One of the things I have noticed during my religious odyssey is that believing mormons and disaffected mormons describe the process of changing one's religious beliefs in very different terms. To a believing mormon, one who no longer believes "fell away", and that's if they're being nice. Sometimes the more clinical word "apostatized" is used. While arguably technically correct, there is a connotation about that word that I don't like.
I have come up with a new phrase that I think more accurately describes my process. I have left the cave.
In the Mormon Matters Episode 15 podcast, Mayan Elephant talked about the term "anti-mormon" and how when it is used to describe questioning and disaffected mormons, it effectively shuts down the discussion. Similarly, I feel that when a believer says that I have "fallen", or "fallen away" or "fallen into X", where X could be sin, disbelief, apostasy, or whatever, when the term "fallen" is used in any way, I feel that it similarly shuts down meaningful discussion, and betrays their lack of compassion for what I have gone through.
Whenever someone uses the term "fallen away", I mentally ask myself how one falls up out of a pit? Because that is how I sometimes describe it to myself. I didn't fall down so much as I fell up, or even crawled up. Another phrase that I like to use instead of "losing belief" is that I say "my beliefs have evolved." I like that because it describes a continuation, or elevation, or even building up of my beliefs. I didn't throw away or destroy my beliefs. Instead, my understanding behind my beliefs has deepened and expanded to include new truths.
But, since many believing mormons don't think of evolution in positive terms, since many of them don't even believe in it, I have tried to find a term or phrase that is as value neutral as possible, yet still describes how I feel. I think that "I have left the cave" works for me.
It works for me because there are several levels of meaning. I like Plato's Allegory of the cave. From Wikipedia, it is summarized as:
Imagine prisoners, who have been chained since their childhood deep inside a cave: not only are their limbs immobilized by the chains; their heads are chained in one direction as well, so that their gaze is fixed on a wall.
Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which statues of various animals, plants, and other things are carried by people. The statues cast shadows on the wall, and the prisoners watch these shadows. When one of the statue-carriers speaks, an echo against the wall causes the prisoners to believe that the words come from the shadows.
The prisoners engage in what appears to us to be a game: naming the shapes as they come by. This, however, is the only reality that they know, even though they are seeing merely shadows of images. They are thus conditioned to judge the quality of one another by their skill in quickly naming the shapes and dislike those who play poorly.
Suppose a prisoner is released from his cage and turns around. Behind him he would see the real objects that are casting the shadows. At that moment his eyes will be blinded by the sunlight coming into the cave from its entrance, and the shapes passing by will appear less real than their shadows.
The prisoner then makes an ascent from the cave to the world above. Here the blinding light of the sun he has never seen would confuse him, but as his eyesight adjusts he would be able to see more and more of the real world. Eventually he could look at the sun itself, that which provides illumination and is therefore what allows him to see all things. This moment is a form of enlightenment in many respects and is understood to be analogous to the time when the philosopher comes to know the Form of the Good, which illuminates all that can be known in Plato's view of metaphysics.
Once enlightened, so to speak, the freed prisoner would not want to return to the cave to free "his fellow bondsmen," but would be compelled to do so. Another problem lies in the other prisoners not wanting to be freed: descending back into the cave would require that the freed prisoner's eyes adjust again, and for a time, he would be one of the ones identifying shapes on the wall. His eyes would be swamped by the darkness, and would take time to become acclimated. Therefore, he would not be able to identify the shapes on the wall as well as the other prisoners, making it seem as if his being taken to the surface completely ruined his eyesight. Although there are difficulties with this part of the tale, it is vital for Plato's political theory because it is the 'freed prisoner' who must rule the people. He must be the one to do this because he has a higher-level of knowledge from seeing the true reality above the cave (the world of the Forms and the Form of the Good).
I think Plato aptly describes what I have experienced.
I like "I have left the cave" because of the sense that like a mythological caveman, I have left the cave and have attempted to enter the modern world. I no longer believe in the literal truth of bronze-age myths.
I like "I have left the cave" because of the idea that a cave is like Mother Earth, and I have left the gestational womb of my development, and have been figuratively born anew.
I like "I have left the cave" because it describes leaving a safe, but confining environment, to venture forth into the real world. The world may not be as safe as a cave, but it will be immensely more rewarding of an existence. It will be genuine.
Finally, like many good metaphors, "I have left the cave" is open to subjective meaning. I'm not trying to enclose my status into a small box that can be summarily dismissed as a polemical "anti" raving. I'm not trying to dismiss my earlier experiences within mormonism. I'm not trying to degrade or insult the beliefs of my family and friends who still believe in mormonism. I'm trying to move on and redefine my life according to the new reality that I have discovered. I have left the cave.