My Mormon Story

9 06 2015

I’m writing this post primarily for those who know me personally, but I’ll be including some contextual information for those who don’t.

For all intents and purposes (I was adopted when I was three days old, but that’s a whole separate story), I was born and raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You know, the Mormons. Other than a few years when I was a teenager, I was active in the church my whole life. I graduated from seminary, I served a mission in South Korea, I got married in the temple soon after returning from my mission, and raised and baptized 5 children into the church. Most of this happened in Utah; I grew up in Logan, then moved to Salt Lake City when I was 22, where I lived for another 10 years, before moving to the San Diego area in 2003, where I’ve lived ever since.

A Year of Growth

2008 was a pretty big year for me. My wife, Melissa, and I had been experiencing marital problems for years (which I’m not going to delve into), and at the start of the year, we separated, with the intention of using the time to fix things and hopefully get back together. I decided that the best way to do that would be to fully commit myself to the gospel and ensure that I was a righteous priesthood holder worthy of my family.

For all of that year, I fully committed to living according to the teachings of the church. I prayed constantly, I fasted, I studied the scriptures and other books, and I strove to develop a relationship with Christ and live in a way that God would have me live.

I also met regularly with a counselor from LDS Family Services. I went for marriage counseling, which was a little weird, since Melissa refused to join me, but I was at least able to discuss many of the issues we had been facing. One of the factors leading to our separation had been that Melissa felt that she could no longer trust me due to me having been dishonest with her, and so a big focus of these sessions was honesty. By the end of the year, I felt like I had a very deep understanding of honesty, and was able to better recognize when I was being dishonest with myself. In addition, honesty became profoundly important to me as a virtue.

By the end of the year, my relationship with Melissa had improved significantly, and she hesitantly agreed to let me move back in with her early the next year. I couldn’t have been happier. But then something major happened.

A Turning Point

Shortly after getting back together, Melissa told me something that rocked my world. At the time we separated, and I decided that I needed to become a much more devout Mormon, she went exactly the opposite way. She felt that she had lived a life devoted to the church and its teachings, and that despite that, she ended up with a terrible marriage and was miserable. Therefore, she no longer believed in the church, and had basically become an atheist.

This took some time to process. The church was a huge part of our lives. I’d spent more than 36 years as a member. We attended every week with our children, and almost all of our friends and our children’s friends were also Mormon. Being Mormon was part of our very identity. But my new-found appreciation for honesty required that I ask myself a very important question: Did I believe in the Mormon church?

The answer was a very clear, “no”.

Why I Don’t Believe

The Book of Mormon includes a promise near the end that if you read it and ask the Lord with real intent, he will let you know the truthfulness of it through the Holy Ghost. Put simply, this is a feeling, and nearly all Mormons use it as the basis for their testimony.

Throughout my life, I had tested this promise, many, many times. One example is still very clear in my memory. I was trying to decide whether or not to serve a mission, and I did not want to go unless I knew that it was all true. I spent days fasting and praying, desperately pleading with the God to confirm the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, or of the Church, or even to just let me know he was listening. Nothing happened. No feelings of warmth and love. Not anything. Eventually, I decided to go ahead and serve anyway, hoping that this confirmation would come. It never did. But I continued on, because I really wanted it to be true.

So here I was in 2009 lacking any kind of spiritual experience to use as the basis for my belief. In addition, over the years I had encountered troubling information about the LDS church. I detail some of them below. Examining these issues again without taking the truthfulness of the church as a given, I came to the clear conclusion that none of the truth claims of the LDS church were true.

The Aftermath

One of the first things Melissa and I did after realizing that neither of us believed was to inform our children. We did so as carefully as possible, and also told them that they could make their own decisions. Some of them had already arrived at the same conclusion. The youngest said that he still wanted to get baptized, so I continued to attend and remain worthy for another 5 months to do that, but that was the last time any of us attended. That was six years ago.

Around the same time, Melissa and I decided to get divorced. That’s also a big separate topic, but suffice it to say that it was a good thing. I went on to meet Amy – who is also a non-believing Mormon – who I am very happily married to now.

Since I stopped attending, I have been happier than I ever was in the church. I feel like I am living an honest and authentic life. My children feel the same way. There are ups and downs just as with anyone, but we all feel like our lives have improved by leaving the Mormon church, and only wish we had done it earlier.

Up until the beginning of this year, I was content to simply no longer attend. But then I started becoming involved with online exmormon communities, especially /r/exmormon. Up until that point, I hadn’t really heard of or paid attention to the Mormon Stories podcast, but as some may be aware, its creator, John Dehlin, was excommunicated by the church. I felt that if Dehlin – who wanted to remain a member – wasn’t allowed to be one, then I – who had no interest in being a member – had no right to continue to be one, so I finally submitted my resignation, and as of a few weeks ago I received confirmation that I am no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

John informs me that he’s now very happy to no longer be a member of the church. Just like me 🙂


I’ve shared this because I want my friends and family who are still members of the church to know where I stand and how I got here. I’ve attempted to be respectful to the beliefs of others, and hopefully I’ve succeeded. Many ex-Mormons have found that when they open up about their non-belief that believing members stop interacting with them. I fully expect to lose at least a few Facebook friends over sharing this, but it’s my hope that this won’t affect my relationship with the people I care about. Thanks for taking the time to read. Any comments are welcome. If you’d prefer to discuss anything directly, feel free to message me on FB, or ask me for my email address or phone number.

Appendix A: My Issues with the Church

In 2007, PBS aired a documentary called The Mormons. It included a lot of negative things about the church, particularly in regards to its origins and history, that I hadn’t really been familiar with before. These things troubled me, but I eventually decided to just ignore them.

A year later, while I was in the midst of my year of dedication to the church, I felt that my testimony was deep enough to take a closer look at some of these issues. In the process of researching, I came across the website for FAIR, which is an unofficial group of Mormon apologists. For every issue I had encountered, I found that they had a response. This was kind of a double-edged sword, though. Because they attempt to respond to virtually every criticism of the church, reading their website exposed me to many other issues that I hadn’t previously been aware of. Also, after a while, I begin to notice something about their responses. Rather than solidly refuting the criticisms, their tactic seemed to just enough doubt on the criticism to enable you to go on believing. Eventually, I found their answers mostly unsatisfying, and in the end, I managed to convince myself that God must have intentionally inserted problems so that you would have to act on faith. I now see how ridiculous that was.

So what are the specific things I found troubling? Honestly, there are too many to list, and the more I’ve studied the Mormon church and its history, the more I find, but here are the big ones:

  • Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Specifically, the fact that the way he practiced it wasn’t even in accordance with the law that he laid out in D&C 132, that he lied to Emma about it and hid many of the marriages from her, that he lied to the church as a whole about it, that he married girls as young as 14, and that he married other men’s wives (some of whom were on missions at the time).
  • The Book of Mormon. The anachronisms. The lack of archaeological, DNA, or any other kind of scientific evidence. The duplication of errors from the King James Bible. The similarity to contemporary books that Joseph Smith would have had access to. This is clearly a 19th century work of fiction, not a sacred, ancient record.
  • The Book of Abraham. We have at least some of the papyrus that Joseph Smith allegedly used to translate what is now part of LDS canon. They bear no resemblance to what is contained in the book. The facsimiles don’t even remotely mean what he claims they mean.
  • Racism. For a century and a half, black people were not allowed to enter the temple and black men were not allowed to hold the priesthood, and church leaders taught that this was because they were descended from Cain, that their black skin was a curse, and that it all stemmed due to being less valiant in the war in heaven in the preexistence. Then in 1978, God changed his mind and the church has tried to pretend none of this ever happened.
  • Prop 8 and LGBT issues. As a member in California during Prop 8, I was unsettled by the way the church handled it, and the way they handle LGBT issues in general. I felt like the reasoning they put forward to support Prop 8 was dishonest, and the pressure they placed on members to contribute, canvass neighborhoods, etc., was unethical.

I could go on, but if you are interested in learning more, I suggest you check out A Gentle Awakening, or if you really want a comprehensive list, read the CES Letter.

Appendix B: Worthiness

There is a perception among Mormons that when members leave, it’s either because they have sinned or want to sin. Mormons are in general wrong about why members leave, which this video from Mormon Stories addresses.

I wanted to address the topic of worthiness, though, because I have heard that people in my last ward (and others) may have mistaken ideas about why I left and perhaps why I got divorced. Specifically, rumors that I committed adultery, fueled by how quickly I started dating Amy.

Melissa and I decided to get divorced in May 2009. I’m not going to get into the specifics, but it wasn’t because of anything either of us had done. We were just miserable together, and it was hurting us and the kids. At the time, we both agreed that it would be okay for us to start dating other people, since the divorce would take a while to process. For practical reasons, we continued to live together until the beginning of September, at which point I moved out. Two weeks later, I met Amy for the first time and we started dating. Melissa was aware of this and even encouraged me to do so.

Fitness log, 8/8/10

8 08 2010

Lately, other than brief interruptions when I travel (and even on my trip to China, I made mostly responsible food choices and hit the gym a couple of times), I’ve been very consistent with both my diet and exercise. About a month ago, I started Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 program, and I’ve been very pleased with the results so far. In addition to that, I’ve increased my overall activity level: taking the (7 flights of) stairs at work, walking more (a half hour each way to the gym yesterday), with the occasional bike ride, jumping rope, and sprinting. My weight is dropping consistently, and I think I’m on track to hit 200 by the end of August.

I noticed something disturbing today. According to my Tanita scale, I currently weigh 207.5 with 27% body fat. I’ve said before that I think that’s considerably higher than what I’m really at, but taken at face value, that means I have about 150 pounds of lean body mass. Back in January when I first started this, I was 232.5 at 31% body fat. That’s a bit over 160 pounds of lean body mass. So assuming that the scale is at least relatively accurate, that means I’ve lost 10 pounds of muscle and 15 pounds of fat.

I’d like to write off the muscle loss as inaccuracy of the scale, but the truth is, my training logs show that I AM moving less weight than I used to at the gym, and my muscles seem to be a bit smaller. Really, this is no surprise. I went through a period where I was horribly inconsistent with my weight training, and then in April, I suspended it completely to focus on preparing for Ragnar. As I said a few posts ago, I think that running is terrible for fat loss precisely because it does nothing to preserve muscle, and my experience seems to confirm this.

Based on my current numbers, to get to my ultimate goal of 10% body fat, assuming that I can hold onto the lean body mass I have now, I’ll have to drop down to under 170 pounds. Ugh. However, I estimate that my scale reports at least 5% higher than what it really is, and if I stay on track I’ll probably be adding some muscle back on, so it may be more like 180-190. That’s not so far off.

Weight: 207.5
BF%: 27

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

My Fat Loss Philosophy, Part 2

20 07 2010

If you missed the first part of this, check it out here.

In this installment, I’m going to focus on exercise.

Weight training

I firmly believe that weight training should be a part of your exercise program no matter what your fitness goals are, and that it is the most important thing you can do for fat loss. Let me explain why.

First of all, obviously, weight training burns calories. But not only does it burn them while you’re working out, intense weight training will temporarily boost your metabolism so that you keep burning calories at an elevated level long after you’re done.

Second of all, your body requires more calories to maintain muscle tissue than it does fat tissue. What this means is that the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns even when you’re not doing anything! The actual additional amount of calories burned is disputed, and this article provides an excellent analysis, but it’s clear that additional muscle helps in the long-term battle against fat.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, weight training is important to help keep the muscle that you already have. Because muscle is metabolically expensive, when you’re in a caloric deficit, your body is going to want to break it down and use it for energy, so you’ll end up losing both fat and muscle. Because of the second point above, you definitely don’t want this to happen because it’ll make maintaining your fat loss that much more difficult. By weight training, especially with heavy weights, you’re sending the message to your body that it needs its muscle. Doing this, combined with a protein-rich diet, will help minimize muscle loss.

There are other benefits of weight training, but hopefully these are enough to convince you.

As for how to weight train, that’s a topic for multiple posts itself, but here’s a few important points:

  • Focus on big, multi-joint movements, like squats, deadlifts, military presses, dips, chinups, rows, etc.
  • Do full body workouts, or upper/lower splits
  • For fat-loss purposes, keep your workouts short (30-60 minutes) and intense (short rest intervals between sets)

A common objection people have to weight training – especially women – is that they don’t want to get bulky like the people on the cover of muscle magazines. Something you need to understand is that those people are genetically gifted, eat and train at insane levels, and (importantly) take boatloads of steroids. Trust me, you’re not going to get that big and bulky by accident, and it’s not going to happen overnight.


The quotes are there because I’m using this to refer to everything besides weight training. As mentioned above, I believe weight training to be of utmost importance, and it should always take priority, but if you have time to do additional exercise, it’ll help you burn additional calories, as well as conveying other benefits.

I prefer to do things that are intense for short periods, rather than low- to moderate-intensity endurance types of exercise, since I find the former much more effective (and way less boring) over the long haul. For me this typically means:

  • HIIT, including Tabata
  • Sprints
  • Jumping rope
  • Barbell complexes

Once a week, I’ll go for a run or a bike ride. In general, I think that endurance-oriented activities like running suck for long-term fat-loss (that’s a post for another day), but doing it occasionally is fine.

Staying healthy

I’m 38, and over the years, I’ve been stupid about the way I exercise, so I’ve had my share of injuries. To help avoid this, every day I try to spend some time doing mobility and soft tissue work.

Mobility work consists of dynamic stretching and various exercises to improve the range of motion of my joints and muscles. I try to do this as often as I can, because I’ve managed to become rather inflexible over the years.

Soft tissue work consists of using a foam roller and tennis ball to essentially give myself deep tissue massages. This helps break down and clear scar tissue, and although it hurts initially, it has made a huge difference in keeping me pain and injury free.

Moving more

In addition to the formal exercise listed above, I’ve made an effort to simply move more. This includes getting up from my desk periodically to just walk around the office, walking rather than driving to nearby stores, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and so on.

Starting out

If you’re in a position where you’re just starting to try to lose fat, all of this may seem a little overwhelming. My advise would be to just start doing something. It really doesn’t matter what it is, and if you’re going from a relatively sedentary life now, you’ll most likely see huge improvements almost immediately. It’s best to try to do something you enjoy, because let’s face it, motivation is a huge factor for most people.

Weight: 212.5
BF%: 28

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 6/7/10

7 06 2010

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. Sadly, the Game Developers Conference got me badly off track, and I’m just now getting back into the thick of it.

Rather than recapping the last several months, I’ll just cover the last week. For Memorial Day weekend, Amy and I met in Las Vegas to see Flight of the Conchords and spend several fantastic days together. Before we left, we challenged each other to lose at least 5 pounds by the next time we see each other, which will be June 16th, right before Ragnar. I wasn’t exactly sure how much I weighed at the time, but I thought I could probably do better than 5 pounds.

I got home, and the next day, which was last Tuesday, I climbed on the scale and read 228. Ouch. But I was determined to eat right and exercise daily. All week long, with very few exceptions, I’ve limited myself to eating meat, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. With Ragnar being only two weeks out, my focus is on running/endurance, so I only got one light weight training session in, but I did do quite a bit of soft tissue work/mobility drills throughout the week. On top of that, I had runs of 5, 2.5, and 6 miles. My legs were a little sore from running, so I decided to mix it up a bit yesterday and did a 15 mile bike ride. The results? Well, you can see below. I know that’s a lot of weight to lose in a week, and that’s partially attributable to water and from starting a little high. But regardless, I’m very happy that I’ve already hit my goal. I’ve now modified it and I’m going to attempt to get down to 215 by Ragnar, which is how much I weighed when I started dating Amy nearly 9 months ago.

One final note. I’ve been through this weight loss cycle numerous times over the years. A lot of the time, I’m just maintaining my weight. Sometimes, I’m not even making an effort, and the weight piles on. And occasionally, I get in a mode where the weight just slides off, and I lose dozens of pounds over the course of several months. Looking back, these times of serious losses all have one thing in common: I was obsessed. Serious, hardcore weight loss does not have to take a long time, but you have to be absolutely focused, eating right (almost) all the time, not skipping your exercise, and having a positive attitude about it.  I feel like I’m there again. The awesome thing is that I’m starting off at least 30 pounds lighter than any time this has happened in the past. Hopefully I will not have anything throw me off track again, and I’ll finally be able to dip down below 200 and stay there.

Weight: 219
BF%: 28

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 3/1/10

1 03 2010

As you may have gathered if you’re friends with me on Facebook, for all of last week, I had all 5 kids, their friend Emily, and (for at least part of the week) Lissa living in my 2 bedroom apartment with me. I don’t think I need to say how disruptive something like that can be to your schedule, and my eating and exercise habits definitely took a hit this week. I did still manage to get in 2 of my weight training sessions, and ran once for 4 miles, averaging 9:30 per mile, which is not bad at all considering.

I’m therefore shocked that I managed to drop 4 pounds this week, getting me back on track to where I was before last week’s spike up. I’m mostly discounting the supposed 2% drop in bodyfat. Awesome if it’s true, but the Tanita scale I’m using is wildly inconsistent; the numbers are mainly going to be useful over a long stretch of time.

On Friday, I leave for San Francisco for a owner’s retreat (where Amy will be joining me!), and then I’ll be at the Game Developers Conference all next week. I’m going to do my best to at least get 2-3 runs in every week (I’m running out of time until Ragnar), hopefully do at least some weight training, and make responsible choices while eating out. Wish me luck!

Weight: 223.5
BF%: 28

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 2/9/10

9 02 2010

I seem to be stalling a little bit, although I guess most people would consider losing a pound pretty good. I’m slightly disappointed, though, because last week I was pretty rock solid with my diet, I got all 4 weight training sessions in, and I ran 3 times, including two runs of 4 miles, one of which I did in slightly under 40 minutes. We’ll see what happens this week. I’m spending the weekend with Amy (yay!) so we’ll see how consistent I can be!

I noticed that my hits on this blog spiked yesterday, despite not having an update. I guess that means people are expecting a Monday update? I’d better strive to not be late again!

Weight: 223.5
BF%: 29

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 2/1/10

1 02 2010

I suspected that last week’s losses were at least partially water, and the fact that this week was a lot less seems to confirm that. I was consistent, though, hitting all 4 of my weight training workouts, running twice (for about 3 miles each time) and cycling once. I’ve also been pretty consistent with my diet, though I succumbed to my weakness for chocolate almonds this weekend.

Last week, someone asked for me to start including where I started from in each update so that it’s more clear how much progress I’m making. Picking a starting point isn’t easy, because I’ve been at this on and off for years. I started back again in earnest last April, when I’d hit nearly 260 pounds. By September, I’d dropped to 215. But then after moving out I got off track and my weight crept back up over 230, which is where I was at the start of the year. Since that’s when I actively started logging, that’s what I’ll use. I don’t remember if I’ve done an extensive post detailing my fitness activities over the past several years, but I should probably do that.

I saw a sports medicine specialist today for my shoulder and lower back/hip. He didn’t think either represented a serious problem, and gave me some stretches and exercises to do. I’m very relieved that he saw no need for surgery of any kind.

Weight: 224.5
BF%: 30

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31

Fitness log, 1/19/10

19 01 2010

Thanks largely to my trip to Finland, last week was a disaster. I was in meetings all day, and jetlagged, so the last thing I wanted to do when I got to the hotel was go to the gym. On top of that, it takes more willpower than I have to make strictly healthy choices when eating out every meal on someone else’s dime.

When I got back, I immediately got back on the wagon, though, and managed to make some progress. I’ve been on several more runs, though I’m having difficulty pushing it past 2 miles. Based on my previous experience, that should change in a couple of weeks if I stick with it.

I also officially started training using the program in Eric Cressey’s Maximum Strength. I’m going to have to modify it slightly due to the fact that my shoulder really doesn’t like the bench press these days, but overall I like the program. It includes soft tissue work using foam rollers and a tennis ball. I’ve never done any of that before, and I’m still waiting for my foam roller to arrive, but if the tennis ball work is any indication, this is going to be PAINFUL. But a necessary pain, at least.

Weight: 229.5
BF%: 31

Fitness log, 1/13/10

13 01 2010

I just noticed that I got the date wrong in the previous post. Oops.

I’m late this week because I’m traveling in Finland. For the same reason, I also won’t be able to record my weight and bf%. I think I lost a couple of pounds last week, and I hope this week’s travel doesn’t mess things up too badly.

Last week, I ended up only hitting the gym once, but I got a couple of runs in as well as some HIIT, and most of the week I managed to eat well. At least until the weekend. Reb’s birthday party on Friday just had way too much tempting food for me to resist. But then I busted my ass all weekend cleaning out the house, so that’s gotta count for something.

We’ll see how this week goes. It’s already Wednesday, and I haven’t worked out yet this week. I’m going to try to hit the gym at the hotel a few times before I go back to the states, and I should be able to get in a few visits over the weekend.

An Open Letter to PETA

25 03 2009

Dear PETA,

Thank you so much for developing and promoting the game Cooking Mama, Mama Kills Animals. I believe that there are many people who eat meat who are oblivious of the process involved. Sadly, we have become so far removed from the source of our food that most are completely ignorant of the things illustrated in this game.

Thank you for reminding us all of the heroic efforts needed to put the meat on the shelves of our grocery stores and butchers. If not for their contributions to our society, it’s unlikely that I would have time to obtain the meat that I typically eat at three or more meals every single day. So, after playing your wonderful game for several hours this afternoon, I said a silent prayer of appreciation for the people who killed and butchered the cow who produced the delicious, medium-rare porterhouse that I devoured at dinner tonight.

Again, my sincerest appreciation for your role in bringing attention to this beautiful arc in the circle of life. People Eating Tasty Animals, indeed!

Warm (like the center of my porterhouse, ha!) regards,

Dave Astle
Temecula, CA