Shortly after choosing not to go on a mormon mission, I had essentially settled into a Marcus Aurelius version of agnosticism. If there’s a good god out there, he won’t hold it against me to be a good person that’s not religious. If there’s a being out there that will hold it against me, then such an asshole doesn't deserve worship. And if there’s nothing out there at all, then I’m not wasting away my life inside a church.
You'd think that this would mean that I was out of the church, right? Well, maybe not as much as you'd think. Childhood indoctrination is a powerful enough force that many of my default modes of thought remained mormon in nature. I called myself agnostic because the thought of moving on and calling myself anything beyond was repugnant; that part of my indoctrination was still alive and kicking. I didn't think of myself as a mormon, but I also couldn't really call myself anything else. Anyone that tried any drugs (even my best friend in high school who tried marijuana while in the military) was automatically an evil person in my mind, and I’d distance myself from them. Anyone that drank was a lesser person in my eyes. These are beliefs that I had only because they were religiously indoctrinated into me as a child, and they are some of the ways in which my line of thinking remained sadly mormon in its defaults. This mode wouldn't really change at all until my life in general underwent significant change about a decade after I’d gotten out of high school.
At this point in my life, I was living a somewhat dreary existence. I worked a crappy job that was gnawing away at my will to live, and was essentially the same as the previous job I’d had, and the one before that. Each time I’d reach a point (about a year into the job) where I just couldn't stand the job anymore. Usually it would be solved by moving onto another job with another company, but that was only a temporary stopgap, and I was beginning to realize that. The job I’d move to was just like the old one, and once I’d spent enough time there to feel like I really knew what I was doing, the same things would once again make me hate my job.
I was getting ready to make the switch again. I had done an interview with a new company, and was mentally prepared to leave my job and move to the new one. I ended up not being offered a new job, but I was still mentally at the point where I’d quit my existing job. You ever put in a two week notice, and find your motivation to do anything at all non-existent during those two weeks? That’s where I was at, only I didn't have a new job to move onto. Being forced to work a job that I had already mentally let go of was excruciating. If I thought I hated my life before, I knew without a doubt once this happened; I was very miserable. Through sheer luck, a friend of a friend heard about it, and he mentioned that his mother worked at the local university. Whenever he had a friend that wanted to get back to school but didn't really know how, he’d direct them to his mother, and she’d help them figure out what needed to be done to get themselves back into school. I met with her, got my shit together, and got back into school.
The largest part of school that helped form my third step in leaving were the philosophy courses I took; learning good philosophy can be an excellent foundation for rooting out mormon bullshit. I ended up taking a few classes from a specific professor, Chris, who was an excellent philosopher. After a decade away from school, she opened my eyes and taught me how to actually think. In trying to write term papers for her classes, I would end up in her office for brainstorming sessions, and they were always quite interesting. She never put forth specific conclusions or her own opinions, but would ask me for my opinion about a topic, and when I answered she’d simply point out some of the logical consequences of such a stance or belief. It was my choice whether I should come up with some sort of alteration or justification to overcome a consequence, or to change my opinion. No matter which way I chose however, each one of those also had logical consequences that would need to be considered as well.
Through this process she started teaching me how to think analytically. In addition to gaining a foundation of analytic thought, some of the specific subjects covered in the classes also dealt with directly moral issues. Discussions on moral realism and relativism certainly expanded my horizons, as well as those on free will and moral responsibility. By the time I had finished a couple of courses with her, I had access to several foundations for a moral base that no longer needed mormonism. And I found that morality was a subject that I enjoyed. Also, as I would have more brainstorming sessions, I found myself encountering logical problems with my default pseudo-religious views more and more often. The more I analyzed my default views, the more problems I would encounter with them. By the time I had finished those classes there were several previous viewpoints of mine that I had already concluded were definitely incorrect, and must be tossed. I did not feel bad for these lost views, however. The sheer logic that the change in views came from was such a powerful thing that the usual resistance to change was largely absent. By the time I had formulated a new opinion, I had already worked out the hows and whys of the new opinion, and was on solid enough ground that the change was not difficult.
At this point I was almost all of the way home. I hadn't been to church for years, I had a solid foundation for my own moral code without the need for the church, and I had learned to think for myself. While I had managed to shed a lot of my mormonism, I was sadly still very mormon in several fundamental ways. I still hadn't actually sat down and studied the mormon religion and its problems directly, and this last piece would be needed before my transformation was complete.