Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Shameless plug for my daughter

The 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 Continued

I 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 church

Although 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 answer

If 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 story

I 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 myself

A 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.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My first step out

I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints almost my whole life (My family was converted when I was an infant). I served a mission. I went to BYU. I married in the temple. Now 34 years later, for the first time in my (memorable) life I find myself outside looking in. This is meant to be a collection of my thoughts, feelings, experiences and trials with the church and with religion in general. It is not meant to be a diary of bitterness or negativity, but one of honesty and sincerity. Although I do not believe in the church anymore, I still love many things about it. I will continue to post about these issues as I become ready, discussing my reasons for leaving, what I still find positive in the church, and many doctrinal and philisophical differences I have with the church. Thank you for reading.

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