I love the movie Groundhog Day. I’ve seen it over, and over, and over.

Sorry. Dad humor.

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about this scene:

It’s the moment when Phil Connor realizes that there’s at least one not-so-bad thing about having to live the same day over and over again for eternity: there are no rules. He can do whatever he wants.

I’m not going to live by their rules anymore.

Phil ConnorGroundhog Day

And since he’s already a selfish and rotten person (hilariously so), his life naturally descends into doing more selfish and rotten things. These are probably all the things that he secretly always wanted to do but didn’t, simply because he was afraid of the consequences. But once the consequences were removed, his selfishness ran wild.

In the movie, he enjoyed himself for a while but quickly realized that there are consequences for living a selfish life. He became absolutely miserable; so miserable that he ended up killing himself… more times than he could count, only to be brought back to the beginning of the same day each time.

When killing himself didn’t work, he finally decided to try and live for other people. I imagine him thinking, “if I can’t be happy, at least I can make others happy”. Of course this attitude was the impetus to living a happy life.

Mormons Gone Wild

In much the same way, some people who leave the Mormon Church seem to be announcing to the world: “I’M NOT GOING TO LIVE BY THEIR RULES ANYMORE!” Even if there are some really good reasons for many of those rules.

Kinda like a friend of mine who considers everything her cheating ex-husband says and does to be wrong and beneath consideration. Even when he gives good advice to their kids, her reaction is to take the opposite position, just because it came from him.

Those who leave Mormonism, and who have this kind of rebellious attitude, lose their rudder and become directionless, anything-goes, amoral people. This kind of life isn’t likely to make them or the people around them happy.

Weak Morality Muscles

Why do some former Mormons do this? I think it’s because Mormons, in general, have weak “morality” muscles.

What I mean is that we were taught from infancy to follow the prophet, and to keep the commandments, but we weren’t taught the reasons for those “commandments”. Or at least, the reasons were much less important.

For example, growing up Mormon, I was taught that adultery is the “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost”. I was taught to fear adultery because it was evil and because it’s a commandment from God and because my eternal soul would be in dire peril if I ever crossed that line.

Of course I remember being taught other, more practical reasons, but that was rare. The “fear of God” the was overwhelming emphasis. And in Mormonism, if a commandment doesn’t seem to make sense, you’re likely to hear something like this:

If our faith is rooted in the sandy soil of reason and logic, it will be swept away by a rising tide driven by the escalating winds of opposition.

…my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

So most Mormons aren’t used to making decisions simply because they are good decisions. Their “morality” muscle hasn’t been exercised that much. It’s weak. And when the barriers suddenly go down, many don’t have the tools to make wise decisions. Just like Phil Connors, their previous reason for keeping the rules is gone.

Phil Zuckerman says it a lot better than I could:

But, just because you no longer believe that Mormonism is true doesn’t mean that there aren’t some really, really good, non-superstitious, reasons for monogamy, and avoiding drugs, and avoiding pornography, etc.

If you’ve left, or are thinking of leaving Mormonism, my advice would be, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Find the good in your former religion and keep it. Consider each of your previous convictions carefully before throwing them away.

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