outside Mormonism
- Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie (Highly recommended by Tom – he says it is a must read, if you are coming out of Mormonism or not!)
- Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Dr. Wayne Dyer
- The Power Of Intention by Dr. Wayne Dyer
- Living The Wisdom Of The Tao by Dr. Wayne Dyer
- The Intention Experiment by Lynn McTaggert
- The Field by Lynn McTaggert
- Things Are Going Great In My Absence by Lola Jones
- The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success by Deepak Chopra
- and many others by Deepak Chopra
I highly recommend going to the Chopra Clinic to at least learn meditation, and take the coarse, “Healing the Heart”. I also highly recommend going to Lola Jones’ 5 day silent retreat. I found these activities to be the most helpful I’ve done for healing after leaving Mormonism.