Monday, April 18, 2011
Thursday, December 03, 2009
BaptismMarriage is compromise, right? Well it seems like it has to be, you can't always expect to get things your way, and truthfully getting everything your way is probably not for the best. Well a few months ago, my eldest child turned eight years old. Eight in the Mormon culture is a very important age, it is when a child reaches what is called the Age of Accountability, which basically means that at that age you know right from wrong and are therefore accountable for your actions. It is also the time when you have the opportunity to be baptized and become and official member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And baptism and the confrimation are also important because it is the time you make a covenant with God to always obey his commandments, and a chance for you to be cleansed from your sins. Now ignoring the lack of logic about someone who up until this day was not accountable for their sins, needing to be cleansed and forgiven, does an 8 year old child have the capacity to understand the commitment they are making? When both sides pretty much agree that one week prior she did not have such capacity. I mean I am 37 years old and can't commit to a cell phone provider let alone a God I don't understand, so how can she make such a commitment seeing that she can't tell me if Jesus and God are the same or not or if God even existed
Now traditionally in the Mormon church, when children turn 8 and want to get baptized they are usually baptized by their fathers. Now I am very open with my children about my beliefs and my daughter knows that me baptizing her was not an option. She decided that her grandfather (my wife's husband) would be a great choice, and in her defense, she is totally right, he is a great man. I was torn, part of me wanted to have a great experience with my child and another part of me wanted her not to get baptized at all, not feeling that 8 is old enough to make such huge commitments, I mean it was just 3 months earlier that this same daughter told us that she didn't believe in God. But nevertheless the baptism happened, and she looked beautiful, and it went great contrary to my feelings of the event. After the baptism (and confirmation) there are a few words said by a member of the local bishopric. Well in our case the member of the bishopric thought it was a great idea to ask the parents to come up, impromptu, and say a few words. Now, my relationship with the church is no secret, I don't attend meetings anymore and have discussed my beliefs with my bishop and really to anybody wanting to discuss it, so I was a bit surprised at the request to speak at such an event. My wife stood up and shared her feelings, buying me a few more minutes to think about what I would say, I was hoping that she would speak so long that we would run out of time and that I would be bumped, like the third guest on the Tonight Show. But unfortunately that wasn't the case, and it was my turn. I walked to the front turned and looked at my daughter, with a huge smile on her face and simply said directly to her "I am happy that you are happy", and I went and sat down.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Sacred vs SecretA couple weeks ago, the HBO series Big Love apparently showed portions of an endowment ceremony, part of the Mormon Temple ceremonies. When I was reading articles about this, many LDS member seemed upset, and one of the most common defenses I heard was that the ceremony "is not secret, but rather sacred". Thus meaning that because it is sacred, that it shouldn't be talked about. Well that just didn't make sense to me. Why does something being sacred mean you shouldnt discuss it. This is a very inconsistent rule to live by. I have heard many talks in church where people say that the sacrament is the most sacred of all ordinances, but we have no fear of talking about that, or recreating it in church movies, we even allow visitors to witness it.
It seems the less an ordinance is talked about, is more directly correlated to how unfamiliar the public is with the ordinance, or in other words, how weird or strange it is to them. The more wierd or strange, the less we talk about it. Whether or not the ordinance is sacred has little to do with talking about it. Baptism and the Sacrament are not strange to most people, they have seen similar ordiances in other religions, so it seems okay to openly discuss these, we even taught them early on in the missionary discussions. Baptisms for the Dead and Temple Marriage, a little more wierd, the average person is familiar with baptism and marriage, just not these "versions" of them, so we can talk somewhat about these ordinances openly, but not in too much detail. But the endowment and washings and annointings, now those are strange to the vast majority of people, they are not familiar with these at all, so they are not discussed. I think most LDS people are afraid to talk about them because they do seem odd. It is not as if the endowment is more sacred than temple marriage, or the sacrament, or baptism. The only difference is that it seems a bit more strange to an outsider, so LDS people don't want to seem strange, so you don't find out about those until after you are a member.
So I don't see how the "Sacred not secret" argument flies. People hold them sacred for sure, but there are many things that LDS people hold sacred that they are willing to openly discuss, like the Atonement or the First Vision. Now many will say that the reason they don't talk about these are because they are directed not to, but that is not what the temple cermony says. IT directs not to reveal certain specific things you do in the temple, not what the ceremony entails, and that is just in the endowment. From what I can recall, the washing and annointings has no direction for secretness, but nobody will openly discuss that. These ordianances are very sacred but, depending on how strange they seem, they are also very secretive.
And for the record, I did not see the episode of Big Love mentioned above.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Monday, November 12, 2007
The everchanging storyMany of you reading this are aware of the DNA concerns with the Book of Mormon. If you are not there are plenty of other places where you can read about them. I will not get into detail here. But one thing that has caught my curiosity in the DNA landscape of the origins of the Native Americans is the changing of the Book of Mormon that coincides with the lack of DNA support for the book. The Book claimed, in its introduction, that the Lamanites were the PRINCIPAL ancestor to the American Indians. Spencer W. Kimball even said that Lehi was the ancestor of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea."
In the latest printing of the Book of Mormon, the introduction has been changed. Gone is the word "principal".
Pre 2007 - "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians."
2007-"After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians."
There may be only one material word changed in those sentences but that one word is huge. Especially in light of Kimball's comment. Kimball says "all", now the new introduction basically says "some". So who is right, the prophet then, or the leaders now?
Here is an article by the Salt Lake Tribune discussing it.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Prove Me Now HerewithSince I was young I always remember hearing this line about tithing from Malachai 3:10. The stress was always that the Lord is telling you to go ahead and test him here, just try it and you will be blessed. The blessings spoke of seemed to focus mainly on the material. That in this life you will magically have things happen that will bless you in terms of materialism. You will never be in need was always used. I was an honest tithe payer for my whole life (34 years), and I honestly can't remember a dime I made that I did not pay tithing on. Last year it came to me that if I was to truly test the Lord I would have to have a control group. Since I already had tested the paying side, to truly test the Lord here I had to test the not paying side. I am now a 1 year non tithe payer. The test results are in, and the promised failed. While I was a tithe payer we struggled, when I was a child my family struggled, when I was married but still in school we really struggled. True we always had what we needed but was that the windows of heaven? If so there was still plenty of room left to receive. Since I have stopped paying tithing (just 1 year mind you) I have received 2 promotions and 6 raises. 6 raises in one year! I am now making about twice what I was making a year ago. I am by no means suggesting that not paying tithing means you will be blessed materially, but my test results clearly show that I wasn't blessed more, materially, when I was a full tithe payer.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
It's all my faultRecently I have felt rather at ease with myself, but despite that I occasionally try and pray again in hopes of an answer. Last week I read a talk by Richard G Scott from the latest General Conference. It was about prayer, and how one receives an answer. It wasn't anything I hadn't read before, but nevertheless I decided to take another shot at it. I knelt down in my hotel room ( I was on a business trip) and prayed out loud asking God for some direction, for him to just let me know what he wants me to do (this is what Elder Scott suggested after all). That was 7 days ago. I have been actively waiting for an answer, trying to keep myself in tune with anything that might come. I haven't received any direction.
Two weeks ago at church, my Elders Quorum president came up to me, he is one of the few people at church who know of my situation. He asked me how my testimony was going. I told him it is the same place it has been for about a year. He asked me how I felt, I responded that I have never felt more at peace in my life. He started to laugh a little. Then he told me in so many words that I need to wake up, that I already had an answer and that I am just denying it. I asked him how can he possibly tell me what I have experienced to which I responded "I am not telling you what you have experienced I am telling you that you have an answer." Very confused I asked what he meant. "How many times have you taken the sacrament? How many times have you been to sacrament meeting?, that is your answer." What???? The conversation ended there because I honestly couldn't understand what he was saying, it made no sense at all. I know his intentions were good but I didn't understand his reasoning, since when is partaking of the sacrament an answer to anything? The fact that people blame me for not having an answer, whether it be for assumed unworthiness or being out of touch with the spirit, gets old and frustrating. I am tired of it.
P.S. On a positive note, a friend/ex-BYU-roommate/ex-missionary companion was in town last week. We discussed among many things, my agnosticism. He, still an active latter-day saint, had some great perspectives on faith and answers to prayer. It was refreshing talking to someone who doesn't give you the typical LDS responses.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Are you feeling It?When I was a missionary, my companion (the missionary I was assigned to work with) and I visited the apartment of a man who hadn't been to church for a while. When we arrived at his place, he invited us in and we asked him how it was going. He proceeded to confess "sins" to us which made me feel uncomfortable because of the nature of the "sins" he was discussing and because we were not in a position to hear anyone's confessions. It was what he said next that is the purpose of this post. He told us that he was possessed with an evil spirit that made him commit these transgressions. After leaving his place, my companion started expounding on how he had such an evil feeling in his apartment and that he could tell that an evil spirit was indeed there. I had no such feeling and told him that as well, I just thought the guy was a bit odd. We discussed it with the bishop who also visited him and came to the same conclusion and feeling as my companion. I felt horrible, inadequate as a missionary and out of tune with the spirit. I prayed for help. The bishop convinced this man to come to church and in priesthood meeting, the bishop, along with every adult priesthood holder in the ward (still to this day the largest blessing circle I have ever seen) gave him a blessing and cast out the evil spirit. I still insisted to my companion that I didn't feel anything dark or evil about this man, and he told me I need to be more in tune with the spirit. I was transferred to a different area soon after this. A couple months later, at a Zone meeting, I ran into the two missionaries who were now working my former area. I asked about this man to see how he was doing. They started laughing about how crazy he was and even mentioned that he admitted to making up the story about being possessed so that he could explain to us why he had not been coming to church. There wasn't an evil spirit, there never had been. Why did my companion and the bishop insist that there was?
Monday, February 26, 2007
This may be the first you hear of this, but it probably won't be the last.A documentary is coming out claiming to have discovered the tomb of Christ and disputes the resurrection. I have no opinion on this as of yet, just thought it might be something interesting to keep an eye on.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Blogging the BibleDavid Poltz from Slate.com is in the middle of blogging the Bible. He is reading it as if it were his first experience with it and writing about it chapter by chapter. I have only read a few of the summaries so far but it is quite interesting.
Monday, January 08, 2007
UpdateI wanted to give an update as to how I feel now that it has been a few months since I left the church. Believe it or not I was somewhat hoping that after leaving the church and deciding not to believe in it or religion in general anymore that things would go bad for me, that I would feel some void that would act as a testimony to go back to believing. But this has not happened. I actually feel at peace, more so than I ever did as a believer. I'm sure that this is not the same experience everybody has, as each person's journey is different. But it feels good, it feels honest.
GuiltA few months ago I was sitting in a Sunday School class, I don't recall what the lesson was but the teacher made a comment that perked my ears up. He asked the class what guilt was. One person (who happened to be his wife leading me to think that this may or may have not been a prearranged answer) said that guilt was the Holy Ghost telling you that something wasn't right. I thought to myself that I was pretty familiar with what the fruits of the spirit were and have never heard that guilt was one of them. This answer went by with no comment, as if everybody agreed that Holy Ghost makes you feel guilty. I raised my hand and asked a question, namely that isn't the Holy Ghost suppose to be a comforter, telling you what things are good. I gave the example that an Amish person can be raised all their life thinking modern technologies are wrong, and then one day might drive a car and feel guilty, that cannot possibly be the Holy Ghost telling them that driving a car is bad could it? There are numerous examples where people might feel guilty for things that, according to Christian or Mormon theology have no eternal consequence, why would the Holy Ghost people that these things are bad. The Holy Ghost has been one of the most difficult things for me to understand but I find the belief that the Holy Ghost speaks to us through guilt as absurd and silly.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Happy New YearI will be posting again shortly, after I recover from the holidays and end of year work stuff.
Best wishes in 2007.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Signs of the TimesI went to Priesthood on Sunday, looking for an inspiring message. The last few weeks I have just been sitting in the lobby reading, and since I couldn't find my copy of Rough Stone Rolling, I brought Faust, trying to read it in English is difficult enough but in trying it in German caused my brain to give up after an hour, so it was off to Elders' Quorum for me. This year I have actually had some good lessons in Elders' Quorum and I was hoping for another, but I wouldn't find it. We discussed the signs of the second coming. I honestly don't understand the purpose of signs of the second coming. Isn't a sign there to tell you when to change behavior? If we are living a good life all along what purpose does a sign serve. It seems like the purpose of a sign is to say "we know you are going to be sinning, but when you see these following things, stop sinning and be good." Maybe I'm off here, but that doesn't seem like a message God would want to give. The instructor went on further to ask what signs we have or are seeing. The answers were typical, wars and rumors of wars and catastrophic weather. Nobody bothered to mention that there really hasn't been a time on earth that was free of wars or rumors of war, or catastrophic weather, and that perhaps the reason we notice them more now is that we have the technology to notice them. We have communication systems that bring us news of foreign affairs throughout the whole world as well as hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. Also, how effective are these signs if numerous people have falsely predicted the second coming? What good were the signs to these people?
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Great VideoThe Atheist Delusion
Monday, December 04, 2006
Deciding what is symbolic in scriptureWas Eve really made from Adam's rib? Did man really come from the dust of the earth? Did Satan really take the form of a serpent when tempting Eve? So often we see stories in scripture that seem difficult to believe. Sometimes people claim these are symbolic, sometimes not. That seems problematic to me, who is to say that the Adam's rib story is symbolic but the consumption of the fruit was real. How can we know what is symbolic and what is literal, and if we are trying to give a historical account of what happened, what is the need for symbolism. I have difficulty in believing most of the stories in the Bible. Ask the faithful whether God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh and most will say that the "6 days" represented 6 time periods or something to that degree. Ask them if the story of Noah and the Ark is real and most will say yes, even though the story is so preposterous that it seems hardly capable of being actual. Leaving aside the questions of scientific evidence of the existence of a flood, how would it be possible for a man and a few sons to build a boat so big that it held either two or seven of every kind of animal? How long would it take to search the earth for all of these animals? How do you return these animals to their natural habitat afterwards (the penguins to the south pole, the polar bear to the north pole, the koala to Australia)? Why isn't the Noah story considered symbolic? Biblical scholars date the flood at around 2400 BC, but Chinese and Egyptian cultures seem to date back longer than that, how did they survive? I have heard some people theorize that it was a localized flood, but isn't that changing the story to fit within the knowledge we now have? If we are suppose to take scripture as literal, why throw symbolism in, doesn't that just muddy up the waters? I don't have definitive answers to any of these questions, but I do have my beliefs, namely that they are simply stories created to tell us a lesson that over the course of time people began to take literal. That is just an opinion but it seems to make the most sense to me.
Monday, November 20, 2006
DoubtYesterday in Sacrament meeting a speaker said the following line regarding doubt:
"Don't doubt, doubt is the tool of Satan".
I wonder where the LDS church would be if Joseph Smith listened to and followed this advice. Not to mention where the world would be if Copernicus, Galileo, Columbus, and other discoverers of truth had adhered to it.
Doubt is a necessary step in discovery of any truth.
Is this is what is meant by a doubt free testimony, a testimony where one shuns doubt because a belief that it is a tool of Satan? I don't think that is what the Brethren meant, but that is just my interpretation.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
QuoteI found this quote while reading today
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things,” - Rene Decartes
Agnostic MomI just wanted to share a link to another blog I found a few weeks ago. It is called Agnostic Mom and she is also someone who left the church. I read her story and I really identified with her, it seems like we shared many similar instances. As it turns out, I have met her. We were at BYU at the same time, lived a few doors down from her and her husband and they even invited us over for dinner once. The link above is to her story about leaving the church, it has 4 parts. I think she is a much better writer than I am which allows her to express things better than I have done. One strange thing is that I am finding more and more people that I knew at BYU that have now left the church, to some degree or another, the number is in double digits now. Not that people leaving has any bearing on whether it is true or not, but nevertheless an interesting and somewhat surprising finding.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The Holy Ghost and Partial TruthsThe Mormon church professes to be the only true and living church. Joseph Smith claimed that God told him that none of the other churches were correct. Nevertheless, people in other faiths claim to feel the Holy Ghost, which is suppose to be a verifier of truth. How can people in other faiths feel the Holy Ghost if their churches are not true?
One common answer when I ask this question is that they indeed do feel the Holy Ghost but that it is only confirming those partial truths that they do have. This idea is problematic. If the Holy Ghost can confirm partial truths, how does an LDS member know that their beliefs/confirmations do not fall under these partial truths. If they claim to feel the Holy Ghost on a particular subject, isn't the Holy Ghost only confirming that specific subject, or a portion of it. So in essence, and LDS member, in order to believe that their church is the complete truth would have to have confirmation on every LDS principle. This includes having the Holy Ghost verify that polygamy is correct which included marrying women who were already married to other LDS men, that denying the priesthood to blacks was correct, even though they had it under Joseph Smith and then didn't under Brigham Young. I have always had bad feelings about these principles and I can't really imagine having a good feeling about them. If the Holy Ghost can testify to partial truths what makes the LDS faith immune to this?
I have also heard the argument that nonmembers feel the Holy Ghost because they are on a stepping stone to the truth. This theory seems counterproductive. If people in a specific faith are receiving the Holy Ghost, does that not act as a confirmation of their beliefs/actions, if so, then how is that a stepping stone. If a member of the Catholic church routinely feels the Holy Ghost isn't that more likely to confirm their path of Catholicism rather than pushing them towards a true path? Giving people partial confirmations when their beliefs are wrong doesn't seem like a productive way of leading people to truth.
I live in the south, part of the Bible Belt. Many of the people I associate with are saved people, meaning that they have professed a belief in Christ, accepted him, and therefore they are saved from sin. They routinely recall this as a very spiritual moment, confirmed by the Holy Ghost. The LDS church believes that this principle is wrong, we are not saved by grace, but rather by grace coupled with works. So we have a problem with a basic syllogism. The Holy Ghost confirms truth, Certain believers feel the Holy Ghost when they profess their belief in Christ and are saved by his grace, so then it stands to reason in this example that the Holy Ghost is verifying that these people are saved by grace. Likewise, an LDS person feels the Holy Ghost when praying about the Book or Mormon which teaches that grace alone is insufficient, this Holy Ghost is suppose to confirm truth, so it stands to reason that we are not saved by grace.
We cannot have both of these results. What is wrong. Either one or both of these groups is lying and they are not feeling anything, or one or both of these groups are feeling something but it is not the Holy Ghost and therefore not a confirmation of their respective truths.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
The FinaleAfter the most recent unanswered prayer experience I told my wife that I was done with the church. This wasn't the answer I wanted and it surely wasn't the answer she wanted. This was hard on the both of us, but we knew we loved each other and that we could overcome religious differences.
Later that week I contacted my Bishop and informed him that I can't honestly be a sustainer of the church and that I wished to be released from my calling. I also informed him that if he wished to discuss this further I would be more than willing, but I didn't feel that it was necessary on my side. He requested that we meet together and the following Sunday we did. I was very impressed with our discussion, he seemed to believe that I was sincere and honest, which is not what I experienced form other LDS members. He reassured me that I could get an answer that was more than a belief that I could actually 'know' that it is true. But I had tried, and I told him that. It didn't make sense to me to knock at a door that I had just knocked at dozens of times and no one ever answered, I used to have faith but that had gone, all I was left with was a hope. He challenged me not to give up and to give it another shot. Wanting an answer so badly I accepted his challenge. That following week was General Conference, a meeting held in Salt Lake City by leaders of the LDS church which is broadcast to members all over the world. I watched every session, which I did with every General Conference, this was 6 hours on Saturday and 4 on Sunday. During the Saturday afternoon session Elder Uchtdorf gave the talk I previously referenced. In that talk he said that it is every member's responsibility to have a doubt free conviction. I dvr'd that talk and watched it probably 4 or 5 times, taking exact notes of the steps he said were needed to get an answer. I even went so far as to create a spreadsheet mapping out the process. If I was going to give this one more chance, I wanted to do it right. Two more weeks went by, I read my scriptures everyday, I prayed regularly, I obeyed all the commandments I could think of. Saturday came and I decided that I was ready for an answer, I began a fast on Saturday about noon to get myself spiritually ready for the answer. After church the next day I tried again, with hope and sincerity, but there was no difference. Again I had received nothing. We went to my parents house that evening for dinner, the whole time I was still waiting for my answer, thinking that I didn't wait long enough. Eventually, by the next morning, I gave up, I was depressed and abandoned, but also frustrated. Frustrated like I had just been made a fool of. I think it was Ben Franklin who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I was done, that was it. The following Sunday I stayed home with one of our children who was sick. The Bishop asked my wife if he could speak with her and she informed him that I was done. He handed her some books about prayer that he wanted me to read. I read them, but they did nothing for me, I didn't have the strength to try again, plus even my hope was waning. I met with the Bishop later that week and told him my results. Our meeting was a little different this time, he didn't seem as understanding. Although he was still legitimately concerned with my situation he began telling me that most people who leave the church do so because they are sinning, somewhat insinuating that I had big sins that I hadn't repented of. I told him this was not the case. He continued to ask and even went so far as to directly ask me if I had always remained faithful to my wife. A bit take aback, I said that I had and that I kind of prided myself of still being temple worthy even though I no longer believed. We parted ways, neither satisfied with our experience.
It has been two weeks since that meeting. I still go to church with the family, but mainly to support my wife and kids with what they practice. I still have interest in religion and the church, I am currently reading Rough Stone Rolling (a biography about Joseph Smith), but I can no longer say that I believe. That lack of a belief extends beyond Mormonism, how far beyond I am not sure. The idea of a God is nice, I would like to believe in it, and some days I think that it is likely that there is a god, but I am not sure. I don't know a lot, but I do know that I don't know, and that now I don't even believe.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Deconversion continued some moreAfter the birth of our second child, I started a new job. It wasn't long before everybody knew me as the Mormon guy, which was fine, I always made it a point to let people know of my religious "convictions" and often used that to start conversations about religion, even going so far as to invite (albeit unsuccessfully) coworkers to meet with the missionaries and reactivate an inactive member once. Although at this time, I had many doubts about one's ability to know the truthfulness of the church, I still believed it, and was going to be a messenger for it. About 10 months after I started this new job I was transferred to Texas, near my family, to start a new position with the company. We were excited about the opportunity to be around my family, but were also sad about leaving my wife's family, even I became really attached to Minnesota. We joined our new ward (congregation) and I was called to be Financial Clerk for the church. We met a few good friends in the ward, but my doubts about the church were increasing. I had a good friend from BYU, who I had considered attending law school with, who left the church. We would occasionally have conversations about this and he would say that he thought I wouldn't be LDS if I wasn't married. I wasn't sure what brought that on, but I assured him that I had a testimony of the church and that I would be a strong member regardless of whether I was married or not.
One day I received an email from another friend from BYU, we exchanged emails back and forth and then decided that IM'ing would be quicker. While at work (I'm bad, I know) we would IM back and forth about music, movies, kids and other things typical to these type of "catching up" conversations. One day we were talking about politics and I asked him what he thought of gay marriage. I could have predicted his answer before he said it, we have always been very polar in our political stances. He told me that he had no problem with gay marriage and I think I may have shocked him when I told him I felt the same way. This ultimately led to us discussing religion and I was shocked to find out that he had a lot of the same doubts as I did. This was totally different from my first friend leaving the church, both are really smart guys, but I never really felt that the first friend was that much into the church, but this second friend was. He was a strong missionary and always impressed my with his testimony. To discover his doubts as well was shocking and comforting at the same time. The somewhat comical part of these conversations was that when either of us would express doubt about certain doctrine, the other would try to explain why that principle was true. It was as if we were both trying to make sure that neither left the church, I guess you can take the man out of the mission field but you can't take the mission out of the man.
Eventually I became more comfortable with my own doubts and started to research more into church history and doctrine. There are areas of church history that I have always had concerns with, but as I searched it seemed like I discovered more and more, and this is not what I wanted. I was in search of resolutions to my doubts not confirmations of them, and certainly not new doubts. But that is what I found. I tried to approach this with the most neutral of stances, I didn't read anything from organizations who would profit from me leaving the church (i.e. other churches) I would only read things from members or former members. If I found something negative, I would research that topic in F.A.R.M.S. or FAIR LDS, pro-LDS sites. I really, really wanted it to be true but at the same time I did not want to be ignorant of everything that this church is or has been about. Unsatisfied, with any of the pro-LDS literature I was reading I decided to put away all research. I decided that people can debate "facts" back and forth all day and end up getting nowhere. I decided that the only thing that would make me believe would be personal revelation about the truthfulness of the church, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon. That weekend I fasted and prayed. I prayed all weekend that the Lord would soften my heart, help me recognize an answer and would give me a confirmation that what I wanted to believe was true. That Sunday we had a lesson about true intentions, doing good for good's sake, and I felt great, this is what I loved about the gospel, it was truly good and I wanted an answer that it wasn't just good but eternally true. I stayed after church to do the finances but all I could think about was getting home and asking the Lord for an answer. After we were finished, I rushed home, ran upstairs and fell to my knees and prayed. I can honestly say I have never felt more humble and more prepared for divine inspiration than at that point. I committed myself to the Lord and said that I will do all He asks if I could receive an answer. I waited and waited, but it never came. All I received was nothingness. I went downstairs and my wife immediately knew something was wrong, we went into the living room away from the kids and I told her about my fast and prayer. I was in tears, simultaneously sad and mad. Although we had talked about it several times before, I think this is the first time that she understood the internal struggle I was having. In my lowest moment, I did not feel the Lord comforting me, I did however feel my wife comforting and understanding me. This would change my life.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Shameless plug for my daughterThe greatest artist in the history of mankind
What I believe in...On more than one occasion, someone has said to me something to the following effect: "So if you are agnostic, doesn't that mean that this life is just a waste, not worth living if you don't think there is an afterlife?" First of all, I am not sure I don't beleive in an afterlife, I think it is a possibility, but I am not altering my behavior in this life to earn a reward or avoid a punishment in the hereafter. I think the contrary to the comment above is more true, an agnostic does not think this life is not worth living, but rather that it is the only thing of any worth. If, and I really do mean if, there is no afterlife I want to make my life the most enjoyable to everyone I come into contact with. I want to do the most good possible. And if there is no afterlife then this life is when I have to do that good, because there might not be anything after it. I want to do good things for the sake of being good, not to prevent me from going to hell or to earn a ticket to heaven, those are selfish intentions. I want to act with the purest intentions possible. It is like a hungry man being offered a sandwich, if this sandwich is all he believes he will have to eat, he will enjoy it, savor it and consume every crumb of it. But if someone gives him a sandwich and says that a larger, better feast is waiting for him later, there is a possibility that he might not enjoy the sandwich to its fullest possibility. There may be an afterlife, I am not sure, but I do know that there is an earthly life, and I am going to do the best I can with what I know I have. That is what I believe.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Stats, stats and more stats
I'm not much in the mood for writing today, but I did find an interesting website that compiles statistics on church growth throughout the world.
The Cumorah Project
You can look at the number of members by country, the activity rates of those countries and also the growth rates. It seems like many, many countries are not growing, in fact most seem to have negative growth (growth rates declining annually), and some even are losing members outright. I served my mission in Germany from 1992-1994. In 2004, 10 years after I left, there are only 4 more units in the whole country than when I was there. The average mission in Germany baptizes 52 people a year, but only retains about 15 of those converts. I'm not saying that these stats say anything to the truthfulness of the church, but it is not growing like I was always taught it was. Just some interesting reading if you are a stathead like me.
This also reminds me of an article I read a year or so ago, I believe it was in the New York Times but I cannot find a link to it, about how the church was actually losing more members annually than it was gaining, but because the names aren't being taken off the records, numbers still seem to be growing. The details are foggy to me, but it stated something to the effect that the church claimed to have somewhere around 800,000 members in Brazil but according to census numbers, only about 150,000 Brazilians consider themselves LDS. Again these are just the foggy recollections of a confused guy, if you want the actual details I'm sure you can find the article(s) yourself. If you do, forward them to me.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Deconversion ContinuedI was married in 1996 in the Manti Temple. That remains as the best day of my life. I finished my undergrad at BYU in 1997, worked a couple years, and then applied to several law schools across the country. I was accepted to USC, where a good friend of mine was also accepted. I chose not to go there it was too expensive, I was set on going to San Francisco instead to attend Hastings. Once we visited the area, I fell in love with it, but my wife did not, she did not want to live downtown in a big city. Another option we had was the University of Minnesota, a highly ranked law school, which actually had offered me a scholarship. I wasn't initially thrilled with Minnesota, I grew up in Texas and did not like the cold, but because this was my wife's home and her family was still there, this is where she wanted to go. I prayed about what we should do, I felt as the patriarch of the family I am entitled to revelation as to where the family should go. I didn't receive an answer. I still wanted San Francisco and she wanted Minneapolis. After much discussion we decided on Minneapolis, and I was good with that.
I was surprised to discover that there were several LDS students at the law school there, way more than I expected. I got to know a few of them pretty good, but almost all of my law school friends were not LDS. One was Lutheran, one Catholic, one Agnostic, and me, the Mormon. We would eat lunch together regularly and discuss the two topics you are not suppose to discuss, politics and religion. We had great conversations about doctrine, faith, etc, etc and I felt that I was doing my job by bearing a testimony of truth to them.
While in Minnesota we attended a ward (Mormon for congregation) that was half families and half students. It was in this ward that I first told my wife that I did not "know" the church was true but rather I had faith, or a strong belief. I remember kind of getting upset at people who would bear testimony that they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, etc. that they knew the church was true. I thought to myself that nobody could actually know, but rather you can have a strong faith. I remember even telling this to missionaries that came over for dinner once and was surprised to hear that they had a similar conversation with another member in the ward who was a professor who believed the same I did. It was refreshing to feel that there was someone else who felt you couldn't know and he was still a faithful, intelligent member of the church. I felt reassured.
In my third year of law school, we were blessed with our first child. I cannot even begin to describe that moment, but suffice it to say that I have never fell in love with anyone or anything quicker than I did at that moment. It is tradition in the Mormon faith to give your child a blessing shortly after they are born, this is usually done in front of the whole congregation and is done by the father. The father is the one who does it because he has, or is allowed to have, the priesthood. This enables him to give blessings that can include blessings of comfort, or for the healing of the sick, and father's blessings. My family from Texas came up for the blessing, it was a big event. The way that it is taught in the Mormon faith is that the priesthood holder, if truly faithful, will receive inspiration about what to say. This was for all blessings. I had given blessings in the past for other reasons and never really felt that inspiration; I felt all the words that I spoke were coming from me. I wanted this to be different; I wanted this to truly be a blessing that came from the lord through me, a righteous priesthood holder, to my first child. When I began the blessing, I waited a few seconds in silence, waiting for inspiration, nothing came. I continued on with the blessing, using thoughts and feelings that I had wished for my child beforehand. It was a beautiful blessing, but it came from me.
After finishing law school, I began an MBA program at the University of Minnesota. While in that program we had our second child and the blessing situation mirrored the first. Although it was a beautiful blessing, I wondered what was wrong with me, why was I not getting the inspiration that was taught to me if I had all this faith. I began to doubt some more.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
What attracts me to the churchAlthough there are several issues I have with the history and doctrines of the church, there are many things that I love about the church. Many of these things aren't exclusive to Mormonism (i.e. focus on a strong family, high moral code of behavior, etc.). But there are some exclusive doctrinal ideas in Mormonism that I agree with too. I love the idea that Mormonism allows for those who never heard of Christ to be saved. I have had discussions with a few educated people from more mainstream Christian religions, and asked them who has a better chance of being "saved", Osama bin Laden, or a person born 1000 years before Christ in a country far away from Jerusalem and never had a chance to hear Judeo-Christian teachings, but lived a very charitable life. The answer they hate admitting is that it is Osama bin Laden, because he still has a shot at accepting Christ. How is that merciful? How is that loving? How then is God not a respecter of persons? The Mormon church believes that everyone, regardless of when they lived, where they lived, or how they lived, will have the chance of salvation. That is a refreshing idea. The fact that I agree with that principle does not in and of itself make it true, but it helps me believe that if there is a god that he would be loving to all of his children.
Monday, October 23, 2006
The Mormon answer to my no answerIf you ask LDS members about praying for an answer your conversation will usually cover these points:
1. Everyone can get an answer
2. The answer will be "yes, it is true"
So what if someone doesn't get an answer. How do LDS members usually address this. I have found that it comes down to one of three responses:
A. The person wasn't worthy for an answer
B. The person didn't have faith enough for an answer
C. They really did receive an answer, but they are now denying it
I have personally heard all three of these. I find it kind of depressing that all three of these answers are telling the pray-er that it is his/her fault for not getting an answer. Not only are these answers blaming the pray-er, but they are also judgmental, hence non-Christ like, in their nature. One is assuming that the pray-er has some sins or transgressions the prevent them from receiving the answer or that they haven't been reading their scriptures enough, but isn't the pray-er the better authority on this. The second is similar, isn't the pray-er, the better one to judge whether he has the requisite faith? or hope/desire, as the scriptures actually say is required. As to the third, does this not amount to outright calling the pray-er a liar?
I can understand the believer trying to fit everything into their box of beliefs and trying to make sure that nothing contradicts what they see as an infallible formula. But believe me, it is frustrating when a pray-er who sincerely believes they are following every step of the formula, fails to get an answer, and the only suggestion they get is that they aren't doing it right.
Having said that, I really appreciate members who understand and believe that I asked sincerely. Thank you.
Friday, October 20, 2006
A break from the storyI will continue with the story of my "deconversion" (I'm not really sure what it call it) later, but I wanted to take a break and talk about my reason for this blog. I have been asked why I am doing this, what is its purpose or what is my goal. Am I wanting to convince others to leave the church? Why do I need to share this?
Well, the truth is, this is more for me than anyone who might read this. It is very therapeutic. I am not trying to persuade anyone to change their beliefs, in fact I would be disappointed in anyone who read this and said "I am done with the church." A testimony is supposed to be a personal experience, and although it is and should be influenced by non-personal elements (and I will get into this more later), it is ultimately something that comes from your own searching and not simply from what others tell you. I feel it is important to deeply self examine all of your beliefs, everything that you have experienced and everything that you have been taught. It is like Plato's 'Myth of the Cave', and allegory explaining that we can not just trust things in one world, as our perception might be limited, equally I can not just trust what I have been taught all of my life, without looking at what other credible information (I make this distinction because there is much non-credible information) might be out there that contradicts what I beleive to be true. (and I am aware that this is not exactly Plato's point in his allegory). So in summary, I am not trying to "deconvert" people at all, I do encourage self examination, but if that self examination, after considering information from all sources, leads you to reaffirm your existing belief, I am happy for you. For me it did not.
I also want to reaffirm the purpose for leaving the church. It is 100% absolutely because I don't have a testimony. I have had friends in the past who left the church because they didn't agree with its teachings or they didn't feel it was right for them. That is not the case with me. I may disagree with teachings, but if I had a doubt free conviction, which is promised, I could overlook everything, I would have to. But because I do not have that special witness, all I have to depend un is the physical evidence that I am left with. When I made my decision to leave the church I was temple worthy (mormon language for basically being really good at keeping the commandments and worthy to enter the temple). And for the most part I still am. I still beleive that mormon commandments are great ways to live, they are good, they are pure, and if you follow them you will stand a greater chance of avoinding many problems that people can face in this world. I simply don't believe that they are divine.
Please feel free to comment. Tell me if you disagree with me or if you agree with me, but please also give reasoning for your stance. Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Dishonest with myselfA major principle in the LDS faith is that each person can recieve a testimony, or a witness that what they are taught is actually true. This is a refreshing idea, so many religions rely purely on faith, or belief, which can be problematic. There are many things I believed in that turned out not to be true at all, like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny or that I could actually carry a tune. We all know now (at least those who have heard me sing) that none of these are true. But ask any 5 year old child and they will say they beleive because 1) they have been told these stories by others and 2) they have some sort of soft evidence of their existence (presents at Christmas time, pictures with Santa, books telling his story). But the reliance on others and soft evidence is obviously insufficient. Which is great for Latter Day Saints, they claim that you can know of the truthfulness of the teachings, not just beleive. In fact in the most recent General Conference Elder Dieter Uchtdorf, an apostle for the church, says that it is a "sure knowledge" and "abiding and living conviction". In fact he quotes President Hinckley, the current president and prophet of the church, as saying that "every Latter Day Saint has the responsibility to know for himself or herself with a certainty beyond doubt that Jesus is the resurrected, living Son of the living God." A certainty beyond doubt, if that is what they claim was avaialable that is what I wanted.
I remember the first time I prayed about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, the church, and the Joseph Smith story. I was 19 years old and I was in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT preparing to depart to my mission in Berlin, Germany. That's right, I had already committed myself to go on a mission without having ever prayed about the Book of Mormon. I finished reading the book, I knelt down and prayed asking for a conformation of its truthfulness, I truly beleived that it was true, I was sincerely asking and I was prepared to act upon my confirmation. After I prayed, I sat in my bed waiting for an answer. Nothing came, I waited longer. More nothingness. After sitting there for probably 20 minutes after I finished the prayer I started thinking that maybe this nothingness was my answer and then I began convincing myself that it was not nothingness but it was peace, and that is how the Holy Ghost was speaking to me. But deep down inside I knew that it was nothingness, not any different than if I sat for 20 minutes on my bed after just relaxing or meditating, but I wanted so bad for it to be true that I started lying to myself. I continued on and served a succesful mission, went home and attended BYU, married the greatest person I ever met in the LDS temple, and continued to read and pray. To this day I have probably read the Book of Mormon 12-15 times. And each time I have prayed about its truthfulness, and each time I received the same nothingness. Part of me was convinced that this nothingness was peace, and therefore a confirmation of previous answers, but the other part of me, the honest part, knew it for what it was, nothing. I didn't want to acknowledge that part, I wanted to beleive and continued beleiveing for years, even sometimes telling others that I "knew". But I didn't, I definitely did not have a certainty beyond doubt, I just had a belief. I was left with the feeling that it was still possible to "know", but I was doing something wrong. Why couldn't I have the same assurity that others claimed? It was frustrating.