Someone on the other thread I started asked for my exit story. I've never typed the whole thing up before, but here is a somewhat abbreviated version for those interested.
1.) While a branch counselor in a growing branch (around 110 each week at the time I left), I volunteered to be the Gospel Doctrine teacher. I liked to imagine I could do a good job and thought it would be a great opportunity to really dive more seriously into things I was interested in. I began teaching Old Testament, January of 2002.
2.) To my surprise, I began almost immediately to find peculiarities and problems I hadn't known of before, or just hadn't focused on before for any length of time. Two very early on were the Book of Abraham, and the Book of Moses, of which the latter was the most troubling, as I'd never heard of that "problem" before. The problem briefly was that I found Richard Elliot Friedman's book "The Hidden Book of the Bible" utterly convincing - its thesis was that the narrative portions, from Genesis onwards, of the OT, derived from a variety of authors. I found the textual evidence for this thesis conclusive.
However, Joseph Smith's "Book of Moses" relied on a contradictory claim: that Moses had himself actually written the chapters he (JS) was now "restoring to original form". After having read not only Friedman's book but several others pointing out many of the same things as Friedman, I found that I was simply unable to believe JS's claim of sole Mosaic authorship. Moreover, positing several authors eliminated several uniquely Mormon theological conundrae, such as that God ordered Adam and Eve to reproduce, while also ordering them to not to do the only thing that would make reproduction possible, and then punished them for the disobedience which he himself had made unavoidable - while remaining the embodiment of justice. Needless to say, this "doctrine" is an insult to any functioning brain.
In any case, Friedman's "documentary hypothesis", I could see, was true, and JS's claims about the Book of Moses, false. But as a testament to the depths of mental incapacity I still laboured under, I was able to convince myself ultimately that JS could have gotten the (now canonized) Book of Moses wrong, but still been a prophet, and his religion still all he claimed it to be. (After figuring it all out, I sent an email to Friedman telling him about all this, and he emailed me back a very touching and generous reply).
3.) Nearly two years later, after an increasingly frantic, lonely, desperate search to resolve the problems which I kept finding, and which seemed to multiply with every attempt to resolve any of them, I hit a sort of bottom. I was lower, more confused, and more freaked out than I had even been in my life. I had exhausted every single mental trick I was capable of playing on myself to try to maintain some belief in it all, but to no avail.
Around this time (October of 2003), I discovered Grant Palmer's book "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins" on Amazon. One of the reviews said he acknowledged the problem areas; but Palmer was also still a member, and a CES vet to boot, so I thought, "maybe....maybe this guy will be able to explain away some of this stuff". I thought this, because the apologists sure couldn't. I had zoomed over to the FARMS site over and over to try to find some brilliant, convincing refutation of whatever latest thing had left me more hopeless than before, but all I had found was a sort of rancourous idiocy, and what seemed almost like a kind of fundamental disingenuousness. The truth is that the apologetic "counter-arguments", to me, were far more sobering than the problems I was encountering.
Anyway, I read through the Palmer book. I had already encountered most of the information, and nearly driven myself crazy trying to think of ways to keep believing. But my hopes for Palmer were all for nought - he was no more able to remain sane and honest and explain away what was an avalanche of evidence of fraud, as anyone else was. That is, he could only admit the no-longer-deniable; and I think it was then that I finally gave up hope...although it was a moment, sitting in front of my computer re-reading the whole stupid story of the Kinderhook Plates, that it finally, and forever, clicked: Joseph didn't tell the truth. And I think the truth is that the only way Mormonism makes any kind of sense, is when it is assumed to be a very man-made fraud.
4.) I called my Branch President and asked to be released. He asked why. I said, rather understatedly, "I'm struggling with my faith". He came over and asked what was up. He was an older man, very sweet, very sincere, and had spent hundreds of hours since converting in the mid-70's on the ferry back and forth from Vancouver Island prior to the formation of the Salt Spring Island Branch, to which we now belonged. I had never felt as awful in my life - I felt like I would vomit at any second - and given everything, I didn't actually have the heart to say a single word about any problem in particular. I was afraid he would believe me, and he would feel as horrible as I did right then.
He asked me to visit with the Stake President, since I wouldn't go into any detail with him. I consented, though I already knew I knew. To my shock, my SP admitted that he also knew that JS had invented his stories, related a personal story involving then-counselor Hinckley in the 80's, which suggested that Hinckley was as aware as he was that his stories were fabrications, but then invited me to stay in church on grounds it made us "better husbands and fathers".
I could not have been more shocked. I had never heard anything like what I had just heard, from any member that I could remember. I kept saying, just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating, "So - so - you already know he made up these stories?!". He kept nodding, but made sure to say that whether he did or not just "didn't matter" to him.
I had started my meeting off sobbing uncontrollably, but the funny thing is, I walked out feeling lighter than ever - as though I'd been born into The Matrix or something, and figured it out. Literally, it almost seemed like my SP was saying, "congratulations, you've figured it out now, too". I actually asked him directly, at the end of the interview, "Now that I know this stuff didn't really happen, do you think I should resign my callings?". And he said, if you can believe it, "I don't see why you should, as long as you are willing to stay in church and have good experiences in it" (!). The Branch President I was counselor to was about to be released - I could very conceivably have been called to be the next BP, maybe then bishop a couple years later, by a stake president who knew I knew it was all a fraud, and who had quietly just admitted he knew it himself, or at least that he was entirely indifferent to whether it was true or not, because he felt "comfortable in church" (his words). I've since gotten a few emails from men serving in pretty important callings who know it's a fraud, but stay in for their wives, or because "it's my heritage", or some other such reason.
After leaving, I stopped at the nearest pay phone to tell my wife everything that had just happened. She was in shock, too. She kept saying, "He said THAT?!". And it's funny - I couldn't stop laughing while I was talking to her. I'd been on the verge of vomiting for weeks, but in that moment, all I could do was laugh. All that horrible cognitive dissonance was gone, all the mind games, all the emotional distress, and I suppose in a way, I felt happy that I'd been able to figure out something that I was never supposed to be able to figure out, and from the very inside, out.
My wife went to talk to the SP the next week, and he mentioned many of the same things to her as he had to me.
5.) I thought it all over for a few days, and decided I had to be released. I couldn't be a Gospel Doctrine teacher, teaching all those trusting, sincere members, knowing it was all a fraud. How could I be party to lying to people? So, I told the branch president I wanted to be released from my callings, effective immediately.
The next Sunday, the SP came to the branch to release me. I left the stand and sat down next to my wife. Up in front were our children, who were participating in the Primary Presentation (we hadn't told our kids yet, and hardly knew what to do). One by one, my wife and I watched the kids get up and say things like, "I know Joseph Smith is a true prophet", "I know the Book of Mormon is true", "I know the church is true"....that is, we watched them get up and say they knew things were true, which they did not know were true at all. And we also watched my stake president, who for decorum's sake I will refrain from identifying as President Randy Keyes of the Victoria, British Columbia stake, sit there watching the kids say all those things, which only days earlier he had admitted he knew were not true himself. And of course, he did nothing.
The congregation was then invited to sing "Follow the Prophet", and I looked at Tracy, and she looked at me, and she said, "What have we been a part of?", and I knew it was all over. It was all over. The church had been my whole life; I'd loved it, found identity through it, purpose, happiness, friendship, safety, I'd devoted my whole life to it, gone virtually berserk in Argentina on my mission, helped baptize hundreds and hundreds...and it was all over. I couldn't do it - sitting there like my SP, watching my kids getting brainwashed. I had no idea what life could be like as a non-Mormon, but I knew I could not stomach the fraud one more day.
So that day - I think it was the last Sunday in November of 2003 - I walked out of the church, and have never been back since.
Occasionally, those as deluded as I once was send me nasty and accusatory letters, no doubt inspired by the comic book-style heroics of Joseph Smith's Samuel the Lamanite or Abinadi or Nephi...but the truth is, that finding out that the church was a fraud, was the worst, scariest, saddest moment of my life. It was something I had never imagined possible, and certainly never wanted to find out. All I'd been trying to do was to keep believing it the whole time - that's why I kept trying to research all the questions that kept popping up. I kept thinking I would find "answers"! And in the end, it was like it all clicked almost by accident - and I was more shocked than I'd ever been, ever. I had no idea what to make of anything, and in that moment, I felt as though I were going to faint, and my vision blurred...and all I wanted to do, in that moment, was to try to believe it all again.
But once you see all that evidence laid out, and your brain snaps together, you just cannot go back to believing in Santa, or Joseph Smith's religion. You just...know. It doesn't matter how much it once meant to you, how ferociously you always defended it, or how many sacrifices you made for it - it's all over.
I told Tracy and all my kids (we now have eight) that if they wanted to keep going, I would understand, but that I wouldn't be going anymore. But none of them did, once they realized it was, in fact, all a fraud. Once they knew that, it was all over.
So, I guess that's the shortest version of my exit story I can tell.