Thursday, January 02, 2014

Epistemology

"Epistemology: from Greek ἐπιστήμη, epistēmē, meaning "knowledge, understanding", and λόγος, logos, meaning "study of") is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge and is also referred to as "theory of knowledge". It questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired, and the extent to which knowledge pertinent to any given subject or entity can be acquired."

I don’t understand the LDS method for determining truth. It is all based on emotions, feelings, and logical fallacies. Yet apostles even admit that feelings are unreliable and can even be deceptive.  

"You can be given false spiritual messages. . .The spiritual part of us and the emotional part of us are so closely linked that it is possible to mistake an emotional impulse for something spiritual. We occasionally find people who receive what they assume to be spiritual promptings from God, when those promptings are either centered in the emotions or are from the adversary." (Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, Jan. 1983 p. 53)

This even happened to Joseph Smith when he sent a group to Canada to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon. When they returned unable to sell the copyright he admitted that the revelation must have come from the devil. Perhaps this is the story to which President Packer refers.

The logic seems to be that if we have a good feeling that leads us toward obeying the church, then that is from God. And a good feeling that leads us away from the church is not from God. This answer is a win-win situation for the church but to any critical thinker it is no answer at all. Heads I win, tails you lose.

So do we rely on feelings, or not? A church leader tried to explain to me that the spirit is not a feeling. “It’s a spirit to spirit communication”. I can accept this idea. So I asked for a way of knowing that was happening and all he could give me were some examples of more feelings and emotions. Finally he said, “When you experience it you will understand it.” Well that’s a cute little sound-bite, but it doesn’t answer the question. I wonder how he would feel if he were lost in an unfamiliar land and the only directions a local could give him was, “when you get there you’ll know it.”

To me it seemed obvious that emotions are unreliable and ineffective at determining truth. Something else besides emotion is required. Yet nobody could describe the process to me without using emotions and feelings. “a warm feeling, happiness, a quiet confidence, etc., etc.”. So far nobody has been able to tell me what other tools to use in my quest for truth. The church has far too many unanswered questions once I put the emotions aside.

I have many reasons for leaving the LDS church. I am willing to discuss them all, in public or privately. I believe I am open-minded and willing to be proven wrong. I choose to start the New Year off with this post because I believe that every other doctrinal question will hinge on the answer to this one. We simply have to agree on how truth is determined before any other discussion can proceed.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Unopened Bottles of Coca-Cola

I’d like to share an event from my childhood. In the late 70s my family had just moved into a new house. Mom decided to throw a little house warming party. So she invited several friends. We had only been in Georgia a few years and most of the family friends were from church. Mom set out a few drink options on the table. Basically it was about six 2-liter bottles of Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite. Well the party had been going for about half an hour and the Sprite was completely gone already and none of the caffeinated drinks had even been opened. Mom preceded to publicly pour herself a tall Coke. She took a drink and then looked at the other guests and said, “I’ve seen every one of you drink Coke before, just not in front of each other. Now I expect you to help me finish these.” Coke has never been explicitly forbidden by Mormon teachings but some people interpret it that way. Fine. If you want to stay away from caffeine, you’ll get no objection from me. What mom was calling out was the false piety. Doing one thing in private and putting on a different face in public. In the past year I have gotten several private emails and messages about stuff I have posted on my blog and on Facebook. Emails saying that many of my readers are having quite similar struggles in their lives. I’m glad my rabblings have been able to help you. Now I’d never think of publicly calling anybody out the way my mom did. These are much more important issues than how you interpret Doctrine & Covenants section 89. But I would like you all to know that you are not alone. Although publicly you may not feel able to comment on my blog or Facebook posts, there are quite a few of you who feel the same. So if you wanna sit down and have a Coke sometime feel free to contact me. Don’t let the unopened bottles on the table make you feel like you are the only Coke drinker in the crowd. And your secret is safe with me.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

"...we urge you to reconsider..."


SPOILER ALERT!!! 
If you are not open to questioning the evidence supporting the idea of a bearded arctic elf dispensing toys then you probably shouldn’t read any further.

Several years ago I stopped believing in Santa Claus. I think I was seven. I don’t remember the exact order of any of the events but I do remember a few of the details that caused me to begin doubting the tradition that was handed down to me from my parents.

An inquisitive child, I always looked for the explanation of how things worked. I liked looking at cutaway views of cars, machines and even people in my dad’s textbooks. It was kind of a puzzle for me. When I couldn’t figure something out I didn’t have any problem asking questions. And in most areas of study my parents were plenty open to answer my questions.

Here are a few of the questions that I had about the favorite Christmas tradition.

If Santa supposedly judged people who were naughty or nice why were so many nice kids getting crappy presents while so many naughty kids would rake in the goods? Santa sure didn’t seem to be taking quite as accurate and accounting as I would have expected. I began to notice that the disparity seemed to have little to do with being naughty or nice and more to do with where your parents worked and how many siblings you had.

Why are charities necessary? I remember asking my mom once when I saw a Marine at a grocery store, “Who is he?” “He’s one of Santa’s helpers. He’s collecting money to help by toys for poor kids.” “Doesn’t Santa visit poor kids?” “Here help me with these groceries”. This caused me to start wondering which presents came for Santa directly and which came from one of his “helpers”.

How in the world could he do all of that in one night? It was clear that there had to be multiple Santa’s or the typical image of Santa as a fat old man was flawed. Those reindeer would have to travel so fast from house to house that they travelled back in time exactly the length it took Santa to set up the last house.

How did he fit all that stuff in one sleigh? My mom would completely fill the truck of our Mustang on a trip to the grocery store. Santa clearly would have to make multiple trips back to the North Pole to restock. This just compounds the whole, “how does it get it all done in one day?” question.

Was he really reading all of those letters? If so why did good kids still not get what they asked for? This was the early 70’s. I know several kids who asked for World Peace. Santa still hasn’t delivered that one. Santa seemed like he either wasn’t reading the letters, wasn’t as powerful as we thought, or he just didn’t care. All of these possibilities are troubling.

It also became clear that adults knew something was up but didn’t want to tell the kids. There was some kind of cover-up. There were details about Christmas that I overheard adults talking about that were never discussed openly around children. Perhaps they knew how to solve my time-traveling reindeer puzzle. But they weren’t telling.

I could go on and on for a while, but I think you get the point. Eventually my mom broke the news to me that Santa Claus was a fun little fiction. I responded almost immediately, “You’re Santa Claus.” She nodded her head and confirmed it. I was no longer puzzled by the little inconsistencies in the stories. I no longer had to try to make sense of them. It was fun to just pretend and realize that nothing was real.

The best thing Santa Claus ever did for me was to cease to be real. Mom explained that it was people who were making Christmas real. It was just people. I no longer felt the need to suck up for the approval of an all knowing bearded dude. The people who were really important and who ultimately made Christmas what it is were much closer to home. Santa is my parents. Santa is my brothers and sisters. Santa is the Marine collecting toys. Santa is the people on the street being nice to each other. Santa is the neighbor sewing pajamas and leaving them anonymously on our doorstep.

Now that I know the truth I wouldn’t dream of trying to go back to believing anything else. It all makes sense now and it’s much more beautiful. I don’t want to spoil that.

Since I have left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I have had numerous well-meaning people attempt to persuade me back into the church. I respect that they think they are doing a good thing. A few insinuated that I really haven’t tried to believe as hard as I should have. So let me ask you few readers this question. 

“What would it take for you to believe in Santa Claus again?”

Could you do it? Could you ignore the massive amount of evidence that it was the parents doing it? Could you just go back to dropping a letter in the mailbox and honestly expecting a response? Could you start ignoring the needs of people around you with the attitude that Santa would take care of them? Could you go back to not giving credit to the amazing people around you who help make your life easier, instead giving credit to Santa? Why in the world would you even want to go back to that belief?

I got a letter in the mail today from the First Presidency of the Church. The letter urged me to reconsider and come back to the church. I typed up this little analogy to express how unlikely that would be. I don’t even want it to be true anymore. What I have found is so much better. I’m not bothered by the inconsistencies in the story, the unanswered prayers, the logical impossibilities, the complete contradictions, and all the cover-up to keep people believing.

It would be just as difficult for me to go back to believing in Santa Claus.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Issues

A short list of the issues that led me to leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (in no particular order)

In a few previous blog posts I hinted at some of the reasons that I no longer accept most claims made by the LDS church. I wanted to follow up and give the four of you who read my blog a list of some of my reasons. This list is not meant to be comprehensive and it is not in any particular order. If you are easily offended by having your beliefs challenged of even talked about then you might want to stop reading right now. If, on the other hand, you are honestly interested in what brought me to the decision I made, please continue. As I’ve said before, nothing in this post is meant to talk anybody out of their current belief. If you have found a way to make it work then by all means please continue doing what makes you happy and gives your life purpose. I just couldn’t do it any more.

1. Focus on obedience over every other principle. i.e. Even asking follow up questions about minor local policies were criticized as being disobedient and therefore, sinful. Especially on the Stake level, the instruction seemed to be less about love and more about keeping everybody in line.

2. Substantial meeting time wasted on pointless procedural issues that do nothing to add to spirituality. i.e. entire Sunday School lessons dedicated to which old English pronouns to use when referring to deity, which hand to use when taking the sacrament, etc.

3. Over-management of insignificant details. The pointless rules about when to stand for songs, when to help a child with a talk, which instruments are approved for musical performances, which nights and times we have to meet for any activities, etc, smacks of the Scribes and Pharisees of the New Testament.

4. Encouraging ignorance, or what I’ll call the “Study the Scriptures Paradox”. Study them just enough to feel good, but not enough to uncover the massive amount of internal inconsistencies.

5. Limiting resources. I can’t think of any other field of study that tells you not to read outside the curriculum. If I decide to read every biography of the founding fathers I could get my hands on in order to supplement an American history class no reputable professor would have any problem with that as long as I kept up with my required assignments too. Try telling the Gospel Doctrine instructor about something you learned in a biography of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young that wasn’t published by the church.

 6. No substantive answers to tough questions. Why wasn’t so-and-so’s prayer answered? Why did their son have to die? Always answered with dismissive hand-waving like, “It must have been God’s will.”, “Some things are just to test our faith.” ,”Those details will be worked out during the millennium.” Etc.

7. No substantive answers to even straight-forward questions. Is Genesis literal or symbolic? Is the Book of Mormon literal or symbolic? Tithing on net or gross?

8. Nudge-nudge-wink-wink partisan politics from the pulpit. i.e. global warming dismissals, evolution denial, pro- war talks and other partisan jabs with little to no apology.

9. Overt partisan politics from the pulpit. i.e. Prop 8, multi-million dollar church PR campaign timed with an LDS candidate for president, etc.

10. Focus on missionary work over all else. i.e. a YM budget that was so slim it would not allow for <$100 to be spent on a pinewood derby, yet millions of dollars are spent on an ad campaign to bring in more members.

11. Revisionist History. i.e. With the possible exception of Warren Jeffs, Brigham Young is probably America’s most identifiable polygamist. Yet the Relief Society and Priesthood handbook about his teachings has not one single reference to his polygamy and polyandry. Similarly the current handbook about George Albert Smith has no reference at all to his well documented mental illness. I’m not saying you have to put it on the cover, but at what point is this lying by omission?

12. Revisionist History. i.e. for years I was told that Joseph and Hyrum were buried in a secret grave. Even General Authorities would claim from the pulpit that they didn’t know where they were buried. My first trip to Nauvoo I was stunned to see their graves in plain sight, albeit on Community of Christ property.

13. Doctrinal inconsistencies. i.e. the practice of polygamy in spite of the Book of Mormon’s strict denouncement of it, See the book of Jacob. 

14. More doctrinal inconsistencies. i.e. Joseph and Oliver required the Priesthood by a literal “laying on of hands” before they could baptize. That’s why John the Baptist, a resurrected being with literal hands had to come do it. So why didn’t Alma require literal hands?

15. Still more doctrinal inconsistencies. i.e. If Joseph was able to “translate” the Book of Mormon without the benefit of the Urim and Thumim and eventually without even the plates being in the same room then why were they necessary? It seems rather insulting to the thousands of years of record keepers and preservers that he didn’t even use them for much of the translation. Why was their sacrifice even needed if Joseph was just going to divine the words?

16. Doctrinal inconsistencies ad nauseam. i.e. Trying to make sense of all the conflicting doctrinal claims made by general authorities will make your head spin. Just using general conference talks you could find a GA to support both sides of most doctrines. If you add books written by general authorities to your source material you could just about anything.

17. False Church History taught via LDS artwork. i.e. Joseph and Oliver sitting at a table translating the Book of Mormon without the Urim and Thumim or the sheet dividing them, The picture of Joseph reading from the plates and transcribing them himself, The pictures of the three and the eight witnesses physically handling the plates while they were all together, The picture of the Joseph receiving the Melkezidek Priesthood from Peter, James and John; In which standard work is this story written? Etc.

18. Arrogance. i.e. the belittling of members who had doubts and the cocky assertion that doubts were evil and that they had certainty.

19. Anti-intellectualism. The badmouthing, belittling and excommunication of those people who actual understand what they are talking about and have facts to back it up, not just dogma.

20. False Dichotomies. i.e. the “you are either with us or against us.” and “The church is either true or it’s a hoax.” type logical fallacies do a serious disservice to those struggling to keep a testimony and force them to remain silent or be perceived as enemies.

21. Persecution complex. i.e. most member’s feel that if things are going well that is a sign that God is helping them. They simultaneously believe that if things are going badly that is a sign that Satan is trying to stop them. How convenient. Heads I win. Tails you lose.

22. More Persecution complex. i.e. my Ward poured the foundation for a new sign and did not get the appropriate building permit prior to beginning the work. Work was halted by a county inspector because the sign was right were a new turn lane would soon be built. Rather than seeing this as a hint that it might be a good idea to follow local codes local leadership spun it as persecution from government.

23. Still More Persecution complex. i.e. Mormon’s love to talk about Han’s Mill as an example of persecution of the saints. But they will quickly cry foul when Mountain Meadows is mentioned. Personally, I think that any history that omits either is biased.

24. Wasting of tithing dollars. i.e. see above story about having to pave over a foundation just because they didn’t follow local codes.

25. More wasting of tithing dollars. i.e. after the dust settles on this “I am a Mormon add campaign I’d really like to see how much it cost the church per new member it brings in. My guess is that the same campaign didn’t do much for Scientology, I don’t see why it’d work any better for the LDS church.

26. Still more waste of tithing dollars. The City Creek Mall is completely funded by the church and is costing billions more than planned.

27. Focus on prophets, temples and modern day revelation over the church’s name sake, Jesus Christ. i.e. my daughter went to a primary Christmas party and came home with a picture of Joseph Smith to color and a temple shaped word-find devoid of any reference to Christmas or Christ.

28. Polygamy, whitewashing of the historical practice.

29. Polygamy, not enough condemnation and apology for their role in the current FLDS practice of it. I’d be willing to bet that 95% of those who practice polygamy in the US cite Joseph Smith for their authority. The remaining 5% Muslim and other.

30. Polyandry, whitewashing of the historical practice. Even among members who are aware that Joseph Smith had multiple wives most are completely unaware that many of those wives were married to other men who were still alive at the time.

31. “…mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.” The biggest irony in LDS doctrine is that this scripture is contained in D&C 132 which established the plurality of wives, polygamy, as doctrine. I can not think of any single doctrine that has brought less order and more confusion to the church.

32. Occult magic, complete whitewashing of Joseph Smith’s practice of it. Glass looking, peep stones, dowsing, dressing in all black to collect the plates on the autumnal equinox, etc.

33. Book of Mormon historicity. i.e. I’ve gotten conflicting advice from leaders as to whether I had to believe it was a literal history or not. For the record: there is nothing proving it to be literal and volumes of evidence showing that it clearly cannot be literal.

34. More Book of Mormon historicity. If we are to accept that the Book of Mormon is literal then there are volumes of technological anachronisms that need to be accounted for.

35. The “Perfectness” of the Book of Mormon. The thousands of well documented revisions since it was claimed to be such a perfect book makes one wonder how perfect it really was.

36. Reformed Egyptian. Why has there never been another example of this language found? Back in high school I took Martin Harris’s description of the plates and did a few calculations. Given the number of characters shown on each plate, the fact that the plates were engraved on both sides, the thickness of each plate, the thickness of the stack that was not sealed, and the total number of English words in the Book of Mormon I came up with an interesting conclusion. The characters of Reformed Egyptian must be ten to fifteen times more efficient at expressing an idea than a similar language that uses pictograms, like Chinese. Why would such an effective written language vanish without a trace?

37. The Book of Abraham, The original parchment has been located and it does not resemble the Book of Abraham at all. It’s clearly not a translation and the modern spin that the document has a “spiritual translation” is a textbook example of special pleading.

38. The Doctrine and Covenants revisions. If these revelations were supposedly received in English directly from God why was there any need to revise or update them? My college had several different versions of the Doctrine and Covenants. A few versions from the LDS church and a few from the RLDS. It was interesting to see how the “revelations” changed.

39. The Bible historicity, General authorities disagree over which sections of the Bible are meant to be literal and which are symbolic. Official church study guides even have literal children being born to figurative mothers. (See Hosea) Most members are afraid to even discuss questions like “Did the flood really happen?”, ”Did Adam exist?”, etc. Since modern revelation records Joseph literally having been visited by some of these biblical prophets it seems to support that they literally existed. If so then how much of their history is literal?

40. The Church’s propensity to buy documents and artifacts that potentially reveal the truth about the early history of the church and then hide them. This issue alone created a market for a mediocre forger to sell documents knowing that they would receive little to no scholarly authentication. I’m not blaming the church for Hoffman’s crimes. Merely pointing out that having deep pockets and a desire to keep their skeletons in the closet made the church an easy mark.

41. The ever-evolving 14 Articles of Faith, and their questionable authorship. Yes, I said 14, not 13 and Joseph Smith is obviously not the original author.

42. The Book of Mormon and the lack of defining doctrines inside it. The claim is made that it is the most perfect book and that you can grow closer to the lord by living its teaching but it is interesting how many defining doctrines of the church are nowhere to be found in its pages. Temple work? Baptism for the Dead? The plan of salvation?

43. The Book of Mormon and the doctrines it preaches that are directly conflicting to LDS teachings. The claim is made that it is the most perfect book and that you can grow closer to the lord by living its teachings, but it is interesting how many defined doctrines of the church run counter to what was practiced in the Book of Mormon. Jacob specifically renounces polygamy as evil. Lehi claimed to be a prophet at the same time another existed in the same country. Alma baptized without the priesthood. Sons encouraged to defy the righteous traditions of their fathers. Etc.

44. Appeal to emotion. Logic and reason all take a back seat and there can be no further argument once somebody claims “I know…” and tells a tear-jerking anecdote.

 45. Scriptural abuse. i.e. knowingly using a scripture out of context because it seems to support your position. The most abused example is the “why else are they baptized for the dead?” scripture in Corinthians. I’ve also seen D&C 89 used to condemn someone for choosing to be vegetarian.

46. Unfathomably evil actions perpetrated by a so-called “loving” deity. 1 Samuel comes to mind but there are many other examples, Abraham and Isaac, Noah’s flood etc. etc. We stopped reading scriptures at night as a family because it was giving my daughter nightmares.

47. Human sacrifice. The whole “justice and mercy” doctrine is confusing. It implies that an all-powerful creator is powerless against an arbitrary law called justice. And the only way to appease justice is a human sacrifice. And this is a plan that Christ came up with and we all agreed to. Really? Do LDS really believe in a deity that is powerless before justice?

48. Gerontocracy. How can any organization adapt and grow in the 21st Century when it is lead almost entirely by men born in the first half of the last Century? This is a recipe for always being 50 years out of touch. The giddiness with which most members reacted to the appointment of the relatively young Bednar is a pretty good indicator that most members are tired of being lead by men older than 70.

49. Ridiculous line of ascension. The church’s official position is that the President of the Quorum of the Twelve is next in line for the Presidency and the only way he does not become the next President of the Church is if he doesn’t outlive the current President. They seriously believe that the only way god can control who is running his church is to make the guys he doesn’t want running it die a little earlier.

50. Misogyny. Women are not allowed the Priesthood or most leadership positions even though most men joke that church programs would be improved if they were. “If you want X done right let the Relief Society be in charge of it.”Once when I served in the Sunday School presidency I suggested that we call a woman to be second counselor. We were told it had to be a priesthood holder. Why?

51. Diversity and the lack thereof. Sure on the local level there is a nice mix of ages, flesh tones and accents, but the top 15 are all white males, most even born in Utah. Only one even has an accent and that’s German. Considering that the church made a big deal about >50% of its members speaking Spanish and not English you’d think the leadership could adapt to that.

52. Confirmation Bias. Most members will jump all over any study that seems to support a claim made in the Book of Mormon but conveniently ignore those that go against it. Every Mayan carving that looks remotely like a tree is held up as proof that they were aware of Nephi’s vision, but DNA linkage of their decent from Asia and not the Middle East is ignored.

53. FAIR, FARMS and the Maxwell Institute. Nearly every article I read from any of these groups is a tortured exercise in motivated reasoning. They start with the premise that the Church can never be wrong and then work backwards to justify any apparent wrongdoing or inconsistency.

54. Empiricism and the abuse thereof. If faith really trumps proof then stop telling me about your proof that god answered your prayers, or he healed you, etc. wouldn’t the very existence of anything you could call “proof” run counter to the idea of faith?

55. Homophobia. Correct me if I am wrong, but whether homosexual or heterosexual sex out of wedlock is a violation of the same commandment, The Law of Chastity. So why the out of proportion focus on one over the other? I personally disagree as to whether homosexuality should be a sin however even if I believed it was, Christ clearly was more condemning of divorce than homosexuality. And as far as the “sin of Sodom” goes, read it more carefully. The sin of Sodom was pride, not homosexuality.

56. Idol Worship. I’ve lost count of how many talks and lessons have degraded into name dropping and personal anecdotes about meeting famous Mormons. “Once at a Dale Murphy fireside…”

57. Spiritual Experiences and the encouragement to have them without defining them. In LDS doctrine anything that makes you feel good and leads you to believe the church is interpreted as being from the spirit and good. Yet those exact feelings are interpreted as evil if they do not lead you to believe the church. The message is little more than “Trust your feelings if they lead you towards the church. Distrust them if they lead you away from the church.” I asked my Stake President exactly this question and got exactly this answer.

58. Confusing concept of Deity. The church officially does not believe in the trinity. It preaches that they are three distinct beings with different roles but the same ultimate goal. The various names to refer to the three make it very confusing. Sometimes the son refers to himself as the father and the father refers to himself as the son. It was once explained to me that sometimes when the son speaks he dictates word for word what the father said, making it even more confusing. How convenient. Anytime it appears to be a conflict, just pretend one is quoting the other. Spin it however you need to make the conflict disappear.

59. The Holy Ghost v. the Gift of the Holy Ghost. If investigators can feel the spirit before they have the gift then why is the gift necessary? What makes it different? The best explanation I’ve heard from official sources says the gift just makes it stay around longer.

60. General Authorities with no backbone. When you have a national stage on a TV show on which you agreed to appear, don’t get all wishy-washy on official doctrine. “I don’t know that we preach that.” Yes, you do know that we preach that. You just know that is sounds a little weird and don’t want to own up to it on camera.

61. Telling members that the reason people leave is because the doctrine is too hard to follow. The implication here is that some people just can’t cut it and want to sin. Preaching this from the pulpit betrays the fact that LDS leadership is either ignorant of the data about why people leave or they are deliberately deceptive. I’m far from perfect but my Sundays are now spent doing charity work for the Red Cross or the Boy Scouts and spending time with my family. I’m such a sinner.

62. Telling members that the reason people leave the church is because they were offended by another member. Since I’ve stopped attending I’ve lost count of how many people have been all saccharinely sweet to me. It’s not personal. I just don’t believe it anymore. It wasn’t your fault. You were always nice to me before you don’t have to go over the top nice to me now. That’s just placating.

63. Watering down and changing of doctrine that was once taught as essential. As a kid it was official doctrine that we would become gods and get our own planets. (Journal of Discourses Volume 6 page 275 --Brigham Young) Now it is official doctrine that this is not true.

64. A view of Heaven that depends on others’ obedience for you to be happy. The whole concept of the Celestial Kingdom is pretty flawed. Even if you made the cut could you really be happy with the memory of all of your friends and family who didn’t make it? No matter how good that place I would be haunted by the fact that my family members would be getting much less. The only way I could ever relax and enjoy it would be if I could forget about those that didn’t make it. Like driving to Disneyland and having most of the people I came with being told they had to wait for me in the parking lot. I’d have to choose to be ignorant of the condition of my loved ones. Hence the paradox: Choosing to be ambivalent about the ones you loved in order to be happy yourself. And would I really want to spend time with people who would do that? The hardest part about leaving was telling my mother. I took a little piece of her heaven from her by telling her I no longer believe.

65. Amateur counseling advice given when professionals should be involved. I don’t have any problem with clergy giving basic advice like, “See your doctor”, “avoid debt”, “honor your commitments” etc. But all too frequently Bishops presume that their calling makes them an expert in financial planning, medicine and/or social work. It doesn’t. Outside the church nobody would ever consider getting marriage advice from an insurance salesman, medical advice from a warehouse manager, or financial planning advice from a chicken farmer. Yet I’ve seen all three of these examples happen.

Thank you for reading this far. Now that I’ve posted this I would welcome any discussion on any of these topics. This list is littered with my personal bias, some snark, and sarcasm. I recognize all of that. I mean no offense by that. If you would like to discuss any of these issues I will be respectful and do my best to avoid those in our dialogue.

I will be updating this page as time permits. My goal is to add hyperlinks to my sources for each where it is available. For the record: I could create a list of things that the LDS church does right as well. There are many. The list would be almost as big as this list. Reflecting on that list is why it was such a difficult decision for me to leave. I spent the last decade weighing the items on both list. However, at least for me, it became obvious that one list was getting smaller and smaller and the other just kept growing and finally reached a tipping point.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Brief History of my Life in the LDS Church



Growing up in Utah        

I grew up in the avenues of Salt Lake City while my dad was finishing his PhD at the University of Utah. As far back as I can remember, we were not considered the typical Mormons. As a kid I was exposed to the UofU/ BYU rivalry and I always felt like people were attacking my dad as if he was not a real Mormon since he didn’t go to BYU.

I don’t honestly remember ever asking if any of my friends from school were members or not. I just kind of assumed that they were, but I don’t have any memories of playing with school friends at church either.

I remember back when I was probably 6 and Stephen was only 4 that mom would let us walk the few blocks to Primary on Tuesdays alone.

Moved to Georgia

February, 1975 I was baptized in the Ponce de Leon building in Atlanta. Dad completed his PhD and we had just moved to Georgia a few months earlier. Our Ward didn’t have its own building yet. It was still under construction and the Ponce building was the closest font. The building used to have a very nice mural in the foyer showing the various stages of a person’s life from birth to death. Now all the meeting houses are so sterile and homogenous it’s hard to find any difference among them. They removed the mural in the 80s when they remodeled the building.
               
We were meeting at Rockbridge Elementary School on Sundays and at a local Methodist Church near Hwy-78 and Rockbridge Rd on Tuesdays for Primary. I remember my baptismal interview with Bishop Doyle Kotter in one of the classrooms of the elementary school. I don’t remember what I said but the story has been repeated that I was kinda spunky. Apparently when the Bishop asked if I thought this was the only true church I responded, “No, My church in Salt Lake is the only true church.” Then he tried to explain that all the Wards were part of the same church. To which I responded, “But this is an elementary school not a church.” This should have been everybody’s first clue that I wasn’t just gonna accept their claims at face value. I needed more details. They let me get baptized anyway.

Late 70s               

I remember meeting on the old split schedule. Dad would wake up early and go to Priesthood meeting which was early in the morning. Then Sunday School was around 10:00am. Sacrament Meeting was later in the afternoon, like 4:00pm or something. Primary was on a weekday after school. We loved the split schedule because it frequently meant that we could go over to a friend’s house or have a friend over between the two Sunday session. Parents didn’t seem to object very often because it didn’t involve any more travel than they were already doing.

I feel like I was probably the typical good little Mormon boy right up until my teenage years. I don’t remember having any faith challenging interactions with anybody, inside or outside the church. Most kids thought I was weird because I was a “Yankee” and never got around to being critical of me for my religion. Even after I explained that Utah was not even involved in the civil war they didn’t care.

I do remember one day when the missionaries had come over to the house and I saw that they had a whole trunk full of Book of Mormons. I asked them why they didn’t hand out Bibles too. They explained that most people already had a copy of the Bible in their house. I don’t remember how old I was, but that actually surprised me. It was the first time in my life that I actually had to stop and think about what other religions believed. Well they can’t be all that bad if they still believe the Bible.

Early 80s              

Middle School and High school I was always singled out during that week of history class when we talked about the pioneers. “Michael is a Mormon. Would you tell us a little bit about your family history?” Besides the normal embarrassment all kids have when they had to speak in front of the class this never really bothered me. I do remember a few of my other Mormon friends being as quiet as possible when I was called on. I guess they were just hoping that I didn’t call them out, but I didn’t care if people knew I was a Mormon.

My parents were not the typical Mormons by any stretch of the imagination. For starters they were very liberal, both in the classical sense and the political sense. Dad subscribed to Dialogue and Sunstone as well as The Ensign and he had a copy of No Man Knows My History on the same shelf as The Journal of Discourses. He instilled in me at a very young age that knowledge and information were not things to fear but things to soak up and enjoy.

Because of my parents liberal views towards most things I think teachers and church leaders just knee-jerk assumed that I shared their views. In some cases I did, in some I didn’t. In most cases I hadn’t yet made up my mind. I remember some very heated and passionate lessons in seminary about deep doctrine. As I reflect back on these decades later I’m pretty sure their arguments weren’t necessarily with me but I was filling a proxy for my parents. This gave me an interesting perspective. It was very eye-opening about the conflicting views on doctrine. But the most revealing aspect of this was the glimpse it provided into the minds of other members. As much as they had in common they could still find reasons to dislike each other.

I had a few very cool priesthood leaders in my teenage years. Unfortunately, they were very few and far between. Most leaders just seemed to use their position to bully their interpretation of politics as if it were gospel. 

It became clear at this time in my life that “the Gift of Discernment” was hogwash. Once, I was accused of doing drugs by one of my leaders and not allowed to pass the sacrament while friends who actually had smoked the night before were still allowed to participate. One particular leader was all about image. He publically dressed me down for having my sleeves rolled up and a sloppy tie. That was the first time I skipped Priesthood meeting. Had he known that the reason I had my sleeves rolled up was because it helped hide the fact that my shirt was too small I doubt he would have responded as he did. But he didn’t bother to find out the real cause of the problem. He just criticized the symptom. The sloppy tie was completely my fault.

It was about this time that the bishop started using the pulpit time for partisan political speeches. I remember one particular flag waving and chest thumping speech the Sunday before a general election. I walked out of the chapel during the talk. It was very bad. I had been sitting behind my dad, the family took up more than one bench, and he didn’t realize I had walked out. Dad later apologized to me and said that he should have had the whole family walk out. My dad complained to the Stake President and the next week the bishop read the standard form letter from the First Presidency about elections, but that was the week after the election and any damage had already been done.

I still believed that the church was true and I did my best to remain active even though the bishop at the time and many of my leaders seemed to have it in for me and my family. I periodically attended another Ward just to see if things were different. They were nicer to me but then they soon started gossiping about me just attending that ward to see a girl. They didn’t bother to do the research that the girl in question was not even in town many of those weeks. So they assumed it was to see different girl. Also untrue. I guess the idea that a 17 year-old kid was struggling and trying to salvage his testimony was just too deep for them. It had to be hormonal. So to avoid further gossip I went back to my ward.
               
Making the decision to go on a mission was not the cookie cutter process for me that it seems to be for others. I didn’t even start the process until well after my 19th birthday. I felt like the leadership had so judged me that they wouldn’t have allowed me to go anyway. If there is such a thing as an answer to prayers then the change in the bishopric and priesthood leadership definitely qualifies. All along I was trying to do what I thought was correct. I never considered that the Church itself was the problem. I was just biding my time until some inspired leaders could help me out. So I turned in my papers.

The Temple       

When I finally went in for my endowment I had kinda given in to the fact that accepting the church and giving it my best effort was probably the easiest way to keep the rest of the people in my life happy. I’d never had the miraculous witness everybody talks about but I did believe, or at least I really wanted to believe it was true.

The endowment was really weird.  I’m not gonna sugar coat it. It made me really uncomfortable. The penalties scared me a lot. Was this literal? Or was it just to intimidate me to not talk about it. I didn’t know. There were also several places where they announced that you could back out of you wanted rather than proceed any further and accept the penalties. That made me think that it was literal. Why issue such an escape clause about something that was just symbolic?

During the prayer circle I remember my mom looking at me with this smile like it was the best day of her life. I was just confused and assumed that maybe I’d understand it better as time goes on. During my time in the MTC I found that this was a common belief. You just have to go as often as possible so you can learn more. They say that you have to acquire a taste for some foods and some forms of alcohol. I don’t drink so I wouldn’t know. But if it’s nasty to start with why in the world would you want to condition yourself to it? In retrospect I feel the same way about the temple. I think the whole drive to go so frequently was just to condition oneself to the weirdness. 

Mission life        

My whole life I had been interested in Japan. I’d even tried to teach myself Japanese a couple of times. So I honestly felt that my call to Japan was inspired. I’m sure it had nothing at all to do with the fact that I put on my application that I had studied a year of Japanese.

I wanted to be a good missionary. I really wanted to do my best. I tried really hard to be as obedient as possible. I quickly learned to love the people and I honestly felt like I was bringing them something of value.

My first missionary apartment had a copy of Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation. The four of us used it as a resource and treated it as if it was undisputable doctrine. Pretty soon other missionaries were asking to borrow the books to answer doctrinal issues, too. I remember more than one doctrine that caused me to second guess what I had been taught growing up. Since I resigned myself to the church being true and perfect I just did my best to conform my beliefs to what I was learning.

A few transfers later my apartment had stacks and stacks of old Ensigns. Similarly we used to scour them to understand the deeper doctrines. I soon noticed that many of the talks and doctrines were contradictory. Both interpretations couldn’t possibly be true. It was also about that time that I learned that some books from General authorities had been changed many times, specifically Mormon Doctrine. I was slowly learning that if you dig deep enough you could likely find a general authority who would support any position on every point of doctrine. So I didn’t know what to believe.

Confused, I wrote a series of letters to my mission president. I liked my mission president, but questions directed at him were kind of side-stepped. I was told to focus on the basics and not get hung up on the deeper doctrines. So I did.

My whole mission I tried to be as obedient as possible in hopes that’d help me find people to teach. It didn’t seem to work. As far as numbers go my most successful period was when I was companions with a guy who broke a bunch of the rules and sold the church like he would a used car. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find out that he actually was a used car salesman. I couldn’t understand why the Lord was blessing a disobedient missionary and I was following the rules and not seeing the success. When I voiced this concern to the President he transferred me to another area but still allowed my old companion to keep doing what he wanted if it brought in the baptisms.

I extended my mission an extra month. Partially to make up for some of the time I felt like I hadn’t been giving it my all, but also just to stay in the country a little bit longer. I really do love Japan and I’d love to go back.

Coming home   

It was a little bit of culture shock for me when I got home. I’d been on my own for two years and it felt odd to move back in with my parents. I got a place of my own as soon as I could afford it. I was getting used to being on my own and wasn’t nearly as active as I could have been. I guess I was just testing my wings and trying to make decisions because I wanted to do it and not just because it was expected of me. The one exception was the YSA dances. I’d go to as many of those as I could. But that was primarily to hang out with Victoria.

 Marriage            

Victoria and I opted to take out her endowments the day before the sealing. A lot of people were encouraging us to do it all in the same day. To me that just seemed like making the wedding day last a lot longer than it needed to. Victoria’s parents had quite a few non-member friends that were already going to be waiting for us on the sealing day so we couldn’t see making them wait longer. I had an ulterior motive as well. I knew that Victoria would have some questions about the weirdness of the endowment. I didn’t want our wedding night to be spent discussing that.

As predicted, after the endowment she had tons of questions. I did my best to help her answer them. It was a very awkward evening. Several times I had to caution her that her question may have crossed a line into what we were told we shouldn’t talk about outside the temple. I still wasn’t sure about how literal those penalties were and didn’t want to take any chances.

I have no criticism at all of our wedding ceremony. I enjoyed the small room and the limited number of friends and family. I didn’t have any non-member friends that I had to exclude so that wasn’t an issue for me as it is for others.

As a young married couple I remember trying to be good members of the church. We had primary callings and I finagled myself into an Assistant Scoutmaster position just so I could justify camping and hanging out on the weekends. I enjoyed the ward we were in. It was an in-town Ward of mostly college students, CDC doctors and Emory professors. In short, enough liberals that the Mormon predisposition to lean way to the right didn’t go completely unchecked. It was a nice period in my life. I don’t remember one single conflict with church leadership or members over doctrine. To this day I have some of the kids I taught tell me about how cool it was that I would read from Richard Bach books right alongside the scriptures.

I don’t remember exactly when, but about this time the church changed the temple ceremony. They took out several of the weirdest parts. But it’s not like they made a decision to rewrite the whole ceremony. It’s like they just redacted the script to remove the weirdness. Ever since then, when I’d go to the temple it seemed really cut and paste. I can tell exactly from where each sentence was removed. There are even a few sentences that refer things that have been redacted. They make no sense at all if you don’t know to what they are referring. The changes also removed the penalties that freaked me out when I was 19. So does that mean I am subject to those penalties and that newer members aren’t? Either the doctrine was changing or it was symbolic all along.

Kids and the Move to Utah         

Aaron was born and I accepted a promotion with REI that moved my new family to Utah. At the time I thought the move was going to be a good thing. It was a promotion and Victoria was going to be able to transfer her work too.
               
It didn’t turn out anything like I had envisioned.  With a newborn and with both of us working retail we seldom if ever saw each other let alone went to church. It was a lot of trouble to drag a kid to church alone so I think the only time we went to church was when both of us had the day off. And frequently we didn’t even want to go then either. It was nice to live close enough that we could walk to church. I hadn’t done that since I’d lived in Salt Lake as a young kid.

They gave me a couple callings, but I never gave them more than a token effort. I wasn’t really active enough to get into any doctrinal conversations. The one time I did speak up in Elders Quorum it was to criticize the teacher. He had gotten into an accident because he had fallen asleep while driving on Conference Sunday and listening to a live conference talk on the radio. He was blaming the general authority for his accident. “So let me get this straight, you were driving, while already tired, on a conference Sunday and it’s the GA’s fault you ran off the road?” I think that outburst is what got me called to the EQ presidency. They regretted that almost immediately.

Living in Utah I was exposed to some of the more extreme doctrines that aren’t focused on so much in the South. Many Utah Mormon’s believe and frequently still talk about the literal gathering of Israel, picking up a few of their belongings and moving to Jackson Co. Missouri. I found it odd that most southern Mormons have never even heard this or interpreted it as only symbolic. Add one more thing to my growing list of questions about literal v. symbolic doctrines.

It was nice living in the mountains, but living in the heart of Mormondom was kind of depressing. I guess I was expecting some kind of utopia. Utah politics are just as corrupt and hypocritical as any other state in the union. It was embarrassing to read about corrupt business deals and the like and know that it was members of the church who were involved. On a side note: I lost count of how many times members would use the ward phone list to stop by the house to talk to us about “an exciting business opportunity”. In every case I politely told them I was not interested and pretty much guaranteed that they wouldn’t talk to me again if we bumped into each other in the halls at church.

Move back to Georgia  

Shortly after Rachel was born we made the decision to move back to Georgia. My extended family never came to see us, even though we were less than an hour away. My job was not panning out and it was quite a hardship on the Georgia family members who did want to see us.

The ward we moved into was about as extremely opposite to the ward we were in after we got married as you could imagine. Where the Atlanta ward had CDC and Emory to help control the lean to the right, our new ward had businessmen, bankers, corporate lawyers and accountants to lean it even further to the right. As if that wasn’t enough it was the home ward to the mission president and two Area Authority General Authorities. Suffice it to say they weren’t gonna let me get away with quoting Jonathon Livingston Seagull in my lessons. Quite the contrary, I found that I was getting pulled aside and chastised every time I had a talk or opened my mouth in Sunday School. At least twice I was publicly rebuked by an area authority for something I had said in a talk. It was pretty obvious that when they spoke they expected the discussion to be over. So much for getting new insights by having access to General Authorities. Not only wasn’t I getting answers, the fact that I even had the questions was being criticized.

2001-2006           

My new job at the phone factory would pay for me to get a degree so I started going back to school at nights. I typically got off work at 4:00pm and most night classes started at 6:00pm. Rather than drive all the way home just to spend a few minutes with the family and turn around and drive back I would drive straight to school after work. I’d find an empty room to work on homework. When that was done I’d head to the library. I love libraries. Sometimes I’d just wander, with no specific topic in mind, and see what books I found.

On one of those wanderings I found Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. I was familiar with and liked his writing style so I read the book and found it very fascinating. I was still in the mode of a true-believer and so when I read it I was able to put up a barrier between what these FLDS nutballs were doing and what the real church does.

It was about that time that I also found the LDS section of the library. They had a copy of the RLDS Doctrine and Covenants. It too was an enlightening read. Why were some of these revelations drastically different than the LDS version? Why were some of these revelations included in this book but not in the LDS version? Again, since I was still trying to believe I just wrote off anything negative and accepted the positive.

I didn’t know what it was called at the time but what I was doing was called motivated reasoning. There are several subcategories to this type of thought process, but suffice it to say that it is not a logical way to analyze any subject. But that’s what I had been doing my whole life. I’d accept the good things I learned about the church and dismiss the aspects I disagreed with.

On that same shelf in the library they had a book that analyzed the Book of Mormon using modern forensics techniques. By doing word usage counts, letter frequency counts, and several other literary tools analysts are able to create sort of a fingerprint for the author of a document. They then compared the Book of Mormon to several other written works of people they suspected could have authored the book. Joseph Smith’s personal writing style was as close to an exact match to the author of the Book of Mormon as the researchers were able conclude.

To use a metaphor that other have used: When I found evidence that went against my faith I took that evidence and quietly placed in up on a shelf. I’ll get an answer to that later. It’s not important right now. I should concentrate on the basics and not get bogged down in this. Etc. I just kept filling up that shelf in hopes that eventually I’d be able to make sense of things.

Allowing Myself to Question

Sometime in 2001 I got called to work in the Elder’s Quorum Presidency. I enjoyed it but these little doubts and questions kept bugging me. I went in and talked to the Bishop. He really didn’t tell me anything that I hadn’t been told before. And honestly I think I kind of freaked him out. At this point I was still doing my best to believe. I just felt that my own doubts made me feel rather inadequate to help other Elders who were struggling and I didn’t want to lead anybody astray.

After releasing me from my Elder Quorum calling they called to teach Aaron’s primary class. I loved working with kids and this seemed like a great chance for me to get back to basics. In retrospect, it was that attempt to get back to basics that uncovered more than I ever expected and caused my shelf to just come crashing down.

In primary it’s a big deal for the kids to memorize The 13 Articles of Faith. It had been a while since I had memorized them. Also since I was a kid they had changed a few of them, nothing earth-shattering, primarily just updating to more modern language.  I remember staying up late until I had memorized them all in their new form.

I thought it would be cute to show the kids the Articles of Faith the way I had memorized them, at the same age. I began looking for resources and couldn’t find anything on the official church sites. Then the Ensign published the Wentworth letter. This was supposedly the origin of the Articles of Faith. I was excited to read it but my excitement turned to disbelief. They had edited the Wentworth letter, a historical document, to reflect the modern version of the Articles of Faith.

And the shelf came crashing down. If they would edit this document what else would they edit? For the first time I began to look at websites and resources that were not sanctioned by the church. Questions were being answered. Pieces of the puzzle were finally fitting together and making sense. Unfortunately, the picture that was coming together was not the picture I had created in my mind for the first 35 years of my life. It was like I was trying to but together a puzzle without the benefit of the picture on the box. I’d been given and idea of what the picture should look like but it wasn’t turning out that way. I kept getting frustrated because it wasn’t looking anything like I’d imagined it would and like I was being told it should. It wasn’t until I started ignoring the image I had in my mind of what it should look like that things started to make sense. Rather than force the picture to look like what I thought it should I just put the pieces together as I found them and let the picture decide the details. For the first time in my life I was not starting with the premise that the church was true and trying to shoehorn the evidence to fit that conclusion.

I remember driving home from work late one night after realizing that my church was not what it had claimed in tears. My eyes were so clogged with tears I had to pull over and regain my composure before I felt safe enough to drive again.

Talked to Another Bishop            

I went in and spoke to my new, recently called, Bishop about what I had learned. He, like his predecessor gave me some pabulum responses and told me to, “.. stay close to my family.” It was no help whatsoever and only convinced me that LDS leadership was ill equipped to help people with questions like mine. “Study, pray and obey” may be enough advice for seminary students who weren’t doing any of the three, but It was just not enough for an adult who was doing his best at all three and still not improving.

Rachel was about to turn eight and she was really exited about getting baptized. Rather than make an issue about my lack of belief I avoided the issue and we got her Grandpa to baptize her.

About this time Victoria suggested that I start a blog. I’d been using her as a sounding board and research assistant. The blog helped me to organize my thoughts and put my struggles down on paper.

As part of my research I began reading and listening to skeptical blogs and podcasts. As it turns out there was a large community of scientists, educators and science enthusiasts that were applying the principles of the scientific method to all aspects of life. It made sense to me that religious claims too should be held to the same standards of evidence as other claims. This led my research into new directions and I voraciously consumed as much material as I could in this genre. For the first time in my life I felt like I was getting some answers to my questions and concerns. I just had to discard my premise, truly open my mind and objectively look at all the sources.

From books like The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan and How We Believe by Michael Shermer I began to understand the psychology of belief and how our brains trick us. I’d been exposed to the idea of logical fallacies in my high school debate class as well as in college critical thinking classes. These books reinforced the idea of looking for fallacies that could possibly lead to false conclusions. Sacrament meetings became exceptionally irritating. Now that I knew and understood the multiple fallacious ways of reasoning it was impossible for me to overlook these errors. Every few minutes an abuse of logic would cross the pulpit and my brain immediately tagged it and saw it for what it was. Fast and Testimony meeting in particular became a mentally grueling ordeal.

Scouting              

When Aaron turned 11 I was called to work in the Scouting program. I started out as an Assistant Scoutmaster and later was the Scoutmaster. I loved working with the boys, but it was torture working with the ward and stake leadership. They had no idea how the program was supposed to work and kept trying to force the boys into doing things that they didn’t really want to do. The stake leadership had set some very arbitrary rules to apply to scouts and they were not the least bit flexible. When I questioned them, I got a lecture on obedience.

They released me as Scoutmaster after I lost my temper at a boy who thought he could get away with anything just because he was the Stake President’s son. I guess they thought they couldn’t run a program without me so they made me Committee Chairman. I soon got tired of kicking against the pricks and asked to be released from that position too. The church is capable of pulling off a really good young men’s program. But it’s insulting to Baden Powell’s program to refer to it as Boy Scouting.
                               
2008      

By the time Noah turned 8 I was in a non-confrontational mode. I no longer believed but I didn’t like rocking the boat either. So I baptized Noah. Nobody ever asked to see a temple recommend. I didn’t have one. And my bishop didn’t question me either, even though I’d told him my concerns. I guess he thought that by ignoring my problems they had all gone away.

Nursery               

After I left the YM program they called Victoria and me to be nursery teachers. I loved spending all three hours of church with her. It’s the best calling I’ve ever had. I didn’t have to delve into my doctrinal struggles. I hadn’t been to an Elder’s quorum meeting for quite a while anyway so this was actually keeping me active for all three hours each week. I’m a big fan of sitting on the floor and snack time to make any meeting go smoother.

After about a year of us being nursery leaders they were hinting to Victoria that they wanted to release us. She told the bishop point blank that it would probably mean that I would go inactive. They didn’t heed her advice and released me. I haven’t sat through any more than sacrament meeting ever since.

Tithing

Somewhere around this time I quit paying tithing. I’d seen the church refuse to pay for relatively minor repairs and safety items around the building. They’d already purchased peepholes for the classrooms but wouldn’t pay the additional cost to actually install them. Then I’d seen them pay for medical bill for members who couldn’t afford to pay because their primary income went to feed their cat collection. They’d paid for car repairs, but then wouldn’t pay for gas so the member could use the newly repaired car. Then they went and started a multi-million dollar ad campaign.

If the ad campaign wasn’t bad enough it required that we remove a perfectly nice brick sign in front of the building and in its place put up a stamped metal sign that looks like it belongs in front of and office park and not a church. To make matters even worse they didn’t file for a building permit and they put the sign too close to the road and it had to be moved because the DOT was widening the road. So right now there is a sign foundation paid for with a few hundred dollars of tithing money under a new turn lane. The church spun this as religious persecution by local government rather than inept financial management.

After the hurricanes of the 2004 and 2005 seasons the church sent a bunch of folks down to help. They insisted that we all wear t-shirts that proclaimed that we were Mormon. Whatever happened to the idea of giving charity? Was this charity or an ad campaign? I know they were spending a lot on the humanitarian aid. It just seemed like they could have done even more if they weren’t so focused on the publicity too.

Up until about 2010, in spite of my doctrinal concerns, I’d been a full tithe payer. I became convinced that my money was not being used as I thought it was and finally stopped.

No more teaching callings

They gave me a calling to teach the Old Testament to a few 17 and 18 year olds. It was some of the guys I’d worked with as scouts. They were nice kids and we had some fun. While preparing one of the lessons I was appalled at the immoral lesson I was being asked to convey as if I believed it. It was a story about a prophet being commanded to commit genocide in the name of the Lord. I just couldn’t do it. A few years earlier we had stopped reading scriptures together as a family because Rachel was having nightmares. I couldn’t blindly continue teaching this stuff without raising the alarm. I sent the bishop a polite email saying I did not want to be called to any more positions that required me to teach doctrines that I did not personally believe.

Yet Another Meeting with Yet Another Bishop

So I got called in to talk to the bishop. This was the third bishop I’d spoken with about my struggles. I knew this guy a lot better than the previous two so we talked for over an hour. He really is a nice guy but it quickly became clear that he too had no idea what to do for me. I relayed my concerns about several topics and got pretty much the same, non-answer, responses. He was concerned that I hadn’t been studying my scriptures. I explained that really studying the scriptures was why I was where I was. At one point he asked me to rate my testimony of the Book of Mormon on a scale of 1 to 10. His mouth literally dropped wide open when I said, “3”. I personally despise these type of arbitrary numbers applied to non-quantifiable concepts. I said “3” was because I knew it would convey to him both my disbelief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon and my dislike of being asked to quantify that disbelief. 

Eve’s Baptism   

By the time Eve turned 8 there was no way I was going to baptize her. I just couldn’t do it. I talked to Eve and recommended that she ask Aaron to do it. At the time I thought this was a good idea. Aaron was working through some issues of his own and I thought it would be a good way to let him know that they were in the past and we were ready to move on. In retrospect I feel bad for putting him in that situation.

Aaron and Rachel coming out

Some time in early 2011 Aaron pulled Victoria aside. He started off the conversation by saying, “You’re probably going to hate me for this…” and then proceeded to tell her that he could no longer believe in the god they taught about at church. He was apprehensive because he didn’t have any idea of the struggles that I’d been having. Victoria brought him in to talk to me and we all assured each other that things were going to be just fine. He was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t chew him out. Quite the contrary, in many ways he was a braver man than I was.

I think it was the same day that Victoria and I talked to Rachel and she too confided that she no longer believed. In here mind there was just too much evil that was done in god’s name. She wasn’t referring to modern day people creatively interpreting the scriptures. She was talking about the scriptures themselves, the stories of genocide, slavery, abuse and murder that were directly commanded by a so-called loving deity.

Stopped attending

Church was always something that I just did. Even though I stopped believing I still went through the motions. I tried to figure out if I could be a New-Order- Mormon, a cultural member but non-believer. I just couldn’t make it work. I got too irritated by the abuses of logic and reason from the pulpit. I began to feel like my presence in the audience without speaking up against it was being taken as tacit agreement. It just felt dishonest of me to keep it up. So I told Victoria that I just couldn’t do it anymore. Since September or so of 2011 the only time I’ve been in an LDS building is to pick up a kid from an activity, to help Victoria with one of her YW activities or a meeting with the Stake President. I also attended a couple Boy Scout Court of Honors because a friend was getting an award. But I haven’t sat through any doctrinal meetings for the better part of a year now.

The King Swing

In October of 2011 I typed out a long blog post and called it the King Swing. It was essentially my coming out as a non-believer. I no longer considered myself a member of the church and it felt dishonest not to let the people I love know. I expected a little fall out from family. So far I have received nothing but support from family and friends. Mom didn’t take it very well but it was still much better than I’d expected. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop with some people. Besides posting it on my blog I haven’t been rubbing anybody’s nose in it. Some family members still are going about their lives as if nothing has changed. I have a visitor tracker on my blog so I know who has visited and how long they stayed on each page. I’m content to let them bring it up with me on their own terms.

Meetings with Stake President and Scare Tactics to Get me Back.

Sometime in December, 2011 the Bishop and Stake President paid me a surprise visit on a Sunday afternoon. I was taking a nap. I’d gotten up early to donate platelets and had spent the rest of the morning cleaning up the house. Victoria just let me sleep. I swapped emails with the Bishop and Stake President quite a few times while trying to reschedule. We had at least three different meeting scheduled and every time they cancelled shortly before the meeting time.

I felt like I was being manipulated so I sent them a polite but firm email. The basic theme of the email was “What do you hope to accomplish?” and I laid out the path I had taken to where I was and what it would take to get me back. That got them to leave me alone for a few more months.

February I got an email request to meet with the Stake President. I accepted and went. I respect his perspective and what he believes his task is. I just no longer believed that he had any authority over me. I was criticized by some of non-member friends for meeting on “his turf”. But I wasn’t threatened by meeting in his office. To the contrary, I think I was more at ease. It’s a lot easier to get up and leave an uncomfortable setting than it is to kick somebody out of your house.

We talked for about an hour and a half. It was a pleasant conversation but I wasn’t charmed out of believing the church so I wasn’t going to be charmed back in. I wasn’t scared out of belief so I wasn’t going to be scared back in. I also explained to him that at this point I just don’t know what to believe in anymore. But I was much more comfortable with an honest “I don’t know” that a dishonest “I know”. We left on pleasant terms but I know he was frustrated that I didn’t have a witness of the error of my ways.

Shortly after that meeting he sent me a very disturbing email. I won’t share all the details. But he obviously sees doubt and curiosity as sins. He used four different euphemisms for “Satan” while making his points. He was clearly trying to scare me back into the church. I typed up a nice response but ultimately did not send it. I don’t think it would have accomplished anything. He pretty much told me that I was under the influence of Satan. With that mindset what could I possible say to persuade him otherwise?

Resigning?

I have yet to take the formal step of resigning from the church. Members sometimes refer to this as having your names removed from the records. The legal term is “resign”. I remember a Stake Conference speech from an apostle that there is no such thing as removing your names from the records or a “do not contact” list. The only reason I hesitate is that I just don’t want it to trigger another series of interview and interrogations. If they are comfortable to just leave me a lone I’m content too.

There are a couple online recovery forums that I frequent periodically.  I feel like a fish out of water when I visit them. Most if not all of the posters are very bitter and antagonistic towards the church. I don’t share that. Lately I’ve been just kind of a lurker on those sites. I just don’t have the anger and frustration with the church that so many of them do. I really am content to live and let live. If the church works for you I won’t try to talk you out of it. If you want to have a talk about church doctrine or church history, I’m just as open to discuss it as I was before.

I think that most of the church leaders are good decent well intended people. I just no longer accept that they are divinely guided. That doesn’t mean that a conference talk about sharing each other’s burdens means any less to me. I still do my best to find the good in everybody and in everything. The Mormon Church has loads of good people and good doctrines. I will continue to do my best to learn from them and incorporate those teachings into my life.



Thursday, March 08, 2012

Memories

Returning to a common theme I’ve touched on a few times before.
I was listening to a podcast today. This is a relatively new one but I’ve come to trust the host by some of his previous work. At one point in the show the hosts go on a tangent and start talking about nicknames. The begin to talk about derogatory nicknames that they had for people and then wonder about what similar nicknames they were called behind their backs. I found the bit rather insightful. It invited introspection. What kind of a person do others think I am? It’s always good to reevaluate if you really are the type of person you want to be.
Something about the bit troubled me. It wasn’t until the program was over that I made the connection. The host told about how he used to call one of his junior high school teachers “Jabba the Hutt” and how bad he felt about it now that he looks back on it. Now here’s the problem. The host also revealed in the same episode that he is 56 years-old. So lets do a little math here. If he’s 56 in 2012 then he would have been 21 when the first Star Wars movie came out. But we never saw the character, Jabba the Hutt until Return of the Jedi which came out in 1983, when the host was 27 years-old.
Now I don’t doubt that the host called his teacher a derogatory name. And I don’t doubt his sincerity when he talks about how bad he feels decades later. This story just proves how plastic our memories really are. This event could not have played out the way he remembers it. At the very least the nickname in his memory morphed to accommodate the image he had of that teacher once he saw the movie in 1983.
I’ve talked before about how I’ve been guilty of this same type of memory error. It’s disconcerting to realize that our memories aren’t quite the “dash camera” that we like to think they are.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Cold Reading

So a few years ago Victoria found an old receipt in a box. She calls to me, on the other side of the room, and says, “Hey Michael, guess what the date is on this receipt.”
Without so much as a second of hesitation I responded, “2000”.
She was stunned, “How’d you do that?”
“I’m psychic.” And I raised my eyebrows.

Now if that’s all the description I’d given of the event it might seem a little mysterious. But I assure you there was nothing mysterious about it at all. Victoria had actually told me the year a few minutes earlier and she didn’t even realize it. Making it seem really spooky when I repeated it back to her.

This is process that so-called psychic use all the time. It’s called cold reading. They take information from their “mark” a turn the information back on them. When done well it appears that the person claiming to have paranormal powers has actually provided information to you that they couldn’t have known otherwise. Typically they ask a series of questions. Based on their mark’s responses they will fine tune the questions until they can then make a very high probability guess. The real art is to make the mark forget the string of questions, especially all the wrong answers, and focus entirely on the final high probability guess.

Sometimes the psychic will base their first question on a non-verbal detail. If the mark is anywhere outside normal appearance (taller, shorter, thinner, fatter than average) they might start with something obvious like “Were you teased a lot as a teenager?” Then, no matter how you answer, they will build on that to fine tune their final “prediction”. They ask vague questions, expect their mark to narrow them down and forget all the wrong answers. My point here is that they really aren’t telling them anything at all. The mark is providing the answers, not the so-called psychic.

I had a recent experience with a very bad cold-reader. He told several personal stories and expected me to relate to his stories and add details so he could build upon them for his final “prediction”. He would make vague statements and expect me to clarify so he could build on them. In a sense I just turned the tables on him. When he would try to get me to fill in details I would just ask him follow up questions to his story. In the end I think he got rather frustrated with me. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I just recognized his strategies and did my best not to fall for them.

The sad part is that I honestly don’t think that the guy I was talking to even knew what he was doing. I don’t think he was consciously trying to deceive me. But he was trying to get me to reveal information so he could claim that it was something that he sensed, or suspected all along.

Now back to my receipt story, Here’s the story again with supporting detail and in the full context:
A few years ago we did some remodeling to the house. We stashed a bunch of stuff in shoe boxes to sort through and clean out later. A year or so had passed an Victoria and I were decluttering. We were sitting on the floor each going through shoe boxes of papers. I happened to have a shoebox with mostly stuff from the 90s in it. I remember noticing how so much of the clutter in my box was from the same couple of years. Victoria found some old bank account information form when we opened an account for Noah. She told me about it and laughed at some of the information on the paperwork. Noah was born in 2000 and we opened the account the year he was born because he had an income. Victoria was doing market research on diapers and the checks came payable to Noah.

So half an hour later I was still sorting my papers from the 90s and I assumed that she was still on the same box too. So when she asked me to guess the date I just said, “2000”. It was vague, I didn’t give a month or a day, and I had a pretty good chance of being right. And even if I had been wrong she’d have never thought about it again.

“It’s kind of sad that just paying attention to the little details in people’s lives gets mistaken for a paranormal power.”
Paraphrasing Penn Gillett from a podcast interview with Adam Savage