Of Darkness and Light Isaiah 5:20 Elijah P. Ricks Updated 9/23/2017
Anyone may quote, cite, or circulate the contents of this document for noncommercial purposes as long as credit is given to the original source or author. Material is kept current at ldsdarklight.blogspot.com.
Contents Why Did I Begin This Blog? ............................................................................................................. 1 Groundwork for Truth ..................................................................................................................... 1 To Approach a Prophet ................................................................................................................... 3 Feelings ........................................................................................................................................... 3 Questions You’re Probably Asking.................................................................................................. 4 Ignorance is Bliss? .......................................................................................................................... 5 Peace and Truth .............................................................................................................................. 5 A Brief History (My Exit Story) ...................................................................................................... 6 Absolutes ........................................................................................................................................ 11 Fathers and Husbands ................................................................................................................... 11 Anonymity...................................................................................................................................... 12 Marriage ......................................................................................................................................... 13 Responsibility ................................................................................................................................ 14 At What Point is it Too Much? ....................................................................................................... 15 Test of Faith or Clue from God ...................................................................................................... 16 Sources ........................................................................................................................................... 16 Confirmation ..................................................................................................................................18 Why We Act ................................................................................................................................... 19 Decision ........................................................................................................................................ 20 Analogy .......................................................................................................................................... 21 Feelings ......................................................................................................................................... 23 Check and Re-Check ..................................................................................................................... 24 Integrity ........................................................................................................................................ 25 Faith and Skepticism .................................................................................................................... 26 Predisposition ............................................................................................................................... 27 Knowledge and Action .................................................................................................................. 28 Knowing ........................................................................................................................................ 29 Priorities ....................................................................................................................................... 30 Trials of Faith ................................................................................................................................. 31 Conviction ..................................................................................................................................... 32 Emotional Motivation ................................................................................................................... 33
P a g e | ii
Occam’s Razor............................................................................................................................... 34 People and Perfection ................................................................................................................... 36 Good vs. Evil ................................................................................................................................. 37 Ultimatum ..................................................................................................................................... 38 Reflected Revelations.................................................................................................................... 39 Why ............................................................................................................................................... 40 Adaptation ..................................................................................................................................... 41 Means, Ends, and Agency ............................................................................................................. 42 Letter or Spirit of the Law ............................................................................................................. 43 Realities Collide ............................................................................................................................ 44 Dissection...................................................................................................................................... 46 Weakest Link ................................................................................................................................ 47 Debate ........................................................................................................................................... 49 A Burning Question ...................................................................................................................... 50 The Human Condition ................................................................................................................... 51 Protection or Confinement ........................................................................................................... 56 Confirmation Bias ......................................................................................................................... 60 Crossroads...................................................................................................................................... 61 Past and Future Behavior ............................................................................................................. 62 These Things I Believe .................................................................................................................. 62 Speaking Against Majority ............................................................................................................ 64 Personal Interpretations of Obedience ......................................................................................... 65 Wizards and Men .......................................................................................................................... 66 The Message.................................................................................................................................. 67 Pigs Among Men ........................................................................................................................... 68 Progress ........................................................................................................................................ 69 Revolving Intolerance ................................................................................................................... 70 Effort Justification ......................................................................................................................... 71 Coerced Faith ................................................................................................................................ 72 Feathers ........................................................................................................................................ 73 Ministry of Truth .......................................................................................................................... 74 Anniversary ....................................................................................................................................75 Pathology ...................................................................................................................................... 76
P a g e | iii
If, Then ........................................................................................................................................... 77 Doublespeak.................................................................................................................................. 78 Appearances .................................................................................................................................. 80 Pleading Ignorance ........................................................................................................................81 The Worthiness of Souls ............................................................................................................... 83 The Blame Game ........................................................................................................................... 85 Dumbing It Down ......................................................................................................................... 86 Trying Faith .................................................................................................................................. 88 Standing for Something ................................................................................................................ 89 The Source of All Knowledge ........................................................................................................ 90 Pedagogy ........................................................................................................................................ 91 Measures ....................................................................................................................................... 93 Validation...................................................................................................................................... 94 Sampling ....................................................................................................................................... 95 Character....................................................................................................................................... 97 Recent Dialogue ........................................................................................................................... 101 Mixed Messages ........................................................................................................................... 107 Mixed Messages Part II............................................................................................................... 108 Supply & Demand ........................................................................................................................ 110 Desire ........................................................................................................................................... 113 Formula for Faith ......................................................................................................................... 115 Stirring Things Up ....................................................................................................................... 116 Four-Letter “C” Word .................................................................................................................. 117 References .................................................................................................................................... 123
March 10, 2009 Why Did I Begin This Blog? When one leaves the fold of the LDS church, others can be quick to judge and make assumptions as to why. This blog exists to make my reasons for leaving very clear. Some may misunderstand my criticisms of the Church to mean that I hate it, that I disrespect believers, that I see no good in it, that all I want to do is destroy something that so many love and upon which so many depend. Such is not my intention. If the reader feels the need for a support to lean upon on every path in life, I have no desire to kick it out from under him or her. Thus, this blog is not intended for anyone who absolutely loves the Church, is comfortable with all of its teachings, feels that without it life would lose all meaning. If you have stumbled upon this blog and anything you see makes you uncomfortable, I invite you to either leave and go on your way, or be prepared to question some things that you take for granted. This blog is intended for those who attend Church because they are afraid, feel guilty, pressured or threatened; it is for members who have become uncomfortable in Sacrament Meeting, who find themselves disagreeing with General Conference talks, and so forth. To these, I extend an invitation to abandon fear, and embrace reason and truth. Others will frown upon you, accuse you of weakness and sin, and even possession by demons. But finally, you will know for yourself what you really believe. If all that I write honestly sounds unreasonable and silly to you, then I admire your convictions. I am glad they work for you, and that you draw strength from them. But if any of these things bothers you to any degree, perhaps it is time to take a closer look at why you do what you do. This blog is also intended for any believers who feel that I have erred, and insist that I have left the Church for any reasons other than being compelled by conscience to do so. Anyone who presumes to know my journey better than I is invited to learn for his or herself what I know and how I feel about it. If I am wrong, then for the sake of us both, tell me how. March 17, 2009 Groundwork for Truth Elder J. Reuben Clark, when he was a counselor in the First Presidency, stated, "If we have the truth, [it] cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed." (quoted in Quinn, 1983, p. 24) I think the basic difference between those I love who are members of the Church and me is how we approach celestial knowledge. For example, the Church encourages missionaries to commit investigators to baptism after their first hearing of the story of Joseph Smith as given in Preach My Gospel. In other words, the Church encourages one to accept that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and, therefore, anything that he did as God's will. I, on the other hand, hear the claim that Joseph Smith was a prophet and I look at everything he did and taught in order to evaluate that claim. I know the Church's side of things, but what is the whole story?
Many members of the Church would say that I am over-intellectualizing spiritual matters or that I am not taking the necessary leap of faith. I have always found these arguments troubling for two reasons: 1. If Joseph Smith, Jr. truly was a prophet of God, shouldn't earnest investigation of his life and teachings work to confirm that? 2. Elevating anyone to the status of unquestioning faith can be only dangerous, for that is how all dictators and tyrants have been born. Some of the worst crimes committed by humanity were due to a failure to question leaders. Therefore, the route a seeker of truth must take is to proceed with caution; evaluate the claim as objectively as possible, and then make judgment when adequate investigation has happened. Again, members of the Church would argue that what matters most is the source of their spiritual witness that Joseph Smith is a prophet: the feeling they experienced when they prayed to know if it was true (e.g., D&C 6). Such a procedure troubles me in a few ways: 1. To make such a huge commitment (i.e., life-long and life-changing) based only on the information provided by the Church in such a short time is anything but objective. Allow me to use an extreme example; if a couple dressed very nicely, knocked on your door, and asked for a few minutes of your time to speak about a remarkable man, you might let them in. They ask, “Have you ever heard of Adolf Hitler?” For argument's sake, let's say you hadn't. They tell you of a bright, ambitious artist, who had a passion for politics and wanted to change the world. He improved his entire country's economy, made it a superpower, established one of the world's best automobile manufacturers, and also started the world's largest anti-smoking campaign in history. If they were to then ask if you would commit yourself to his cause, you would probably feel pretty good about it based on the information you were given. Now I want to make perfectly clear that I am not suggesting Joseph Smith, Jr. is comparable to Adolf Hitler in any way other than that the context in which a man is presented can have a huge impact on how one views him. One difference with Joseph Smith is how well the Church has edited his doctrine and history. Look anywhere on the sites of the Church or in any of the manuals and try to find out information about polygamy beyond admission that it took place. To obtain objective information one must look for it, for the Church will not provide it. 2. There has been quite a bit of research demonstrating that once a person makes a decision, he or she thereafter justifies that decision to reassure his or herself that it was the right one (e.g., Steele, 1988). In other words, we all believe that we are reasonable people, so we wouldn't decide that Joseph Smith was a prophet unless that were true, right?
I do not wish to demean emotional or spiritual experiences. All I wish to suggest is that these probably aren't enough to establish that something is true. The absolute truth will be confirmed by several types of evidence: physical, cognitive, as well as emotional. If I felt great about the idea of the Earth being flat, it still would not outweigh actually seeing photographs of the spherical Earth from space. On the other hand, if I felt great about the Earth being spherical, I would feel only better by seeing the photos from space. For something to be true, it continues to be confirmed, and is supported by angle after angle. Thus, if Joseph Smith was a prophet, I would expect not only to feel good about that, but to see confirming evidence. For example, I would expect to see that he actually did make some accurate translations of the artifacts he professed to have translated. Unfortunately, there is no such evidence (Larson, 1992; Palmer, 2002). I would expect to eventually learn why he was justified in his practice of polygamy, get reasonable explanations about God's alleged decree that persons with African heritage could not access the priesthood for over a century (source), and so on. But when there simply are no explanations that make sense, I am left to conclude that Joseph Smith was not what he claimed. March 18, 2009 To Approach a Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. made a remarkable claim; that God and Jesus Christ had appeared to him in the flesh and called him as a prophet, to be God’s instrument and restore His church and authority to the Earth. There are essentially 3 approaches to evaluating this claim: (a) immediate disbelief that such a thing is possible, concluding Smith must be a liar or psychotic; (b) immediate belief that Smith is exactly what he claims, so all his actions and teachings must be correct and godly; or (c) a cautious stance, exploring Smith’s teachings and actions and deciding if these confirm or disconfirm his claims to divine calling and authority. Either of the first two approaches is an extreme and, therefore, dangerous. I have chosen the latter approach, for I know no other way to avoid being misled by the cunning and craftiness of men (Ephesians 4:14; 1 John 4:1; Matt. 7:16, 20). March 19, 2009 Feelings Unfortunately, I think that most believers assume I have a lot of animosity towards them or the Church. That is exactly what I am trying to avoid. I ask those to remember that I am still the same person, I am just being honest about my religious feelings now. I think all (including me) would do well to follow the 11th Article of Faith and allow each person to worship God as he or she sees fit. While we may disagree about the specifics, we do agree that charity, service, kindness, love, ethic, morality, hope, and family are all essential to a happy and full life. I am happy to discuss the religious differences or my road to this decision, but only if we can both be mature and respectful of one another.
March 19, 2009 Questions You’re Probably Asking 1. How is my wife handling this? While I can't answer for her adequately, I will summarize that she is understandably shocked and hurt, but grateful that I am being honest with her. She has been very supportive to me and stayed by my side during the hardest moments. 2. What will you do now? As far as religion is concerned, I have no real interest in joining another church at this time. I still believe in God and I think my time will be best spent coming to know Him without being distracted by the noise of the Church's doctrine with which I disagree. 3. What about your daughter? I support her attending Church, and whatever decisions she makes regarding religion for the rest of her life, as long as they are her decisions. I will not discourage her from doing anything that she feels is right. If and when she asks me spiritual or religious questions, I will answer as honestly as I know how and let her decide. 4. Do you regret going on a mission? No. I truly feel that if I were ever to have gained a testimony of Joseph Smith, Jr. as a prophet, it would have been on the mission. I tried as hard as I could to silence my questions during those two years, and several years after, but it didn't happen. I learned more about myself, the world, and spirituality in that time than any other time in my life. It was an invaluable time to me. 5. Do you support your wife in attending church? Of course. I will continue to treat her as I always have, and support her in her interests and calling just as I always have. I have never said that the Church is a bad organization or that it needs to be opposed, I just do not believe that is has God's only truth. I support anyone who chooses to follow it out of love and hope rather than fear and guilt. I'm sure there are a lot more questions out there. As I have said before, I am happy to answer any. If you haven't already noticed, probably a good place to start is the outline of my concerns. My main sources are LDS historians and I make every attempt to state a fact, give a reference for the fact, then what that fact means to me.
March 19, 2009 Ignorance is Bliss? I've noticed an interesting pattern since the news of my decision has spread. Most people seem to want to know why, but not want to know why. The response seems to be something to the effect of, "I don't know what research you've done..." or "I don't want to know what research you've done..." or "I don't have to know what research you've done... but I know that the Church is true anyway." I suppose what is most interesting to me is the fact that these individuals would still rather not know. I wonder, if they are so certain that the Church is true, how could any research I or anyone else has done harm that? Why shouldn't earnest research about something true only help to confirm its truth? Some have said, "I don't need to know, because I already know it’s true." I wonder how well Einstein's theory of relativity would have been accepted had he simply stated his theory and then said, "I know it’s true" without providing any evidence to back it up. Einstein probably felt that his theory of relativity was true, yet for the sake of his theory, he engaged in and encouraged research of it. I'm sure that, had the evidence not supported the theory, he would have revised the theory instead of simply bashing the evidence. The question is, which is more important: the theory or the truth? Of course we hope that they are the same, but is it worth sacrificing the truth for the theory? If all of the evidence had failed to support Einstein's theory, but he held onto it like a child holds onto his blanky, he would have never come closer to the actual truth. No matter how intensely one believes in a theory, it is still a theory. If it is the truth, sincere investigation cannot harm it, but will only help it. Now, on the one hand I can't really blame them; I know that my daughter is the most perfect child on the planet, and I don't care what evidence anybody gives me against that, because it absolutely cannot change my opinion. But on the other hand, my opinion about how perfect my daughter is has no eternal consequences. March 20, 2009 Peace and Truth I've been given a lot of advice lately as to what I can do to go about feeling better about what Joseph Smith did (for details, see the outline of my concerns). People usually offer me some steps they took after learning of polygamy, etc. which helped to ease their minds. Usually the end result is that they decided they were incapable of understanding the principle and so would just stop thinking about it. There is another key issue here I feel I must address: the difference between peace and the truth. If I were seeking peace about the purpose of my existence here on Earth, I could find dozens of
answers that would provide it. Certainly, a Buddhist feels peace about his existence and the purpose of life. Certainly so does one who believes in reincarnation, nirvana, who worships Vishnu, or who practices paganism. Peace is one of the main things people seek in life: peace about their existence. However, while there are several paths to and forms of peace, there is only one truth. And while that one truth should provide peace, simply feeling peace does not mean one has obtained the truth. Very often, the truth shakes up the entire world. Very often, the truth hurts a lot. And very often, the truth is very hard to swallow. Peace without truth is artificial, and while it may make the journey through life easier at times, it is still not the truth. Thus, if one is a seeker of truth in all honesty and desires above all to obtain truth, he must be prepared to abandon his comfort. My experience has been that some people desire peace, assuming that it is the truth, and others desire truth, no matter what the consequences. Socrates and Galileo, for example; had they sought peace and comfort for themselves, they would never have come any closer to the truth. Yet they had the courage to stand against all opposition for the sake of truth. March 20, 2009 A Brief History (My Exit Story) My concerns with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints began as early as I can remember. I cannot, in honesty, say that I ever believed without a doubt that the Church is correct in its claims. Before I ever knew about polygamy or the denial of priesthood to anyone with African ancestry, I had sincere doubts that the Church is what it claims to be. That does not mean, however, that I never wanted the Church to be correct. For most of my childhood, I hoped that the doctrines and teachings I learned were really how the universe works. So much of it was beautiful and full of hope. But so much of it seemed nonsensical. I remember when I was a child we would read the scriptures as a family. Many of the stories sounded similar to my other storybooks. Of course, I knew that my storybooks and fairy tales were just make-believe: Fairies and unicorns aren't real; Beanstalks can't grow to reach the sky; There are no magic wardrobes, etc. Still, I could not help but feel that the stories in the scriptures were just as incredible: Animals can't talk, except for the one time it happened in Numbers 22; Jesus actually can turn water into wine; Two of every single species somehow fit onto a boat and somehow survived for months, etc. I was struck by how I was expected to believe the scriptures literally, but other unrealistic stories as merely figurative. As I grew older and learned more about the teachings of the Church, and contrasted them with my own experiences and understanding of how the universe works, my questions and doubts grew stronger. These doubts were unwanted, however, as I desired to belong; The Church was the only social and familial environment I had ever known. Still, I could not reconcile some of the most basic teachings of the Church with common sense.
It started with things as simple as the mythological sense of the Old Testament. I found it extremely difficult to accept that God would literally speak to Adam and his children as if over a loudspeaker, but that He did not do so now. I found it to be an ignorant argument that people with black skin would be white except that God cursed their ancestor. In the same vein, it seemed a poor explanation that people speak different languages because God confused everybody when they were trying to build a tower to Him. My questions grew throughout my youth, simply due to the things that the Church taught on the surface. I had no real clue about the things that the Church held true but did not want me to know. Around age 13 or 14, I distinctly remember being in a bookstore and seeing a book with an image of Joseph Smith which caught my attention. On the cover were five paintings of women. The title read something to the effect of “The Wives of Joseph Smith.” It was then that I first learned about the hidden side of the Church. I discovered that what I had been taught and raised to believe as true was only part of the story, with a great deal more tucked away or only half explained, pleading that it be taken on faith. I denied at first. "Joseph Smith wouldn't have had plural wives. That is directly contrary to the Church's teachings about sexual propriety, the sanctity of the family, and so on. Why would any reasonable person be a member if that kind of thing had gone on? It must be one of the antiMormon lies they told me about, and I should avoid it like the plague." But after repeatedly hearing that ignoring it is the most responsible action, I wondered what it was the leaders hoped that I would not discover. Surely, either such claims are false, or have perfectly reasonable explanations. As a teenager, I took J. Reuben Clark’s advice to heart and decided that real investigation of the Church is the most earnest route to know if it is true. I learned of other explanations for our existence and contrasted them to the doctrine I had been taught since birth, allowing my conscience to guide me. I began to look for answers to my questions about the Church and, to my surprise, by wanting to know if the Church's teachings were true, I met opposition from everyone I knew. Almost no one cared what my questions were or what I believed; they were simply angry that I was not fully on board with the LDS perspective. I clearly received the message that it is dangerous to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith as a prophet and the Book of Mormon as Holy Scripture. Church leaders, my parents, my friends, and my Church teachers discouraged any investigation that involved evidence they did not provide. But I knew that if the Church was actually the one organization with God’s truth on Earth, He would help me to know that. As J. Reuben Clark stated, if the Church is true, then investigation should lead me to that conclusion. But if it is not true, then conscience allows me to do nothing else but to leave it and seek out what is true. My parents eventually stopped trying to force me to attend Church and seminary through coercion. I was finally “allowed” to make my own religious decisions, and I felt closer to God than I ever had previously in my life. I felt as if I were seeking truth with my own eyes, free from the lenses of the Church. I felt comfort and peace, and was happier than I had been in a very long time.
My joy was short-lived, however. I had a close LDS friend with whom I had fallen in love. She told me she felt that we were meant to marry. I felt the same way. Of course, the Church made it clear that a union would be full of obstacles unless I disregarded my concerns and took it on faith that the Church was what it claimed to be. My world turned upside down again as I wanted to believe more than ever. As I tried to look for options or pathways to faith, she told me that her patriarchal blessing prophesied she would marry a returned missionary (a prophecy never fulfilled; she married a convert). I wrestled with my options over several miserable days. I knew that if I was ever to gain a testimony that the LDS church truly is of God, it would be on a mission where all of my time would be focused on the study of it. I knew that this young woman's love for me was conditional upon my gaining of a testimony (which I now understand is not love at all). My parents were open with their disappointment in my religious decisions, which had led to relationship strains with my siblings. I even had some friends who'd been told to spend less time with me. I felt that perhaps I was in the wrong. Maybe I hadn't given the Church a fair chance. I cursed my doubts for being the cause of all of these problems, and determined to try anew: I went on a mission to Munich, Germany. While away from my family and the young woman who had led me to believe she was my soulmate, I was desperate to deliver. Through her letters, she continued to point out the spiritual obstacles to our being together. My parents and siblings wrote of how much they supported me, and how proud they were of my service. I wrote in return about how well I was doing, how I had felt the Holy Ghost, how I was beginning to believe. But as much as I tried to believe, my reports of the results were all exaggerated. I truly felt good about what I was doing for the mere fact that it was an adventure, I was living in Europe, learning a new language, and felt I was helping some people. I immersed myself in the language, and took on the role of an LDS missionary as best I understood it. I studied the intricacies of LDS doctrine, and debated with people of other faiths. I did learn a great deal more about the LDS church, but it would be untrue to state that what I learned quashed doubt. On the contrary, the more I attempted to find answers to my sincere questions about Church history and doctrines, the more unsatisfactory explanations were apparent. As I neared the final stretch of my two years, I had internally concluded that the LDS church was no more divine than any other religion. But I had also decided that I could do nothing but live my life as a Latter-Day Saint; My relationships with my parents and siblings were finally on the mend, for no reason other than I was doing what was expected of me. The possibility of marrying the girl who seemed like my soulmate was finally within reach after my years of effort. The LDS lifestyle was mostly comfortable to me; I knew the drill, I spoke the jargon, I could live like that. I believed and still believe that the Church teaches good values, most of which I wanted in my family, so I decided that the questions I had were either not important, or I could live my life ignoring them. I would just keep my mouth shut for the sake of comfort. I returned home to find that the young woman had apparently overstated her feelings for me: At best, she'd changed her mind and just let me believe that we were on the same page; at worst, she'd been playing a reactivation game with me from the beginning, using my love for her as the fuel to manipulate me into Church activity so that she could feel like she was doing God's work. To put it lightly, I was devastated. I had spent the last two years pleadng with God and thanking
Him that she and I would have a chance to be together, and instead it turned out that the relationship had probably been a sham from the beginning. For a moment, I considered being honest about my feelings about the truthfulness of the Church: using this heartbreak as further evidence that there was no divine plan. I decided instead to try to trust God, knowing that questioning the Church again would just make her even more certain that she had made the right decision to reject me, and I hung to the idea that maybe this would be resolved over time, as I had so many times pleaded with God and thought I'd received comfort. I remained faithful in action and served as best I could, staying as active as I could in the hope that she and God would work things out, seeing my responsibility an sincerity. Over several excruciating and emotional months, she slowly cut me out of her life, and then married one of my best friends whom she convinced to convert to the Church. I continued on, scarred, but insisting that it had all happened for some purpose I did not yet understand. I wondered whether it had all gone so wrong as punishment for my doubts, and I resolved again to keep a lid on them, to serve in my calling, to pay my tithing, and to pray always so that I might regain God's favor. Eventually I fell in love with my wife. She was beautiful, kind, intelligent, and selfless. One of the most attractive things about her was her unwavering faith. I thought perhaps I could lean on her in my most difficult times. I thought that I could borrow strength from her in the times I doubted. I had been taught my entire life that to give in to doubt was one of the worst mistakes a member could make, and I had accepted my fate of living in the LDS world, for better or worse, so I was naturally attracted to a woman who I hoped could help cover my doubts. I did tell her of my doubts about the Church, but I admittedly minimized them, perhaps having learned the consequences of honesty from my previous experiences. I transferred to BYU, we married in the LDS temple, served in nursery and other callings, and lived the LDS life. As I lived among the LDSs, what I like about the Church was clear. My doubts were never silenced, but I was able to keep a lid on them. We had a daughter together, the most spiritual experience of my life. We moved to Colorado, and I attended graduate school. I was seeking a master's degree in clinical psychology, and the courses intentionally caused a lot of introspection and insight. My thoughts often dwelled on the notion of living authentically. I knew that I had been fighting a battle for my whole life between living authentically and living as other people thought I should live. This was a large motivator for me to finally gain some clarity on the LDS church. I had for too long simply cast aside my doubts, and feared truly examining the details of the history and doctrines I found troubling. I took a few hours each week in the library at the university to read about Joseph Smith's polygamy, evaluating exactly how his actions fit in with his teachings. I found books by LDS authors on the priesthood denial to people of African descent, and evaluated the explanations for how this fit in with God's teachings. In addition to the introspection my courses encouraged, an important catalyst to my search for answers was my daughter's birth. Family is more important to me than anything on Earth, and so when I became a father, I felt more deeply than ever how important these questions are. I began to wonder if I would be comfortable with her growing up obligated to believe some of that doctrine that I feel is fundamentally contrary to the values I hold most deeply and dearly. I
P a g e | 10
feared that she would one day learn the disturbing things that I have learned about the Church, and ask me why I never told her, and how I could possibly justify them. While I still leave it up to her to decide, I refuse to let her think I believe that I will be married to more women than her mother in heaven, or that she will have to share her husband with other women in heaven (D&C 132: 3-4, 6) and that God or I would be okay with that. I refuse to do as my parents did: using guilt and fear to silence the little voice inside of her that says that is wrong to call such things evil. Things were clear for me quickly. I had played the part of a true believer for the sake of my family’s peace of mind and status in the Church, to maintain my relationships with siblings and parents, and most recently to save my dear wife and precious daughter any heartache. Unfortunately for my loved ones, my conscience compelled me to break the ranks. I had been dying inside, living a lie. As I continued to search for answers to my deepest questions, I found only more questions and ended up with answers with which I fundamentally disagree. I reached the point where I cannot believe that Joseph Smith did the things he did under the direction of God, and I refused to let the lie continue. I told my bishop on March 10, 2009. It was an awkward conversation. The ward boundaries were changing, and we were getting new leadership. The new bishop, whom I had not met, invited me to come into his office so that he could extend me a calling. I figured that would be as good a time as any to let him know of my decision. He was understandably shocked at the revelation, and immediately openly wondered if I had committed adultery. I assured him it had nothing to do with a sin, and gave him an outline of my doctrinal and historical concerns with the Church. He cast it aside, visibly upset, and warned me of the consequences of leaving the fold. I respectfully thanked him and assured him of my certainty. I arranged two separate conferences with family: one for mine and one for my wife's. I briefly outlined my story, and explained that I had resigned my membership. I explained that I have reasons, but that I did not want anyone to change their belief based on my actions. I offered them outlines of my reasons, but put no pressure on any of them. Some took the news with love and respect, others argued with me about Satan's influence and how my family would be spiritually harmed because of my carelessness, but no one offered answers for my questions. Some vaguely directed me toward books, all of which I inspected, and none of which provided reasonable answers. The Stake President arranged for me to meet with him on two occasions so that he could talk me out of my exit. The Elders Quorum President visited me to do the same. They all pleaded with me to just pay attention to the good parts of the Church and to pray about Joseph Smith. When I responded with questions about how his polygamy was righteous or even defensible, racist doctrines and practices in the LDS scriptures and history, and other issues, no one had any reasonable response. Now, aside from the occasional passive-aggressive email or comment from a family member, no one talks to me about the Church, which is partially why I have this blog available.
P a g e | 11
I believe that the Church is a good organization that attempts to create hope and love and peace. It does so much good in the world, and gives people a sense of belonging and community. I have felt a lot of that. The best friends I have ever had are LDS. Some of the best people I have ever known are LDS. I love being among such people and witnessing the selflessness and charity and genuineness most of them show for the rest of humanity. It is unfortunate that what separates me from them is that I do not and cannot believe some of the things many of them do not realize they are obligated to believe. For the sake of understanding, and in the hope of preserving relationships with those I love, I have outlined my concerns in what I hope is a clear and plain way (see link on the right sidebar). I hope and pray that in reading the following posts and the outline of my concerns, others will be able to respect my decision. March 22, 2009 Absolutes There are some people in this world (I met a lot on my mission in Germany) who will absolutely never, under any circumstances imagined or real, believe that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet of God. It wouldn't matter what anybody said or found or showed them, they are incapable of the thought or unwilling to consider it. If they discovered the Gold Plates in the attic of some old building somewhere and showed it to some Egyptologists who confirmed that every single word of the Book of Mormon was an exact translation of the plates, these people would say, "Aw, it was a lucky guess," or "The devil must have forged those plates in hell, and whispered the lies in Joseph's ear." On the other hand, there are people in this world who would never, could never, consider the possibility that Joseph Smith was a fraud. It doesn't matter what evidence they see or what facts they find out about him. There could be video of him burning puppies alive, eating the flesh of non-believers, absolutely anything imaginable, and these people would insist that he did these things because God commanded him to, or they would say, “Well, he wasn’t perfect.” Then there are the seekers of truth. There are those who may even desire to believe, but who are not immune to the truth. They do whatever they can to actually know if he was what he said he was. They do not close their ears and minds when they hear any word spoken for or against this man. They are not afraid to know who he truly was, whether prophet or devil, for they desire only to know who he really was, whether he was good or bad, as long as it is correct and true. They know that the truth is the truth no matter what. No matter how much one hopes that something is true or not true, it does not change what it is. It either is true and correct or it isn't. And rather than seeking any kind of justification they can to make it still believable or deniable, these reasonable people continue on their search for reality. March 22, 2009 Fathers and Husbands In the past two days I have been accused several times of being a bad husband and father because of my decision. I find it peculiar that no one felt this way a week ago. My response to those individuals is simple:
P a g e | 12
My wife and daughter go to bed every single night knowing that I love them more than anything in this world. Ask them what kind of father and husband I am. They will answer honestly. In fact, I have not courted and married one woman since my wife. Joseph Smith, Jr. courted and married at least 18 before his first wife had any input (Brodie, 1945; Embry, 2007), or at best before she knew the truth about the function of these unions. He lied to her about his extramonogamous affairs for years. She went to bed every night wondering with whom Joseph was going to bed. So just how do you define a bad husband? March 24, 2009 Anonymity Due to the frequency of hateful comments some individuals have left on both of my blogs (I have deleted only one that insisted I am homosexual), some have suggested that I disable such individuals from being able to leave said comments anonymously. I have done so on our family blog because that is no place for such things. But I have decided to leave the ability on this blog for a few reasons: 1. I have given full disclosure of my reasons for what I'm doing and invite all to understand them, whether they choose to or not. I want to keep an open dialogue, but find that many want to talk about it but not talk about it. I want all to feel safe with whatever they want to say. 2. I find that people show their true colors when they cannot receive any consequences for their actions. I want to leave the hateful comments for all the world to see, so that they may judge for themselves who writes in the spirit of seeking truth and who writes in the spirit of intolerance. I think leaving them also proves to everyone that I am willing to accept all the consequences for my beliefs. I will stand for what I know and feel to be true, and I will not hide who I am, though others may choose to hide who they are. All are invited to contact me to have a mature discussion of any of these topics. Choosing not to says a lot to me and the rest of the world. 3. I have balanced sources in my list of links. Please check them for yourselves. If you want to know how I feel about it, you can click to see. If you want to know how the Church feels about it, you can click those links to see as well. I also want to allow all sides of the discussion to thrive in my comments. 4. Guilt is not my motivator - the truth is my motivator. If an anonymous individual has something to say that is motivated by the truth and not the noise of guilt, he or she is free to do so.
P a g e | 13
I respectfully ask that any comments be free of profanity and groundless attacks on my character (although I will respond to those as well) for the sake of the free exchange of ideas. It is, of course, as I have stated, up to you. March 25, 2009 Marriage A question has arisen twice in the past two days that I believe is a fair and legitimate one. I feel it deserves addressing. Most of you have probably noticed that at the very core of my disagreements with Church doctrine is that of plural marriage. The question has been asked, "What's so wrong with polygamy?" Here is my response. I believe that the family is the most important institution we human beings have. In no other setting can a person be more intimate with another in so many ways, on so many levels. Monogamous marriage is a dedication to another individual, free of reservation, accepting of his or her weaknesses, willing to support and love unwaveringly. It is only in monogamous marriage that a person can feel the deepest unconditional regard for his or her own thoughts and feelings, hopes and desires, etc. from his or her spouse. A therapist can express this regard, but receives payment for services and the relationship is not intended to last. Friends can do these same things, but at the end of the day do not have to see each other, and do not have to consult each other on any decision to see how the other feels about it. A romantic interest has little firm commitment, with no promise of the future. A parent did not choose which child to raise and which not to raise. When two people choose each other, promise to love one another and no other in these ways, true unity can exist. To know that even when I am at my worst and feel that I have nothing to give, that my wife chose me over every other man in the world gives meaning to my existence, and tells me that I am worthwhile; I am not perfect, but this person accepts my efforts to fulfill my potential. Of course, in real life it doesn't always work out that way, but that is (or probably should be) the mindset with which two people enter marriage. Marriages aren't perfect, but the formula has the potential for heaven on Earth. Polygamy works directly against this purpose of marriage and lowers it to function as little more than a baby manufacturing union. I do not suggest that there have never been successful polygamous marriages, just as there have been several monogamous failures. I do firmly believe that monogamy is the prime environment for the best type of happiness, and that polygamy is a prime environment for jealousy, resentment, and low self-worth. When a husband takes a second wife, the first can only naturally feel that she is not fulfilling her husband's needs - that she is not good enough. One wife may be a better cook, a better mother, a better lover. The husband may pick and choose parts of wives to love, and must never accept one for all that she is anymore. Even if he did, the husband cannot divide his attention and affection equally between the two (or 3 or 4 dozen in the cases of Joseph Smith and Heber C. Kimball), and thus hurt feelings thrive. While the wives sometimes became very close friends, rivalries were rampant, and the friendships were often to replace what their relationships with the husband lacked.
P a g e | 14
Polygamy is less than monogamy, and I do not believe that God Himself would command a practice that worked directly against companionate love. While plural wives may have been more for the men, the system was clearly less for the women and the marital relationship. Consider a brief example. Emmeline B. Wells was the editor of a pro-polygamist paper. She openly advocated polygamy, and she was the seventh wife of Daniel H. Wells, with whom she had 3 daughters. However, she wrote in her journal in 1874, Oh, if my husband could love me even a little and not seem so perfectly indifferent to any sensation of that kind. He cannot know the craving of my nature, he is surrounded with love on every side, and I am cast out. Oh my poor aching heart. Where shall it rest its burden, only on the Lord, only to Him can I look. Every other avenue seems closed against me... I have no one to go to for comfort or shelter, no strong arm to lean upon, no bosom bared for me, no protection or comfort in my husband. (quoted in Embry, 2007, pp. 95-96) Of course, this case is not descriptive of every single case of polygamy, but her feelings were shared among plural wives. March 29, 2009 Responsibility I feel that an important question one must ask is, "If Joseph Smith, Jr. were a false prophet, how would I know that?" We are not given a whole lot of information by Christ except for a few warnings in the Bible that there would be many false prophets (see Matt. 24:11, 24; Matt. 7:15; Mark 13:22; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). So how can we discern a true prophet from these many false ones who are so convincing that they may deceive even the elect? I believe in God. Because I believe in God, I believe that He created me. He, therefore, must have created me for a purpose. May I suggest to all of you, then, that it is my greatest responsibility in life to do all within my power to discover that purpose? If that means discovering that Jihad is His will, I must be willing to accept that. If that means researching whether Joseph Smith, Jr. was what my parents believe, I must be willing to accept what I find and feel in regards to him. I owe this to my creator. I do believe in God, and I feel that I owe it to Him to learn everything I can about Joseph Smith, Jr. and his claims. I was born with a brain, and I feel that He wants me to use it just as much as my heart. Some of you may ask, "Where is your faith?"
P a g e | 15
I feel that the role of faith is to get me from the facts and my conscience to God. The role of faith should not be to overlook the facts and betray conscience for the sake of comfort. I learned the facts, followed conscience, and now I rely on my faith in God. We all were born with intelligence, and I believe God expects us to use all of our resources, not just those we're fed, to discover what we can about Him. March 31, 2009 At What Point is it Too Much? I saw a special last night on PBS about Jim Jones and the People's Temple (watch it here). It really got me thinking; I wonder at what point his followers would have said it was too much. I wonder why so many of them waited until the last second to flee, and why even more (over 900) stayed with him to the very end and drank the punch that they knew would end their lives. Certainly, these people had clues earlier that something was not right. Jones humiliated them publicly, guilted them into working for days without sleep, even coerced some of the men and women to have sex with him. Yet hundreds followed him to their deaths. What is it that keeps people blind to the obvious clues about a man's true character? They see in him only what they want to see. They overlook his obvious character flaws and horrible acts and deny their discomfort. At what point would Jones’ followers have said, "This is just too much. I cannot follow you any further"? The sad truth is that more than 900 never reached that point. Men and women murdered for him in cold blood and many killed their own children because he said to. Long before the congressman came to visit, Jones asked his followers to drink some punch. After they had all drunk, he told them they had just drunk poison. After seeing their reactions, he told them that it was merely a test; they hadn't actually drunk poison, but he wanted to test their loyalty. It was suggested on the special that it wasn't at all a test of loyalty; Jones knew they were loyal. They came every day, worked hard every day, turned in their paychecks every week, etc. Jones had no reason to question their loyalty. That test was not for them, but it was for Jones. He wanted to see if he had absolute power over these people. And he got his answer. I couldn't help but be reminded of a few incidents in Joseph Smith's life. In order to "test" some of his followers (e.g., John Taylor and Heber C. Kimball), he informed them that he had been commanded to marry their wives. After some anguishing soul-searching, they gave him their submission. Only after they relented did Smith tell them it was only a test of their loyalty. Or perhaps it was Smith's test to make sure he did have absolute power over these men. And so, at what point would some no longer believe Smith was a prophet? How far is he allowed to go?
P a g e | 16
April 1, 2009 Test of Faith or Clue from God The point of my post yesterday was that we cannot assume every test we're given from men is a test also from God. If Jim Jones had given me a cup of poisoned punch to test if I would drink it, I would have thrown it in his face. The same goes for Joseph Smith. If he knocked on my door and told me he had been commanded by God to marry my wife and have my daughter sealed to him for eternity, I would have slammed the door in his face. A man of God would not behave ungodly, or demand that I do so. If he does, that's a pretty good sign that he's not a man of God. So again I ask at what point is something merely a trial of our faith, and at what point is it a clue that the messages we're getting are not from God at all? If Jim Jones asked me to turn in my paycheck every week, I might be okay with that if I believed he was a man of God (and hundreds of people did). If he asked me to sell my house and donate the money to the People's Temple, I might agree to that. But if he asked me to go to bed with him (and he asked dozens of his followers that exact thing) it would no longer be a matter of faith, but that would be a clear clue to me that he was an impostor - a man out for power, full of lust, under the protection of my faith. If I had reason to believe that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet of God, and he asked me to give all of my income to the Church (and he did ask the early members of the Church to do just that) I would probably comply. If he asked me to go on a mission across the ocean, leaving my family on their own, I would probably do that on faith. But if he asked to make my teenage daughter his 24th wife (he actually did ask several of his colleagues for their daughters' hands in marriage see Compton, 2001), at that point, it would become very clear to me that he was not a man of God after all. How far can a man go until we are willing to question his motives? April 3, 2009 Sources Some have asked questions about my sources. Last week an old friend of mine shared that he or she has had some of the same concerns about Joseph Smith, but was unsure how to proceed to obtain answers from unbiased sources. Someone told the friend that there are no unbiased sources on the Church. I think there is some truth to that. So my advice to this friend was as follows: It first depends on what topic interests you. I think unbiased sources exist when it comes down to physical science. For example, most of the DNA and language studies to determine the origins of Native Americans were approached with no reference to the Book of Mormon whatsoever. Also look at Reformed Egyptian, archaeological sites from the Americas and what they've found
P a g e | 17
and not found. The scientists didn't want to prove or disprove any of the Church's doctrine, they just wanted to know what was supported by the research. So those are probably the most unbiased sources you can find - peer reviewed scientific articles by people who have nothing for or against the Church. Regarding Joseph Smith, sources completely free of bias are harder to come by. It depends upon which side you would rather err - on one side, you get a lot of facts stated pretty bluntly, which make Smith sound pretty bad on their own. On the other side, though, you have some LDS authors who do their best to really put all of these facts in the historical and religious context of the 1800s, which was quite a bit different from what we are used to. So if you're worried that the historians might lead you astray by leaning either way, you may feel it best to go with LDS historians and authors. I think the best bet is to find historians who are or were active in the Church at least at the time they published their work, and hopefully who are still in good standing at BYU or in other church callings. It sort of depends on the specific topic like I stated. I suggest the following: •
Dr. Susan Black on Joseph Smith's personal history. She is very active and teaches at BYU currently. She really knows the facts, but also puts them in a religious context. She is biased towards Joseph Smith, but I think that's a wise route to take to be sure you're not getting someone who's on the other side, maybe telling lies.
Dr. Jessie Embry is a wonderful source on both African Americans' being denied the Priesthood, and Polygamy after Joseph Smith. She is also very active in the Church and uses a religious context for things while mostly giving the facts. I write “mostly” because I recently read a book she wrote where she avoided identifying Joseph Smith as marrying both a mother and her daughter.
Dr. Todd Compton is also an active member of the LDS Church. He seems to me like a very balanced source - his thesis for In Sacred Loneliness was that polygamy was the new and everlasting covenant, but that it just didn't work in a practical sense. I feel like he really states the facts plainly, uses original sources as much as possible, gives balanced interpretations of events, etc.
B. H. Roberts was an apostle who had some questions about the Book of Mormon and took a very direct approach at studying it. I have found him to be an excellent source for discussion, although becoming somewhat dated.
I have also found the PBS documentary on the Church to be a balanced source. I feel that it shows the modern church for the good that it does, while also asking questions about its history and doctrine where appropriate. It uses interviews from both sides, as well as some in the middle ground.
By using these sources, I made sure that I was basing my decision about the Church on events and facts that the Church agrees actually happened, and I wanted to make sure I knew the
P a g e | 18
Church's explanations for said events and facts. Whether or not I agreed with the reasoning, explanations, or lack thereof is what lead me to where I am now. Some great online sources from the LDS perspective (although clearly biased) can be found on my links list ("LDS Responses" and "LDS Apologetics"). These sites cover a lot of the main concerns about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Hugh Nibley and Robert Bushman are outrageously biased toward Joseph Smith and make a lot of arguments that could be considered plausible, though it takes a lot of imagination. Bushman's review of Joseph Smith is coated in sugar, and tiptoes around some of the details of my concerns. So if you want to know some general concerns, but also really want to make them fit your faith in the Church as being led by God, these two are good sources. Some LDS sources that are pretty negative toward Joseph Smith are Michael Quinn and Grant Palmer. They were LDS at the time of their publications (Quinn has since been excommunicated), but they sort of call the Church to repentance. You may want to avoid them for that reason, or may want to check them out to hear that side. There's a difference between anti-Mormon literature and literature that doesn't put the Church in the perfect light. "Anti" material may ignore context or treat the Church and Joseph Smith as Satan's work, and so on. I did my best to avoid anything that put off that feeling. So I basically stuck with LDS authors or authors whose work was backed up by LDS authors, or authors whose work was not in direct regards to the Church, but had implication for LDS doctrine. So in brief, it depends on what you specifically want to know about. My biggest question was obviously about polygamy, so I began with Compton, then Embry. What is most important for anyone regarding these concerns is that you do not take my word for it. Check out as reliable sources as you can and then the decision is between you and your beliefs. April 6, 2009 Confirmation LDS doctrine states that we existed before this life and that we were taught the Gospel and accepted it (source), and so the missionaries aren't teaching people new doctrine, but just reminding them of things they already know are true. For example, when we are taught that we chose to come to Earth at this time and that we accepted Jesus Christ's plan, it will ring a bell somewhere deep inside of us. We will have a confirmation in our feelings that that is correct. I have felt similarly about some Church doctrines. For example, I feel wonderful about charity, family being the most central unit in God's plan, forgiveness, selflessness, praying for your enemies, the importance of humility, etc. I do believe that such things are godly. But this raises a question in my mind. If plurality of wives was also an eternal principle that we knew before this life on Earth, why do I not say to myself, "Oh yeah! Lots of wives! That makes
P a g e | 19
so much sense!"? Why instead does it cause so much dissonance regarding my knowledge and feelings about God? Why does it just feel wrong, no matter what I do to try and feel okay about it? Isn't confusion a sign that such a thing is not godly (D&C 132:8; D&C 9:8-9)? LDS doctrine states that we will know the truth because the spirit will tell us in our hearts and in our minds (D&C 8:2). So doesn't it mean that polygamy is not good and true and pure if it makes no sense in my mind and I cannot bring myself to feel good about it? Shouldn't the truth be almost instinctual? Should faith overpower conscience, or is conscience a beginning ground for faith? April 8, 2009 Why We Act Throughout history there have been a lot of theories to explain why people do what they do. Elder Dallin Oaks gave an interesting perspective on these reasons (entire talk here) in an LDS setting. He covers from the most selfish of reasons to what he explains as the best reasons to do what we do. For example, at the selfish end of the spectrum, hedonism suggests that we do everything we do to avoid pain and increase pleasure. In other words, human beings are entirely selfish. According to this theory, I would never do the dishes unless it gave me pleasure (e.g., verbal praise from my wife) or helped me avoid pain (e.g., having her mad at me). All of human actions could be explained with this theory. According to a hedonist, Christ did not suffer on the cross to save mankind, but so that he could be worshipped forever and avoid being seen as a failure or coward. Of course, hedonism is not a theory most people agree with. According to Oaks, one of the greatest reasons for anyone to do something is for the hope of an eternal reward, such as eternal happiness or salvation. I disagree with Oaks on his interpretation of the rightness of such motivation. I really don't see that reason for action as different from hedonism. For example, some readers of this blog have attempted to divert my course of action by telling me that my family and I will lose eternal rewards because of my choice. In other words, to them it does not matter so much whether the action is right or wrong, but what rewards will be gained or lost from the decision. Oaks suggests that the greatest reason to do anything is out of charity, or "the pure love of Christ". I like his conclusion very much in that love is a far better reason to act than selfishness. I would like, however, to further suggest that an even higher reason to act is for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do. If you meet a man without a coat on a freezing day, give him your coat not because you want to feel better about yourself (hedonism). Give him your coat
P a g e | 20
not because God expects it of you (eternal reward/hedonism). But give him your coat because he is cold - because he needs a coat. Of course, regardless of why you give him the coat, give him the coat. If you do it to impress that cute girl across the street, at least he's getting the coat. But may I suggest that to do it because it's the right thing to do is the best reason to do anything? Regarding my decision, some have indicated that it must be out of selfishness; I must have left the Church so that I could free up some time on Sundays or so that I could start gambling or drinking. Contrary to what such individuals may think, this has been a very painful process for me. I have never been so attacked in all my life - not even from the German people on my mission for the LDS Church. I have never felt so judged by people I love and respect. Yet I have chosen this course because it is right. I have acted because I know it is the right thing to do. I did not do this because I would get a great reward. I did not do this out of love for anyone or anything (although I love my daughter more than anything and believe it will be for her benefit). I did this because it is the right thing to do. I don't expect all the readers to understand or want to understand that. At some point it doesn't matter if they understand. It is still right. April 10, 2009 Decision Around 1996, when I was in high school, I had decided that The Smashing Pumpkins was the greatest band out there. I had some good evidence of this, too; every one of their songs I heard was incredible, they had just released the greatest-selling double-album in history, they were unique and experimental, but also consistent in delivery of amazing music that meant a lot to me personally. Probably my all-time favorite quote from one of their songs is "My life has been extraordinary: blessed and cursed and won." They were everything I wanted in a band. When their next album was released, I was parked outside the store before it opened. I had loved everything they had recorded previously, so there was no need to preview anything they put out in the future; I was certain I would love it just as much. I took the album home and listened once through it - I thought it sucked. I was truthfully really disappointed in it. Their sound had changed, they were using different chords, different distortion, and it was an entirely different direction from all of their old stuff. But I had already decided they were my favorite band. So I played it again. And I played it again. I listened to the entire album all the way through probably 15 times until I finally did like it. In essence, I forced myself to like it by ignoring the possibility that it might just not be that good. I eventually stopped listening to that album as much and reverted to their old stuff that I still loved. Now, years later, I still insist that they are an amazing band. I own every song they've ever released (and some they've not). But I no longer think they are infallible. I now know that they're
P a g e | 21
just a band and some of their stuff is better than others. I also think a lot of other, newer bands are just as good or even better. This is just a small example of a common psychological phenomenon where we tend to quickly make a decision based on limited information, and then no matter what information we receive after that initial decision, we mold it to back up our initial decision (some studies on the phenomenon are Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987; Perkins, Farady, & Bushey, 1991). For example, in an election, people usually decide very early on which candidate they prefer, and then any debates in which he or she engages, or any decisions he or she makes will only confirm the decision, no matter how much the voter might have disagreed with it before. This pattern can be seen in the LDS Church as well. The accompanying phrase is "milk before meat". For example, if the missionaries approached an investigator's door to talk about the law of tithing or the eternal doctrine of plural wives, things probably wouldn't go that well. Instead, they talk about a new prophet and a new book of scripture containing God's will for mankind. So an investigator will quickly decide if he or she likes Joseph Smith and the Church, and then no matter what information follows will usually conform it to the initial decision. It doesn't matter how he or she felt about plurality of wives before, he or she already decided that Smith was God's instrument, so it must be okay. Now, please understand that I do not suggest that I am immune to this tendency. Some readers will argue that I decided long ago the Church isn't true and read anything I could that would back up that decision. Some will argue that this blog is only to confirm to myself over and over that my decision was correct. I cannot claim that such a thing is not going on at some level, but I have done my best to be conscious of any bias I have. My suggestion to those who disagree with me is to consider the possibility that you too are not immune to this tendency. To overcome this tendency, we all must be conscious that it exists and do our best to remain unbiased until we have enough evidence to decide responsibly. I do not suggest that emotion or the spirit or gut reaction or conscience (or whatever you choose to call it) should have no part in our decision. What I do suggest is that we should not base such important, eternal decisions on those things alone, but see what our emotions/conscience/gut reactions/the spirit tell us after we know more. If the Book of Mormon teaches great things about faith in Jesus Christ, then we know it is a great book about faith in Jesus Christ. But is that enough to also conclude it is an ancient record of the ancestors of the Native Americans? April 13, 2009 Analogy In this modern world, reliable transportation is a necessity. We have busy schedules and we need to know that we can get to our destinations on time without incident. Vehicles come in all sorts of shapes and sizes with one purpose: to get us (and our cargo) from point A to point B. Upon what does one base his or her decision to purchase a car? My dream car is a '69 Chevelle, so let's imagine I'm on a car lot, looking for a car, and see a beautiful '69 Chevelle at a decent
P a g e | 22
price. Obviously, I would be very excited! This car is what I've always wanted and I look great in it! I hop in and take it for a test drive. The first mile is very smooth - easy riding. I feel fantastic! I can't believe my good luck at finding this car! But on the second mile, the transmission starts to slip up. There's a loud grinding and I can't get it out of second gear very easily. I'm able to get it out and I think, "Probably just a little hiccup. I still love the car." So I drive for a third mile, and the same grinding keeps coming up now and then. What should I do at this point? I felt so great about the car - It's everything I ever wanted! I could just ignore the transmission problem; "I'll just not think about it and it will be fine. I don't need to worry about it right now. Maybe I could just drive it and see how far I can get." But deep inside my head and somewhere in my heart, I know that this car just isn't everything it promises to be. I'm suspicious that it can't get me where I want to go. No matter how good it looks, no matter how amazing it feels to sit behind that wheel and rev that engine, that transmission is not going to get better if I ignore it. Similarly, a purpose in life is also essential. Nietzsche said, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how." Without purpose, life is only a burden. When we are approached with theories on the purpose in life, upon what do we base our decisions? Unfortunately, I see a lot of people who buy the car/explanation that they want and feel good about without taking it to the mechanic/closely inspecting all the details. Several people have told me that they have also struggled with some of my concerns about Church doctrine (see link "Outline of My Concerns"), but that they just don't think about them anymore, or that they just "trust" that it is okay. In fact, no one has told me that they felt fantastic when they first heard about those issues. In other words these individuals are saying, "That noise in the transmission is not a problem I have to deal with now; I'll just ignore it. I won't think about it until I'm stranded somewhere. The salesman told me it was a good car, and I wanted to believe him, so I'll trust that the car will get me over those mountains. I mean, c'mon! It looks and feels amazing! Who wouldn't want to drive around in this thing?" The good thing about a car is that it claims only to get you from where you are to your physical destination, and you can replace parts. The bad thing is that the car is only as reliable as its weakest essential part, and transmission is essential. The unfortunate thing about religion is that you cannot replace faulty doctrine (as much as the Church has tried: e.g., persons of African descent will never in this life receive the blessings of God's priesthood [source]), and you really won't know if it will get you to your destination until it's all over. Religion claims to get you much more than from one place to another, it claims to
P a g e | 23
give you answers on how to please God and earn your eternal life and exaltation. All the more reason that that noise under the hood should be checked out - much more is at stake. More than one person has told me that "the Church isn't about Joseph Smith - it's about Christ!" Well a car isn't about the transmission - it's about transportation, but if the transmission is faulty, you're not getting anywhere. I.e., if Joseph Smith wasn't a prophet, you're not getting to Christ. No matter how good something looks, no matter how amazing it feels, you cannot ignore those noises under the hood. That is irresponsible and dangerous. Fortunately, there are '69 Chevelles out there that not only look and feel good, but everything is working under the hood. We just need the courage to leave the one with the bad transmission and go search diligently for the better one. April 13, 2009 Feelings Several people seem to feel that they know how I am doing on an emotional level. I think rather than let them draw their own conclusions, perhaps they'd like to go to the source. As I've said before, I've never felt so wrongfully accused and judged in my life. And the sad part is that it is by people who do not want or care to know the reasons for my decision- they want only to believe what they want to believe and by cutting me down it somehow makes them feel better. No good, sane person would leave the Church, right? But while the social aspect of this is very difficult, at the same time I feel huge relief. I am finally at the point where I don't have to try to force the doctrines of the Church I find fundamentally wrong to fit with my belief in God. For example, I believe in a loving, merciful God. Knowing that the doctrines of the Church were made by man instead of God makes it so much easier to love God. Now I don't have to wonder why God would so unjustly deny blessing to a people because of their skin color. Now I don't have to wonder why a just God would threaten teenage girls with familial damnation should they refuse to marry men more than twice their age in order to become a plural wife. Now I don't have to wonder why God's church would cause so much suffering in His followers. It's because it was not God's making - it was men who claimed to be His instruments. It was men whose aims fell far short of the salvation of humankind. It was men who were overcome by lust, detracted by racism, captivated by power, in love with their own legacies. I feel as if I am free to know God and His purpose for me as He dictates: not as an organization demands when really looking out only for its own survival. Some assume that I must be miserable or wallowing in bitterness. On the contrary, I am happier than I've ever been when members of the Church follow their 11th Article of Faith. I admit that those who are quick to judge and insult do offend me. I do not hate them. I feel sorry that they do not wish to let me live in peace. I wonder why they make their attacks. They certainly do not
P a g e | 24
make me want to rethink my position. They certainly do not improve my feelings toward the Church. Is the motive love or charity? It certainly doesn't feel that way. Is it the right thing to do to try to deny me spiritual peace and religious freedom? The only reason I can see for it is that my questions and concerns have made them uncomfortable, and the only way they know how to deal with it is to cut me down. That's unfortunate for all of us. April 16, 2009 Check and Re-Check It quickly became clear to me after announcing my decision that there was absolutely nothing on Earth I could say to defend my reasons that would sit well with believers. As a consequence, the things I write potentially offend a lot of people. This is not my intention, however. The purpose of this blog is not to take from others what they love, but to offer some relief to those who feel smothered. It is also to explain my position to believers who insist that I have erred. Tell me of my errors, that I might correct them. Therefore, I do not see myself as trying to bring down the Church. I don't feel like or want to be an enemy to the LDS church. I'd like to see myself as an advocate for reason. If common sense and reason cast some doubt on the things people believe, maybe that's healthy. If all of my reasons convince them only more that they are correct in their belief, I think that's fine (although I fail to understand how). But I do feel it is important for each of us to reflect on these very core things now and then. I think it is wise to take a look at a building’s foundation now and then and see if it really is able to hold up the rest of the structure. If you find yourself back on the same path you were, I think that's fine. But I believe whatever choice a person makes ought to have good, sound reasons behind it, and not just justifications later. Or, to use an analogy, if a building is falling apart, you can paint all the walls, and replace all the floors and replace the wiring and plumbing, but the building still might not be the safest place to live. Perhaps the reason it is falling apart is because the foundation is cracked. One can tear down the house for a while, closely inspect the foundation, and then rebuild the house exactly as it was, but this time it's got fresh wood, copper wiring, etc. But in that process, one may also see that the foundation has some cracks in it, and at that point it's probably time to pour a new one. But no matter what the reader decides to do with his or her spirituality, and whatever path he or she chooses to take, I hope that this blog will either help to deepen roots, or help to think it might be time to re-inspect that foundation. In any case, I hope that the reader can somehow understand why a person might feel it necessary to do what I have done.
P a g e | 25
April 21, 2009 Integrity One might categorize readers of this blog thusly: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
LDS who wish/choose to avoid the specifics of my concerns (and others'), either feeling that such things do not matter, are lies, would only hurt what they value, etc. LDS who have dealt with some of these concerns at the surface and reached conclusions that they don't matter, they can't understand the reasons in this life, they are lies, etc. Non-LDS who either don't know much about the Church or have made the same conclusions as I. LDS who admit that they did not know some of these things or did not know many of the details, would like to know more, but are hesitant because they value their testimonies. (Certainly more categories could exist, but these reflect what I have noticed)
If readers are LDS and have done extensive research on these subjects, I have not yet had the privilege of conversing with them. I have spoken to one individual face-to-face who fits this category, however, which has been a very interesting exchange, perhaps for another post. I wish to address this post to those who fit into the 4th category. You may be thinking, "Well, I didn't know about that, but I still feel that it's true," and similar thoughts. You may want to know more about it, but be sure that you're not damaging your testimony. A very interesting similar case is found in Brigham Henry Roberts (March 13, 1857 – September 27, 1933). He was a general authority of the Church who remained very pious to his death. He served honorably and respectably for his entire life, even serving a 5-year-mission. What interests me the most about Roberts is how he reacted to a few of his colleagues who asked him questions about the Book of Mormon. He had never really considered the questions, but told his colleagues that he would do all he could to find answers. And that is exactly what he did. He spent the remainder of his life trying to answer these and other questions about the Book of Mormon. What I respect about Roberts is that he took such an honest approach to his study of the Book of Mormon. He remained faithful to the end (at least outwardly), but openly admitted to the apostles and presidents of the Church and his colleagues the parts that he was unable to reconcile. He was as honest as any man could be about what he was finding. The interesting thing is that his conclusions basically match my own, but his actions did not. This is open for interpretation, of course, but while one can criticize his actions, I think we cannot doubt his integrity. He put his most core beliefs to the ultimate test, understanding that what he found may be difficult to accept, but he did it in the name of finding answers that he could live with. I think believers and non-believers would all do well to match this integrity and be willing to know where we are weak, admit what we do not know, and then do all we can to obtain full, complete, and honest answers, willing to put it all on the line for the sake of truth.
P a g e | 26
April 24, 2009 Faith and Skepticism I think one of the more interesting spiritual questions one might ask is "Can a person have too much faith?" The Sunday School student would of course conclude that one cannot have too much faith and that we should constantly strive to build it. Many heroes of religious stories are portrayed as having faith that could endure seemingly anything (e.g., Nephi, Abinadi, Job). After much thought, however, I have come to realize that my answer to the same question is a resounding Yes! For example, I think if God told me that I need to move to another city, I could probably take that on faith. And that's if I'm pretty sure that it was indeed God telling me. If I felt that God Himself wanted me to drop out of school right now and join the Peace Corps, it would be pretty hard, but I would exercise faith in doing so. But let's use a biblical example and say that I felt just as strongly as Abraham that God wanted me to sacrifice my young daughter to Him. I would probably pause a moment or two to rethink that prompting. Then even if God spoke to me face to face and commanded me to kill my daughter, I think it would be time to check myself into an institution for the mentally ill. Now, Abraham was a god-fearing man, no doubt. He felt that he was doing God's will. But so does every suicide bomber (more). So did the crusaders (more). So did Jim Jones' followers (more). So did Adolf Hitler (more). Think how the world might be different right now if these people had paused for a moment and asked, "Is this really what I should be doing? Am I following the Creator of the universe, or the voices in my own head? Or am I following the leaders, but not necessarily God?" Now let's look at the other side; how can we establish that something is not of God? On my mission in Germany we often asked people a question after introducing the Book of Mormon; "If this book comes from God, wouldn't that be important to know?" I think that is an excellent question. If one does believe in God, it should be very important to evaluate a claim that He has spoken. I would not consider it a healthy reaction to immediately discredit such a claim because it might be true. Similarly, if I passed a man on the street who said he was Jesus Christ, I would of course be skeptical. But I'd listen to what he had to say - what if it were true? That would be important to know. But as I would probe to evaluate his claim, at what point would I decide he wasn't really Christ? Would I wait until his grammar slipped up; until he was unable to answer some questions about the Bible; until he asked for my credit card number; until he told me to burn down my own house? Perhaps there is a fine balance between faith and skepticism in order to lead a healthy and spiritual life. We shouldn't accept every claim we hear, but we shouldn't discount them all either. One makes us endlessly gullible, the other leaves us numb and without hope. Each claim must be evaluated from a position of knowledge and faith. One should obtain as much knowledge as possible, and faith can do the rest. Faith should not be used to discount what we can and do know.
P a g e | 27
If Joseph Smith had told me to sell my house and move to be with the rest of the Church, and he had demonstrated adequate credibility as a man of God, I probably would have done it. Of course that would take some faith. However, if he asked me for my wife, I would have told him to go to hell. That goes beyond faith for me because he proves to me with his asking that he is not a man of God, but a lustful, worldly creature driven by power and control. At that point, it is no longer a question of having enough faith, but it is a warning sign. It is not a matter of overcoming my knowledge of how wrong such an act would be with limitless faith, but clear evidence that Smith was not what he claimed to be. May 1, 2009 Predisposition A few weeks ago I met with a high-ranking member of the Church. He gave an example attempting to illustrate how I might solve the problem of not believing that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Our discussion was very interesting, and I would like to share some of the content. Martin Luther was a reformist who had decided early on that it was his job on Earth to reform the Catholic church. He felt that it had fallen from the correct and godly ways upon which it was originally founded. What he essentially did was say, "God, I'm going to reform the Church. Help me do that." That is, he had set his mind to something, and then did whatever it took to bring it about. Rather than explore what God wanted him to do, he decided what God wanted him to do. He contrasted Martin Luther with Joseph Smith, Jr. who, we are told, went into the woods one Spring morning with no preconceived notions. He merely wanted to know God's will for him. He apparently asked, "Which church is true?" (source). While not the speaker's intention, I thought that was a great example of the difference between what I have done and what believers want me to do. What I feel that I have done is exactly what Joseph Smith says he did; I merely wanted to know whether the Church is true or not. I wanted the answer for what I should do. I did not simply want confirmation that what I had decided to do on my own was okay with Him, but to know what was right. I felt that honest, intense investigation would lead me to the appropriate conclusion. Yet the message I get from those who think I have erred is that I need to take Martin Luther’s approach; I need to say, "God, tell me what's true, so long as it's the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." The message seems to be, "We want you to get to know God, as long as it's the god we know," or "God will answer you, but only if it's the answer we say He will give you. Anything else must not be God answering you." A few people have suggested that I just need to try harder – I need to decide that the Church must be true, then start my investigation and not vice versa. The problem I see with that is that one could use it to reach any conclusion at all. If I decided that Muhammad was a prophet and then prayed for days and days, I would probably eventually come to believe it. If I tried hard enough to believe that I was a member of the French Legion, eventually I could actually believe it. But that doesn't make it any truer.
P a g e | 28
How influential is a predisposition then? And how strong of a predisposition is healthy? Certainly it would not be healthy for me to say, "I know the Church is man-made" and then seek evidence to confirm that and only that. By the same token, it would not be healthy for me to say, "I want to believe Joseph Smith was a prophet" and then pray until I believed it. Rather, what I feel is most healthy is to learn as much as one can and then say, "Is it true?" To use an analogy; if I spent my whole life reading books by John Steinbeck and never read another author, I would probably feel that Steinbeck was the best author who ever lived. But if I read books by Steinbeck, Updike, Crichton, Orwell, Locke, Dickens, and dozens of others, I would probably be in a better position to say who was the best writer of all time. That doesn't mean Steinbeck was a mediocre writer, but it gives me more by which to judge his works. If Steinbeck truly was the greatest writer in history, reading the other authors would only confirm that. And so, if I grow up under the assumption that Joseph Smith was God's instrument, never really questioning that, never facing the possibility that he wasn't, am I really in a position to say he was? May 9, 2009 Knowledge and Action I know of only two members of the Church who have actually read the entire outline of my concerns. Yet, I have been told by dozens that my concerns, and essentially any concerns, are unfounded. I wonder how these people feel qualified to tell me that my concerns are groundless, while not knowing what my concerns are. It resembles calling the fire department to report seeing smoke coming from a building across the street, and being met with, “I don’t see any.” And I ask these people entirely hypothetically, what would be a good concern? What would be a valid concern? Imagine something, no matter how ridiculous, that would cause you to question the validity of the Church’s claims. I can think of a whole lot of stupid reasons to leave the LDS Church, or any church for that matter. Some leave because they get bored. Some feel they don't have time. Others leave because they were offended by something another member said. Some just really want to drink coffee, or watch rated "R" movies, or sleep in on Sundays. Some claim to believe in God, but only up to the point where he tells them how to live their lives. I think these reasons to leave are all mere excuses, and not enough to warrant such a decision. If the LDS Church's claims are true, then we are obligated to follow its doctrine. The only reason one can reasonably leave a church is if its claims are false, its foundation a fraud. But on the other hand, it seems to me that active members think there could be no good reason to leave the Church. Or perhaps they don't want to know that there really might be good reasons.
P a g e | 29
On my mission, I remember a particular person upon whose door we knocked. He was very polite and listened to our introduction of the Book of Mormon, but when we asked if he would like to find out if it were true, his answer puzzled me greatly. He said, "Oh no. I don't want to know if it's true. If it's true, then I have to do something about it!" So maybe ignorance is bliss for some people. They are comfortable where they are, and learning something new could force them to see that their view and interpretation of existence is flawed. Maybe some of those who don't want to know exactly why I left the Church are afraid that I do have very good reasons for doing so. Maybe they don't want to know that my criticisms of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon might be true, because then they might have to do something about it. May 14, 2009 Knowing In the LDS community, the word "know" is thrown around a lot. It has a different application in the LDS community than in the rest of the world. For example, members of the LDS church are expected to use the word "knowledge" whenever referring to their beliefs. That is, when what they really mean is that they very strongly believe and hope in something, they are supposed to say that they "know" it. The unfortunate thing is that they don't really know if they are right. Nobody really knows until it's all over. When people tell me that they know that it is true, what they are really saying is that they hope and very strongly believe that it is true. But belief and hope do not equal knowledge. Most claim to “know” because they have had an emotional/spiritual experience that has confirmed the truth of these things to them. I think what is interesting is that these individuals feel that their spiritual experiences are unique to their own religion (contrasts). Surely suicide bombers know that what they do is right and good. Surely the 7th-Day Adventists know that their interpretation of Christ's teachings is the correct one. Yet members of the LDS church discount these individuals' knowledge. "Oh, they can't really know. They just think they do. But I know. I'm different." It's interesting to study the history of the Church and see just how many of those in Joseph Smith's elite inner circle left the Church or denied Smith's prophetic calling at some point. Didn't they also “know?” Didn't they also have experiences that they felt they couldn't deny? Why did so many choose to follow apparently false prophets after Smith's death (e.g., James Strang)? Didn't they use the same spiritual confirmations with Strang as they did with Smith? Was one confirmation from God and the other from the Devil, but they were too similar to tell apart? The crux of the problem here is that these individuals used the same source (i.e., the Holy Ghost) to reach incompatible conclusions (i.e., both Smith and Strang were inspired prophets). The Church asks every investigator to step back for a moment and consider the possibility that the core beliefs they hold are not 100% accurate. They ask each person to be like a child;
P a g e | 30
submissive, meek, humble, willing to submit... (Mosiah 3:19). Yet it seems that so many are unwilling to do the same when presented with questions regarding their own faith. So many are unwilling to take a humble stance about their "knowledge" of the Church, but choose and are encouraged to follow only the initial feelings they have when hearing about the positive side of Joseph Smith and the Church, and then to insist that that means they know that all evidence to the contrary is a lie, usually without becoming familiar with it. Albert Einstein said something to the effect of "How we see things determines what we see." And so perhaps what we know is more determined by the way we choose to look, or choose not to look, at the world. Perhaps what we know is not knowledge at all, but only our best understanding of the information we have so far. Maybe if we are willing to change how we look at things, we can see them for what they really are. May 18, 2009 Priorities I gave the following lesson in a couple of Elders' Quorums over the past three years. I think it raises some interesting and necessary questions. There's a cognitive phenomenon that is sometimes called goal-subgoal processing. It's called some other things in different disciplines, but it's pretty much the same thing. Most people don't know what it is by name, but are experts at it anyway. Here's an example I once heard that explains it very well; I went and bought a replacement ink cartridge yesterday because my printer had run out of ink. I needed ink to print off a paper I had written for a class. I needed to print off the paper to turn it in, because I wanted a good grade in the class. I wanted a good grade in the class so that I could graduate, and I wanted to graduate so that I could get a good job, to make good money, so that I could support a family. I want, above all, to raise a happy, healthy family. Now, when I go to the store looking for the ink cartridge I don't even think about how that will help me raise a happy family. The farthest I think ahead is that I want to graduate. And yet, each of the higher goals comes down to those smaller, seemingly insignificant goals. What is it each of us wants? Think of the largest, ultimate goal you have. The typical LDS answer is exaltation/salvation. My next question is, what are the subgoals to obtain that end goal? Invariably, the answers came back: (a) baptism, (b) the gift of the Holy Ghost, (c) receive the priesthood if male, (d) marry in the temple, and (e) endure to the end. Some others were thrown in a couple of times like going on a mission, etc. That is when I would add in some of the other requirements as given in the New Testament, like (a) being humble, (b) loving your neighbor, (c) praying for your enemies, and so on. The difference between the two lists is that the first are essentially quantifiable: things you could check off a list. The second are things that are not quantifiable, but are character changes and, I would argue, much more difficult to achieve.
P a g e | 31
My next question usually raised some eyebrows. I asked which was more essential. Who is more likely to obtain exaltation: one who gets 100% home teaching every month, or one who genuinely loves his enemies? ...One who reads his scriptures for half an hour every day, or one who serves his spouse selflessly? ...One who went on a mission, or one who is kind and polite to everyone he meets? Of course, the answer usually came back that they are both equally important. So I would then ask the question in a different way; "Can one obtain salvation without 100% home teaching?" I sure hope so. "Can one obtain salvation without being humble?" Seems more difficult anyway. I would end my lessons not undermining the importance of the checklist items, but stressing very much the importance of the character changes. I got mixed reactions to such suggestions. Reflecting on this lesson after the recent changes in my life, it strikes me that for some people, it no longer matters what kind of person I am - it matters only whether or not I have a temple recommend in my wallet. It doesn't matter to some people what kind of husband or father I am, how I treat others, what other character traits I have. I am labeled forever now as a deserter. It matters only that I have boxes unchecked. It seems as if some of these people still think I'm worse than an active member who lies to his customers, or an active member who is verbally abusive to his spouse and children. It doesn't matter how honest I have been about religion, it only matters that what I have found is different from what they want to believe. It doesn't matter who I am; it only matters what I am. Is that how God sees me? Is that how He sees all of us? May 24, 2009 Trials of Faith If God feels that it is necessary to try the faith of His children, I wonder why He would have missed so many opportunities, while taking others. For example, regarding people of African descent, what a perfect trial of faith it would have been to reveal to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young that individuals with black skin are no worse sinners than people with white skin. Such a truth would have been terribly unpopular in the culture of the 1800s and would have made the LDS church a beacon of God's truth in the ignorance and darkness of racial politics and views of the time. But the fact that the LDS church believed and preached that African blood was inferior to others and cursed by God (source) tells me something quite different. We are asked to believe that that very fact is our trial of faith; that we cannot understand why God waited for so long to admit that races are equal in His eyes. We just don't have answers. "His ways are not our ways."
P a g e | 32
...Which is my point exactly; would it not have made so much more sense for God to try the believers' faith with the unpopular but correct doctrine at the beginning, rather than ask them to ignore that the false doctrine was preached in His church for over a century? May 31, 2009 Conviction In July 1984, a young woman was raped inside of her home. I want to clearly emphasize how horrible this must have been for her, and how no one on Earth should ever have to suffer such a thing. It should never have happened in the first place. Unfortunately it did. The events that transpired afterward changed the way many people look at truth and personal conviction. The victim identified a suspect and swore under oath that he was the man that had raped her. Although the man's family swore that his alibi was legitimate, the victim continued to insist that he was the guilty man. There was some evidence that could link him to the crime, but it was nothing more than circumstantial. What convinced the jury that he was the offender was the victim's testimony. She was absolutely certain that he was the man who had raped her on that horrible night. Because of her certainty, another victim of a very similar crime on the same night became convinced that he was also the one who had raped her. The strength of the testimonies convicted him of this and another rape, and he ended up sentenced to life plus 54 years for these two crimes. Nearly 11 years later, however, DNA evidence proved beyond a doubt that he was innocent of the crimes. He was exonerated, and quickly forgave his accuser. The real rapist was then identified an inmate who had confessed to the crimes years earlier (details). What do we learn from this series of tragic events? The angle I would like to take for the purposes of this blog is to stress that emotional conviction alone is never enough to accept something as truth. As certain as the victim was of the identity of her rapist, it cannot (or should not) nullify the evidence. This is not to say that emotional conviction is irrelevant. If there had been a DNA match with the suspect, it would be expected that the victim would also recognize him and swear that he was the right man. On the other hand, if she swore that he was the right man even after the DNA showed no match, would a jury be justified in disregarding the facts because she was “just so sure?” Regarding the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, so many insist that they know the legitimacy of the Church because of their emotional/spiritual conviction. They just know. They don't need anything else. They ignore or explain away the evidence that the Book of Mormon was authored by Joseph Smith (see my outline for references), the fact that DNA and linguistic evidence points to Asia, not Israel, as the origin of the Native Americans. They excuse somehow that Joseph Smith wrote a book on Egyptian grammar that has nothing to do with Egyptian grammar, and that his interpretations of the facsimiles on the papyri have not been supported by respected Egyptologists. They somehow justify the facts that he married teenagers, married
P a g e | 33
other men's wives without consent, lied to his own wife about the nature of these marriages, and had zero justification for doing so. They insist that there are perfectly good reasons that The Book of Mormon contains countless inaccuracies, impossibilities, and contradictions. So many individuals continue to ignore or attempt to excuse these facts for the sake of their emotional conviction. So many do mental acrobatics to make these facts somehow explainable to fit their emotional conviction. Again, I argue that if the emotional conviction is right, the evidence should support the conviction. If the evidence does not support the conviction, maybe we, like the unfortunate rape victim, would be wise to rethink the validity thereof. June 8, 2009 Emotional Motivation Earlier this year someone explained a testimony to me like this: "It's like being in love. No one needs to explain to you if you're in love; you just know it." Certainly this is true regarding love. I'm not very old (ignoring how I feel sometimes), but I've had a few experiences with love in my life. I first fell in love in junior high. I felt things for this young woman that I had never before experienced. I would have done anything to win her approval. But I was painfully shy. Long story short, I loved her from a distance until finally tracking her down in the later years of high school after I had gained some confidence and feelings of self-worth. We went on one date, and I just wasn't really interested in her much after that. I suppose I had built her up in my mind to be the perfect woman based on what I had seen and known of her. Although I sat next to her every single day in junior high, that date was the first time I had actually had a conversation with her. With just a little investigation, I quickly learned that she was not all I had made her up to be. The thing is, I know I was in love with her before. I knew it at the time with so much conviction that I can't possibly deny it now either. I loved her. That was completely true all through junior high, and a good chunk of high school. But it was no longer true after that first date. What is it that a feeling tells us? Did loving that girl tell me that we were meant to be together? Of course not. I sure wished it did at the time, but it didn't realistically tell me anything beyond that I loved her. That feeling of love did not mean she was the perfect young woman, that she would be a wonderful mother, that she would listen to me and respect me, that she cared more for others than herself, that she shared my same values and interests, and so on. All that feeling told me was that I felt very strongly for her. Using this example in regards to the topic of this blog, what is it that an emotional conviction tells us about the truth of the Church? When feeling an answer to prayer, does this really tell us that the Church is true, or does it tell us that what we know so far sounds attractive? Does it really tell us that Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ and dozens of other heavenly beings, or does it tell us that such a message gives us hope?
P a g e | 34
In other words, the feeling of love for that girl did not mean much on a realistic level. That wasn't enough to make us truly compatible. A feeling that Joseph Smith was a prophet does not mean that he literally held golden plates and translated them. Learning more about the girl caused me to feel something different about her. Maybe understanding more about Joseph Smith and the kind of man he was can cause someone to feel different about him and his claims. Here's the real issue, though, I think; it was not fun to fall out of love with this young woman. It was an amazing feeling, and it motivated me very much. It was a wonderful feeling to have pumping through me. But it would not have been useful or healthy to still feel that even though we were truly incompatible and a marriage would not have worked. Similarly, why would one want to lose that spiritual high that comes with the feeling of being among the elite chosen of God, who hold the power to act in His name, who have communication directly from Him? But that feeling of comfort and bliss does not confirm that, in reality, paying your tithing month after month is going to keep you from getting burned (D&C 64:23). It may be that Joseph Smith's doctrine and actions are heading in a different direction than you want or thought you were. In brief, love alone does not mean two people are meant to be together. Feelings of peace about the First Vision alone do not mean that marrying other men's wives is okay. June 11, 2009 Occam’s Razor One of the more basic principles of finding truth that is generally accepted is called Occam's razor. It states that "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity", or in very simplified terms, "the simplest explanation is probably the correct one." Regarding the topic of this blog, the truthfulness of the LDS church, if we were to apply Occam's razor, we might boil all of the debate down to any one of several very simple questions that essentially ask whether or not the LDS church is, indeed, led by Christ. The answers should be simple and will reflect the answer to the overall question. We should not need excessive qualifiers. Here are a few examples I propose: 1. Would God threaten a teenager with death and damnation if she refused to marry a man three times her age whom she did not love? 2. Would God change the DNA structure of Native American ancestors so that they would not be linked to Israel after He cursed them with dark skin? 3. Would God command plural marriage that would contradict his commandment to follow the laws of the land? 4. Would the most perfect book on Earth find support of its claims in science and archaeology? If not, why were we given brains?
P a g e | 35
5. Would a man of God propose marriage to married women without their first husbands' knowledge or consent? If so, for what reasonable purpose? 6. Is a man of God required to live by the conditions he sets forth (i.e., Joseph Smith did not follow any of the conditions of polygamy set forth in D&C 132:61 or Jacob 2:30)? 7. Is it mere coincidence that the Book of Mormon's content so closely matches that of another book that was published almost a decade before in the neighboring county? 8. If Joseph Smith's translations were correct, would the best minds of today find some support of that? 9. Would the most important prophet of the last days lie to his wife and followers for years about the existence/true nature of his extramonogamous marriages? 10. Did God once believe that skin color was a curse, but now He does not? If the reasonable answer to any one of these would contradict what the Church insists to be true, then the conclusion, according to the razor, is that the Church has it wrong. Faithful believers have explanations/justifications for each of these. One can stretch his or her imagination enough to say that these aren't contradictions, or that there is an explanation that we just don't have yet, but I have always felt that the truth should not need so much explaining. The truth should feel intuitive and make sense. Does it make sense that God contradicts Himself where he sees fit, changes His most fundamental doctrines when politically unavoidable, cannot support His claims with anything other than feelings, commands His prophets to do unspeakable acts of dishonesty, intolerance, and impropriety? Or does it make more sense that all of these things were the acts of men? I find that LDS defenders answer each of these questions with hundreds of ifs and buts. The razor proposes that the answer is either "yes" or "no" and should not need any qualifiers. If you feel that Occam's razor has any application, it seems to me that the answer is obvious. Rather than saying, "I felt good about Joseph Smith before I knew he was sleeping with other men's wives, so I have to make myself feel good about that now too to make sure the first feeling wasn't a mistake" could one reasonably say, "Sleeping with other men's wives is not godly, so Joseph Smith must not have been what he claimed"? Each must ask himself whether that fact is a reasonable trial of faith, or a red flag that Joseph Smith was a mere man. And my final question is, "Would a just God condemn someone for finding these things troubling?"
P a g e | 36
June 14, 2009 People and Perfection In an earlier post, a reader saw my criticisms of Joseph Smith, Jr. and asked if that means that I expect a prophet of God to be perfect. Of course the answer is no, but it raises an even more interesting question about just how far from perfection a man of God is allowed to stray. Symonds Ryder (1792-1870) was an early convert to the Church and apparently thought that a prophet of God should be absolutely infallible. After Joseph Smith had misspelled Mr. Ryder’s name in a "revelation", he became convinced that Smith could not have written it through the power of God. He eventually left the Church. Most reasonable people think that even if Smith were a prophet, such a minor mistake could be overlooked as mere human error. After all, Smith was not born a prophet, right? And even if he did more for the salvation of mankind than anyone other than Christ Himself (see D&C 135:3), that doesn't mean he was perfect, right? There are several mistakes and behaviors of Smith and the early Church leaders that could be criticized. I don't think each of them is necessarily evidence of their fraudulence, but we must each draw our own boundaries for where human error goes too far, indicating that the individual is nothing more than human. For example, John Taylor reported that while they were in Carthage Jail, Joseph Smith and the rest ordered and drank wine to lift their spirits. I can't really blame them for that. I probably would have done the same thing had I been imprisoned. While it contradicts the general expectation of an LDS prophet, I don't think that fact by itself should convince anyone that Smith was a fraud. Similarly, most members don't know that Smith also unloaded a six-shooter on the men who were coming to kill him (source). Again, while this doesn't sound like a “lamb going to the slaughter” (D&C 135:4), I would certainly have done the same thing. It was selfdefense. If I wanted to find any imperfection of Joseph Smith, Jr. I could also stress how his attempt at banking was a complete failure (source). In reality, though, I don't think that's too big of a mistake/imperfection to prove that he was a fraud. Notice that I don't mention any of these things in the outline of my concerns. There are certain things Smith did, however, that go way beyond human imperfection in my mind. I feel that they not only were things a prophet of God would not do, but are clear evidence that Smith was nothing more than a mere man. I do not feel it necessary to address these here again, as they are clearly laid out in the outline of my concerns. So each of us must carefully decide what limits we place on perfection. Where must it not waiver, and where is it given room to fluctuate? If it does waiver, how far can it go until we will take the hint?
P a g e | 37
June 19, 2009 Good vs. Evil A very intriguing scripture in the Old Testament is Isaiah 5:20. The KJV translates it as such: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! This scripture sums up the overall theme of this blog; the question of what is actually correct and right over what is merely being portrayed or interpreted as such while actually leading away from truth. The LDS church would, of course, use such a scripture to stress the momentum of the gay rights movement, pointing out how homosexuality is slowly being passed off as okay, when from the LDS perspective it is evil. They would also point out how things like modesty are getting unpopular, drinking is portrayed as cool, sexual abstinence is frowned upon, etc. I wonder how such intelligent people miss the application of that scripture into their very own history, however. For example: • • •
In the LDS world, it was put forth as God’s will to forbid interracial marriages, and was a grave sin for a "pure blood" to marry anyone with a drop of African blood (source). Joseph Smith married several teenagers, including two 14-year-olds (source; see also Compton, 2001). Joseph Smith married the wives of other men (same sources as preceding).
How can such things be praised as godliness? Intuitively these acts are evil, and yet the LDS church claims that they were righteous, or even beyond righteous; they were absolutely necessary. Not only did Joseph Smith claim that pressuring teenagers into marriage with him was not evil, but he would have the world believe that these things were of the utmost sanctity: that the form of polygamy he practiced was as divine a form of marriage as exists (Compton, 2001). I cannot help but feel that this is a prime example of an individual calling evil good. Even more paradoxical, leaders of the Church outright condemned monogamous marriage. Consider this quote from Brigham Young: Now if any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continue to do so, I promise that you will be damned. (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 266) Heber C. Kimball adds his thoughts: I have noticed that a man who has but one wife, and is inclined to that doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into plurality [of wives] looks fresh, young, and sprightly. Why is this? Because God loves that man, and because he honors His work and word. (Journal of Discourses, Vol 5, p. 22)
P a g e | 38
I love this one from John Taylor: ...the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people. (source, p. 227) That sounds an awful lot like presidents of the Church felt that monogamy was less than, and even worse than, polygamy. I fundamentally disagree with such statements, as I have stated in a previous post. I feel that the LDS church attempts to redefine what is fundamentally good or evil in order to explain its controversial history. I have a very hard time imagining a perfect, just, and merciful god who would esteem multiple wives above monogamy, and think it righteousness to let salvation hinge on participation in it, especially when unnecessary. It seems to me that the Church's history contains several prime examples of individuals calling evil good, and good evil. June 28, 2009 Ultimatum I typically dislike black-and-white thinking. It has been my experience that there's at least some gray in just about everything. Not always, but usually. The Church allows for very little gray, and presents us with an all-or-nothing choice exactly (see a talk by Jeffery Holland here; and Revelations 3:15-16).We must either believe all of it, or none of it. No middle ground. For example, when I expressed my concerns about the truthfulness of the Church to the ward bishop, he accused me of being hypocritical for wanting solid, reasonable answers from the Church when I am a student of the very abstract and subjective field of psychology. I suppose the difference I see is that the field of psychology does not claim to be the one single truth in the universe, or even to have any final answers. It claims theories, but nothing more, whereas the LDS church claims precisely to have the one truth in all the universe. I might find myself in a different position today should the leaders of the Church talk about their doctrine as open for discussion, subject to interpretation, admit that Joseph Smith made mistakes about polygamy, that his translations of ancient documents were fabrications for the sake of providing faith and hope in others, that he probably got the ideas for the Book of Mormon from View of the Hebrews, that skin color was never a mark of a curse but the manmade justification for the ethnocentric white-supremacy doctrine, etc. But the Church forces its members to be all-or-nothing. I think if the Church were to admit that it is merely an organization trying to create a sense of community and faith, and to do some good on this Earth, I would hop right on. But instead, it demands that we take the radical stance that it is, indeed, the one truth in the universe – red flags and all. Similarly, it seems that members expect everyone to either love or hate the Church and its leaders. That is, if I don't love Joseph Smith, I must hate him.
P a g e | 39
But if it's possible that Islam is not evil, that Catholicism has some good in it, and so on, isn't it just as possible that the LDS church can do a lot of good while not being God's one living truth? July 3, 2009 Reflected Revelations One of the most basic concerns I have about Joseph Smith is that his controversial revelations about marriage were directed towards himself. To put it bluntly, he was raking in sexual partners for himself because of this "revelation." That sounds rather convenient. For example, Joseph Smith proposed to Mary Elizabeth Rollins after she had been married to Adam Lightner for 6 years and borne 3 of his children. Smith told her “The angel came to me three times… and said I was to obey that principle [of plural wives] or he would lay [destroy] me.” Mary wrote, “Joseph said I was his before I came here and he said all the Devils in hell should never get me from him.” Additionally, she wrote that Smith told her, “I was created for him before the foundation of the Earth was laid.” Smith also promised her that if she accepted his proposal, her place in heaven would be assured (quoted in Compton, 2001, p. 212; Van Wagoner, 1992, p. 65). In brief, Joseph Smith says that God told Joseph Smith to get Joseph Smith another wife, even though she was already married. The constant in the equation is Smith. I would react differently to this if Smith had said God revealed to him that Mary was supposed to be married to Jonny Thornbuckle, and was his before the foundation of the Earth was laid, etc. I would also react differently if Mary had a vision that she was to leave Adam for Joseph Smith. The problem I see is that Smith had a license to do absolutely anything he wanted. All he needed to throw in was, "God told me to," and his followers would accept it, no matter how repulsive and immoral. It’s as if a CEO (Smith) raised his own salary (number of wives) by 3300%, and said "No, I didn't actually want the higher salary. I’m just doing what’s best for the company.” Everybody knows what's really going on. Of course, Smith kept his “raise” as hidden as possible. Only when the others on the payroll started to find out about it did he tell them to raise their own salaries too. I also find it troubling that these women who had allegedly been created for Smith had no idea. Zina Diantha Huntington, for example, refused Smith's proposal once while she was single, and again after she had married Henry Jacobs (Compton). If she were created for Smith, why did Smith have to be the one who broke the news to her? Why didn’t Emma have a vision about it to comfort her? Does God treat women as property: goods to be used as rewards? If those revelations really were from God, it sure seems like God was granting Smith a lot of favors, while really harming others who believed in Him with all their hearts.
P a g e | 40
July 6, 2009 Why It occurred to me recently that perhaps where I differ from some believers revolves around the question "Why?" In other words, how entitled are we, as human beings, to answers from the Almighty? Helaman 12 states that man is lower than the dust of the earth. This is because the dust obeys all commands of God without question, whereas we humans tend to want to know the purpose before acting. The message I hear from some LDS is that we don't need to know the answers to my concerns. Some seem to suggest that it is a sin to even ask such questions; "His ways are not our ways," etc. The answers are apparently so far beyond our capability of understanding that to even attempt to know is a detrimental to our souls, because we show God our lack of faith by asking why. I'd like to present the exact opposite position. I believe that our ability and desire to know why is an absolutely essential part of our salvation. In fact, it stands to reason that God would demand that we ask why. If our greatest enemy is Satan, and he has dedicated his existence to making us all miserable (2 Nephi 2:27), and he is able to entice us, we must ask for reasons before following anything. If we did not ask why, wouldn't we all be easily led astray by the devil? Joseph Smith warned his followers about fraudulent angels (e.g., Bushman, 2005, p. 438; see also D&C 129), and at one point, at least, was deceived by a revelation that had come from the devil (Roberts, Vol. 1, 1965), so it seems appropriate that one should question every "prompting" to know if it truly were from God, even if it were supposedly from a prophet. So when I am told that plural marriage is a requirement to enter the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 132: 4; Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 266), and it contradicts the scriptures (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; 1 Corinthians 7:2; Jacob 1:15, 2:24, 26-27, 3:5; D&C 49:16; Mosiah 11:2; Ether 10:5; Mark 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:17) and my conscience, it seems very important that I ask why. God seems very willing to give answers about His other doctrines. We should forgive others because we are not without sin (John 8:7). We should not baptize little children because they are covered under the atonement (Moroni 8), and so on. So why are we not allowed to have answers about the very disturbing doctrine of plural wives? Maybe the fact that there simply are no answers is evidence that this doctrine came from a fraudulent angel, or a false prophet (Matthew 7:15), and those who look upon it with any allowance are evidence that the very elect are being deceived (Matthew 24:24). And so, repeating what I have said several times on this blog, we should not allow emotion to drive our actions more than reason. There must be balance. If something is true and righteous, it will have sound reasons behind it and feel intuitively correct.
P a g e | 41
July 10, 2009 Adaptation Regarding the massive changes in practice and doctrine (e.g., women performing priesthood ordinances, speaking in tongues, polygamy, racial status, etc.) in the LDS church over the years, many apologists argue that it is only necessary that any church should adapt to the modern cultural climate. I agree to a point. That's why General Conference is televised and broadcast all over the world. That's why leaders have started shaving their faces, why missionaries are no longer required to have a part in their hair (I looked like a nerd my whole mission), why temples have elevators, why nursery leaders are no longer allowed to change diapers, etc. But I see a huge difference between adaptation to the modern cultural climate and changing the most fundamental principles of doctrine in order to become more mainstream. I really have a hard time imagining a perfect, unchangeable god who lets cultural norms push around his infallible doctrine. For example, in 1842, Joseph Smith announced that he had the endowment in its fullness. It originally lasted 6-9 hours (Buerger, 1994). These days it lasts less than 2 hours, because the Church has a hard enough time getting patrons to do that much every now and then. There's no way people would do 6-9 hours these days. Significant material has been cut out of the full endowment over the years. So if we can cut down the temple ceremony, why can't we sprinkle water on heads to baptize? I thought it was a sin to change around the original doctrine of God. Consider this quote from Glenn L. Pace of the Seventy: The members of many churches in the world have been putting pressure on their leaders to change doctrine to fit the changing lifestyle of the members. Many have been successful, and more and more we see churches made up of the doctrines of men. There are absolute truths of eternity. They do not change as a society drifts from them. No popular vote can change an absolute, eternal truth. Legalizing an act does not make it moral (source). ...And yet the LDS church has fallen prey to exactly the same thing - letting the progression of society dictate its doctrine! For instance, the U.S. government made races legally equal in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. Legally requiring nondiscrimination does not make it God's will either, but the Church sure followed suit when it ran into all sorts of PR problems in the following years! Are we seriously to believe that God trailed 14 years behind to reveal that races were equal in His eyes when He knew it all along? Shouldn't it have gone in the other order? Who's really in the driver's seat of the LDS church? Isn't it much more likely that at least in this case, God knew all races were equal, but the cultural norms of the day got in the way? Isn't that exactly an example of culture dictating doctrine? I could give a dozen more examples. As one last huge example, several presidents and general authorities of the Church stated that polygamy would never be taken out of practice (source).
P a g e | 42
Did these leaders all roll over in their graves when the Manifesto was read over the pulpit? According to all of them, the FLDS church has it more right than the LDS church. What's a believer to do with such dissonance? If the original LDS doctrine is the true, perfect doctrine, why not fight to keep it from changing? If the LDS church is so against homosexual marriage, why don't they spend just as much, if not more, time and resources on reinstating the eternal doctrine of plural wives (click here for "prophets" calling monogamy destructive)? If animal sacrifice is to be restored, why is the Church not doing anything to get rid of PETA? And so who's really in charge of the doctrine of the LDS church? Is it God, or is it the culture of the day? July 15, 2009 Means, Ends, and Agency Imagine this scenario: a person of the opposite sex with whom you're acquainted professes his or her love to you. You're not interested. He or she tricks you into drinking some magical potion that casts a spell on you, making you fall desperately in love with him or her. Did this person do something wrong? At this point you want nothing more than to stay with him or her, because you're desperately in love, so what's the problem? Is there a problem? The question is centuries old. Moral judgment could be broken into 2 schools of thinking: deontology, and consequentialism. A consequentialist would say that it didn't matter how the person did it, but now you're in love and very happy, so the act was not immoral. The ends justified the means. A deontologist would say that this was a horrible thing, because the means robbed you of your choice in the matter. Even if rejection ended in the person feeling horrible and worthless, he or she must let you make your choices. It makes no difference whether you are happy in the end, it was the method in which it was carried out that violated ethical action. The means are how the morality is measured. The way most people lean tends to depend upon the situation, but I like this illustration of the importance of agency. Most people respond to this scenario by saying that it doesn't matter how much in love you ended up, the immoral thing was robbing you of the choice. Most healthy people, when they love another, at least want that person to have his or her agency. It is for this reason that I find so many of Joseph Smith's proposals to be troubling. Consider the following from Helen Mar Kimball and decide if this young woman's agency is being manipulated: Without any preliminaries, my father asked me if I would believe him if he told me that it was right for married men to take other wives. The first impulse was anger... My sensibilities were painfully touched. I felt such a sense of personal injury and displeasure; for to mention such a thing to me I thought altogether unworthy of my father, and as quick he spoke , I replied to him, short and emphatically, NO I
P a g e | 43
WOULDN'T! This is the first time that I ever openly manifested anger towards him. Then he (my father) commenced talking seriously and reasoned and explained the principle (of polygamy) and why it was again established upon the earth, etc. This first interview had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake. When he found (after the first outburst of displeasure for supposed injury) and I received it meekly, he took the first opportunity to introduce Sarah Ann to me as Joseph's Wife. This astonished me beyond measure. Having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he (my father) offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet's own mouth. My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the altar: how cruel this seemed to my mother whose heartstrings were already stretched until they were ready to snap asunder, for she had already taken Sarah Noon to wife and she thought she had made sufficient sacrifice but the Lord required more. (source) She later expressed the following: "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it." (quoted in Van Wagoner, 1992, p. 82) And so how does this reflect upon Smith's respect for this young woman's agency? Is he justified because her entire family was now guaranteed eternal salvation: the benefits outweighing any negative feelings she had? Or is the method in which he convinced her to marry him a very real violation of Christlike morality and respect for agency? Did I mention she was 14 years old (source)? If agency is what Christ died for, how could it be righteous and godly to coerce this young woman into marriage with a 37-year-old man? Is that how a perfect, merciful, loving god acts? Post script: If Satan's goal is to have all of us be miserable (2 Nephi 2:27), it sure seems like Joseph Smith did a lot of his footwork in this instance. July 20, 2009 Letter or Spirit of the Law Whether or not Joseph Smith, Jr. can be called an adulterer is entirely dependent upon one's definition. I'd like to herewith give my two cents: The argument that he did not commit adultery is supported only by the belief that his extramonogamous unions were legitimate marriages (the possibility that he did not have intercourse with them has since long been debunked). Joseph Smith did not admit to adultery perhaps because he felt that he was actually married to these women (Bushman, 2005) and thus, only acting within his rights. After all, they had (however reluctantly) agreed to the union (often misunderstanding its nature), and made the vows in the ceremony. So it could reasonably be argued that they were married, at least according to the letter of the law. But what about the spirit of the law? I think most people would argue that there is more to marriage than a ceremony, a piece of paper, and a sexual act. As a husband of 4 years, I certainly
P a g e | 44
feel that marriage consists of emotional attachment, commitment, time, and effort, at the very least. But it appears that Smith fell short of basically all of these. He did not put much, if any, effort into courting most of his plural wives; romance had very little to do with the unions (Bushman, 2005; Compton, 2001); he cohabited with them infrequently; showed no commitment to them other than the ceremony and consummation (evidenced mostly by his growing circle of wives); spent very little time with them; gave no or minimal support to them financially or emotionally; and gave little regard to their needs overall. I need not mention the complete lack of physical and emotional fidelity he displayed. Of course, a lot of these were complicated even more because of the large number of wives he had. 34 total wives (at a minimum, at the end of his life) left about 42 minutes for each wife every 24 hours if my math is correct. Of course, Smith was at least human enough to sleep, was in and out of prison, and had dozens of other projects going on. That left him very little time to be a husband to any one of his wives. Lucky for these women, at least 11 of them had their first husbands (some also had staged husbands; see Compton, 2001) to be in some proximity to them, help with the chores, provide financially, listen to their woes, mend the roof, laugh and play with, protect the family, and so on. But somehow Smith was the one sealed to them for eternity. Their first husbands had no claim to them in the afterlife. They, who had actually worked on their relationships with their wives, would ultimately lose them. In what way was Smith more of a husband than these men? Perhaps the more basic question is "In what way was he more than an adulterer?". Or maybe the final decision should be up to the scripture Smith dictated with his own lips; D&C 132:61 clearly states that a polygamous wife must be a virgin and belong to no one else, for "he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth to him and to no one else." If 11 of his wives did belong to their first husbands, then it appears Smith was an adulterer by his very own scripture. July 26, 2009 Realities Collide I am terrified of spiders. I have been for as long as I can remember. Just the other day I was loading the dishwasher when a small spider surprised me on the dishwasher's edge. It got away and I was almost unable to go into the kitchen for a couple of hours for fear of it. The emotion was very real. I cannot deny the feeling I had. My heart was racing and I was irritable, agitated, and anxious long after the encounter with the little arachnid. Nothing on this Earth could convince me that I did not experience what I did. I felt it with every fiber of my being without a doubt. But while the emotion was absolutely real, the fear was groundless. The spider was absolutely harmless. I had no rational reason at all to be afraid. Yet I was.
P a g e | 45
Realities collide when I see spiders. I have no reason to be afraid, and yet I am. The feeling contradicts reason, yet I cannot keep from feeling it. The fear is absolutely real, but it does not make the spider any more of a threat. Perhaps there is a parallel here with the LDS church's methodology in obtaining absolute truth. The only reason I have to behave the way I do is my emotional state, no matter how ridiculous and unsupported by other realities (i.e., factual knowledge that spiders are not a threat to my safety). Similarly, the feeling that believers have when hearing/praying about Joseph Smith's final version of the First Vision is no doubt a real feeling. I do not wish to argue that it is pretense or exaggerated. What I do suggest is that, just like my fear of spiders does not make them more of a threat, a love of Joseph Smith does not make his final version of the First Vision any more of a factual event occurring anywhere other than in his mind. You may ask, "If it is not true, why would I feel so strongly about it?" Fiction moves us emotionally/spiritually all the time. How many of us have literally cried when reading a book or seeing a good movie? After the final chapters of a trilogy I read years ago, I became depressed for several days because I had become so attached to the characters and I felt their pain very literally as they were separated forever. It was not the words printed on the page that moved me, but becoming so involved in the story that it felt real. The emotions were real, no doubt, but they did not make the characters in the book any more alive physically. They lived in my mind, certainly, but nowhere else. In this case, I bought the book, so was invested in it; I wanted to be consumed by the emotion of it. I wanted it to feel real, and it did. Just because not a word of it was true, it didn't mean that I couldn't feel like it was. I'm not suggesting that emotions are only detractors from reality and truth. I feel that they certainly have their place. But as I have stated before, if one is to make very serious judgments, the reality of emotion should also be supported by the reality of fact and vice versa. For example, if one falls in love over the Internet, the love and desire are certainly real emotions. But if it is to become a healthy, companionate relationship, it must be supported by real interaction, chemistry, time, proximity, etc. To ignore discrepancies and rely only on the feeling could have serious consequences. Can you imagine someone knocking at my door and telling me to ignore the facts about spiders, and instead to cling onto that terror every time I see one; if I ever start to doubt that spiders are dangerous, I need only let one crawl on my hand, and that fear I have will confirm that spiders truly are dangerous killers? Yet the Church would have everyone ignore the problematic history and doctrine of the early leaders and cling onto the emotion. In other words, the Church insists that emotion dictates the rest of reality. But if we are to get to the actual truth, shouldn't fact confirm feeling? Regarding my decision about the Church, I have been accused of reasoning my way out of a testimony because I don't want to believe it is true (for whatever reason). But if I were able to
P a g e | 46
reason my way out of the one truth in the universe, why am I unable to reason my way out of arachnophobia? July 31, 2009 Dissection I'd like to revisit the topic of what, if anything, is wrong with polygamy in general. For the sake of argument, let's imagine for a moment that the practice of polygyny, or polygamy in any form for that matter, had no religious consequences whatsoever. Imagine that it was never a matter of obedience to God and never a sin. No threat of damnation either way. God creates the Earth and says, "It's up to you; you can have as many or as few wives as you want, I really don't care either way." I think we can find out a lot about the rightness or wrongness of polygamy by considering it in this way. The question is, what kind of people would choose monogamy or polygamy and for what reasons? I read an article a while ago written by a woman who was in a polyamorous relationship. She had met a man and they had fallen in love, but somehow also met a woman who was attracted to her boyfriend. The women became friends and the boyfriend had feelings for both, so they all agreed that they would not compete for affection. They eventually all met some other people, got along very well, and all moved into the same house, some married others, but only for legal benefits. They all dated among each other and some had children with one or several of the partners. These people all loved the scenario. They had consciously made the decision to share those they loved with their friends. Maybe what worked about this scenario and makes it seem okay to me is that they all made a choice. No one was threatened with damnation if they didn't do it, but it was what they wanted, so they sought it out and it worked for them. I suppose if this had been the situation in the early days of the Church, I might feel differently about polygamy. If the choice had been up to the members, with no promises of eternal punishment either way, I would hesitate to condemn the practice. After all, just because it's not my cup of tea doesn't mean I am the ultimate moral judge. Naturally, each member still had a choice. No one put a gun to Helen Kimball's head to marry Joseph Smith. But where I must make a moral criticism is the fact that her ability to make a safe choice with equal consequences was all but robbed from her when Smith told her that the salvation of her entire family depended upon her decision. So it could be argued that she did choose to be his 26th (give or take) wife, but I would counter that her actual choice was severely diminished. Now, back to the question; What kind of person would choose polygamy if it were not a commandment from God? Historically it has been men who are rich, who treat women more as property than people, who desire several sexual partners more than emotionally intimate relationships, whose first wives cannot produce children, whose first wives are not as sexually
P a g e | 47
interesting anymore, who want to spread their kinship ties to several other families by means other than betrothing their children, and sometimes who feel it necessary to support women who would otherwise not have the option of monogamy (click here and here for some interesting views on polygyny and economics). A woman might also choose polygyny over monogamy if she preferred her privacy, wanted children but not necessarily her husband too close to her, had no issues with jealousy, could not have children otherwise, or who needed financial support she could not otherwise have, and perhaps who decided that fidelity was not a requirement for trust. Imagine then, what kind of person would choose monogamy over polygyny? Naturally, a man who could not afford more than one wife. But let us consider the pros and cons of one over the other when all things are made financially and religiously equal. A woman might choose monogamy who wanted equal partnership between husband and wife, a husband dedicated to her and her children more than anyone else's, emotional and physical intimacy from the same individual, who desired a strong and present father figure for her children. In short, a woman who does not want to share her spouse (call it selfish or self-respect, however you interpret). A man might choose one wife over several because he wants no one else - his first wife is maybe not perfect but at least close enough, he is too shy of other women, his first wife is the only woman who could love him, he wants children to whom he can be emotionally and proximally close as much as possible, he wants to invest his romantic and companionate love in one single individual, he respects his wife's feelings, wants her happiness above his own, and he would do nothing to harm her self-esteem. Admittedly, these are my own thoughts about plural marriage and monogamy. Anyone reading this who disagrees is welcome to argue their case. In brief, it seems to me that polygyny has more to do with sex and money while diminishing love and respect. Monogamy has more to do with unity and trust. Of course, the end argument from the LDS church is that "God commanded it, so any discussion is irrelevant". That is not fact, however; it is only interpretation. The fact is that Joseph Smith said God commanded it. That does not make it so; that only should focus the attention on Joseph Smith's credibility. I argue that while a perfect god may ask us to do things we do not want to do, he would never ask us to do things that are contrary to conscience and destructive of human relations with no clear benefit. Could it be that the threat of damnation from God was the only thing that got most of these women to consent to become plural wives? What an odd act from the most perfectly loving being in the universe! August 8, 2009 Weakest Link As an extension of a previous post, I'd like to continue along the lines of all-or-nothing thinking. I stated earlier how the Church gives the people of the world an ultimatum to accept everything it teaches as God's absolute truth, or to treat it as a fraud.
P a g e | 48
Each of us has to face the matter-either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing. (Hinckley, 2003). As another illustration of this ultimatum, I'd like to compare the Church's doctrines to links in a chain. The old saying goes, "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link." Once a single link in a chain breaks, the whole chain is unable to do what it is intended to do. It no longer functions. It doesn't matter how strong any other link in the chain is. All that matters is the weakest link. Similarly, the truthfulness of the LDS church is dependent upon several "links". If any one of these links breaks, the only conclusion left is that the Church is not true. For example, if the Book of Mormon is not truly a record written by the prophets of the American Continent, then Joseph Smith must not have translated it from gold plates, and he couldn't, therefore, have done so by the power of God, making him a false prophet. And if he was a false prophet, then the things he taught are not direction from God on how to return to Him. If Joseph Smith was a prophet, that also means that every single doctrine he preached as being from God truly was from God. But the reverse is also true; if one single doctrine he taught was not from God, or one translation he made was not inspired though he said it was, the link is broken. To give a concrete example, the LDS are doctrinally committed to the notion that the languages of the Earth stemmed from a historical event surrounding the tower of Babel, and that the story of the great flood is actual (source). That means that if either of these things did not happen exactly as the Bible would have us believe, then the chain is broken; Joseph Smith was not a prophet, the Book of Mormon was fabricated by men, and the entire truthfulness of the Church collapses. So one can go in either direction: Joseph Smith must have been a prophet, so everything that is required to make him a prophet must be upheld, or Joseph Smith's deeds appear to be those of either a prophet or a fraud, and the actions are evidence of either one. For example, if polygamy as practiced and preached by Smith was immoral, then the Church is a fraud. One needs no further discussion. If it was immoral but he said it was godly, then he was never called of God, so he must have fabricated the Book of Mormon, constructed his First Vision story, and lied to thousands of people. That means that Thomas Monson is not a prophet either, that the priesthood is man-made and not the power of God, and so on. This doesn't mean that everything he did had to be a weak link. If what Smith preached about charity is in line with God, then that is a very strong link. He may have dozens of very sturdy, almost unbreakable links in his chain of authority. But all it takes is one single broken link to destroy the chain. If God did not command Brigham Young and 9 subsequent prophets to refuse temple blessings to persons of African descent, then the entire Church is a fraud because they all said exactly that. If Joseph Smith said he was translating the Kinderhook plates by the power of God, then he was a fraud and/or certifiably delusional.
P a g e | 49
I think most members don't worry about the chain, though. They focus on the few links they find to be strongest, and ignore what is absolutely necessary to connect them all. Unfortunately, the remaining chain they hold onto may not connect to anything at all if they ever put any weight on it. That's probably why so few members have been willing to honestly address my concerns. If one suspects a defect in a chain, though, shouldn't all his attention go to inspect the faulty link? August 14, 2009 Debate I have found that one can usually tell how strong a person's argument is by how willing he or she is to enter into debate about it. If an individual is absolutely certain that his position is right, he usually has no fear of discussing the topic, and often seeks out someone to debate with. On the other hand, if a person's argument is very weak, he will usually avoid any form of debate or discussion. Consider this quote by George A. Smith: "If faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak." (Journal of Discourses, 1871, Vol 14, pg. 216) And yet, click here for warnings from The Brethren about actually examining things from an objective position. The point I wish to make is that the truth should welcome debate as much as possible, because after all, it is the truth isn't it? Debate cannot possibly harm the truth because any attacks of the truth will be weak in comparison to the supports. Debate can, therefore, harm only untruth. And yet so few members seem willing or able to enter into discussion about their Church. They want to guard their testimonies above all. Imagine if the legal system were similar. You're sitting in the juror's box and the judge announces, "In the case of the truthfulness of the LDS church, we're just going to listen to the defense. The prosecution is allowed to sit in the courtroom, just so that we know they're there, but will not be permitted to speak because anything they say might cause us to question the defense." I, for one, would ask myself why? Is it that the defense's argument is stronger? But if it really is, wouldn't I find out the same thing by listening to the prosecution? Shouldn't I, the juror, get to decide? Think about this: I just decided that the Earth is shaped like a cube. It's not spherical, and it's not flat. It's shaped like a cube. But I'm unwilling to examine satellite photos, I don't want to hear about the curve of the horizon, I won't even look into geology or astronomy. I refuse to see or hear any evidence that might discredit my belief that the Earth is a cube. I'll talk to you if you're willing to listen to my side, but I will walk away as soon as you show a dissenting opinion.
P a g e | 50
When someone is unwilling to put his position up against another's, it really makes no difference what his position is, whether correct or ludicrous. August 20, 2009 A Burning Question For years, as I've been wrestling with what I was raised to believe and my own conscience, I've had a question I wished I could ask every member of the Church: If you somehow knew with absolute certainty that the Church of Jesus Christ of LatterDay Saints was not true, would you leave it? First of all, I think a great deal of members could not even answer the question. They would not even be able to wrap their heads around the concept. Even entertaining the possibility of the Church being anything other than God's one, true church would be beyond comprehension. Of the rest, I would predict that about half of the members would stay with the Church and the other half would leave. The reasons behind the decision would vary. Some would leave because they felt betrayed and lied to; some would leave because the Church demands absolute faith. Some would stay for pure social reasons; some would stay because they feel that the Church is an organization through which they can do some good. I chose to leave for many reasons, some of which I have outlined in previous posts. Among these, however, is that I concluded that the world in which I was raised, which I had served and defended, was built upon a lie. I am no movie critic (and I have no intention of becoming one on this blog), yet I can't help but be reminded of a film that parallels this feeling very well for me. If the reader is unfamiliar with The Truman Show, the storyline goes like this: Truman's entire reality has been fabricated since shortly after birth. The island upon which he lives is actually the world's largest TV set. His family, friends, and wife are all actors. Everything he has believed, and worked and cared for is a carefully structured lie. One day, Truman begins to find that something isn't quite right. He finds it puzzling, but pays little attention to it. He blows it off and then hears an explanation for it later, which he gladly accepts. But then he notices more things that are incompatible with his perception of reality. Everyone he has loved does all within his or her power to keep Truman in the dark: to keep him from questioning the world they fabricated. Eventually, Truman discovers for certain that the world he had known was built upon a lie. He literally stands at the door to exit, when the man responsible for the chain of lies begins to speak with him. Truman asks, “Was nothing real?” He tells Truman that, although his world is built upon a lie, leaving it will only cause him pain: that even though his world is man-made, it is a good, decent world. He explains how he was always mindful of Truman: how he took care of him for his entire life. He tells Truman that he can't really leave. But still, it isn't real.
P a g e | 51
Truman finally does make the hard decision and leaves the world that was based upon lie after lie after lie. He had no idea what he was stepping into, but he knew that what he was stepping out of wasn't real: wasn't authentic. While it is only a movie, the parallels with my experience with the Church are astounding to me. I wonder how many people in the Church would want something real, no matter how frightening or uncomfortable, and how many people would insist that ignorance is bliss: that comfort and reassurance are more important than reality and authenticity. As for me, I've been promised several times that leaving the Church would cause me only pain. I've been accused of being ungrateful for the morals I've learned from it. I've been asked, "Wouldn't you want to believe it, though?" I am compelled to respond, "But it isn't real." August 26, 2009 The Human Condition Throughout history, humankind has struggled to find the societal balance between anarchy and tyranny. With anarchy there is no structure, no predictability, no law. With tyranny, everything is controlled; there is no freedom. This eternal struggle is sometimes called "the human condition". What I find very interesting about the human condition is that societies typically spend much more time under tyranny than anarchy. Historically, anarchy has been very brief, while tyranny can prevail for centuries. In fact, often when anarchy exists, it is quickly taken advantage of by a tyrannical power. One need only look to Africa for several prime examples of one tyranny being taken over by another, with brief periods of anarchy in between. Perhaps it is that human beings tend to want structure (even absolute) when the alternative is chaos. I am certain that it is the same with religion; people desire any structure when they feel otherwise threatened with chaos. In other words, people desire some sort of answers to their existence, no matter how flawed, dictatorial, or exclusive, if they believe that the alternative is to have no answers. For example, I repeatedly find that members of the Church feel that if it is not true, if it does not have the answers to life, then there are no answers and life is meaningless. It may be that deep within these individuals, the faith in a flawed system is at least partially driven by the fear that there may be no system at all. Certainly we all want to believe that life has meaning: that we are useful, valuable beings in a meaningful universe. Unfortunately, throughout history humankind has accepted tyrannical, extremist religious systems to avoid existential chaos. Scarred into history are incidents of human sacrifice, holy wars, slavery, elitism, genocide, and all sorts of oppression and misery brought about by religious tyranny, overzealous leaders, and impressionable followers.
P a g e | 52
If it is possible to have structure and freedom in society, though, is it not possible to have meaning in our existence while not having all the answers? I do not know who God is. I have never seen Him (or Her, It, or Them, as the case may be). I do not know what happens after we die. But I believe everyone can have a meaningful life, and not only in terms of what happens after we die, but in terms of life right now, in our specific circumstances. Rich, poor, genius, mentally ill, strong, weak, bond, and free are all capable of discovering this meaning (see an excellent book by Frankl here on the subject). Just as we do not have to choose between anarchy and tyranny, we do not have to choose between chaos and fantasy. We can explore truth to the best of our ability, and find meaning within the true structure as we examine it. And so, although it may appear that our only options are meaninglessness or complete acceptance of a flawed structure, I suggest to you that there is much more to this life. September 1, 2009 Division of Principles There is an excellent article in this month's Ensign, with which I whole-heartedly agree. In fact, I actually sat down with the author a few years ago in his office on BYU campus and had a wonderful discussion. He is a man I very much respect and admire. The article is on complete fidelity in marriage, including aversion of what he terms "spiritual infidelity": something one can commit as easily as thinking about a person of the opposite sex (who is not your spouse) for amounts of time that seem inappropriate. Or, for example, if I were to find myself dressing nicer on days where I knew I would spend more time near an attractive classmate or coworker, or looking for excuses to speak to her, that is probably not quite playing with fire, but it's getting the matches and fuel together. Dr. Matheson's point, as I understand it, is that a healthy marriage exists when a person gives his entire heart to his spouse: not dishing out little bits to others too, or reserving pieces to give out later. By definition, one cannot love his spouse exclusively, while at the same time having similar feelings for another. I think it's great advice. Once a man starts unconsciously courting other women, it's a very short step to consciously cheating on his spouse. Now, what I'm confused about is how this excellent advice fits into the eternal, celestial law of plural wives. I suppose that if Zina Diantha Huntington were right, it could work. She said a successful polygamous wife “must regard her husband with indifference, and wits no other feeling than that of reverence, for love we regard as a false sentiment; a feeling which should have no existence in polygamy” (quoted in Compton, 2001, p. 108).
P a g e | 53
So if the purpose of plurality of wives were simply to produce children, maybe the husband could be spiritually faithful to only one wife. Seems awfully cruel to the other wives, though, to just be impregnated repeatedly by a man who is little more than a reverent acquaintance. Maybe I'm just a romantic and God isn't. But this draws my attention to the problem of Joseph Smith producing no children from his plural wives (some sources suggest he may have fathered 3 at most; see Embry, 2007). What confusing doctrine! If complete spiritual fidelity and polygamy are compatible, please enlighten me as to how. September 7, 2009 On Milk and Meat A classic response to each of my concerns about the Church's leaders and doctrine is that the answers are so far beyond our capability of understanding at this point, that... Well, I'm not sure exactly. Will my brain explode if I heard the ultimate answer? That's never been very clear to me; why am I incapable of understanding principles of plural marriage, why God commanded The Brethren to deny priesthood blessings to people of African descent, etc.? D&C 19:22 states that I would perish if I knew the answers. So does that mean I am wrong to ask? I shouldn't wonder about these things? A phrase often used is that milk comes before meat (see 1 Cor. 3:2; Hebrews 5:12). I like this metaphor because it applies to so much. To understand complicated things, one must first understand the building blocks and fundamentals. In an introductory statistics class, one does not start out with multiple regression, it begins with some vocabulary and a few t-tests. Even before that, algebra is required: before that, simple math. I suppose the red flag with the Church is that nobody seems to know. You don't get to the meat in this life. Whereas in that statistics class they tell you what week you're going to learn about multiple regression (it's printed right there on the syllabus, and if you have some pressing questions you can read books on it, or sit down with the professor until it slowly begins to make sense), in the Church, not even the prophet himself has answers (source). Members and investigators are never told by teachers and leaders that there was even a problem so complex that no one on Earth knows the answer. I suppose it's possible that Thomas Monson knows the answer now, but can't tell anyone else because it would blow our minds. I say, "Try me." If I perish because I know why God denied blessings to people based on skin color, I'll perish. If the alternative is to blindly accept such a huge flaw, I'll risk my life. But it seems to me that it would go the other way. If I understood why God would do such a thing and it would be justified, I think a whole lot of other things would fall into place with my understanding. So how much milk does a person have to suck down before realizing that the meat probably isn't coming?
P a g e | 54
September 12, 2009 Deal Breaker It's no secret that the final straw in my decision to leave the LDS church was the doctrine of plural marriage (most of my posts surround it in some way). More specifically, it was the exact form of plural marriage as practiced by Joseph Smith that broke the back of the camel that was my trust in the Church and its leaders. Of all of the reasons to leave a religion, particularly the LDS church, many have wondered why that was the deal breaker. The answer is that family is the most important thing in the world to me. My ultimate goal in this life is to raise a happy, healthy family, where my children grow up surrounded by love, my wife remains my best friend and I hers, and my children eventually grow to be productive, content members of society whose existence has benefited those around them. Anything that hinders me from this goal is to be overcome. Plural marriage, especially as practiced by Joseph Smith, not only obstructs my goal, but stands in direct conflict with it. I cannot allow polygamy to have any place in my life, even the afterlife, if it directly contradicts what I hold most sacred. Hence, I am compelled to fully reject it and anything that advocates its practice and calls it righteous. I cannot reconcile the practices of Smith, Young, Kimball, and others with what I feel and want for my wife and daughter. I refuse to let my daughter grow up believing that she does not have the God-given right to complete emotional and physical fidelity from her husband. I refuse to let her believe that she would not be entitled to the joy that comes from equal partnership between a husband and wife when both are fully dedicated to each other and the family above all else. I refuse to let her believe that God would frown upon her for defending her virtue (see D&C 132:54; and this example of "God" threatening a young girl and her entire family if she refused to marry Smith). If God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (Alma 45:16; D&C 1:31), maybe the LDS church needs to stop trying to justify the evil doctrines and practices of its leaders. Either (a) the family is the central unit in God's plan (source), or (b) polygamy is an eternal principle, marrying other men's wives is righteousness, and coercing 14-year-olds into marriage with men 3 times their age is justifiable. As far as I can tell, these two are incompatible. And I have chosen my family. September 18, 2009 The Family as a Weapon One of the very clever pitfalls of the LDS church is the eternal family. Please do not misunderstand; I love the principle itself, but what I find disturbing is the lingering threat of the impending separation of the family, unless all principles of the LDS church are accepted. What I mean is that the LDS missionaries make a wonderful promise to investigators; you can be with your family forever. But then they explain that for this wonderful promise to come to pass, you must do whatever they tell you (see page 53 of Preach My Gospel). In other words,
P a g e | 55
they indirectly threaten you that your family will be taken from you if you do not accept their teachings. Few put it that way, but it is the inevitable consequence of the doctrine. And since announcing my decision to leave the Church, more than one person has told me that I will lose my family for following my conscience. If that is God's way, He is not a god I can worship. Imagine a realtor showing you a house. It's absolutely beautiful from the outside. She lets you peek through the windows and see the yard from the sidewalk, and it looks fantastic. She tells you that if you buy the home, you and your family can live there forever. But if you don't buy the home or ever sell the home, you will have to live alone for the rest of your life. Every other dwelling in the world is a single bedroom apartment. Your wife and children will love you, but will never be able to live with you. If you want to be with them, this is the only option. You'd buy the house, right? You'd move in and say, "Wow! Look at those vaulted ceilings! The kitchen is huge!" But what if you noticed the foundation was cracked? You can't sell the house, because then your family would never be able to live together. You would ignore the crack, patch it up superficially to make you feel better, etc., because the alternative is to lose your family forever. So while the LDS church makes great promises about the family, it also very much uses the family as a weapon against questioning, rational thought, and the conscience. For a very concrete example in its history, consider this quote from Helen Mar Kimball: I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it. (quoted in Van Wagoner, 1992, p. 81) In other words, young Ms. Kimball was bullied into denying her conscience because of the lingering threat to her family. Joseph Smith might as well have said, "Marry me, or God will separate you from everyone you love forever!" He chose different words, but the message was the same. Incidentally, I've never really understood what it actually means to be "sealed" to one's family. If I am sealed to my family, but my siblings are sealed to their spouses and children, and my children are sealed to their spouses and children, what does it mean to be with them forever? We all live in some massive celestial hotel, taking turns with each individual to whom we're sealed? Perhaps even more mind boggling for me is what does it mean exactly to not be sealed, and how is that different from sharing sealed family members with everyone else sealed to them? Do I never get to see those to whom I could have been sealed, but spend lots of time with people to whom I never wanted to be sealed? Isn't it more likely that the eternal family, as the LDS church preaches, is just a very attractive way to lure people into something they do not understand and then keep them from leaving when they discover the truth behind it all?
P a g e | 56
September 24, 2009 Protection or Confinement Since my decision to leave the Church, I have struggled to find a healthy position to take relating to active members. While many have agreed to disagree, and others have vaporized me from existence in their minds, there are still those who choose to make this about something other than religion. I feel that I began with a very defensive stance, but recently I have come to a realization about active members who cannot tolerate intense discussion of the doctrines of the Church; they don't really have any other choice. There is a large part of me that wants everyone to really examine the Church and deal with the hard truth about Joseph Smith and the controversial history and doctrines. One could say that I crave it. I think this is because I worry that so many millions of people have signed up for something that they do not really understand. So many are born into something that is near impossible to leave. In a very general sense, I feel that so many people in the Church are enslaved: stuck in a position that they might not necessarily want to be in if they knew what it really was. And the most difficult part is that they do not want to know what it really is; many of them want so badly for it to be what they believe it is that it does not and will never matter what it really is. We typically see what we want to see, and changing this habit is very difficult. In many ways it is like being born in a cage, and your entire life being told that the cage is there for your protection. You are free to leave at any time, but leaving will cause you only pain, death, and ultimately damnation. We each hold the key to this cage at some point. We can choose to lock ourselves in, or let ourselves out. Many people lock the cage and throw the key far out of reach. That way, even if they felt tempted to get out of the cage someday, they are absolutely committed to it. Some step in and out of the cage, never really sure which they prefer. Some step out of the cage and realize that it was not for protection, but confinement. I find that so many members of the Church do not realize or care that they are in a cage. They like the cage and trust that it is there for their protection. They have made the cage comfortable for them; it is all they have ever known, and it truly is what they want. In that case, who am I to unlock it and shove them out for a breath of fresh air? After slavery was finally abolished in the United States, many former slaves had no idea what to do with themselves. Many had no idea where to go, had no skills to work in anything other than what they had done as slaves. They had never had the responsibility of making their own decisions, so many found that being in charge of their own destiny was overwhelming. I wonder if it is similar religiously. Members are provided with what to believe for their spiritual wellbeing, and would not know how to provide for themselves if it weren't for their leaders' direction. Their chains and bars are comforting, for they know that it means someone is taking care of them. But at some point, we all must decide if the chains and bars are there for keeping us safe, or keeping us from leaving and finding something better.
P a g e | 57
This blog is directed at those who wonder what the cage looks like from the outside. If you stumble onto this site and have no desire to know if the cage is really confining, I invite you to leave. If you truly want to know, I invite open and honest discussion and, most of all, sincere study and soul-searching. October 1, 2009 Burden of Proof In the legal system of the United States, persons accused of committing a crime are supposedly considered innocent until they are proven guilty. That is, it is up to the prosecution to convince everybody on the jury that their assumption of innocence is incorrect. The evidence must be overwhelming beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is truly guilty. Essentially, the defense could just sit there and do nothing, and if the prosecution does not make it absolutely clear that the accused is guilty, he or she walks free. The reason for this is that it is generally felt that it is better to allow 100 guilty persons go free than to wrongfully convict just one innocent person. The system in religion is an interesting one regarding upon whom the burden of proof lies. The Church, for example, insists that if there is any way at all that it could explain itself, it is the default correct position. Any opposing evidence must absolutely and in every possible way overpower their position before they are willing to yield, and sometimes not even then. In other words, the tactic of the Church is to keep instilling a tiny shadow of reasonable doubt so that it can remain the default. Consider the debate about the origin of Native Americans. Genetic, linguistic, and archaeological research has essentially proven that the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the American continent descended from Asia, and there is little to no reason to believe that they came from anywhere else (for references, see links section as well as the outline of my concerns). This, of course, contradicts the most basic premise of the Book of Mormon that Native Americans came from Israel. However, the Church has cleverly come up with several unlikely (if not impossible) explanations for why this may be so. While there is little agreement among apologists, the main consensus is that the Book of Mormon must have taken place in a very remote and isolated area of the Americas, where the peoples mentioned would never have made contact with any of the other original inhabitants (this notion is even contradicted by the text of the Book of Mormon, but let's not go on that tangent). For a person who feels that the default is that the Church is true, this fragile explanation is all that is needed. "Okay, it's still remotely possible that the Church is true, so that's what I'm going with." they say. On the one hand, I suppose that it might make sense to err on the side of the Church. After all, if you follow the evidence against the Church, but upon your death find the Church was actually true, you've got some explaining to do. I, for one, feel that those things covered in my outline of concerns and this blog make my decision blameless, especially before the God worshiped by the Church (I'm happy to discuss that with anyone interested). But if you're on the other side, clinging to the religion that is ultimately a lie, some would argue that you are robbing yourself of
P a g e | 58
an authentic life. In any case, I think it is a position everyone should reconsider, whether a believer, skeptic, or whatever else. For me, I think back to long before I knew any of the things in my outline of concerns. I think my default really was that the Church was the truth. How could I have thought otherwise? Why would I want to think otherwise? The burden of proof lay upon logic and reason to convince me that the default was wrong. It's obvious which side won my vote. That is because, for me, all of the Church's attempts to make their case stronger ended up being excuses, when what I wanted were explanations. All of these apologist theories of why Black persons were denied the priesthood, why there is overwhelming evidence that Native Americans came from Asia, why polygamy was justified, why there are so many historical errors in the Book of Mormon, and on and on and on were just not enough to keep a reasonable doubt in my mind, and suggest that in some dimension of reality the Church might still be true. Instead of an excuse for these, logic and reason gave me one huge, convincing explanation; the whole thing was man-made. Believers will say that I looked for anything that would give me an excuse to leave. I just didn't want to repent of my sins, or whatever. They are welcome to believe that. The reality is that I got sick of letting guilty men go day after day, week after week, generation after generation. October 8, 2009 Father in Heaven I always enjoyed the description of God as a father: that He views us and reacts to us as a parent might view and react to his children. That explains why sometimes we don't get what we want in life - because it isn't really what's best for us, why sometimes we stumble and have to pick ourselves up - because we need to learn to solve our own problems first, etc. I always thought that was a nice description of how the creator of the human race might respond to us. As a father myself, I have come to see the application of that description in several more areas. If one believes in a god, I think it makes sense that he would be a father figure. On the other hand, that is also very much part of the reason I left the LDS church. The god worshiped by the LDS has apparently done things that I cannot imagine any loving, righteous father doing. Polygamy, for example; as a father who loves his daughter more than anything on this planet, I cannot even fathom telling my daughter to become a polygamous wife. Take the instance of Zina Huntington. If the LDS church is true, then translating what transpired there into a fatherdaughter relationship would look something like this: Father: "Dear Zina, I know you are happy with your husband and children, but now I want you to marry another man as well. I think he's great and you will too." Zina: "But Dad, I don't care how great he is, I love my husband and children. I couldn't do that to them and I don't want to do that to them."
P a g e | 59
Father: "You will do as I say. If you do not marry this man, I will strike him down. If you refuse him, your husband and children will suffer. I can do it. You know I can." Zina: "But why? Why would you do something like this? How can you ask this of me?" Father: "You were never supposed to marry your husband. You belong to this other man." Zina: "But I don't love this other man. I love my husband and children." Father: "Your happiness and that of your husband and children is inconsequential. I have spoken and you will obey or else!" (source to compare). What kind of monstrous and abusive, uncaring father would ask such a thing of his daughter? Another example: denial of priesthood to persons of African descent. Again, if the LDS church is true, then the actual events resemble this Earthly scenario: Father fills up a humongous tub with candy and gives two of his children full access. But he denies the third child. He tells the first two children, "Little Jimmy does not get any candy now or ever." 1st Child: "Why is that, Dad?" Father: "He pooped in his diaper when he was first born." 2nd Child: "Didn't we too?" Father: "He pooped more. He will never get any candy." Jimmy: "I'm very sorry father. I love you and if you'll just tell me what I can do to make amends for all the pooping, I'll do whatever you ask of me." Father: "No good. You will not have candy now, nor will you ever get any candy." Then when Jimmy turns 40 years old, father says, "Hey, here's your key to the candy tub. Enjoy." Jimmy: "But Dad, you said I could never have any." Father: "Yeah, I know what I said. I wondered what you and your siblings would do with that." Jimmy: "But why would you do something like that?" Father: "I might have a reason, but nobody needs to know. Just be glad that you have the key now. I'm done talking about this." (source for comparison).
P a g e | 60
And so if the LDS church is true, and their god truly is our heavenly father, I refuse to model my parenting after his abuse. And what's more, I cannot worship him. It seems very clear to me that what really happened was these things were all man-made and that God had nothing to do with them at all. October 15, 2009 Confirmation Bias While on my mission in Southern Germany, I was juggling dozens of responsibilities as well as dealing with the stresses of being away from home, living with a person from a very different culture, and so on. At this same time, I was very concerned about a young woman back home. She had earlier told me that she felt we were meant to be together, which I also believed at the time very deeply. However, as anyone would in that situation, I worried very much about opening up a letter from her one day to find that she had met someone far better than I (and I knew there were plenty of opportunities). In my wrestle between trying to stay focused on my tasks at hand and trying to find comfort and reassurance over the young woman's intentions, I constantly prayed to feel peace over the matter. I remember multiple times receiving a very strong emotional confirmation that she and I would be together, and that things would turn out fine with her. As the reader may have guessed, things did not turn out well at all. Upon returning home, I was hit with the worst emotional bombshell of my life, and then the suffering about the relationship was drawn out for several months thereafter as she varied between warm and cold. So how do I explain my prayerful confirmations that things would be alright? Of course, true believers will argue that the confirmations were that things would eventually turn out alright. I would eventually be able to get over the pain, etc. It is clear to me now, however, that those confirmations were not from God at all, but from somewhere within me. I asked if things would be okay with this young woman, and I wanted so badly to receive the answer I wanted that that is exactly what I got: the answer I wanted. I wonder if I had asked the question while being willing to accept an answer of "She's just messing with you", that maybe I would have received such an answer: whether it was my own mind putting the clues together, or God actually communicating with me. My point is that when a person asks a question, but is not willing to receive an answer unless it's the one he expects, it probably doesn't matter what the real answer is. He'll just go on believing what he wants. Similarly, I find that the LDS church refuses to take "no" as an answer, or even no answer as an answer. Their advice is to keep asking until you get a "yes", or to act as if you have a "yes" and eventually you will get one (quotes and discussion). And so, in the end, it doesn't really matter what the right answer is.
P a g e | 61
October 19, 2009 Crossroads I had an interesting conversation the other day with a member of the Church who follows the advice of a non-traditional doctor in her diet. The conversation concerned times when this doctor's advice conflicts with the doctrine of the LDS church. In instances where her church competes with her medical caregiver, who wins, and why? It turns out that there are several instances where she chooses her doctor's advice above the Church's. For example, this doctor advises large quantities of meat to be ingested at every meal, which contradicts the Word of Wisdom as written in the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church. Additionally, several of the herbal mixtures the doctor prescribes contain alcohol, which, according to the Word of Wisdom, is not for the belly. I think similar questions could be asked to several of the members of the Church. I know of no one who follows LDS guidance to the absolute letter of the law, and I would love to know why this discrepancy exists. When given a choice to follow "the prophets" or someone else, why is it that so many members make decisions that go against what "the prophets" have said? For example, I know very active members who buy lottery tickets regularly. I know dozens who watch rated "R" movies. I know several who get tattoos or extra piercings despite statements against these by The Brethren. My experience is that only about half of home teaching gets done in any given month. I know a gentleman now who is very active and insists he knows the Church is true, but has chosen to work on Sundays despite promises of great blessings for keeping the Sabbath day holy (example). Without words, he has said that he either doesn't want those blessings, or that he truly does not believe that is a true promise. I don't mean to call these individuals hypocrites, because that is a bit too far past my point. What I want to point out is that it seems faithfulness is a continuum. Even the most faithful of LDS have instances where somewhere deep down they tell themselves "Oh, that doesn't apply to me. I'm sure God will make an exception. That's more of a guideline than a commandment, even if the prophet said it. It's not that bad." And what does this tell us about a testimony "beyond a shadow of a doubt"? If these people did have absolute faith in their testimonies, why are they telling the world, "I know that Thomas Monson is a prophet of God, but I won't do my home teaching like he asks," or "I follow the Word of Wisdom, except for this part and this part."? Doesn't it really mean that everybody follows the Church up to the point where they actually disagree with its absolute truthfulness? Sure, we are all imperfect and working on our weaknesses, but when someone consciously chooses against the Church, but insists that it is the absolute truth in the universe, how am I to interpret just how convinced that person really is? Are they trying to convince me, or themselves?
P a g e | 62
October 23, 2009 Past and Future Behavior As a student of psychology, I'm interested in what makes people tick. Understanding why people do what they do is the most basic concentration of my discipline, along with eventually being able to predict behavior (some take it even further and argue that the ultimate goal is to control behavior, which is probably at least partially true). One thing most people tend to agree on is that a person's past behavior can often tell us a lot about present and future behavior. That's why character witnesses are called in trials before deciding on guilt, why we get asked about our past work history in job interviews, why colleges want to know our high school GPA before admitting us, and so on. Past behavior often (though not always) is predictive of future behavior. If a person has been fired from the last four jobs, the interviewer has pretty good reason to believe that he won't do much better in this job. Similarly, looking through Joseph Smith's character before the founding of the LDS church may give us some insight into the type of person he was. Of course, all believers are aware of the stories of him refusing alcohol for his leg operation, reports of his strength of character, his spiritual mindedness, etc. But what about his profession of locating buried treasure for a fee (source)? The fact that he told trusting individuals that he had the ability to see things that no one else could see, and then was unable to deliver the promised goods I think tells us quite a bit about his character (interesting discussion and history). Whether he believed he could see more than others is for another discussion. My point is that he was able to convince people that he had special powers, and not by actually delivering anything. Smith was actually fairly successful in getting money out of people who trusted him. And so what does this tell us about his later behavior? Did he make the most of his ability to convince others of anything he wanted? Did he really have special powers? Was it just a short step from getting people to believe he saw buried treasure to convincing them that he had visions of angels? What was his motivation in peeping through stones before the Book of Mormon? Was it God's will that he look for treasure? Was it to better mankind? Or was it for a quick buck? And again, what does this tell us about Smith's character? November 3, 2009 These Things I Believe In the past month I have been asked independently three or four times about what it is I do believe in. This blog tends to focus on why I do not believe in the LDS church, but may often leave the reader wondering about how I view life, the universe, and everything. I hope the following helps. I believe in the truth. I have never seen it, and I admit that I do not fully understand it, but I have absolute faith that the truth exists and that I can get closer to it in this life. I suppose that I
P a g e | 63
do not feel it entirely necessary to obtain absolute truth in this life, but I do believe what is most important is the seeking of the truth. To paraphrase the old saying, the truth may be the destination, but the journey is what's most important. Although I do not consider myself an atheist (click here for some thoughts on atheist spirituality), I am open to the possibility. I do not fear the truth even if it means we are all just blobs of flesh with a few short years of existence on a rock. Because whether I like the truth or not is a matter of how I interpret it. Suppose we do discover someday that this life is all there is. In that case it is what it is - we can choose to think of it as devastating, bleak, meaningless, or we can think of it as giving even greater urgency to living life to the fullest now. Many believers I have spoken with end up saying something like "I just have to believe." In other words, the idea of there being nothing after this life is too terrifying to deal with, even if it is true. I feel that, although this may be a comforting route to take, it may ultimately be inauthentic. Even if these are the only few years we have, that is all the more reason to make these years meaningful. I fear that religion too often gives people excuses to delay living life. Believers may suffer needlessly for a lifetime, never experiencing the good that life has to offer, insisting that all will be made right after death. "God will sort it out." While I do hope that justice is served at some point, I do not believe that that is any justification for delaying life. By experiencing life, I do not mean that we should live fast, have as much pleasure as we can, and die young with a big smile on our faces. But to deny one's self happiness for the sake of religion is often unfortunate (e.g., a young LDS football player was offered a position in the NFL, but reluctantly refused so as not to miss church and be labeled faithless; otherwise excellent marriages sometimes never happen because of religious differences). I believe that the ultimate pursuit in life is an understanding of who we are, and how we fit in to this place called the universe. For me, I feel that family and education are the keys to living life to the fullest. Spirituality means different things to different people. For me, a "spiritual" experience is one that involves giving meaning to my existence. It is something that helps me to feel like a worthwhile organism in the context of this Earth. This is why I have expressed several times on this blog that my family is the most important thing I have; I can be the most meaningful person to my children. This may also be the reason I was drawn to clinical psychology for my profession. By making this life more tolerable for others, I obtain the most meaning for my own existence. I certainly hope for something more after this life. I am constantly amazed at the complexities of the universe and especially of life on this planet. I make no claims to know what happens after we die. If something happens, I can honestly say that I am doing all I can in this life to know what it is, and living a good, decent, honorable, and full life. If there is nothing after this life, I am spending the time I do have authentically, following conscience, embracing knowledge whether it is what I hope for or not. And if nothing else, I feel that my existence on this planet has been and will be of some good to those around me. As Billy Corgan said, "My life has been extraordinary: blessed and cursed and won."
P a g e | 64
November 6, 2009 Speaking Against Majority Recently a commenter asked me why I do not simply remain silent about the reasons for my decision. Why create a blog about it? Why not just let the Church be and go on my way? I would like to revisit this here. In 1956, a scientist named Asch was interested in conformity. Specifically, he wanted to know under what circumstances people conform to group pressures, and under what circumstances a person would not. Here's what he did: Asch brought seven of his own students into a classroom. These seven were confederates (i.e., they knew what the study was about and were given instructions on how to behave). Asch then brought in the study participant, who thought that everyone else in the classroom was also a regular participant. Up on the board in the room was a set of two cards (there were a total of 12 sets) that looked something like this: The researcher went down the line asking each of the participants to say which of the three lines on the right card most closely matched the length of the line on the left card. The confederates were instructed to give false answers on 7 of the 12 trials. What the researcher wanted to know was how the naive participant would respond depending on what the majority of the group said. It was obvious which line actually matched the model, so would the participant choose the right answer even when the majority chose the wrong answer? What he found was that about 37% of participants gave an incorrect answer every time the confederates did, and about 75% of participants gave at least one incorrect answer when confederates did. But getting back to the question, here's the most interesting finding, I think; when just one of the confederates went against the rest and chose the correct answer, participants were much more likely to also choose the correct answer. When just one confederate went against the other six, only 5-10% of the participants conformed to the majority! To put it plainly, it seems that people will often choose something that they perceive as obviously wrong in order to go along with the majority around them (even in something as trivial as a visual test). The reasons for this could vary greatly, but most participants blamed their behavior on poor eyesight (which was controlled for in another part of the study). In other words, these people said to themselves, "Gee, I guess there's something going on here I don't understand. Everybody else seems to think B is the right answer, so maybe what I'm experiencing is wrong." We see this kind of thing all the time in the LDS church; a believer first learns about polygamy or the denial of priesthood to Black persons, and tells himself, "Gee, that doesn't seem right. But
P a g e | 65
there are so many other people here that think it's okay, so there must be something wrong with my perception. I'd better just do what they are doing." But the study shows that if just one person has the courage to speak his mind and say, "Hold on a second - I really don't think that line B is the right answer. Every way I'm looking at it from right here says that line C is right," then the next person is that much more likely to say what he or she is really thinking. That person is much more likely to trust in his or her own judgment. This is a large part of why I do not stay silent. I'm saying, "I really am not seeing how B could be the answer; here's why..." I sat on that back row for most of my life saying what everyone was else was saying, even though it was not at all what I was seeing. Now, I am calling it like I see it, and if someone can explain to me how line B is more correct than line C, I am completely willing to discuss it. If someone else has been in that position for most of his life, feeling very uncomfortable about what he is seeing (or not seeing) on the Sunday School board, I am attempting to be that voice that says, "Follow your conscience. No matter what the majority says, follow your conscience." November 19, 2009 Personal Interpretations of Obedience One of the LDS church's more respectable doctrines is the 89th section of the Doctrine & Covenants, more commonly called the "Word of Wisdom". It's been called the Lord's law of health. It is essentially a set of fairly simple guidelines about what is good for the body and what is not. LDS often use the Word of Wisdom as evidence of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s gift of prophecy. They say that he could not have known about the dangers of tobacco or coffee in his day; therefore, preaching against the use of these substances means he had direction from the Almighty (source). In any case, I find the Word of Wisdom an interesting part of the LDS church. Some segments of it are very explicit in their meaning (e.g., "tobacco is not for the body"), while others are extremely vague. However, the leaders of the Church have somewhere established clearer definitions for some of the vague terms (i.e., "hot drinks" means black or green teas and coffee). And still, for some of the sections that are just as vague, they have left the decision up to the individual member. When asking a bishop if caffeine is prohibited by the Word of Wisdom, the member will be told that it is between God and himself (similarly vague response). That's quite the statement. In other words, what the Church does there is state that God might have a different set of rules and consequences for each person. That is, what may be a sin for one believing member may not be a sin for another. I've always seen this as problematic. For example, the temple recommend question simply asks, "Do you obey the Word of Wisdom?" I have never understood how an obese person could answer affirmatively to that question. If we are commanded (though it has been a slowlydeveloping commandment) to take care of our bodies, and told our bodies are temples (1 Cor. 6:19; John 2:21), how can somebody say they follow the commandment while obese, or even
P a g e | 66
overweight? Can you imagine a bishop with a scale in his office, weighing each member during an interview, and then tearing up his or her temple recommend if his or her body mass index were over the limit set by the Brethren? Couldn't obesity be compared to alcoholism (check this out)? Aren't they just two different forms of harmful behavior to the body? But then if a person can ingest trans and saturated fats every meal and still be temple worthy, why can't a member who has an occasional cigarette after dinner, or a beer on the weekends say, "this one's between God and me"? Why would God have some universal commandments, and then some commandments that are individualized? Really, the only solution I see is to either list out the Lord's recommended daily caloric intake, and publish a list of approved ingredients and unapproved ingredients for the members who so badly want to be righteous. Either that, or leave the whole thing between members and God as the Doctrine and Covenants state. December 13, 2009 Wizards and Men Near the end of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions are shocked to discover that the person they had revered and admired as the "all powerful" wizard was nothing more than a mere man, hiding behind a curtain, pushing buttons and turning dials that put on the appearance of superhuman abilities. He was just a simple man from Omaha who had gotten lost in the land of Oz, and was hailed as a mighty wizard by its inhabitants as they witnessed things they did not understand. The man proceeded to live out his role as a leader, slowly building up new ways to impress and awe his followers until he had perfected the deception. By the time Dorothy and the others had arrived to call on him, his reputation preceded him; everyone knew he was a wizard, because he had all the deception in place, structurally and socially. While he may have brought order to the Land of Oz, and perhaps his reputation kept the wicked witches at bay, he was a fraud, in far over his head, and eventually was discovered. I often wonder if this simple man from Omaha was in a position similar to that of the so-called modern day prophets. I doubt he had a malicious and power-hungry motive in taking the seat of power that was set in front of him. More likely, he did what everyone expected of him, and fit the role that he felt was needed. Similarly, I find it noteworthy to read some of the things past presidents and apostles of the church have stated regarding their personal experiences which separate them from other members (click here). It seems to me that the leaders of the Church today are not that different from the little man from Omaha, putting on the show that the followers expect, pushing buttons and turning dials that keep up the deception that they have superhuman abilities. Whether the man is hiding behind a curtain, or claiming to see beyond the "veil", the principle is very much the same. And just like the trusting people of Oz, believing members of the LDS church trust that Thomas
P a g e | 67
Monson is exactly what he is built up to be, paying no attention to the mysterious curtain (i.e., problematic history) that would expose him as a mere man. December 20, 2009 The Message In the Orwellian-themed fictional world of Equilibrium, a new doctrine has been introduced in an attempt to rid the world of hatred and injustice. The hero of the film eventually concludes that the doctrine is contradictory in nature, and that the very thing the doctrine is meant to fight is actually what it perpetuates. He brings these concerns to his superior, who tells him "It is not the message that is important, but our obedience to it." I have found this to be a similar response in the LDS church. Discussion of things in Preach My Gospel and other Church-approved manuals is fine, but anything beyond should be left unexplored. At that point, we must stop concerning ourselves with the message/doctrine/practices of the Church and instead concern ourselves with obedience. Consider the following selections from a talk by Robert C. Oaks: For us, to 'believe all things' means to believe the doctrine of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the words of the Latter-day prophets. It means to successfully erase our doubts and reservations. It means that in making spiritual commitments, we are prepared to hold nothing back. It means we are ready to consecrate our lives to the work of the kingdom... If we have spent any time considering the nature of faith, we must realize that 'believing all things' is the equivalent of full faith, not full knowledge... At some point in our quest for perfection and eternal life, we may come to have perfect faith and eventually perfect knowledge. But between now and then, there will certainly arise intriguing questions with answers reaching beyond our capacity to comprehend. Such questions can drive the prideful person to conclusions such as 'Given the constraints of Christian doctrine, there is no possible answer to this question; therefore, a thinking person cannot be a Christian.' Such pride and arrogance must greatly offend the heavens... One day there will be answers to all our questions, and they will be based on divine fairness and love... Let us believe all things. Let us have unquestioning faith in all of the doctrines and truths of the restored gospel. In other words, if the message the Church is sending seems contradictory, problematic, incomplete, or just plain wrong, that is where we "prideful" people (who believe that the truth should make sense) need to give up our desire for a clear message, and clutch onto obedience to the message. At that point, the Church desists stressing its message and instead stresses obedience to it. "It is not the message that is important, but our obedience to it." This is a classic step in destroying clarity of thinking. Adolf Hitler, for example, made his officers and soldiers swear obedience to him - not to the laws or to the German constitution (source). That is, whatever the message Hitler gave was irrelevant. It was the obedience that mattered (Please do not misunderstand the comparison; members of the Church are not Nazis! The principles used to control their behavior are the similarity). One of the most basic steps of a
P a g e | 68
force that wishes to have ultimate power over others is to indoctrinate its followers with "Don't think about it too much: just obey it." I'm sure that's why so many of the believers who attempt to contend with me fail to address any of the concerns I've raised, and instead concentrate on the simple fact that I have deviated from the path beaten in front of me. For some of us, the message matters. And I will not, cannot, abandon my deepest values for the sake of obedience to a flawed message. December 27, 2009 Pigs Among Men Orwell, one of my favorite writers, spent his life examining and exposing the methods used by those in power to manipulate, use, and control others. He concentrated on tyrannical governments, but these same principles apply to many religious practices. In his classic work Animal Farm, he creates a microcosm of this power struggle on a small farm. The animals run the farmer off the land, and establish a government of their own. The pigs assume the position of leadership, making promises that the animals' lives have changed and that a new era has begun. At the end of the story, however, the rest of the animals are repulsed to find the pigs have become the very thing they claimed to abhor; they had turned out to be no different from the farmers. The final line of the book explains, as the animals peered through the farmhouse window to see the pigs sitting with men, The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. (read entire book here) The phenomenon of the revolutionaries repeating the behavior of those they fought against was certainly present in the LDS church as well. For example, Joseph Smith preached against adultery and other lustful acts (e.g., Jacob 2). He founded his church promising purity and chastity to those who would follow him. Of course, once he had established his power, he became the very thing he preached against; he took a large number of wives, often from their first husbands, several of them teenagers (source). He and his early elite became the adulterers they professed to condemn (those who disagree are first directed to this post, then feel free to respond). Another common theme throughout Orwell's writings is that the leaders allow themselves special privileges that are strictly forbidden to the followers. For example, in 1984 (full text here), the high members of the Party have control over the devices monitoring their movements and speech, may have quality chocolate and other such comforts not permitted to the rest of the society. The elite members of the Party may make exceptions to their own rules as they see fit. They are somehow above their own laws: requiring the followers to practice restraint, but not themselves. This is also true of Joseph Smith, Jr.; his own conditions for the practice of polygamy were that (a) it be only for the purpose of producing children (Jacob 2:30), (b) plural wives must be
P a g e | 69
virgins (D&C 132:61), (c) the plural wives may not belong to another man (also D&C 132:61), and (d) the first wife must give her consent (also D&C 132:61). Smith followed not one of these conditions: (a) he produced, at most, 3 children from extramonogamous marriages (Compton, 2001; Embry, 2007); (b) he married at least 15 women who were not virgins; (c) at least 11 of whom belonged to their living husbands (Compton, 2001); and (d) Emma did not give consent until 1843 - years and wives after Smith started the practice (Brodie, 1945; Embry). Thus, Smith felt that he was somehow above the conditions of polygamy he set forth. Somehow his rules did not apply to himself. So we see that the LDS church is no exception to the corruption that comes with power. Thus, while Orwell demonstrated how pigs, when given ultimate power, become the men they despise, Smith showed us how men, when given ultimate power, become the pigs they despise. January 5, 2010 Progress A thought occurred to me in the library the other day; does God make progress? Does He evolve, so to say? Does He adapt to His environment? The LDS church teaches that progress is an eternal principle, so does it apply to God? The LDS scriptures appear to be contradictory in answering this question. They state in dozens of places that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (e. g., Mormon 9:9; D&C 20:12, 17; 2 Nephi 27:23; Alma 31:17; etc.), and that He does not change (e. g., Mormon 9:10, 19; Moroni 8:18; etc.). And yet, the evidence presented in the scriptures suggests otherwise: that God has softened a great deal, and changed His mind about several key doctrines: • •
For example, He apparently has lost His taste for blood over the centuries (see Exodus 32:27-28; Ezekiel 9; Ezekiel 26; Amos 9:1-10; etc. compared with Matt. 5:39, 44). He also seems to have really come to look upon women with more appreciation (1 Cor. 11:3, 9; 14:34; Numbers 5:30-31; 1 Timothy 2:11; compare to Luke 7; John 8; this article; contrast with complaints in this blog; note that women were not permitted to speak at general conference until 1988; etc.). Oh, but then really changed His mind about other things regarding women. No one can argue that He has significantly changed His mind about skin color and righteousness (compare these statements with this and this). He's become less direct in His communication (compare Moses 7:4 with "impressions come... I think...").
Of course, I could go on and on. My point is that, when one really looks at it, it appears that either God progresses at about the same rate as the rest of society, or that maybe He wasn't in charge of the policies of the LDS church in the first place.
P a g e | 70
January 8, 2010 Revolving Intolerance I think it's interesting to look back over the history of humankind in terms of hatred and intolerance, especially over things such as race and religion. There seems to be a recurring pattern in human beings where we oppress others who are different from us. What I find most interesting is how many of the groups who are victims of the oppression eventually end up becoming the oppressors, and very often for the same reasons. For example, the historian Tacitus reported that Romans were intensely cruel to early Christians. Many were crucified, fed to wild animals, and killed in other horrible ways for the simple fact that they were Christians. Yet Christians killed people in similarly horrible ways, believing they were witches. The Hebrews believe they were enslaved by Egypt for centuries, yet many Jews were involved in trading slaves (source). I bet if one were to look at any race or religion in history, one could find a time when that race or religion was hated and oppressed by some other group. What's more, I bet one could find a time when that same group became the oppressor to another group different than they. Similarly, the early LDS suffered great hardships as a consequence of following their beliefs. They were forced to leave county after county, were robbed, tarred and feathered, and even killed for no reason other than being LDS. Those who stuck to their convictions regardless of the consequences are admired and revered in LDS culture. And yet, if a person sticks to his convictions, and they are somehow in conflict with the LDS faith, he is quickly attacked, hated, shunned, and often oppressed. Why is it that people are so bad at remembering when they were on the receiving end? They gasp in horror at the stories of Joseph Smith, Jr. being chastised for reporting visions, and the early LDS being driven out of their homes. Yet these same people harshly attacked and some ostracized me when I announced that I was following my conscience. We all want to be allowed to follow conscience: to walk to the beat of the drummer we hear. LDS know the horrors of being oppressed for belonging to something they felt they could not deny, yet the LDS sure were intolerant of anyone with Black skin, even when they shared the exact same religious beliefs! Once again, the oppressed became the oppressors. Even more recently, the Church retains a disdain for homosexuality (here is one example, here is a response). I was told by a stake president a few months ago that he was "born a believer." I don't think he could stop believing in the LDS church if he tried. Yet he expects a person who is born with same-sex attraction to give up what is at his or her core. He would be furious if I told him he had a flaw that needed to be fixed. Yet he expects that individuals who feel they were born homosexual must deny it, or be fixed.
P a g e | 71
Why does this double standard persist throughout history? Our own predecessors knew exactly how wrong and horrible it was to oppress others for reasons such as skin color and religious beliefs - because they were on the receiving end! Why then do we, who have finally been accepted for who we are and what we believe, still not accept others for who they are and what they believe? January 14, 2010 Effort Justification Social psychologists have studied a theory called “cognitive dissonance” for decades. One of the more interesting facets of this theory is a phenomenon they have come to call “effort justification.” In brief, the theory states that people tend to like things more as the cost to them increases (see study). For example, the theory essentially states that if you were to fill up a theater with 100 people who came to see a sneak peek of some movie, and were to randomly charge some $50 and allow some in for free, that the people who paid the most would enjoy it significantly more than the people who got in for free. Or if you charged them all the same amount, the people who drove the farthest to get to the theater would like the movie more than those who came from a few minutes away. The explanation is that we keep the effort and cost in our minds and build up what we experience in order for our efforts to be worth the cost. We say subconsciously, “Well of course I love what I’m doing. I wouldn’t have paid all that money and made all that effort if I wasn’t going to love the consequences!” While the theory applies to dozens of areas of everyday life, I have noticed it also applies to the LDS church as well. If one considers all the effort being a member of the Church requires, one can see why, according to effort justification, the believers are so terrified to think they might be wrong about the Church. •
Think of the countless hours given to the Church, in callings, preparation for callings, talks, attendance of several meetings per week, beginning seminary at 5:45am (as I did for 3.5 years), cleaning the building, sometimes driving for hours to attend the temples, etc.
Consider the thousands of dollars in tithing money the Church requires to be “donated” from average members.
Remember the two years of 60+ hours weekly spent being rejected in the name of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, Jr. while being denied phone calls to family, relationships with the opposite sex, television, casual dress, a decent haircut, etc., and also paying for the experience out of own and family’s pockets.
After all of this, it is only natural that members of the Church would insist that they do not want to know if it is a lie. One of the greatest ways to create a testimony of the Church is to instill the deepest fear of learning that it is a fraud. After all of the cost to be a believer, members insist to
P a g e | 72
themselves (and others) that they do it all because they know they are right. In reality, these are all just another reason to want so badly to believe. The alternative is that all of that time, money, and heartache were for much less than eternal salvation. And they say to themselves, "I wouldn't pay it if I wasn't absolutely sure." And so, it appears that the crippling fear of having wasted time, money, and effort is often the foundation for loving a bad movie, or having an unquestioning testimony in the LDS faith. January 27, 2010 Coerced Faith Probably the most fundamental problem I have with organized religions in general is their basic premise. Many of the religions with which I am familiar carry the underlying message of "If you do not accept and follow what I say, without any shred of evidence, then you will be punished." Sometimes the preachers carry out the punishment here in life (take a look at radical Islam), and sometimes the punishment lingers until the afterlife (see pp. 52-53 of Preach My Gospel). Of course, the LDS church veils this threat as an "invitation to obtain salvation" but the result is the same. You must believe without any compelling reason other than because you were told so (e.g., D&C 46:9). By the way, anybody else who tells you to accept what they preach without a shred of evidence or you will be punished is a liar, has been deceived, or is working for the devil (Matt. 24:4-5, 11). But not the LDS church. No, they're the one and only sincere threat. Why is it that some people find favor in the sources of threats? Why is it that some people remain attracted to the very source of punishment? A similar phenomenon occurs with victims of domestic abuse. Compare some of these reasons the abused stays with the abuser with why believers may stay with the threatening source of eternal damnation. Week after week believers are told they are not yet good enough; that their wants and desires are sinful; that they must remain loyal no matter the odds; that they will only suffer if they attempt to leave; that they are bad if they question the doctrine or those in authority. For the same reasons that a bright woman may stay with an abusive spouse, believers are similarly molded to "want" to stay with the threatening Church. In contrast, the message I get from science, reason, logic, and common sense is "Here's all the evidence I can possibly find. Here's what I conclude, but sort it out for yourself too, correct me if I'm wrong. If you don't believe it, no problem; you'll be just fine." Which message sounds more honest? February 9, 2010 Undisclosed Motives Over the course of revealing my concerns about the LDS church to its members over the past several months, I've received some very diverse responses in attempts to appease my inquisitive
P a g e | 73
nature. Some of these were fairly decent attempts to make sense of the confusing doctrine and practices, while others were nonsensical. For example, one of the most counter intuitive explanations for Joseph Smith's taking of multiple wives came first from a Stake President, and then from an Elders Quorum President. They both said, "Well, we don't have many writings from Joseph Smith on the matter, so we don't know why he did it." In other words, having less information about it somehow strengthens the position. Really? If I were in the position they claim Smith was in - extremely reluctant to engage in polygamy - I would write down everything I could, explaining exactly what was going on, defending and justifying my actions. Instead, Smith hid his "divine" practice as much as he could, even lying about it publicly several times (source). The fact that he did not journal about it extensively seems to hint toward shame, secrecy, and dishonesty, but certainly not transparency, obedience, and honesty. By all appearances, Smith hoped that no one would ever find out. A believer may conclude that Smith must have been commanded not to write down the reasons (see Mormon 5:9; D&C 76:115). But then the argument goes back to the question of just how much a prophet should be allowed to hide from his followers. I, for one, find it very dangerous to assume that the less information we are given, the less concerned we should be. February 17, 2010 Feathers In Walt Disney's classic film Dumbo, a baby elephant named Jumbo, Jr. is born (well, actually a stork literally dropped him off) with unusually large ears, even for an elephant. These ears begin as a burden and a source of shame to Jumbo, Jr. But their true nature was hidden - the ears allowed him the gift of flight. Unfortunately, the poor elephant had been taught by nearly everyone else in his life that he was nothing, and so he doubted his potential. In order to build some confidence, Jumbo, Jr. was given an ordinary feather, unremarkable and useless for the feat he was about to attempt. However, he was told that it was a magic feather that would insure his success, and so he made the effort and accomplished something he thought was otherwise impossible. This seems to be a common characteristic of people as well; we tend to doubt, or even fear, our potential. Marianne Williamson (1992) captures this in the following popular statement: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
P a g e | 74
In other words, just like Jumbo, Jr. was capable of great things, but needed some kind of artificial encouragement it may be that some of us need a gentle psychological push towards greatness as well. Click here for another example from Corsini and Wedding (2007, see p. 4). In both examples, the subjects' abilities were unchanged. Jumbo, Jr. was always capable of flying, just as the inmate was always intelligent. The difference happened when they believed in their abilities. I find that, in many ways, the LDS church (and many religions for that matter) similarly are the proverbial feather in the process of helping individuals reach their potential. If that were where it ended, I do not believe I would have much about which to criticize the Church. However, at the same time it gives people that extra boost towards appreciating their potential, I find that the Church too often creates dependency, essentially insisting that although we can achieve great things through the Church, it is only through the Church that these things are possible. For example, the LDS church would have the world believe that without it, the following are (at least nearly) impossible: • • • • •
True happiness A happy marriage A meaningful life Freedom and order A unified family
In reality, each of these can be found outside of the Church's influence. I feel that rather than telling us all that we have inherent divine potential, but without the Church we are nothing, perhaps we have great potential no matter what the Church tells us. With all of the feathers they try to pass off as magic (e. g., priesthood, inspired leaders, the Holy Ghost, etc.) maybe the real power lies within us. March 2, 2010 Ministry of Truth Previously, I have used the writings of George Orwell to compare how the LDS church resembles The Party in his novel 1984. The Party is the ruling political body in the novel, which goes to great lengths to ensure that it will remain in power. For example, the main character is employed in The Party's "Ministry of Truth," which is actually a sophisticated system of literally rewriting the world's history. If the leader, "Big Brother," makes a prediction which turns out to be incorrect, the Ministry of Truth's duty is to go back to the records of the prediction and change it to match what actually happened. Thus, there is no contradiction on paper. The leader is maintained as accurate and infallible. And all the while, the governed consume the lies, either unknowing or uncaring that the reality upon which they feed has no substance. How sad that the LDS church also falls prey to the temptation to change its own history. It is unfortunate that an organization that claims to have and promote truth in its purest form (I found the title of this talk laughable) continues to tell half-truths and allow its members to
P a g e | 75
believe falsities about its history (examples here, here, and here). Naturally, the Church fears that people would be turned away from it if they knew the whole truth early on. That would be devastating to its membership (see related quotes here). But what about honesty, trust, and transparency? Imagine you meet a beautiful woman. She seems flawless, like everything you ever wanted. When you're together, it just feels right. But for some reason, she won't talk about her past. She changes the subject whenever you ask where she grew up, or mention her family. She says she wants to just focus on the present. So you get married, and eventually you realize that she was concealing a criminal record, three divorces, and a small fortune worth of debt. Do you think you would have committed to her had you known the full story? Wouldn't you feel manipulated? Taken advantage of? Used? If she truly were an honest and trustworthy person who loved you, don't you think she would want to be upfront with you? If the LDS church really loves its members and investigators, and strives to be a beacon of honesty and integrity, why does it continue to keep its history concealed, or allow the world to believe things that are not accurate? Doesn't it seem deceitful? Doesn't it seem self-serving? March 10, 2010 Anniversary Today marks the one year anniversary of the day I informed the ward bishop that I did not believe Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet, or that the LDS church held the truth about God and life. I admit that I felt and feel rather bad for the bishop. Our ward was being combined with another and the new bishop had asked me to come in to be extended a calling. We had never met before, but I felt that the time of transition would be less difficult for just about everybody if I informed the Church then of my decision rather than lying to him and accepting the calling only to ultimately inform him later. His reaction was about what I expected: shock, disappointment, subtle accusations, trying to induce guilt, etc. What surprised me about it was that I responded; I spoke up, and with very reasonable things to say. For most of my life before that point, I had been scared to speak up: often ashamed that I did not fit the expectations. I had felt that there was somehow something wrong with me because I did not believe with ease. But finally, at that moment, I had found my voice. I was no longer spewing out the expected answers, echoing the scripted responses, repeating with obedience the things that had always been rewarded. This time, I was saying what I truly, in my heart of hearts, felt about these things. I was finally being honest - with myself and with all who would hear me. This is a change for which I have longed over the years. For far too long, I was torn between the fear of being wrongfully judged by those who would not or could not listen, and my own increasingly potent conscience. What a horrible battle it was! But now, finally, I can wake up knowing that if nothing else, and even if I have to stand alone at times, I am standing tall. The battle for me has ended the only way it could; I know that I am speaking and living authentically.
P a g e | 76
I find it a tragedy that the LDS church does not allow for difference of opinion in such matters. The members are taught that if an individual knows little of the Church and does not accept it, he or she "is not ready." And if a person knows of the Church and yet still cannot accept it, he or she must be deceived, must not love God, must be unwilling to show a little faith, or must be selfish and worldly. As near as I can tell, according to LDS doctrine, it is not possible for a person to be of sound mind, of reasonable spirituality, and of an honest nature and yet also disagree with the Church's claim to absolute divinity. It is impossible for one to simultaneously "know" he or she is right and also allow for someone else to dissent without attempting to cut down his or her capacity for seeking and finding unfiltered truth. The few active, believing members who do not look at me with condescending eyes are those who realize that they have chosen to believe what they do, but that they could also ultimately be wrong. Isn't that the more accepting stance? Isn't inclusion closer to Christlike charity than exclusion? Is it possible that I am not possessed by demons, that I have not been deceived, but that there might actually be some substance to my concerns? Walking off the beaten path for the last year has not been easy, but I've gained new perspective on my surroundings, and seen things from angles that many LDS will never see. My biggest regret is that I did not step away sooner to find the path that I fit best, or to pave my own. March 16, 2010 Pathology For the past 7 months I've been working at the state's prison for inmates who suffer from a severe mental illness. All of the worst male mental health cases in the state's criminal population are sent to this facility. Their diagnoses cover a wide range of disorders including developmental disabilities, somatoform disorders, trauma-related disorders, paraphilias, mood disorders, and so on. Approximately half of the inmates on my caseload suffer from psychotic disorders (i.e., involving delusions and/or hallucinations) of some sort, including schizophrenia. For example, I spoke with one individual recently who told me some about his family history and his experiences in life. For a while the conversation appeared fairly typical. But after a few statements, it became clear that the inmate experiences the world in very different ways than I. He began to tell me about his special abilities to heal people simply by being in the room with them, no matter how severe (e.g., blindness, terminal cancer, etc.). I learned about his abilities to read people's minds, and how he had raised his sister from the dead before. He reported receiving messages from the television set or radio on a regular basis, explaining his earthly mission to him. At one point he stated that he not only has a special relationship with God, but that he actually is a god with divine powers. The interesting and sad part of the conversation was that this man was absolutely convinced that all of these things were true. He even told me that he had doubted his abilities at several points in his life only to have them "clearly" proven again. He was passionate and gracious about his "powers," and in another setting he might have piqued my interest. But of course, my prior knowledge about the man colored my judgment about what he was saying. To name a few things that discredited his abilities, (a) he was in prison, (b) he had poor hygiene, (c) I had seen his very low IQ scores, (d) I knew he was on several psychotropic medications, and (e) I have been
P a g e | 77
nearsighted since the 4th grade and my eyesight did not noticeably improve when I entered his presence. While I did not leave convinced that the inmate had divine powers, here is part of what I took from our conversation: It seems that strength of conviction does not necessarily correlate with reality. This man knew, by his definition of the word, that he was capable of supernatural things. But nobody outside of himself had ever seen evidence of that. I do not wish to suggest that true believers are delusional or otherwise psychotic, but I do suggest that if all of the evidence that supports one's convictions is internal (i.e., is found inside the mind or spirit), and the majority of external evidence, where available, suggests different conclusions, then it would be wise to question the internal evidence. That is, if everything inside of you and other believers confirms that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet, but pretty much everything outside of you supports the suspicion that he was a fraud (e.g., significant problems with the Book of Mormon, unfulfilled prophecies, evidence of fabricating his translations, etc.), then it may be time to reconsider how accurate the internal evidence is. In other areas of life, most individuals shift the focus when original convictions are continually contradicted, so why not in religion as well? If a man told me he had been divorced twice through no fault of his own, I might wonder what were his wives' problems. If he told me he had been divorced six times, I would probably shift the focus to him and ask myself what it is about him that keeps ending in divorce? Similarly, it strikes me as odd that the mountain of significant problems with the LDS church is disregarded. If there were two or three minor concerns about it, I could understand overlooking them. But after countless issues have been raised over hundreds of years about the legitimacy of the Church, and essentially nothing significant and tangible supporting it as God's one true and living church has emerged, is the locus of the disagreement with the skeptics who have been overcome by "the adversary", or are there real sincere problems with the Church? April 25, 2010 If, Then There is usually a logical flow from evidence to conclusion in most things. For example, if it is snowing outside, then I can reasonably conclude that it is also cold; if my car runs, it is reasonable to conclude that there is also gas in the tank. Truth tends to work in this direction. We observe evidence, and are led to the appropriate conclusion of that evidence. To get to the next step, the next piece of evidence must be found. In the LDS world, however, I have noticed a pattern of misapplying certain evidences to reach unwarranted conclusions. For example: •
If the Book of Mormon gives one a lot of strength in life, then it is reasonable to conclude it is a book that can lift one up.
P a g e | 78 • • •
If the Book of Mormon teaches one to have more faith, then it is a wonderful book on faith. If it helps a mother to love her children, then it is an excellent guide on parenting. However, even if all of the above things are true, it is not reasonable to use any of them to conclude that the Book of Mormon is an historical document, translated from plates of gold. Evidence that would support that conclusion might be found in archaeology, linguistic studies, DNA research on the claims of the book, and so on. Unfortunately, virtually all such research has failed to support the book as anything more than a product of a religious-minded young man living in the early 19th century in a region full of spiritual debate.
To read the Book of Mormon and like the themes, and even to feel good about the content, does not mean that it was divinely inspired. On the same note, jumping to conclusions about Joseph Smith based on unrelated evidence can be misguided. • • • •
If Joseph Smith inspired millions, then he was a charismatic leader. If he converted thousands with his words, then he was a powerful orator. If he stood up against threats against his life and suffered through prison, then he was a very brave (or at least motivated) man. But it is problematic to use any of the above evidences to go beyond their corresponding conclusions and decide that they point to Joseph Smith being a prophet of God. Every chance that might have supported the latter claim has proven damaging to it.
We would not jump to erroneous conclusions in other areas. One does not propose to a woman simply because she says she likes kids. One does not purchase a house simply because it has a large garage. One does not purchase a car simply because it has a balloon tied to the mirror. One does not invest in stock simply because it is called "moneymaking stock." In each of these cases, one should do more investigation until the evidence led to the appropriate action. Just as one would not fall to his or her knees and worship a television magician after a card trick, one should not conclude that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is an historical record after feeling good about it. There are vital pieces missing in between. May 11, 2010 Doublespeak Early on in my LDS experience, I noticed an intricate, albeit subtle, pattern in its methods of conversion and retention. It may be one of the simplest methods in principle, yet also one of the most invasive. The method to which I refer is often called "doublespeak." It is language characterized by deliberate attempts to mislead or distort reality (more). The reader may be surprised to learn that doublespeak is used daily, in almost every setting imaginable (Chomsky has spent his career studying it). However, for the purposes of this blog, this post will focus on the LDS church's use of doublespeak in attempts to convert, retain, and control. The following are a few main examples:
P a g e | 79 •
"Knowledge" in place of "Belief"/"Hope"/even "Want." Consider the statement, "I know the Church is true." As I have addressed before, no one really knows if the Church's doctrines are accurate. Every single time a general authority, bishop, nursery leader, or seminary teacher says, "I know it's true," he or she is using doublespeak. The accurate statement would be "I believe it's true," "I hope it's true," or even "I want it to be true." In reality, when LDS use "knowledge," they refer to anything short of knowledge. The Church practice propagates the distortion of reality with the misuse of the word.
"Volunteer" in place of "Submit." The most obvious example of this form of doublespeak is in the Church's claim that full-time missionary work is voluntary. In reality, male members are all but forced to go (see some interviews here; a talk by Hinckley). While no one holds a gun to a young man's head, and many are excited at the chance to go, to call it "voluntary" ignores the negative consequences one may suffer by not going. One fears he will never be desirable to young LDS women, will suffer humiliation, will be socially ostracized, members will question what horrible things he must have done to not have "volunteered." Although the word may apply to some young men and women, it is neither fair nor accurate to apply it to all missionaries.
"Truth" in place of "Church's teachings." Similar to "knowledge," when leaders speak of "the truth," they usually refer simply to the doctrine taught by the LDS church (example). Of course, if they were to refer to it accurately, it would not have the powerful but deceptive emotional impact on those who hear. Contrast the statement, "If you follow these truths, you will know they are of God," with "If you follow the Church’s teachings, you will come to believe they are of God." The latter statement corresponds with reality more than the former, but if one's goal is to create an anchor based on emotion, the first statement is the better choice.
"Donations" in place of "Membership fees." Again, while no one holds a gun to members’ heads, Church doctrine and policy contain several threats against its members should they fail to pay the required funds. For example, members who pay tithing are guaranteed not to be burned at the last day (D&C 64:23). Of course, the other side of this is that not "donating" carries the threat of being burned alive. Additionally, if one cannot or will not pay the full 10% of his or her income, that person cannot have full membership (i.e., hold a temple recommend). Thus, tithing is absolutely required to be a full member of the LDS church. To require a donation is contradictory at its essence, and thus another use of doublespeak to mislead and distort reality. Members believe they are willingly writing their checks, when they are actually just paying their dues so that they may attend weddings, be involved in ward temple day, etc (examples and discussion).
"Faith" in place of "Gullibility"/"Ignorance"/"Vulnerability"/"Rejecting Conscience." While not misused every time, the word "faith" is often wrongfully applied. Whenever I have spoken to members about my concerns with Church history and doctrine, they inevitably say that they take it on "faith" that these disturbing things have explanations that they are incapable of knowing now. In other words, they are leaving themselves endlessly vulnerable to the deceptions of men (Eph. 4:14) by not paying attention to the
P a g e | 80
warning signs. When one has natural moral objections to the actions of Joseph Smith, but rejects his or her conscience to overcome the cognitive or spiritual dissonance, one becomes the definition of gullible, ignorant, and vulnerable (more discussion). The Church suggests that if one objects to something horrible that Smith did, the task is to become more vulnerable and reject the objections (i.e., have more faith), rather than for the leaders to give an explanation. While faith should refer to the hope and belief in something we cannot know, I argue that it should not discount what we can and do know. •
"Service" in place of "Required labor." Again, "service" is required in the Church. To not accept a "calling" is to reject the will of God (source). No one holds a gun to members’ heads, but would one dare to question the being who grants him or her breath (Isaiah 42:5)? Thus, to call it "service" is another distortion of reality.
"The Holy Ghost" in place of "A good feeling." The majority of missionary work is accomplished by attributing good feelings to a supernatural being, called "the Holy Ghost" (source). If one feels good about joining the LDS church, that feeling is called a manifestation of this supernatural being. If one has similar feelings about selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon, then it is from another supernatural being called "Satan" (source). If one has a similar feeling about chocolate ice cream, then it is just a good feeling. In other words, the Church calls a good feeling by several other terms according to how it serves the purposes of its alleged divinity. The feeling is what it is, but the Church uses doublespeak to present it as whatever else it likes.
"Satan" in place of "Bad luck"/"Second thoughts"/"Reason." When I began to logically sort out my concerns, I was told by members that "Satan" had a hold on me. Satan was apparently working very hard to help me in the process of finding reasonable answers to my questions. Members often speak of how hard "Satan" works just before someone gets baptized. In reality, the potential convert is having natural concerns (i.e., "second thoughts") about making a life commitment to an organization about which he or she knows relatively little. But missionaries call those reasonable concerns the work of Satan.
These are just a few small examples of terminology the LDS church uses to distort reality. When one begins to uncover this elaborate code, the illusion can begin to fade. These things and more can be seen for what they are. The seeker of real, unadulterated truth will see reality, without the lenses and filters of deceptive language. The shaky frame of dogma will collapse, to reveal the potential for real growth. June 13, 2010 Appearances Most believers who are aware of common criticisms of the LDS church admit that, at first glance, some of them seem concerning. Most agree that the idea of polygamy initially rubs them the wrong way, and that the official denial of priesthood to persons of African descent seems like it may have been a mistake. But these same believers tend to discount the serious ramifications
P a g e | 81
of these problematic doctrines, giving past leaders of the Church the benefit of a doubt. Believers generally tend to say something to the effect of, "Although it looks really bad, there's probably a justifiable reason for it somewhere." Believers insist that the existence of these concerning doctrines is a trial of faith. God has supposedly presented these trials to separate the wheat from the chaff (e. g., Matthew 3:12): to test just how strong one's faith is. Will one believe the charming and attractive doctrines even among those that appear to be contrary to goodness? Will one overlook the appearance of evil in order to support what good remains? The Bible counsels believers not only to avoid evil, but to "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22.). It seems troublesome, however, that the same God who inspired this counsel, also appears to often flirt with the appearance of evil by commanding his chosen instruments to do things which go against moral conscience. The most obvious example may be Joseph Smith, Jr.'s form of polygamy. He lied to his wife about courting women behind her back, and then consummated marriages with them. He pressured girls as young as 14 to marry him. He took women from their first husbands to become his own wives. He used followers to pose as husbands to some of his several wives (e.g., Compton, 2001; another source). He publicly and privately lied about his practice several times (source). I find it difficult to attempt to argue that these things did and do not, at a minimum, appear evil, especially because it took years for Smith to own up to them, and the current LDS church condemns the practice of polygamy (source). How are we to interpret these events? The Bible counsels us to avoid the appearance of evil, and yet past Church leaders have done so much that appears evil without ever offering reasonable explanations. Are we to err on the side of the wise biblical counsel and truly hold leaders accountable, or are we to allow them the appearance of evil under the protection of our faith? July 8, 2010 Pleading Ignorance A common response to my position on the Church from believers is essentially that God approves of erring on the side of ignorance as long as one believes it is in His service. That is, believers sometimes admit that there are no explanations for many of my concerns, and that my concerns certainly appear valid, but that even if we critics are right about these things, they will somehow gain a greater reward if they follow the Church anyway. I've been told by several members that they just don't worry about these things right now. They wonder about them, but put them on the cognitive back-burners to be addressed at some undetermined point in the future: probably death. Believers seem to insist that even if these disturbing criticisms are true, as long as they are doing what they are told to in the present, that will be enough. It is as if they say, “Although there is no reasonable answer for this, I believe God wants me to follow it anyway. He rewards faith, not investigation.”
P a g e | 82
I often wonder what God might say to them upon their deaths if my criticisms are correct. I wonder if he would meet them at the pearly gates and say, "You did pretty well down there, but you died a member of the LDS church?" The believer would defend his or her actions, "Well, yeah! That's what I was taught you wanted!" God might say, "No, that's what they told you I want. I tried to send you the real message." The believer wonders, "What message?" God responds, "I directed you to discover Joseph Smith's dozens of wives, on your mission I led you to speak to that Jehovah's Witness who mentioned Brigham Young's racism, and when you were researching for that talk I kept trying to get you to read all that evidence that Joseph Smith's translations were a bunch of nonsense! You kept ignoring all of my attempts to lead you to the truth!" Believer: "Well, yeah, but all that contradicted what you have revealed." God: "You mean what the LDS church says I revealed. Did it ever occur to you that all those things weren't a trial of faith for you, but a message from me?" Believer: "No. But even so, I figured if I remained obedient, that was the most important thing." God: "But you were obedient to a church. That is not the same as being obedient to me. I gave you conscience, intelligence, and curiosity. I never wanted you to drown those things out for the sake of obedience to a false message." Believer: "But I ignored those things out of love for you!" God: "I know that. But you also loved your church. If you really loved me more than your church, you would have done everything in your power to find out the truth, even if it meant that your church was wrong. Instead, you showed me that you loved your church more than the truth. You loved comfort more than honesty." Believer: "Well, why didn't you give me something more obvious?" God: "What more did you want? I gave you every opportunity to learn for yourself, and when that didn't work I sent people who had learned to tell you face to face. You called them 'deceived sinners'. You even knew about Joseph Smith's polygamy and you did nothing!" Believer: "That's not true. I talked to my bishop about it."
P a g e | 83
God: "...And he gave you some vague answer that helped to quiet your conscience about it long enough for you to ignore it again. The fact remains that Smith had more than 30 wives with no justification, and you still thought he might be my prophet?!?" Believer: "The bishop told me I would learn the reasons for it later." God: "And instead, you're learning that you were wrong - misled by the cunning and craftiness of men for your whole life. Going so far as to ignore what I placed right in front of you. You spent all that time waiting to learn what I was trying to tell you right then." Of course, I don't know what that conversation may look like, if it ever happens. But I feel that, if nothing else, I can honestly say that I have done all I can to know whether or not the LDS church is His church. In closing, I will end this post with a quote from the LDS god: "It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance." D&C 131:6 July 21, 2010 The Worthiness of Souls Imagine being a fly on the wall in a bishop's office in 1977. A warm and friendly bishop sits across from a middle-aged man, who is a convert of 5 years. The bishop interviews him for a temple recommend renewal (the questions have been abbreviated for space's sake). Bishop: "Brother Johnson, do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?" J: "Yes sir." Bishop [after more questions]: "Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator; and do you recognize him as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?" J: "Absolutely!" Bishop: "Do you sustain the other General Authorities and the local authorities of the Church?" J: "I do." [answers more questions satisfactorily] Bishop: "Are you a full-tithe payer? Do you keep the Word of Wisdom? Do you consider yourself worthy in every way to enter the temple and participate in temple ordinances?" [Brother Johnson answers yes to each question]
P a g e | 84
Bishop: "Marvelous. Well everything seems in order." [the bishop begins to sign the recommend and makes some small talk] "So what did you think of Sister Young's talk today?" J: "On genealogy? I thought it was perfect timing. I had just completed a big chunk of my genealogical record." Bishop: "Really? That's wonderful. I hope you're finding some interesting things." J: "Yes. As a matter of fact, I was surprised to find that I actually have a great great great great grandfather who was a freed slave! Imagine that!" Bishop [suddenly serious]: "Wait a moment. You mean he was African?" J: "Well yeah. He was born on a plantation in Georgia, but was given his freedom after rescuing his master's wife from a wolf! Amazing story really. After that he moved out West where he met my great great great great grandmother." Bishop: "I see. Well I'm afraid this changes everything." J: "I'm sorry?" Bishop: "Brother Johnson, I'm afraid I'll have to ask for your recommend." [bishop tears it up and discards it] J: "I don't understand." Bishop: "Well, it turns out that you're not temple worthy. In fact, you've never been temple worthy. That African blood flowing through your veins disqualifies you from entering the temple, and I'm afraid that this nullifies your sealing to your wife and children." J: "But I answered all of the questions honestly." Bishop: "I know, and I appreciate your efforts and honesty, but if I'd have known about the grandfather, I never would have let you enter the temple in the first place. In fact, you should probably try to forget everything you learned in the temple. I apologize for the misunderstanding. Oh, but before you go, the Lord would like to extend another calling to you..." Fictional? Yes. Unrealistic? Not at all; •
Presidents and other authorities of the LDS church before 1978 stated that even one drop of African blood would make a person cursed concerning the priesthood (source).
Jane Manning James, the first documented African American pioneer, repeatedly petitioned the First Presidency to be allowed to enter the temple and have her children sealed to her, but her requests were denied each time even though she was worthy by
P a g e | 85
every other standard. The only reason her requests were denied was the color of her skin (Embry, 1994). D&C 18:10-11 states, "Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore He suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him." It seems, however, that every LDS prophet from Brigham Young up until Spencer W. Kimball (10 presidents of the Church) interpreted that scripture differently. They apparently were told by God that it meant "...He suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him, except for blacks. They cannot repent sufficiently to come as close as a white man unto Him." How is it that some still claim this racism was due to "limited understanding" (e.g., McConkie, 1989, p. 165)? •
Wilford Woodruff said, "I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty” (Official Declaration - 1).
Harold B. Lee (1968) said, “God will never permit him [the president of the Church] to lead us astray. As has been said, God would remove us [the leaders] out of our place if we should attempt to do it. You have no concern.”
According to these quotes, there is no validity to the argument that 10 prophets spoke with limited understanding when declaring that Africans were an inferior race. Either they spoke the truth, or they were not called by God. The answer seems clear to me. Why do so many members still offer these men the protection of their faith after such an obvious and grievous violation of Christ's teachings? August 8, 2010 The Blame Game I am constantly amazed at members' reactions to my concerns. More often than not, I am met with accusations of varying degrees. For example, • •
When I first presented the outline of my concerns (the largest of which is Joseph Smith's sexual infidelity) to a bishop, he asked me if I was having an affair. When I spoke with the Stake President about the same things, expressing my concern that Joseph Smith's actions appear to be motivated by sex more than spirituality, he wondered aloud if I had a pornography addiction. When I expressed my feeling that the Church has treated minority groups more like intolerant elitists would than like a people led by God Himself, an anonymous commenter openly suggested I am a closet homosexual. In almost every case where I express my suspicion that the Church is led by men, not Christ, I am accused of lacking spirituality.
P a g e | 86
In brief, whenever I suggest there is something out of place within the Church, I am accused of having the same thing out of place in my own life. What amazes me is the inconsistency of the blame; I present evidence that Joseph Smith, Jr. was unfaithful to his wife, lied to her and the entire Church about it, that he threatened teenagers with familial damnation if they did not marry him, that he took women from their living husbands, and that he did all of this without reason. Church members quickly disregard my concerns, or forgive Smith for his flaws. If I dare to suggest he be held accountable for his dishonesty, lust, deception, and worldliness, I am very quickly accused of being dishonest, lustful, deceptive, and worldly! In other words, many members assume - without cause - that I am guilty of doing exactly what Joseph Smith did! They disregard Smith's documented infidelity and suspect without reason that I am guilty of far lesser crimes. It's as if I report to the fire department that I just saw a man set a building on fire, and that there may be people trapped inside, but the fireman on the other end says, "Even if that is true, we'll sort it out in good time. But the real issue here is that I'm concerned you may play with matches." When guilty men are praised as heroes and innocent men are distrusted and accused, it is a very disturbing and troubled world in which we live. It is unfortunate that it appears truth and accountability have no place in such a world. August 27, 2010 Dumbing It Down Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was perhaps the most brilliant scientist of the 20th Century. He had a gift for understanding concepts of physics and math that no one on the planet had ever before conceived. He held a doctorate in physics, and was probably the supreme authority in the field at the zenith of his career. He has been credited with a quote that is usually stated as, "If you can't explain something to a six year old, you really don't understand it yourself." In terms more applicable to his field, one might say, "If you can't explain your theory to a layman, you don't understand it yourself." Einstein's theories are quite complicated. The actual general relativity equation looks like this:
Naturally, most of us who do not hold doctorate degrees in physics do not understand this equation at all. But rather than leaving most of the world lost and confused, Einstein explained his theories to us in very simple terms that anyone with a basic knowledge of physics could understand, using his thought experiments (example). By simplifying his theory and using language and examples that were clear, he allowed people not only to grasp his ideas, but to also understand how solid the ideas were. It is very difficult to find fault with his theories; even the layman can agree that his thought experiments are reasonable, logical, and appear correct.
P a g e | 87
The contrast with the LDS method of teaching is striking to me. LDS doctrine contains several principles apparently so complex, that even a lifelong dedicated servant of the Master Teacher is unable to comprehend. For example, Gordon B. Hinckley admitted that he did not understand why God commanded that members with black skin be denied the blessings of the priesthood (source); the Church has not made clear why there is a discrepancy between DNA findings and the Book of Mormon, but have instead changed the official stance on the origins of Native Americans (2nd paragraph); leaders prefer to simply not talk about Joseph Smith's specific form of polygamy rather than attempt to explain it. The Doctrine and Covenants 19:22 even goes so far as to state that there are things we cannot know or we would "perish." We are assured that there are reasonable explanations for all of these (example), but that the answers are far too complicated for us to understand. Even the most spiritually advanced men on the planet do not have a grasp on the answers to some of these questions, or at least not enough that they will attempt to explain it. Indulge me for a moment and compare Einstein with the LDS god. Imagine that Einstein wrote in his famous papers, "Something plus something else equals another thing when you calculate it with something else. I know what the somethings are, but the reader would not comprehend it, so just trust me on this." Suppose Einstein had not even attempted to explain the theory to his colleagues with whom he worked for years. Other scientists would say, "Well, the rest of the theory makes okay sense, but the problem is that it all depends on this original equation that you're not giving us! Can you be a little more specific? We're pretty bright and we've done everything we can to understand your theory." Einstein, if he were like the LDS god, would reply, "You are just not capable of understanding," or "If you knew, it would destroy you. In the meantime, just base all of your lives on the assumption that my theory is correct." After a few years of this game, it would become pretty clear to a reasonable person that he didn't even understand what he was talking about, his theory wouldn't pan out, and he probably just made the whole thing up. I do not hold a Ph.D. in physics, but I have a pretty good understanding of the theory of relativity. I don't hold a degree in biology, but I have a good grasp on evolutionary theory. Both seem like very solid theories to me. However, I was raised in the LDS church my whole life, served a 2 year mission, graduated from seminary, and served in several callings (including 2 Elders' Quorum Presidencies), and as hard as I have tried to understand polygamy, denial of priesthood to people of African descent, and the severe problems with the Book of Mormon, I am at a total loss. If God cannot explain some of the most fundamental doctrines to even the highest ranking followers, then there's a good chance that He does not understand them either. That leaves me to believe that the entire LDS church is built upon a foundation of sand. And when the best way to make sense of God's doctrines is that they were made up by men, then there is apparently an enormous problem with God's one true church. Call me faithless, but I will stick with things that make the slightest sense before accepting things no one understands.
P a g e | 88
September 17, 2010 Trying Faith We are promised in the New Testament that God will never try our faith beyond our ability to bear it. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13) God apparently tests out our threshold at times, pushing our limits. Take Job and Abraham for example; they were both pushed far beyond what any reasonable person should be expected to endure, yet all the while praised God. They both are held as heroes of the Old Testament. They set examples for believers - demonstrating that we should not question, should not doubt, should take whatever the Lord can throw at us. What I find odd, however, is that the apparently same God has been inconsistent in His demands on the faith of His children. For example, when Joseph the Carpenter discovers that his betrothed, Mary, is pregnant, he is faced with a huge trial of faith. His future wife asks him to believe that not only is she a pregnant virgin, but that the child she carries is the literal son of God. As Joseph sorts all of this out in his mind, it appears that God decides He would rather not test the threshold of Joseph's faith, but instead reveals to him in a dream that Mary's explanation is correct (Matthew 1:18-24). Rather than push Joseph to the limit of his faith, God grants him a sure sign so that he may overcome his perfectly reasonable doubts. Joseph, the man ordained to be the earthly guardian of the Son of God, was not left to anguishing soul searching, constantly wondering for the rest of his life if Mary had been unfaithful. Instead, he was reassured in a very loving and personal way. I find this divine behavior odd in another LDS context, however. Just as Mary gave her fiance a fantastic story to explain why she was pregnant, Joseph Smith, Jr. gave his wife, Emma, a fantastic story about why he married several women without her consent. Both Joseph the Carpenter and Emma Hale were in extremely difficult positions. They were both faced with evidence of a fornicating partner, but also told that the purpose of the infidelity was by divine providence. Understandably, they both reacted in the same way initially - disbelief, disenchantment, likely anger, jealousy, etc. Yet God's response to each differed greatly: He gave Joseph the Carpenter a comforting vision to help his faith, but He threatened Emma - through her seemingly adulterous husband - with destruction (D&C 132:54, 64), stated that if she continued to question her husband's actions he would be rewarded with even more wives (D&C 132:55), and is told that her forgiveness from sin depends upon her forgiving her husband of his sexual infidelity (D&C 132:56, 65). In brief, when Joseph the Carpenter and Emma were presented with very similar trials of their faith, God provided Joseph with a clear sign that his betrothed acted according to His
P a g e | 89
commandments, while it appears that He never once gave Emma a sign. On the contrary - He commanded her husband to chastise and threaten her! It appears that God is either a respecter of persons, pushing the faith threshold to its limits for some of His servants while reassuring others, or one of the above acts of infidelity was not in accordance with divine commandment. September 24, 2010 Standing for Something One of the more honorable attributes of Jesus Christ is His usually quiet defiance of social and political norms when they are ungodly. Obviously I do not refer to the "cleansing of the temple," which appears to have been rather violent (John 2:14-15), but in all other areas where something was out of place with social and religious practices, He shamelessly did what was right, often opposing what was popular. In fact, in driving out the moneychangers, He showed that He feared not what man thought; as long as it was ungodly, He would defy it. Christ did not usually defend righteousness in such aggressive ways, but it appears that He openly opposed society's more subtle wrongs as well. For example: •
John 4:7-9. The woman at the well was shocked that Christ, a Jew, would speak to her, a Samaritan. Christ did not shy away, did not avoid her because of her nationality, but instead engaged in very personal, loving conversation. His disciples were clearly disturbed that He would speak with her (John 4:27).
Luke 7:37-48. A woman of low esteem washes Christ's feet in her tears, and dries them with her hair. The Pharisee observer clearly is troubled by Christ's allowing the woman to touch Him, yet he patiently allows her penance to proceed, then teaches all that their practice of shaming and chastising sinners is wrong.
Luke 6:6-11. In opposition to the widely held social and religious norms, Christ heals a man on the Sabbath.
John 9:1-3. He shattered the belief that physical disabilities were the consequence of sin.
As a general rule, He held women in high regard - a radical practice in the region and time (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:34-35). After His greatest miracle of all, the resurrection, the first to learn of it were women (Luke 24:1-8), but even His disciples would not believe women (Luke 24:11). The first person on Earth honored with direct witness of the miracle was Mary Magdalene, a woman (John 20:11-18). This was a strike against the male-dominated culture of the age.
There are, of course, several other examples in the New Testament. My point is that Christ was never one to shy away from controversy. He stood His ground for what was right, even when it led to His death. Why, then, would this same Christ, who defied even the most deeply rooted practices whenever they were out of line with God, the same Christ, who is supposedly the head of the LDS church -
P a g e | 90
why would He command, without reason, that persons of African descent be denied priesthood blessings and temple attendance? Even though racism was popular at the time, and even when it was becoming taboo to continue the policy, the LDS church clung to the racist practice, that they stated was revealed to them by Christ (source). Later, of course, it was re-revealed to have been wrong (source). To command leaders to do the wrong thing for more than a century is uncharacteristic of the Christ of the New Testament. It seems reasonable to conclude that either Christ is inconsistent, or the leaders who claimed that He made the former revelation were lying. Similarly, what Christ apparently revealed to be divine commandment - polygamy - was phased out for the purpose of becoming a more mainstream church, and to fit society's expectations (source beginning with "The question is this:"). Rather than standing His ground and defending His commandment through tribulation and opposition, rather than insisting that His divine revelation be adhered to, He apparently buckled under the pressure from popular politics and social practices. I find it odd that Christ, while in the flesh, would personally defy generally held beliefs for the sake of doing what was right, while easily relenting from the heavens - letting society and politics push His commandments around. It is an odd deity who is unchanging (e.g., Mormon 9:10) and yet appears to have made drastic changes in character. Either that, or the LDS church was not and is not led by Christ. October 11, 2010 The Source of All Knowledge I believe that the single most significant and influential teaching of the LDS church, and the reason that it is as large as it is today, is the idea that an emotion is a communication from God. Not only that the emotion is from God, but also that anything else is of no value. To break it down, the LDS church teaches that (a) an emotional reaction is a message from the creator of the universe, (b) no matter what the emotion is it leads to the conclusion that the Church is true, and (c) declaring that all other sources of information are irrelevant unless they are in sync with the Church being true. The problem is that it is one of the easiest things in the world to evoke an emotional response. A few notes on the piano will easily move one emotionally. A single look from another person can cause one to feel fear, lust, anger, peace, etc. A few lines of a poem can bring one to tears. A scene in a movie can evoke these same emotions. The missionaries teach investigators that good feelings about some Church teachings witness that the teachings are true (source). But if one hears another doctrine of the Church that evokes a different emotional response, like disgust, that is apparently not a message from God, because it might lead one to conclude that the Church is not what it claims to be (more). Then, when someone such as I tries to investigate the real history and teachings of the Church, and finds strong physical, archaeological, or logical evidence that it is not what it claims to be, the Church insists that all those clues are irrelevant compared to the emotional conviction they have. Doctrine & Covenants, for example, states:
P a g e | 91
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things (Section 6:22). In other words, if something seems like it's not right - if it seems like you need more from the Church to keep following it - what you are supposed to do is recall the one time you did feel good about it. If you feel bad about it now, there's nothing wrong with the Church, you just need to start feeling good again. In brief, if you ever have a positive feeling about any part of the Church, it must be true. Any bad feelings you have about it are distractions from Satan. I've spent a very long time trying to come up with an adequate analogy, but it's so nonsensical that nothing fits. So here's a try: Emotions are easily swayed, much like a feather moving in the breeze. So imagine a feather tied to a string, hanging from a tree branch. A man sits under the tree and watches the feather one day. A bird up on the branch tells the man that it is a magic feather - it can predict the weather. If the feather moves to the north, there is a thunderstorm coming. If it moves south, there will be sunshine. If it moves east, there will be snow, and if it moves west, there will be rain. The man watches for a while and the feather dances mostly Northwest. He sees some storm clouds off in the distance and concludes that the feather is magic. The next day, the feather sways eastward, but it stays sunny and warm. The man says, "Well, I already know it's a magic feather." So when he learns later in the day that it snowed in Alaska that day, his conclusion is confirmed. "The feather's magic is so powerful, that it could see it was snowing hundreds of miles away!" The next day, the feather moves to the south, and the sun shines. It is indeed a magic feather! The next day it blows to the west, but the sun shines again. A week later, it finally does rain and the man is awestruck that it not only predicted the weather, but that it did it a week in advance! An easily-influenced variable is given ultimate authority. But when the easily-influenced variable acts unpredictably it is meaningless, or still evidence of the purported source's authenticity. This logic contains no real connection between what happens and what is real. November 2, 2010 Pedagogy I've had a fairly long history being taught, and have had many opportunities to teach as well. There is some disagreement regarding how teaching is most effective, and I often wonder about God's method according to the LDS church. Contrast the following two examples: •
In a class on American history, we never knew what to expect on the tests. We took copious notes during lectures, read and re-read the textbooks, and prayed in preparation. I specifically remember leaving the testing center after the first test completely confused. I had no recollection of hearing some of the terms used on the test, some of the answer options given were ambiguous or equally as valid as another, etc. After receiving our grades for the written sections, several of the students were upset that
P a g e | 92
they were docked points for not answering unasked questions. What confused me most about the grading system in this class was that the goal did not appear to be simply challenging us, but it seemed as if all was being done to keep us from succeeding. I wonder what would have been so detrimental to our learning if we had been tested on what we had been taught. •
About a year before that, I took an introductory statistics class. The professor's philosophy of teaching was quite different from that of the American History class's. He warned us that the assignments would be very strict, and that he did not allow even the slightest mistake. He explained that he would mark off points for bad handwriting, misplaced commas, extra decimal points, failure to use certain words, and so on. But he also told us that, although the standards were very strict, about 80% of his students ended up with A's. He said this was because he would make sure that we understood the material. As long as we came to class, paid attention, and asked questions about anything and everything we did not fully understand, he would use his vast experience and patience to be certain that the concepts he taught us were clear. The class was very challenging, but I came out with an A, and a very clear knowledge of basic statistical principles.
Let's examine the two different approaches; both classes required much, were challenging, and I learned a great deal from them. Both were taught by experts in their respective fields. However, the first required much but gave very little to facilitate success, whereas the second required much and made everything available to us that could help us reach its high demands. The first class considered 90% of the class receiving A's as evidence that it was not challenging enough, while the second class viewed 90% A's as evidence that the students were learning the material. According to LDS doctrine, God wants us all to pass this "test" of earthly life (source). It is His deepest desire that we all are worthy to return to Him (Moses 1:39). I understand that lowering the standards would be a poor method to achieve this goal. To simply decide that attendance alone would suffice for an A grade would demean the entire point of the class. Likewise, in the LDS world, to simply give everyone salvation regardless of behavior or character would make the Celestial Kingdom little different from earthly life. If demands must remain high, wouldn’t it fit the character of the Master Teacher to respond to our inquiries with patience and thorough explanation, building upon what we already know? Why, then, does He apparently make so little effort to help us understand the most complicated teachings of polygamy, denial of priesthood to persons of African descent, along with the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon in the face of DNA and archaeological evidence against it, etc.? The LDS god requires that we accept polygamy, and accept that the priesthood denial was not evidence against the Church's divinity. Why, then, does the LDS god not also deliver some degree of explanation for the same? If they are, in fact, eternal principles, are we not to
P a g e | 93
understand them? If these confusing and troublesome teachings do not require explanations for us to accept them, why did that same god plague us with the power to think? Some would say, "He gave us the Holy Spirit. That's all we need." For example, most members who wonder why polygamy was justified conclude through the Holy Ghost that some reasonable explanation exists (although we do not have it), and insist that they require nothing more. This is similar to asking the professor of a class how World War I developed, and being met with, "The answer to that on the test will be C." You may say, "That's good, but that seems relevant to the rest of what followed. Will you help me understand how it fits?" The professor says, "Well, you don't need to understand it, you just need to remember that the answer is C." Why would the master teacher encourage confusion when the explanation is available? Why put off our learning? Why delay our growth? December 10, 2010 Measures In humankind's search for the truth, there are several tests we put to possible explanations of phenomena. Often, we must use indirect methods of measuring those that are not easily quantifiable otherwise. For example, when a person desires to know how many trees grow in a year, he can physically count each tree. But if a person wants to know the difference in temperature between a boiling pot and a refrigerator, he will need something that can measure temperatures: a thermometer. An adequate measure requires a minimum of two characteristics: validity and reliability. If a measure is valid it assesses the phenomenon it was meant to (e.g., a bathroom scale is valid if it actually assesses weight). A measure is reliable if the result is consistent throughout trials (e.g., a scale is reliable if it measures the same object at 20 lbs. today, tomorrow, and a week from now). Both of these characteristics are required simultaneously of an accurate measure. A valid, but unreliable, bathroom scale would assess weight, but today it may show that I am 130 lbs., while tomorrow it may show that I am 240 lbs. In contrast, a reliable, but invalid, measure would be similar to me stepping on a bathroom scale to read my temperature - it would give me essentially the same result whenever I stepped on it, but the information would not be that I sought. With the two required characteristics of an adequate measure in mind, let us examine the LDS church's ultimate measure of truth: an emotional experience. Firstly, is an emotional experience reliable? I submit that it is sometimes reliable. Similar stimuli often trigger similar emotions. When I watch a scary movie, I usually feel something I would describe as fear. Thus, a fear response might reliably happen every time I watch a scary movie. However, feelings are very often less than reliable. For example, the same piece of music may evoke a feeling of peace or excitement at the first few hearings, but another time may cause feelings of urgency or jealousy. After dozens of hearings, the same song may even become a nuisance. Even further, the same song may cause one to feel bliss and another to feel nausea. Regarding the LDS church, while reading the Book of Mormon may evoke peace and hope at one
P a g e | 94
time, it may also cause boredom, confusion, or feelings of inadequacy at others. Certainly then, an emotional experience is not very reliable. Secondly, is an emotional experience valid? Again, I submit that it is sometimes valid. For example, if I feel valued, it is likely a result of people around me who treat me like I am important and wanted. In this instance, the feeling would be an accurate reflection of reality. But if I feel lucky, it does not necessarily mean that I am likely to win the lottery. If I feel peace and hope after a Sunday School lesson, it may mean that the message was full of good, hopeful things. It usually does not mean that everyone felt the same way, however. Similarly, many feel nothing, confusion, or disgust after praying about Joseph Smith's purported vision, while others report peace, comfort, joy, etc. So again, emotions are sometimes valid. If both reliability and validity are required of an accurate measure of the truth, it seems that an emotional response is far from adequate. Just as one would not use a barometer to time a baking cake, or trust a speedometer that never rises above 5 mph., one should not base a judgment of the organization of the universe and path to eternal salvation on something as unreliable and often invalid as an emotion. January 5, 2012 Validation During the Holiday season, I witnessed the innocent joys and excitement that accompany Christmas morning. I recall with pleasure the anticipation on Christmas Eves when I was a child. It can be such a joyful time. This Christmas I stayed with a family with several young boys. The parents encourage belief in Santa Claus, and spent several days before the holiday reinforcing this belief. They told the stories, they showed the movies that encourage faith in him even when others doubt, the kids even received emails regarding their status on the "naughty or nice" scale. It is quite the elaborate scheme to keep a false belief alive in children who are so eager to accept the fantastic. Christmas morning, when all were awake and the children were noisily attending to their presents, one of the younger boys approached me and told me that he was sure he had heard Santa's sleigh during the night. I asked him to tell me more, and he told me that he had heard some taps from somewhere above him, so he was absolutely sure that it must have been Santa's sleigh and reindeer. I smiled and he moved on to his presents, but I found the experience applicable to this blog. My interpretation is this; the young child had been taught a lie since he could speak, and had been taught from other sources that his reward would come if he believed even when others did not. He was eager to take part in the fantasy because it is an enjoyable story that teaches us to be mindful of others and to be kind to our neighbor, and because he was promised a reward for believing. Naturally, after being told that a supernatural being would visit that night, he listened carefully for any sign at all of his coming. Because normal household noises were all that came, he insisted that these must be the evidence of the supernatural being's presence, and the truthfulness of the premise upon which his belief was built.
P a g e | 95
I cannot help but relate this experience to the LDS faith. Children are taught the Book of Mormon stories from birth, these stories are reinforced through books and movies throughout their lives. At several points, they are promised rewards for belief even when others doubt, and even when there is clear reason to doubt. They are told that a supernatural being will visit them to confirm their belief, and so they search for any sign at all that he has come. Any naturally occurring positive emotion is labeled as evidence that the supernatural being is present, and so the belief is emotionally validated. It appears to me that emotional validation is what both examples are really about. We train children to want to believe in Santa because if they do they will get a toy. Similarly we train children to want to believe that the Book of Mormon is sacred because if they do they will get special powers (e.g., the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the priesthood, etc.), they will gain blessings (e.g., joy, knowledge, etc.), and ultimately, they will receive mansions in the highest glory imaginable for eternity. Why would one not want to believe that? After instilling this desire to believe, they search hungrily for any validation of that belief, whether it be tracks in the snow that might be interpreted as a reindeer's or whether it is something pleasant happening that can be interpreted as a "tender mercy" from God. Indeed, it seems that what the LDS call "the Spirit" is not necessarily anything more than the feeling of validation. Any word or song that sends the message that it is okay to believe what you do, and you are not the only one, is described in the LDS world as "the Spirit". Members often speak of attending church to be edified (e.g., D&C 84:106); in other words, having gone through a trying few days between meetings, members need a spiritual uplifting. I have heard on more than one occasion a member say something like, "I really need to feel the Spirit today." Perhaps the more accurate statement would be something like, "I really need to feel validated today." In many ways, an LDS testimony meeting does not appear to be much more than a series of likeminded people validating each others' beliefs. Once a member feels validated, he or she describes it as feeling "the Spirit". While beliefs may offer comfort and hope, and anything providing validation of that belief is held as sacred, isn't it reasonable to expect the LDS teachings to be backed up by some logic and consistency? If it is not, why would it be unreasonable to bear testimony that Santa Claus is real? January 12, 2012 Sampling Over the Holidays there are often several moments that tend to direct attention toward the differences in beliefs among people. I had an enlightening and somewhat disturbing experience that I feel has some relation to this blog. While speaking at the dinner table with another diner, the topic of Judaism came up briefly, regarding the faith's most basic premises. I was shocked to learn that one of the most devout LDSs present had no idea what we were talking about. She made it clear that she lacked even the most elementary knowledge of what Jews believe.
P a g e | 96
The conversation quickly moved on to other things, but I pondered what had transpired for several minutes afterwards. What I found most interesting from those few minutes is that this person is absolutely convinced that her chosen religion is the one and only true one, without having the slightest clue about what else is out there, even relating to a religion that has been as prominent throughout history as Judaism. This disturbs me because I feel it is irresponsible to call something an absolute without at least some consideration of alternatives. An analogy may be helpful here: Suppose a new resident of a city goes out in search of the best restaurant. A coworker recommends an Italian restaurant a few blocks away, so he goes there to try it out. He orders the spaghetti and it tastes excellent. Thus, he declares that the Italian restaurant is the best in the city. Naturally, the problem here is that the diner cannot, with a surety, claim that the restaurant is the best after trying only one meal. Equally true is that this person could not make that claim after trying several meals at the restaurant, nor could he claim it after trying everything on the menu. What he could reasonably say is that it is a spectacular restaurant, but he cannot claim that it is better than any other restaurant without first trying every other one. It may, in fact, be the best restaurant in the city, but that claim cannot be made without first trying each candidate. This is why I find it so disturbing that members of the LDS faith so loudly proclaim that theirs is the one and only true (thus inherently "best") belief system. I have an easier time understanding this statement from converts, as they have likely sampled from other belief systems (analogous to an Asian or Mexican restaurant for the comparison), but again, unless a person has seen all systems, he or she cannot claim that the one he or she has experienced is better than all others. Thus, an LDS could accurately say, "I get everything I need from the LDS faith. I am not looking for anything more," just as the diner could say, "I had a fantastic meal at the Italian restaurant, so I see no reason to look any further." In both instances, however, it is unreasonable to say that the LDS church (or the Italian Restaurant) is superior to all others, because the person in question has not tried each of them. Who can say that the faithful LDS member would not feel just as strongly about Islam had he or she been more exposed to it than to LDS doctrine? Who is to say that the diner would not have been equally or more satisfied eating at the seafood place across the street from the Italian restaurant? Most members of the Church I know were born into it, attended every Sunday, had Family Home Evening every Monday, went to mutual activities midweek, and attended seminary every morning throughout high school. After finally moving out on their own, most of them attended LDS universities, or served LDS missions. In this way, what little exposure they have to other belief systems is sheltered - viewed through LDS lenses. One might smell the scents of what others believe, but he dare not taste them for loyalty's sake. To believe in something is admirable. But to simultaneously claim that others are ignorant because they do not believe that same way is folly.
P a g e | 97
January 26, 2012 Character I recently watched a PBS docudrama, God on Trial. In the film, a group of Jews are held at Auschwitz during the Nazi reign. Experiencing genocide at the hands of the Nazis moves many of them to question their religious belief that they are the chosen people of God. Consequently, they decide to put God on trial. I rented the movie because I hoped that it would contain some strong debates on theology, both for and against. I was not disappointed. There was one particular section of the movie that I found most intriguing, which I will present here for the reader's consideration. It explores several parts of the Old Testament that are not typically discussed in Gospel Doctrine classes. Perhaps this will shed more light on the reasons I have such a difficult time believing the Old Testament is in any way literal or reflective of how a real god, as envisioned by the LDS church (among others) would behave. See this previous post for an example more specific to LDS doctrine. The opinions expressed in this scene do not necessarily reflect my own. Please see my comments below the scene. The setting is that several male Jews are gathered in a dark, cold room with dirt floors, discussing what they are to interpret from their experiences as they relate to God. A rabbi who has been silent so far begins to speak (the transcript was provided from this site; or you can watch the scene here): Rabbi Akiba: Who led us out of Egypt? Judge: God led us out of Egypt. Rabbi: I have a question; Why were we in Egypt to start with? Judge: There was a famine, so we took shelter. Rabbi: Who sent the famine? Judge: Well, we don't know much about the famine... Rabbi: God sent the famine. So God sent us to Egypt and God took us out of Egypt. Judge: And later He sent us out of Babylon in order that we might... Rabbi: And when He brought us out of Egypt, how did He do it? By words, vision, miracle? Judge: Moses asked Pharaoh... Rabbi: And when Pharaoh said no?
P a g e | 98
Inmate: The plagues. Rabbi: First Moses turned the Egyptians' water to blood (Exodus 7: 17-21). Then God sent the plague of frogs (Exodus 8: 1-7); next a plague of mosquitoes (Exodus 8: 16-18); then a plague of flies (Exodus 8: 21-24). Then he slew their livestock (Exodus 9: 1-6). Next a plague of boils (Exodus 9: 9-11). Next came the hail (Exodus 9: 18-25), which battered down the crops and even the trees and structures everywhere, except in Goshen where the Israelites lived. Judge: But still Pharaoh did not agree. Rabbi: And so a plague of locusts (Exodus 10: 12-15). And then the days of darkness (Exodus 10: 21-23). And finally what? Judge: God slew the firstborn of Egypt and led us out of Egypt. Rabbi: He struck down the firstborn: from the firstborn and heir of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the slave at the mill. He slew them all (Exodus 12: 29-30). Did He slay Pharaoh? Judge: No, I don't think so. It was later. Rabbi: It was Pharaoh that said no, but God let him live. And slew his children instead. All the children. And then the people made their escape taking with them the gold and silver and jewelry and garments of the Egyptians (Exodus 12: 35). And then God drowned the soldiers who pursued them (Exodus 14:26-28). He did not close the waters up so that the soldier could not follow. He waited until they were following and then He closed the waters. And then what? Judge: And then the desert and ultimately the Promised Land. Rabbi: No. The Promised Land was empty and a new place, uncultivated. Judge: No. There were... Rabbi: When the Lord thy God shall bring you into the Promised Land you shall cast out many nations before you, nations much greater and mightier than you are. You shall smite them and utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them (Deuteronomy 7: 2). Inmate: It shows us His favor. We are His people. Rabbi: And he gave us a king in Saul. Now when the people of Amalek fought Saul's people, what did the Lord God command? I'll ask the scholar. Scholar: Crush Amalek and put him under the curse of destruction.
P a g e | 99
Rabbi: Was Saul to show any mercy to spare anyone? Scholar: Do not spare... Rabbi: Do not spare him, but kill. Kill man, woman, babe and suckling, ox and sheep, cattle and donkey (1 Samuel 15: 3). So Saul set out to do this and on the way he met some Kenites (1 Samuel 15: 6). Now these were not Amalek's people, he had no quarrel with them. He urged them to flee. And the Lord our God, was He pleased by the mercy of Saul: by the justice of Saul? Scholar: No. No he wasn't. Rabbi: And when Saul decided not to slaughter all the livestock and to take it to feed his people (1 Samuel 15: 9-26), was God pleased with his prudence, his charity? Scholar: No. Rabbi: No, He was not. He said, you have rejected the word of Adonai, therefore He has rejected you as king (1 Samuel 15: 23). And then to please the Lord our God, Samuel brought forth the king Agar and hacked him to pieces before the Lord at Gilgar (1 Samuel 15: 32-33). After Saul, there came David who took Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, to himself (2 Samuel 11: 2-4). After arranging to have Uriah killed (2 Samuel 11: 14-15) against the wishes of God, did God strike David for this? Scholar: In a manner of speaking... Rabbi: Did He strike Bathsheba? Scholar: In the sense that when they had... Rabbi: Adonai said, since you have sinned against me, the child will die (2 Samuel 12: 1314). [Turning to the judge] You asked earlier, who would punish a child? God does! Now did the child die suddenly, mercifully, without pain? Scholar: In aRabbi: Seven days! Seven days that child spent dying in pain while David wrapped himself in sack and ashes and fasted and sought to show his sorrow to God (2 Samuel 12: 15-18). Did God listen? Scholar: The child died. Rabbi: Did that child find that God was just? Did the Amalekites think that Adonai was just? Did the mothers of Egypt -- the mothers -- did they think that Adonai was just?
P a g e | 100
Scholar: But Adonai is our God, surely... Rabbi: Oh, what? Did God not make the Egyptians? Did He not make their rivers and make their crops grow? If not Him, then who? What? Some other God? But what did He make them for? To punish them? To starve, to frighten, to slaughter them? The people of Amalek, the people of Egypt, what was it like for them when Adonai turned against them? It was like this. Today there was a selection, yes? When David defeated the Moabites, what did he do? Judge: He made them lie on the ground in lines and he chose one to live and two to die (2 Samuel 8: 2). Rabbi: We have become the Moabites. We are learning how it was for the Amalekites. They faced extinction at the hand of Adonai. They died for His purpose. They fell as we are falling. They were afraid as we are afraid. And what did they learn? They learned that Adonai, the Lord our God, our God, is not good. He is not good. He was not ever good. He was only on our side. God is not good. At the beginning when He repented that He had made human beings and flooded the earth (Genesis 6: 6) - why? What had they done to deserve annihilation? What could they have done to deserve such wholesale slaughter? What could they have done that was so bad? God is not good. When He asked Abraham to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22: 1-2), Abraham should have said no (some of my thoughts on this story here). We should have taught our God the justice that was in our hearts. We should have stood up to Him. He is not good. He has simply been strong. He has simply been on our side. When we were brought here, we were brought by train. A guard slapped my face. On their belts they had written "Got mit uns" -- God is with us. Who is to say that He is not? Perhaps He is. Is there any other explanation? What we see here: His power, His majesty, His might, all these things that turned against us. He is still God, but not our God. He has become our enemy. That is what's happened to our covenant. He has made a new covenant with someone else. My Comment: Naturally, I do not agree with the suggestion that God made a covenant with the Nazis. My purpose in sharing these thoughts is that it seems appropriate to question these and other alleged acts of God (more). If God is the ultimate example of righteousness, we may either judge each of these acts as righteous because they allegedly were God's, or we can examine the acts and ask ourselves if they fit the criterion of righteousness. If not, the only conclusion remaining is that these acts were not God's, or, at a minimum, the Old Testament is not inspired scripture. As we wrestle with such difficult mysteries of the divine, I again pose the question of what is more reasonable here; are there sensible justifications for God's alleged actions as outlined in the Old Testament, or is the explanation more acceptable (however uncomfortable) that God did not command or cause these things to be done? Whether there is higher order to the universe is still up for debate, but the aforementioned stories are some of the many reasons I do not endorse the Old Testament as sacred text, or as a description of any god I can possibly believe in or worship. Lastly, I think it clearly calls into question the LDS teaching that the god of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ (more on that here).
P a g e | 101
January 9, 2013 Recent Dialogue Over the recent holiday season, someone close to me began a discussion through letters and a gift about the LDS church. I find the dialogue so far relevant to this blog. I will keep the other party anonymous. The individual gave me as a gift the autobiography of Andrew Janus Hansen, an early member of the LDS church. The giver also included a letter explaining why I received the book. Here is the relevant excerpt: I am enclosing the Autobiography of Andrew Janus Hansen to give you the opportunity to round out your education relating to the topic of Polygamy. This has been the topic of great controversy for many people in and out of the church. It seems, however, that for those who accepted and lived it the realities were many and varied. To discount a practice from our vantage point and privileges in life seems a little frivolous to me. I leave the words of Andrew to speak for themselves. Here is my response. Much of it is repeated from previous posts I have made, but it seems clear that this individual does not follow my blog: Dear ______, This brief is in regards to the letter to me you included with your Christmas gift this year. I appreciate you choosing to broach the subject of religion with me, and I hope that we can have a mature and thoughtful dialogue on this topic. I want to make clear that I do not hope to sway your opinion on these matters. You may, of course, worship however you see fit. However, what I do hope to gain from this interaction is that you may understand that I have spent years “rounding out” my education on every topic that concerns me about the Church. This was not a lightly-made decision. I also hope that, though you will never agree with my decision, perhaps you may come to understand why I made it. As your letter addresses the topic of polygamy in light of Andrew Janus Hansen’s experiences and thoughts thereon, I will constrain my response to only those statements. I have also included an updated copy of the outline of my concerns about the Church, to avoid any redundancy (references I make herein may be found in that document), and if you care to read more of my feelings on any of these topics you may find my personal blog on them at www.ldsdarklight.blogspot.com. The Use of Anecdotes You mention in your letter that early church members’ experiences with plural marriage were varied. I agree. I have never attempted to argue that plural marriage resulted only in poor outcomes, just as it would be foolish to argue that monogamy always has positive outcomes. We could find plenty of anecdotal evidence defending either position, but
P a g e | 102
anecdotes are weak evidence at best. With these aside, I argue that, although plural marriage produced some instances that worked for those involved, the principle did more net damage to those involved than would have monogamy. Neither form of marriage is free from problems, but I strongly believe that monogamy is far godlier than polygyny. Monogamy is the prime environment for the best type of marital happiness, and polygyny is a prime environment for jealousy, resentment, and low self-worth. When a husband takes a second wife, the first can only naturally feel that she is not fulfilling her husband's needs - that she is not good enough. One wife may be a better cook, a better mother, a better lover. The husband may pick and choose parts of wives to love, and must never accept one for all that she is anymore. Even if he did, the husband cannot divide his attention and affection equally between the two (or 3 or 4 dozen in the cases of Joseph Smith and Heber C. Kimball), and thus hurt feelings thrive. While the wives sometimes became very close friends, rivalries were rampant, and the friendships were often to replace what their relationships with the husband lacked. Polygamy is less than monogamy, and I do not believe that God Himself would command a practice that worked directly against companionate love. Smith’s Martyrdom In the top paragraph on page 262, Hansen states that Joseph Smith, Jr. “laid down his life” for the practice of plural marriage. I must first make clear that dying for a cause bears no reflection on the righteousness of that cause whatsoever, but only reflects the martyr’s dedication to that cause. The most obvious example may be a suicide bomber – simply because a person chooses to die for his or her belief does not bear witness that such belief is necessarily correct in the eyes of God. If it were otherwise, why are we not Muslim? We must judge the belief as right or wrong by itself. No one would argue that Joseph Smith was less-than-dedicated to his practices1, but so have been millions of
I should note that there is some second-hand evidence that Smith came to believe polygamy was a mistake. For example, Marks wrote, "[Joseph] said it [plural marriage] eventually would prove the overthrow of the church, and we should soon be obliged to leave the United States unless it could be speedily put down. He was satisfied that it was a cursed doctrine, and that there must be every exertion made to put it down." William Marks, (1860). Saints' Herald, Volume I, Number 1, page 26. 1
Additionally, the testimony of Isaac Sheen, who later became a leader in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS), matched that of Marks when he stated, "Joseph Smith repented of his connection with this doctrine, and said that it was of the devil. He caused the revelation on that subject to be burned, and when he voluntarily came to Nauvoo and resigned himself into the arms of his enemies, he said that he was going to Carthage to die. At that time he also said that, if it had not been for that accursed spiritual wife doctrine, he would not have come to that." Isaac Sheen, ibid., page 27.
P a g e | 103
others to their beliefs, even to the point of death. In this regard, Smith is not at all unique. Hansen addresses the destruction of The Nauvoo Expositor as ordered by Joseph Smith, but does not give any details surrounding the event. I believe these are vital in understanding the nature of polygamy, especially as Mr. Hansen views it. William Law was a close associate of Joseph Smith, and Law eventually came to believe that Smith had proposed marriage to Law’s wife without his knowledge (Smith often took women from their first husbands to be sealed to himself; see LDS authors Bushman, 2005; and Compton, 2001). Law understandably became disenchanted with Smith, and began publishing the newspaper The Nauvoo Expositor making public the more disturbing details of Smith’s practice of polygyny. The paper published only one known issue, after which Smith ordered the destruction of the press and any copies of the paper that could be found. Law complained to the governor of Illinois that Mayor Smith had exceeded his legal authority in ordering the press’s destruction, and that is why he was jailed. He was legally and justifiably held in prison for his role in that crime. This leads directly to Mr. Hansen’s main point: the purpose of polygamy. I will later return to address other topics he brings up. The Purpose of Polygamy Hansen correctly states that the purpose of plural marriage was not to multiply the membership of the LDS church. In fact, by introducing polygyny it appears that the reproductive potential of LDS women at the time was inhibited (see LDS author Embry, 1987). Additionally, there are no strong indications that Smith himself produced any offspring with his nearly 3 dozen wives. Clearly, polygyny did not increase the numbers in the Church2. Mr. Hansen incorrectly states that plural marriage may have had something to do with women outnumbering men during those days. Census records from those times show that men outnumbered women in Utah, from at least 1850 to 1950. Mr. Hansen opines that the purpose of polygamy may have been partly to cause members of the Church to “bring upon them added responsibilities and trials” (page 263). This opinion could be responded to in many ways, but I believe that it fits closely enough with Mr. Hansen’s final conclusion on the topic; he states that at least a very important purpose of polygamy was “that this nation in particular and the world in general should have an excuse for rejecting the message of salvation” (page 263). In other words, Mr. Hansen believes that Joseph Smith and his followers were commanded to take more than one wife so that nonbelievers could feel comfortable in rejecting the It is vital to note that LDS scripture states the only purpose polygyny might be permissible is if God “will raise up seed” to himself. See Jacob 2:30. In the book of Jacob, polygyny is specifically condemned if practiced outside of the purpose of producing more children (Jacob 1:15, 2:23-35, 3:5). This alone makes the practice indefensible. 2
P a g e | 104
LDS message. Somehow, by introducing a celestial principle that appeared evil to normal people, it was supposed to draw in only those truly elite and repulse those who would not accept God’s will. This argument is nonsensical for the following reasons: 1.
Even if plural marriage had never been practiced, LDS doctrine and history contain enough problems and inconsistencies to conclude Joseph Smith was nothing more than a man. The Book of Mormon, for example, is perhaps the best evidence that the Church is man-made (see the outline of my concerns for specifics). Polygamy is simply one more log in the fire.
If the rest of the world was intended to know about plural marriage, why did Joseph Smith try so hard to conceal its practice even from members of the church? a. b. c. d. e.
He destroyed the Expositor for the explicit purpose of keeping the practice hidden. He publicly lied about his plural wives several times, at least until 18443, but took his second wife between 1833 and 1835. Smith frequently married women without his first wife’s knowledge (Compton, 2001). Polygamy was not official doctrine until 1852, but Smith took his second wife (Fanny Alger) as late as 1835. Smith arranged for sham marriages so that it would appear that his plural wives were married to other men (for example, between Sarah Ann Whitney [married Smith in July 1842] and Joseph C. Kingsbury [pretended to marry Sarah in April 1843]). Smith even threatened excommunications for those who were discovered practicing polygamy (see William Clayton's Diary, Oct. 19, 1843). Earlier versions of the Doctrine and Covenants (1835) specifically condemn the practice of plural marriage4.
Joseph Smith Stated on May 26, 1844, "I had not been married scarcely five minutes, and made one proclamation of the Gospel, before it was reported that I had seven wives. I mean to live and proclaim the truth as long as I can. This new holy prophet [William Law] has gone to Carthage and swore that I had told him that I was guilty of adultery. This spiritual wifeism! Why, a man does not speak or wink, for fear of being accused of this...I wish the grand jury would tell me who they are - whether it will be a curse or blessing to me. I am quite tired of the fools asking me...What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 410-411) 3
"Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again." (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 247) 4
P a g e | 105
The Bible counsels believers not only to avoid evil, but to "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22.). Why, then, would God command that LDSs engage in practices that appear evil? Would not God rather take an inviting, attractive stance for His children to come toward salvation? Should it be so difficult to believe the truth? Is that not why the current Church leaders have modified the temple ceremonies to remove the gruesome death threats?
Christ warned of false prophets who would deceive even the elect (see Matt. 24:11, 24; Matt. 7:15; Mark 13:22; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). If normal god-fearing people are looking for red flags about men who claim to be prophets, should not polygamy raise enormous concern?
Is it not appropriate that we be cautious of strange doctrines such as this one? I believe that our ability and desire to know why such a doctrine would be justified is an absolutely essential part of our salvation. In fact, it stands to reason that God would demand that we take an intensely cautious stance toward polygamy. If our greatest enemy is Satan, and he has dedicated his existence to making us all miserable (2 Nephi 2:27), and he is able to entice us, we must ask for reasons before following anything. If we did not ask why, and closely study such doctrines, wouldn't we all be easily led astray by the devil? Joseph Smith warned his followers about fraudulent angels (e.g., Bushman, 2005, p. 438; see also D&C 129), and at one point (at least) was deceived by a revelation that had come from the devil (Roberts, Vol. 1, 1965), so it seems appropriate that one should question every "prompting," teaching, doctrine, and commandment to know if it truly were from God.
Legality of Plural Marriage I also think it necessary to revisit something Hansen mentions briefly. He suggests (page 262) that church members defended the legality of plural marriage on several occasions. In fact, plural marriage was illegal long before it was known that Joseph Smith, Jr. began its practice. The Illinois Anti-bigamy law outlawed polygamy. It was passed in 1833 (Revised Laws of Illinois) while the LDS were there, practicing polygamy. Most did not leave Illinois until 1846. Smith may have taken his second wife this same year, but even so, it was illegal long before the principle was made public. My Conclusions In brief, there are 3 possibilities: 1. Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet of God, commanded by divine revelation to take at least 33 extramonogamous wives during his lifetime, usually without the consent of his first wife, even often taking married women from their living husbands, on at least two occasions taking wives who were 14 years old, contradicting each condition
P a g e | 106
that allows for plural marriage in the first place (see the outline of my concerns, item 1b). 2. Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet of God who made mistakes regarding polygamy. Either he took plural marriage too far, or he misunderstood the confines of it. 3. Joseph Smith, Jr. was an intelligent man, good with people, who used his talents to gain followers. After gaining dedicated followers, he found himself bored with his first wife, attracted to other women who adored him and his purported authority, and he attempted to fit his infidelity within the religious framework he had already set up. The first possibility I find unacceptable. I believe that if a true, righteous God wanted His children to practice polygamy, He would instruct us clearly in its purpose, and He would demand that it be carried out under only the strictest of circumstances. There is no other conclusion for me from documented firsthand accounts than that Joseph Smith, Jr. took advantage of his power and others’ trust in him. There simply was no spiritual or practical purpose for plural marriage. If there was, why did God not make it clear? The second possibility contradicts official LDS doctrine, and is, therefore, obsolete. For example, Wilford Woodruff said, “I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty” (Official Declaration - 1). Additionally, Harold B. Lee (1968) said, “God will never permit him [the president of the Church] to lead us astray. As has been said, God would remove us [the leaders] out of our place if we should attempt to do it. You have no concern.” There is, therefore, no validity to the argument that Joseph Smith made a mistake about polygamy. Each President of the Church, including Joseph Smith, Jr., either did exactly what he was supposed to, or Smith was not a prophet in the first place. The third possibility is, therefore, the only one that makes any sense to me. It is wellestablished that Smith made a living of conning people out of money with his fantastical charade as a scryer, even after the alleged First Vision. It is perfectly reasonable to imagine that he used his talents at getting people to believe he had special abilities to also get them to believe that he communed with God. This is far easier to believe than that a just God would command a man to take other men’s wives. Again, I appreciate that you brought up this topic with me. I hope that we can continue to carry on a dialogue about similar topics. Sincerely, Eli I will post any response I receive to the letter here so that others may follow the discussion.
P a g e | 107
March 22, 2013 Mixed Messages The reader may be aware that the Church recently announced completing a new edition of LDS scripture. The new edition corrects some typographical errors, adjusts information in footnotes and chapter headings, etc. For this post and the next, I will comment on the new edition's introductory paragraphs for the Official Declarations at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants. The introduction to the first Official Declaration reads, in its entirety: The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7–8 and Jacob 2:27, 30). Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see section 132). From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church. First, is that LDS scripture states that monogamy is God's standard for marriage. I have a difficult time understanding the language of it being a standard, "unless He declares otherwise". All the research I have done about polygamy in the Church has shown that plural marriage is the standard, and that God only tolerates monogamy when His people are unable to live polygamy. Although I agree that the text of both the Bible and The Book of Mormon make clear the superiority of monogamy (1 Corinthians 7:2; Deuteronomy 17:17; Ether 10:5; Jacob 1:15, 2:24, 26-27, 3:5; Mark 10:11; Mosiah 11:2; 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6; also see D&C 49:16), LDS leaders and members have made clear their belief that God holds polygamy in higher esteem than monogamy. For example, •
Brigham Young taught, "Since the founding of the Roman empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 128)
John Taylor (1853) preached, "...the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people." (p. 227)
The Doctrine and Covenants contradict the idea of monogamy being a higher law than polygamy. D&C 132:3-4, 6 state, when introducing the principle of polygamy, “Therefore,
P a g e | 108
prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same. For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory… And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fullness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fullness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.” These statements suggest to me that polygamy is the LDS God's standard of marriage, unless God allows otherwise. Now the Church has released the contradictory introduction to the Official Declaration, suggesting that polygamy was a break from the norm. Are they implying that the decades-long practice of the "new and everlasting covenant" by early members was simply a temporary break from the higher law of monogamy? If that is true, the Ruler of the Universe must have had a very compelling reason for it. I, therefore, ask again, what was the purpose of polygamy? Secondly, it is incorrect that "the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s". Joseph Smith had already married at least 3 women (including Emma Hale) by that time (Compton, 2001). Third, the introduction suggests that LDS were legally practicing polygamy since its inception as if they were simply appealing the practice thereof until the Supreme Court finally upheld laws against its practice. The claim is simply false: •
The Illinois Anti-bigamy law outlawed polygamy. It was passed in 1833 (Revised Laws of Illinois) while the LDS were there. Most did not leave until 1846. Joseph Smith, Jr. took his first plural wife between 1833 and 1835.
The introduction correctly cites the first federal legislation to outlaw polygamy, passed in 1862 (Embry, 2007).
The introduction also correctly states that the Church finally issued the Official Declaration against polygamy in 1890, long after it had been made illegal, but the statement was not accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding; Polygamous marriages still took place until at least 1904 (Embry, 2007).
In brief, everywhere the LDS practiced polygamy, it was illegal. This is the longest campaign of civil disobedience in American history (Bagley, 2007).
I am certain that church leaders went to great lengths to carefully word these introductions in order to appear historically plausible, while not too out-of-line with what the Church has taught for decades. It appears to me, however, that this is simply another attempt to hide the uncomfortable and disturbing details of the Church's past. March 25, 2013 Mixed Messages Part II
P a g e | 109
Continuing my comments on the LDS church's latest edition of its scriptures, I would like to now address the new introduction to the second Official Declaration at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants. The introduction reads, in its entirety: The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood. While I completely agree with the leaders' decision to finally remove the racial restrictions, I will focus my comments on two of the claims made in this new introduction. First, the statement "Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice" is a complete lie. Consider the following: In 1947 the First Presidency issued this Official Statement: From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel. (Statement of The First Presidency on the Negro Question, July 17, 1947, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, pp.46-7) In 1949, The First Presidency issued the following statement: The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. (The First Presidency on the Negro Question, 17 Aug. 1949) And an Official Statement of The First Presidency, issued on August 17, 1951, reads: The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first
P a g e | 110
estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes... Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam's transgression. If this is carried further, it would imply that the Negro is punished or allotted to a certain position on this earth, not because of Cain's transgression, but came to earth through the loins of Cain because of his failure to achieve other stature in the spirit world. It is thus entirely clear that several Church documents outline the origins of the racial restrictions to the priesthood. They claim that it was direct revelation from God. The current introduction to the Official Declaration implies that it was somehow just a simple misunderstanding, but this is in conflict with the official statements by leaders that the restriction was doctrine because of God's direct communication of such. I find it repulsive that the leaders now easily disregard those past "revelations", and yet claim that Spencer W. Kimball's "revelation" was real. Which leads to my next point. The new introduction states "Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance." This statement suggests that leaders were anxious to end the Church's racist practices, when in fact the LDS church was the last major U.S. organization to begin treating Blacks and Whites equally. Even after dozens of requests and inquiries as to the possibility of removing the restrictions based on race, church leaders held stubbornly to the practice, and continually claimed it to be God's policy, not theirs. Rather than minimizing this disturbing, systemic racism in the Church's past, it is time that leaders acknowledge that those past "revelations" were inspired by racism and ignorance, and were never the will of God. This is why I can find no faith in any LDS leader who claims to know what God wants me to do. Past leaders commanded incorrect, arguably evil, practices to be carried out against innocent people for over a century, and now do not even acknowledge that it was a horrible mistake. They continue to insist that they are and were God's voice to His children. If they are, then that is not a god I choose to follow. June 12, 2013 Supply & Demand I recently watched an interesting documentary that is entirely relevant to this blog. The film is entitled Kumaré, and the idea behind it was to examine the role of a religious leader. In brief, the filmmaker is a fairly ordinary skeptic who decides that he will dress and behave like a wise and deeply spiritual leader, and simply see what happens (Netflix link). I highly recommend watching the documentary, but here is my summary. The actor, Vikram Gandhi, advertises his services, and gains a few followers. With no real basis for them, he makes up some completely ambiguous chants and yoga-like exercises and meditations to use with his
P a g e | 111
followers. Many of them are searching for answers, which he, "Kumaré" provides to the best of his knowledge as a completely ordinary person playing the role of a spiritual leader. Many of the followers express a deep connection to Kumaré, and sense his "purity" of intention. Many clearly put a great deal of faith in his every word, and even as he attempts to instruct them that everything he says and is is really an illusion, they continue to follow him and his ordinary wisdom. Something begins to happen as Kumaré connects with his dedicated followers and seeks to help them with their personal problems; He begins to understand the enormous responsibility that comes with his newfound power and influence. When the time comes to reveal to his followers that he is not, in fact, what he has pretended to be, and that he has no more knowledge or wisdom than any other person, he becomes intensely anxious, and is unable to tell them of the deception. After much more planning and soul searching, Vikram eventually reveals to his congregation that he is not Kumaré, but an ordinary person. His followers have mixed responses, but overall lovingly accept him and acknowledge that his works were valuable. One woman even insists that he does, in fact, have psychic powers even if he does not recognize them. I wish to address several themes I gleaned from the film. First is the fact that the followers were searching for something - answers. Each of Kumaré's followers had some problem or need in their lives, and each believed that the problem could be solved or the need could be met through some "spiritual" methods. In other words, there was a clear demand for answers, and the followers believed they required someone to supply the answers. Second, Kumaré had the appearance of a man who had answers. He had none in reality, or at least not any better answers than anyone else might have. What was important was that he supplied the illusion that he had answers, and that is all that the followers really wanted. He grew a long beard, put on a robe, carried a staff, and spoke in simple terms. The followers wanted to believe that he was wise and had an advanced perspective on the universe, so he simply met their expectations, however uninformed or faulty. Finally, I find the interaction of the two positions fascinating. Kumaré hardly ever truly gave his followers advice, because he really didn't have any answers. He often redirected their questions back to them, asking them what advice they might give to themselves, for example. And yet, simply from the nature of the relationship, the followers needed him as some sort of symbol or direction, so remained dependent upon him. He, on the other hand, was told day after day that he was making a huge impact in their lives - the followers constantly remarked to him how he had changed their lives, how they admired him. By the end of the film, Vikram felt an overpowering need to be Kumaré for these people. Even though he had done nothing but provide some sort of superficial hope and safety for them, that was what they most needed. The meaning of what he had provided to them was far more valuable than the shallow words he had used. I argue that Kumaré could have used any manner of words or approach, but that as long as he provided the message of hope and validation, he would have gained followers anywhere. I believe that is what religious disciples seek first and foremost. The details are almost irrelevant. This is clearly evidenced by the deliberate ignorance of so many LDS at the significant problems with Church doctrines and history. As long as the LDS church offers a message of hope and tells
P a g e | 112
them they are right to believe it, almost no amount of reality will deter them. I could name any number of other spiritual groups or cults where people seeking answers were caught up in a leader's charisma and hopeful message (no matter how strange); these followers sometimes become willing to do anything the leader asks, even if bizarre or unconscionable. In the documentary, Vikram was just a curious skeptic. With a little imagination, it is easy to comprehend the real damage he could have done if he were a manipulative or corrupt man. By simply pretending to be a compassionate, wise man, with some perspective on life, he almost immediately had control of his followers. A manipulative or corrupt man could easily begin to take advantage of their vulnerability and trust to get them to do unbelievable things. Through the documentary, I found new perspective on Joseph Smith, Jr. Perhaps I will spend more time on this in the future, but I have pondered Smith for some time now - why did he do what he did? At this point, I do not believe that Smith started the LDS church with purely evil intentions. I believe they were selfish reasons, perhaps to make a few dollars and have some entertainment, but not purely psychopathic. I think most likely he saw the huge demand people of that day and age had for religious guidance, and so he decided that he would step in and become a supplier. Maybe he knew that all religious leaders need is confidence and a message people want to believe. He had witnessed firsthand the methods that religious leaders of his day used to gain followers and he thought to himself, "I bet I could do that." He practiced his methods by claiming to be a scryer - confidently claiming that he knew how to locate buried treasures (more). All he needed was some demand for such services - and everyone wanted to find treasure - and he would confidently deliver the hopeful message of knowing its location. The problem, of course, is that he never once actually delivered treasure. Regardless of Smith's original motives in making spectacular claims about golden plates and visions, the documentary calls another interesting point into question - could Smith have come clean? Perhaps the whole LDS church began as an experiment for Smith. Maybe he just wanted to see if he could pull it off. But, just as Vikram found it unbearable to let down his followers, who had come to depend on him so, could it be that Smith came to feel obligated to continue his charade? I am a doctoral student in psychology, and cannot help but consider some psychological principles here. Social psychology's theory of cognitive dissonance, for example, proposes that, when faced with such dilemmas, we typically mold our thoughts and feelings to match our actions. Perhaps at some level Smith really felt guilty for misleading innocent people, but felt that coming clean and admitting that he was no prophet would have done more damage to his vulnerable followers (or it would at least get him killed). Freud might have argued that Smith's polygynous practices were an unconscious attempt to be found out as a fraud so that he could finally relieve his conscience of its burden. Or perhaps after years of hearing his followers' praise, he eventually came to believe that he really was more than a man. After all, even palm readers and other psychics must believe at some level that they really have supernatural powers if they are not entirely malicious manipulators. People return to them, and keep paying their money. Smith may have seen his growing army of followers and their willingness to do anything for him as evidence that he must have been more than a mere man.
P a g e | 113
There may also be something to learn about subsequent Church leaders here. I recently read an interesting opinion about the current leaders of the Church. The question is if they truly know deep down that the Church is not what it claims, but feel obligated to the members to continue to put on the show (or have they become the liars and manipulators Joseph Smith was?). I think that using the Kumaré experiment as a reference point, it is easy to understand how a normal member of the Church could rise to a position of prestige, learn more of the troubling reality of the Church's history, but as a combination of their celebrity status (which extends to their family), their promised blessings, the decades and dollars they committed to the Church, and, perhaps most importantly, the millions of members whose lives depend on the message, that these leaders cannot allow themselves to entertain the possibility that they were lied to and, therefore, misled their children and friends. Truly considering that thought is potentially painful, and may have serious consequences (as any of us who has left the Church knows). Friends will be lost, social status revoked, family relationships damaged, and perhaps even marriages broken (see my earlier post on this topic). And yet, just as Vikram wrestled with these questions and finally decided that, no matter how painful, the truth must be revealed, that is where I stand. It is because Vikram cared for his followers that he told them the truth. He knew the truth might be painful, but he believed his followers deserved to know, and that they were strong enough to no longer need the lie. Similarly, it is precisely because I care for my family and friends that I have told them the truth about the LDS church. Whether they still need the lie or not is their decision, but I refuse to perpetuate it any longer. "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" - Gal. 4:16 January 8, 2014 Desire Apologists often state that the LDS practice of polygamy was a commandment from God, and that is the only reason that it happened. The Church would have us believe that Joseph Smith, Jr., in total innocence, approached the Lord in humble prayer to know if Old Testament prophets were justified in taking several wives (D&C 132:1), and that as a response Smith was commanded to begin taking more wives. In fact, in most of his proposals (of which we know much detail), Smith claimed that God had commanded him to marry these additional women. This applies even to many of the women who were already married to other men. For example, Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs was already married when Smith proposed to her. She wrote that Smith said he had been commanded to marry Zina, and that "an angel with a drawn sword had stood over [Smith] and told him that if he did not establish polygamy, he would lose 'his position and his life'" (Quoted in Compton, 2001, pp. 80-81; see also Bushman, 2005). Indeed, the current position of the Church is that the taking of multiple wives was a commandment (source), and never something that members sought out of their own accord. These statements all make it seem as if polygamy was nothing but a trial for Smith and the early members of the Church. They seem to suggest that Smith was reluctant at best to take another wife, and perhaps that he pleaded with God to excuse himself from this commandment. On a few occasions, Smith publicly expressed disdain for the idea of multiple wives, and threatened
P a g e | 114
others with excommunication if they practiced it (History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 410-411; William Clayton's Diary, Oct. 19, 1843), even though he already secretly had multiple wives. These images of a reluctant and humble instrument of God notwithstanding, there are several pieces of evidence that tell us more clearly what was going on in Smith's mind where polygamy was concerned. Firstly, I find it very strange that Smith would specifically inquire about the practice. With so much else to take up his time and attention, and so many other principles that were pertinent to the salvation of humankind, why was he thinking about multiple wives? I believe that Smith had had his eye on his first plural wife, and was wondering how he might justify his desires for her while keeping in line with the doctrine he was preaching. After all, Fanny Alger, Smith's first plural wife married him while she was living with Smith's family (source; see also Compton, 2001). It is not as if this commandment caught Smith by surprise, and he had no idea whom he would choose to be his Number Two. The second hint as to his true motivation is the sheer number of plural wives he took. For a man who was reluctant to practice polygamy to take at least 34 total wives during his life is very strange. If Smith was commanded to take more than one wife, why did he choose more than two? If a man has moral hesitations about paying tithing, does he decide to pay 90% instead of 10% of his income? The third hint that struck me recently is in the scripture where he dictated the alleged commandment. When Smith would recite a "revelation", it came fluidly, often uninterrupted. He would have us believe that that is because he was merely repeating what God had told him. Were this true, then the scripture should read exactly as God willed it. The more realistic and likely possibility is that he was speaking on his own accord, saying his thoughts as they streamed through his consciousness. Thus, mistakes would certainly be present, and he would often say things before having the chance to think them through. The latter would explain why the 132nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants (and so much other LDS scripture) seems to jump from topic to topic. More importantly, however, I think it also reveals some of his hidden motivations as he did not have the time and cognitive resources to edit his thoughts. What I find most telling is his word choice in verse 61. It states, "...if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another... then is he justified" (emphasis added). What a strange place for the word "desire"! If this truly was a commandment that Smith was so reluctant to follow, should not the passage read, "if any man espouse a virgin, and I command him to espouse another..."? The verse sounds less like a commandment from God, and more like a permission slip for Smith. If this truly were a dictation from God, He is essentially saying, "Take as many wives as you like! No problem!" This is a strange statement from a deity whose followers are already hesitant to follow his edict. It seems even stranger considering the strict conditions under which polygamy was supposed to take place. Jacob 1:15, 2:23-35, and 3:5 make it clear that plural marriage is a potentially damnable practice, so why would God write a blank check for the LDSs at that time? I see this phenomenon nowhere else in LDS doctrine. Nephi was supposedly commanded to kill Laban in order to fulfill the higher purpose (1 Nephi 4:10-11). Nephi was reluctant to follow this supposed commandment. Did God tell Nephi in that instance, "Slay him. In fact, slay as many people as you want."? Abraham was probably reluctant and heartbroken at the commandment
P a g e | 115
to slay his son (Genesis 22). Did God tell Abraham "Offer your son for a burnt offering. If you desire to also burn your wife, or anybody you meet along the way, that's acceptable too."? I know of no other "commandment" where God explicitly states that there is no limit. Tithing is, by definition, 10%. Why did God not add in, "Just to clarify, 15% is okay too."? Why is this law of polygamy the only place where the Almighty specifically says, "you can have as many wives as you want."? The best explanation that I have is that it was never a revelation from deity, but this "New and Everlasting Covenant" was Joseph Smith, Jr.'s way of justifying his lust. He desired to marry many women, and that is exactly why he did it. This fact is stated in his own documentation of the alleged commandment. If there is a better explanation, please share it with me. February 13, 2015 Formula for Faith I came across this article a few days ago, and could not help but share it here. Reading the title, you might assume that it is the exit story of some disenchanted member of the LDS church who simply repeats all of the criticisms of Joseph Smith, Jr. Actually, it is a much more interesting story than that. In sum, a young woman and her mother were convinced through the Holy Ghost that a charismatic man (who was not Joseph Smith, Jr.) was a prophet, and became willing to do anything he asked, even far beyond the point of it becoming uncomfortable and apparently immoral. He was able to gain their loyalty through a combination of confidence, flattery, and promises of certain rewards for their obedience to him. Of course, I draw attention to the parallels of this story with that of the founder of the LDS church. All Joseph Smith, Jr. did was to confidently tell people that he had all sorts of supernatural powers, possessed ancient and sacred plates, and that he was the supreme authority of God on earth. He flattered his followers by claiming that they were the elect, chosen people. He promised them rewards of whatever they desired most - eternal families, mansions in heaven, eternity with their Heavenly Father, peace, and salvation. Just as the man in the story, Smith eventually convinced many of his followers to do extremely uncomfortable and seemingly immoral things. What I find disturbing is that so many people still cling to Smith for exactly the same reasons that the women in this story clung to "Adam". There is seemingly no difference between Smith and Adam. If my LDS friends and family members were in the position that these women were, it seems that they would still be following Adam, just as they are following Smith. If I were to pray about Adam and get a sinking feeling, his followers would likely tell me that the devil is working hard to keep me from believing, that I lack the faith and confidence in God to receive the correct answer, that I don't know what the Holy Ghost feels like, that my heart is not prepared to receive the answer, that I am receiving the answer in other ways I do not recognize
P a g e | 116
(source). They would tell me to read Adam's "translations", to sing songs that praise him, and then to kneel and pray aloud with "real intent" until I finally did believe in Adam (source). In essence, there is no possible way of convincing an irrational human being that Adam was just a power hungry, manipulative, charismatic con artist. They have a hundred ways to explain away his deeds, most importantly their own conviction. There is similarly no way to convince some followers of Joseph Smith, Jr. that he was exactly the same thing. November 17, 2015 Stirring Things Up Earlier this month, LDS leaders made changes to the official handbook regarding the children who have guardians or parents in same-sex marriages. These children may not be baptized, prepare for missions, or hold any standing in the Church until age 18, and only after they have moved out of the household of their same-sex parents, and after having officially stated that same-sex marriage is a sin. The Church’s official explanation for why they would do something like this is that they are protecting children from the uncomfortable situation that might arise when the child is on the records of the Church, but is not supported at home. See the official response here (by the way, notice how the interviewer hand-feeds these gentle and obviously scripted questions to Elder Christofferson). I find at least three concerning issues here. The first is that it appears that the child is being punished for having same-sex parents, not protected from discomfort. Second, the Church seems inconsistent with this bizarre practice of barring a child’s alleged spiritual progress based on the parents’ beliefs. Lastly, why is gender more important than love? First, the claim is that this policy protects the child from conflict. I cannot understand how the policy would accomplish that. If a child wants to be a member of an organization that believes his same-sex parents are committing a very serious sin, the conflict is inescapable – it will not go away at age 18 or ever. At best, this Church policy only makes the conflict worse by forcing an immediate choice – “Do I want the blessings of my chosen faith, or do I want to live with my same-sex parents?” Had the policy not been in place, a child whose same-sex parents did not oppose his decision could be baptized, go on temple trips, and so on. Now that it is in place, the child is forced to choose between his same-sex parents and his faith, even if the parents have no objections to his membership. Rather than reaching out to the same-sex couple by showing acceptance to their child, the Church has chosen to cut off the family for as long as the same-sex couple is an issue. Second, I find this policy wildly inconsistent. Why implement this stance in families with samesex marriages, but not in other families that do not fit the LDS ideal? For example, suppose a liberal LDS couple (yes, they exist) teaches its children that same-sex marriage is okay, even though the Church does not condone it. Why would their children be allowed baptism, if we are using the reasoning provided by Elder Christofferson? If the aim is to avoid children being taught things in the home that are contradictory to doctrines, shouldn’t thousands of children be denied baptism each year? Indeed, it sounds like the next question for the temple recommend
P a g e | 117
interview should be, "Do you here and now condemn same-sex marriage as a sin comparable to murder?" I'd wager that a good proportion of members, particularly of the younger generation, would not pass the interview. Children of parents whose lifestyles are not in accordance with Church doctrines are allowed to be baptized all the time. Indeed, suppose a teenager has alcoholic parents—do the missionaries say, “The Lord’s Word of Wisdom does not permit alcohol to be consumed. Because both your mother and father consume alcohol regularly, you are not eligible for membership in the Church.”? It’s ludicrous. Lastly, I am an enormous supporter of the family. The family has become a hot topic in recent years as opposing views wrestle over what the family is and isn’t. On the one hand, some want to portray it as perfectly normal for children to be from broken homes, raised by nannies, by helicopter parents, and so on. On the other hand, others, like the LDS church, seem to suggest through policies such as this one that the family is primarily about genitalia, and the rest is secondary. The Church wants the world to think that children raised in same-sex households are in grave danger, simply due to the fact of the same-sex union. However, I believe that what is more important in a family is that the parents are unified in their love and support of the children: nurturing their interests and talents, and guiding them through life’s tough times. I argue that such characteristics are far more important than the sex of the parents. Perhaps same-sex parents are not the ideal situation, but if the child is loved and nurtured, then that's a far better situation than many children have whose parents are straight. Naturally, as society becomes even more accepting of same-sex unions, and science continues to demonstrate that it is not an issue of choice, morality, or sin, but a mystery of nature, I am certain that the LDS church will be forced to follow the path it took regarding race and worthiness – either face mutiny or change doctrines. If history is any indicator, the Church will again choose the latter. December 14, 2015 Four-Letter “C” Word Many critics of the LDS church opine that it is a cult, or at least cult-like. I have not heretofore referred to the Church with these terms, perhaps because the thought of having been in that kind of organization is so repulsive. However, I gave it more thought after I ran across one definition of a cult in a text that was unrelated to the Church. After an informal evaluation, I thought it may be an interesting exercise to more formally evaluate the Church with these criteria on this blog. I will first give that definition, in its entire and original form, and then add my thoughts about whether and how the LDS church fits. According to the widely recognized skeptic, Michael Shermer (Why People Believe Weird Things, 2002), a cult consists of the following core elements: Veneration of the leader: Glorification of the leader to the point of virtual sainthood or divinity.
P a g e | 118
Inerrancy of the leader: Belief that the leader cannot be wrong. Omniscience of the leader: Acceptance of the leader’s beliefs and pronouncements on all subjects, from the philosophical to the trivial. Persuasive techniques: Methods, from benign to coercive, used to recruit new followers and reinforce current beliefs. Hidden agendas: The true nature of the group’s beliefs and plans is obscured from or not fully disclosed to potential recruits and the general public Deceit: Recruits and followers are not told everything they should know about the leader and the group’s inner circle, and particularly disconcerting flaws or potentially embarrassing events or circumstances are covered up. Financial and/or sexual exploitation: Recruits and followers are persuaded to invest money and other assets in the group, and the leader may develop sexual relations with one or more of the followers. Absolute truth: Belief that the leader and/or the group has discovered final knowledge on any number of subjects. Absolute morality: Belief that the leader and/or the group has developed a system of right and wrong thought and action applicable to members and nonmembers alike. Those who strictly follow the moral code become and remain members; those who do not are dismissed or punished. I will now assess whether and how the LDS church fits this definition. However, before doing so, given the numerous changes to Church doctrines (example) and practices (example) since the time of its founding in the early 1800s, arguably for the specific purpose of making it more mainstream and less cult-like (e.g., Official Declaration 1), I think it only practical and fair to analyze the organization in its current form separately from Joseph Smith, Jr.’s original organization. Veneration of the Leader: As Joseph Smith, Jr. founded the LDS church, let us begin with him. On the one hand, Smith was/is explicitly not prayed to or worshipped (source). Yet it is certainly difficult to argue that he was/is not perceived as an especially sacred person doctrinally (e.g., D&C 138:53-57). Indeed, considering the oft-repeated statement that he “has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world than any other man that ever lived in it…” (D&C 135:3), he is the de facto fourth member of the Godhead. In the LDS church, a testimony of Smith’s divine calling is as important as a testimony of Christ’s divinity. In practice as well, many members commonly have graven images and paintings (example) of Smith in their homes, just as beautiful and maintained as are their images of Christ. Several hymns literally “praise” Smith. If any doubt his virtual sainthood, simply read the lyrics to the popular LDS hymn, “Praise to the Man.” In every sense of the word, Smith was and is venerated by the membership.
P a g e | 119
Current Church presidents may be venerated to a lesser degree than was Smith, but I do not find it to be much less. Consider how many talks and Ensign articles plead with members to follow the prophet. The popular children’s song entitled Follow the Prophet, contains the lyrics, “Follow the prophet. Don’t go astray. Follow the prophet. He knows the way.” Even though the current leaders of the Church rarely speak of any personal revelations in the same tone as did Smith, it is official doctrine that he is the only person on earth who has the authority to speak on God’s behalf (example). It is probably safe to say that the average LDS member believes that the current Church president is the most important person alive (at least the office is the most important office). Therefore, I argue that this element has been toned down in the current practices, but for all intents and purposes, it remains just as present as it was in Smith’s day. Inerrancy of the Leader: Interestingly, there is seemingly contradictory evidence on this topic. Joseph Smith, Jr. admitted to having flaws, and even warned followers about expecting too much of him. He is often berated in his “revelations” (D&C 3, for example). But at the same time, these alleged revelations continually upheld that Smith was God’s servant, and although there were sometimes threats of removing his authority, Smith got away with whatever he wanted in reality. Regardless of what he said about himself, though, Smith’s followers have essentially stated that he was without error in his leadership of the Church. For example, Wilford Woodruff, president of the Church at the time, said, I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty (Official Declaration - 1; Harold B. Lee said similar things in 1968). This statement, in essence, suggests that the leader, though human perhaps, is infallible at directing God’s work and, in turn, directing all people on earth. Indeed, even in the face of blatant error in judgment, the leaders are granted complete immunity. Consider the repulsive example of racist doctrines and treatment of persons of African descent—the LDS church has still never apologized for these. On the contrary, these errors are excused with statements such as, “limited understanding.” The Church never concedes and calls it what it is—complete and unbridled racism posing as revelation. Regarding more modern Church practices, in addition to the massive efforts aimed at public perception of the past leaders’ inerrancy, there is much evidence that it also applies to current leaders. Perhaps most telling is the requirement that members not associate with people who are critical of the leaders (among other things; source). To be worthy of entering LDS temples, members must deny associations with critics of the Church. At a minimum, then, it appears that much effort is exercised to preserve the perception of the leaders’ inerrancy. Omniscience of the Leader: Because early Church members left behind everything they knew to join the LDS community, abandoning previous associations, trying out a new economic system, even giving up their political affiliations, and following Smith and other early leaders as mayors and even facing the prospect of making Smith the President of the United States, it is safe to say
P a g e | 120
that early members viewed Smith as being correct in far more than just his interpretations of scripture. He was their leader in all things. Modern leaders may be less involved in areas of members’ lives, but the foundation of this element remains. Because spiritual wellbeing is believed to be tied to virtually all other areas of life, there is little room for disagreement with a current church president on matters as diverse as diet, personal appearance (e.g., ear piercings), choice of media, associates, and so on. Decades ago, leaders had stricter positions about topics such as family planning, gender roles, and so on. Although these latter positions have softened in more recent years with society’s views, it remains clearly held that members would do well to heed the Church leaders in all things. Persuasive Techniques: Obviously, the missionary system for both the early and current Church fulfills the recruitment method element of a cult, not to mention the member missionary program and social media campaigns, as well as movies like Meet the Mormons. Naturally, this element does not a cult make per se, but it is certainly present within the Church. Regarding reinforcement of current beliefs, the Church holds 3 hours of meetings on Sundays, in addition to firesides and other devotionals; Mondays are set aside for Family Home Evening, which includes reinforcement of Church doctrines; Members are taught that every day should include scripture study, guided of course by Church-publicized study aids and interpretations; High school students are almost required to attend seminary, where beliefs are reinforced each weekday; Home and visiting teachers must deliver a “spiritual message” to each family each month, and each member (above a certain age) must also make such visits to several families. Hours more of belief reinforcement may be added if one considers that members are encouraged to also attend the temple, do family history work, and constantly look for opportunities to share their beliefs. It is undeniable that there is a great emphasis in the Church on recruiting others and reinforcing beliefs. Hidden Agendas: I argue that this was and is clearly present in both the early and modern Church. The phrase “milk before meat” encompasses this element. A social psychologist would call the same thing the “foot-in-the-door” phenomenon—if you can get someone to commit to something relatively minor, they are much more likely to commit to something bigger later. Following promises of spiritual cleansing and the personal guidance of a member of the Godhead, potential members commit to baptism, usually before having learned about all that will thereafter be required of them (e.g., the Word of Wisdom, tithing, volunteering in a calling, home or visiting teaching, temple attendance, etc.), and without exposure to the troubling doctrines and practices of the past, and sometimes present, Church (see this blog). They are later gently introduced to these subjects with assurances that faith and prayer will make everything alright in the end, and before they know it they are in temple ceremonies, dedicating their entire existence to furthering the Church’s agenda. A less cult-like approach would involve months or even years of education about Church doctrines before baptism, so that it is clear that the investigator understands the nature of the Church. Instead, it seems that a very basic understanding of the more popular doctrines is all that is necessary for baptism; the rest comes later.
P a g e | 121
Furthermore, the secretive nature of the temple fulfills this cult-like element. Call it “sacred” rather than secret, but the practice is the same – investigators are sheltered from learning many vital agendas of the Church. Deceit: Very much in line with the hidden agendas, even lifelong members are carefully kept away from information that might cast doubt on the Church’s divinity. In Joseph Smith, Jr.’s days especially, as he was quietly pressuring women into marrying him, but lying about it publicly and going to other extreme lengths to keep it secret (e.g., sham marriages; see Compton, 2001), deceit was an enormous part of the early Church. Smith even went so far as to destroy a printing press that might make his actions public. Only recently, as the internet has made it easier for the troubling flaws of the Church and its leaders to be made public, has the Church made attempts to address these issues. But even these attempts are largely superficial, without actually addressing the core concerns, and often they even contain inaccuracies to allow the deceit to carry on (example). In any case, the Church does not seem troubled that its members believe false things about the Church, as long as it keeps them faithful (more). Certainly, the LDS church meets this criterion of a cult, both in the past and the present. Financial and/or Sexual Exploitation: The financial must be separated from the sexual here. Financially, tithing is the obvious application for the modern Church, although it arguably falls short of the severity of what I would consider a cult; All churches require some form of financial support from members. What I find bothersome about tithing in the LDS church is that consequences of not paying are severe to the point that an otherwise faithful and true believer is not in good standing with the Church without having paid an amount set forth by the Church. Considering “other assets,” such as the hours of time members are required to “volunteer” for callings, financial exploitation may be clearer. The LDS church does not typically pay for things that they can order (“call”) a member to do, such as cleaning Church buildings, babysitting children (“called to nursery service”), marketing (“missionary service”), and so on. It would be difficult to suggest that members do not invest a great deal of money, time, skill, and other talent in the service of the LDS church. Naturally, they would insist that they volunteer these things willingly, but all of these assets are given under the vague promise of “blessings,” for which there is no objective measure or proof. In Smith’s days, the financial exploitation of members was far more severe, especially during the failed Law of Consecration experiment (not to mention the banking fiasco). Members gave literally all they had to the Church, which then supposedly redistributed it in a manner it saw fit. Smith himself earned no income, but all of his property came from his followers. Thus, it is difficult to argue that this was not a form of financial exploitation. Sexual exploitation is another matter entirely. I am aware of no such exploitation in the modern Church, at least certainly not sanctioned by the leaders or widespread in any way. Developing sexual relationships with leaders is no issue of which I am aware. Joseph Smith, Jr.’s leadership, on the other hand, was rife with obvious sexual exploitation. Not only did he take multiple wives, but many of them were very young, and many of them he took even though they were married already (Compton, 2001). That he consummated his marriages is supported by the historical records, and perhaps most damning is the fact that he kept these practices hidden for as long as he could. Despite attempts to explain this obvious sexual exploitation away, I am
P a g e | 122
unable to find a reasonable purpose for these marriages (see the outline of my concerns). Clearly, sexual exploitation was apparent in the early Church. If I am wrong about this, please, someone explain to me how. Absolute Truth: This element requires very little discussion, for this is precisely the Church’s claim. It, alone, holds the authority, knowledge, and inspiration that are necessary to pass this test that is earthly life. There are no substitutions (example of this position). It was so in the early Church, and remains so today. This cult-like element is indisputably present in the LDS organization. Absolute Morality: Certainly related to the previous element, the Church leaders claim precisely to have the system for right and wrong that applies to all of humankind, without exception. Members who stray from this system (or even voice disagreement) are disciplined, including excommunication. They are, of course, invited to return, but only after they have adjusted their behavior and/or beliefs to again conform to the morality dictated by Church leaders. The Church undeniably purports to hold absolute moral authority. I know of no evidence to the contrary. In conclusion, I argue that the early LDS church met all criteria for a cult. The modern Church has softened relative to many of the early practices, but these elements are still at the core of the organization. I, therefore, would describe the modern LDS organization as cult-like. Of course, simply because an organization is cult-like does not mean that it is necessarily a negative organization. On the contrary, the LDS church has done and continues to do much good. Even so, I argue that these cult-like elements are necessarily unhealthy for absolute truth. When transparency is the enemy, and illusion is needed so that people will remain loyal to a cause, that cause is not interested in truth. Such an organization is interested first in its own existence, and only secondarily to its other purported goals. Because the Church claims to be primarily interested in truth, but instead often works directly against truth for the aim of ensuring its survival, I argue that the good it does is overshadowed by the harm. There are far more healthy and appropriate ways to do good in the world than through pseudohistory, manipulation, and behavior compliance tactics with promises that cannot be kept.
References Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies on independence and conformity: A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs, 70(9). Brodie, F. M. (1945). No man knows my history: The life of Joseph Smith. New York, NY: Vintage Books. Buerger, D. J. (1994). The mysteries of godliness: A history of Mormon temple worship. San Fransisco, CA: Smith Research Associates. Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough stone rolling. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. Compton, T. (2001). In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books. Embry, J. L. (1994). Black saints in a white church: Contemporary African American Mormons. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books. Embry, J. L. (2007). Setting the record straight: Mormons and polygamy. Orem, UT: Millennial Press, Inc. Hinckley, G. B. (2003, May). Loyalty. Ensign, 58-60. Journal of Discourses (1854-1886). A. Lyman (Ed.), London: Latter-Day Saints’ Book Depot. Kimball, S. J. (1986). Heber C. Kimball: Mormon patriarch and pioneer. Champaigne, IL: University of Illinois Press. Larson, C. M. (1992). ...By his own hand upon papyrus: A new look at the Joseph Smith papyri. Grand Rapids, MI: Institute for Religious Research. Lee, H. B. (1968, July 8). The place of the living prophet, seer, and revelator. Address delivered to seminary and institute faculty, Brigham Young University, p. 13. Marks, W. (1860). In I. Sheen (Ed.) The True Latter Day Saints' Herald Saints' Herald, Volume I, Number 1, p. 26. McConkie, M. L. (Ed., 1989). Doctrines of the restoration: Sermons & writings of Bruce R. McConkie. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft. Palmer, G. H. (2002). An insider's view of Mormon origins. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.
P a g e | 124
Perkins, D. N., Farady, M., & Bushey, B. (1991). Everyday reasoning and the roots of intelligence. In J. F. Voss, D. N. Perkins & J. W. Segal (Eds.), Informal reasoning and education (pp. 83-105). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Prophet Wilford Woodruff, John Mills Whitaker Journal, Nov. 1, 1890 Pyszczynski, T., & Greenberg, J. (1987). Toward an integration of cognitive and motivational perspectives on social inference: A biased hypothesis-testing model. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 20, 297-340. Quinn, D. M. (1983). J. Reuben Clark: The church years. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press. Roberts, B. H. (1965). Comprehensive history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press. Roberts, B. H. (1985). Studies of the Book of Mormon (B. D. Madsen, Ed.). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. Sheen, I. (1860). In I. Sheen (Ed.) The True Latter Day Saints' Herald, Volume I, Number 1, p. 27. Smith, G. D. (2002). B.H. Roberts: Book of Mormon apologist and skeptic. In D. Vogel & B. L. Metcalfe (Eds.), American apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon. (pp. 123-155). Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books. Steele, C. M. (1988). The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 21, 261-302. Van Wagoner, R. S. (1992). Mormon polygamy: A history. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books. Williamson, M. (1992). A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles. New York, NY: Harper Collins.