Unleashing the Analyst. A Personal Story

jmb275 Mormon 82 Comments

As I have already posted a few times, I think it’s time I introduce myself.  So, this is my story, Mormon Story style (only without the cool podcast, John, and well…okay, it’s nothing like Mormon Stories).  It’s likely familiar to many, so if it sounds like Déjà Vu feel free to move along!

Background

A bit of background information is necessary.  My family is of “pioneer stock” through both sides of my family, so we have a rich heritage of Mormon tradition.  However, my parents actually never forced, coerced, or otherwise tried to get me to go to church.  I honestly never felt pressured to live a pioneerscertain way, obey any particular rules, go to church, or anything else. Part of this may be because I never gave them any reason to.  I have always been a straight shooter.  I have always tried my best to obey my leaders, earn all the awards, sing in the choirs, read all the books etc.  From a very early age (probably around 14 or so) I began reading my scriptures every night.  Because my patriarchal blessing told me to familiarize myself with the life of Joseph Smith, I read several hagiographic biographies of him.  I was no expert in Church History, but I thought that I had a good feel for it (snicker).

However, much of this was a cover up for the questioner inside.  I also had a lot of heterodox ideas that I kept bottled up.  As a young teenager it occurred to me that the general authorities, and past prophets often contradicted each other a great deal.  I was so concerned about this I even saw my bishop for it!  I also had some strange ideas about absolute Truth.  Typical answers for Nephi killing Laban seemed very unsatisfactory to me.  I concluded that the only truth could be whatever God wanted but I admittedly didn’t know how I would know what God wanted.  As a good Latter-day Saint, I deferred to my leaders and their revelations as God’s will.

I paint this picture to illustrate that my tale is, what I have come to learn, a typical disaffected Mormon story.  Often the culture in Mormonism is such that those that try the hardest, fall the hardest.

Unleashing the Analyst Part I

At BYU I decided to go into engineering.  While I had a propensity for analysis and questioning, I had no formal training in it, and I often deferred to authorities on various issues, assuming they knew much more than myself.  At around the beginning of my graduate work it occurred to me that I could do my own analysis.  I didn’t need to rely on any experts, or authorities.  I could do my own analysis and draw my own conclusions from my research (a necessity in order to obtain a graduate degree).

However, having said this, I only applied this thought process to my professional life, and politics.  As far as church was concerned, I still deferred to my leaders.

Proposition 8

After graduating from BYU in Electrical Engineering, I took a job in California.  In May 2008 Prop 8 came to the forefront of nearly every Californian’s life.  prop8-rsin1I won’t go into any details since it is more than familiar to everyone I’m sure.  Let me say that I started out determined to follow the prop8Brethren.  I walked precincts, went to firesides, donated to protectmarriage.com, put up signs, and did the other things I was asked to do.  However, about three weeks before the vote I started wondering what the other side had to say.  I learned that in reality both sides (protectmarriage.com, and the “No on 8” campaign) stretched the truth, used scare tactics, and were otherwise less than honest.

Political Craziness

About this point, since I was now outside of Utah, I felt a bit less pressure to toe the Republican line.  I had always felt that I didn’t align with either the Dems or the GOP.  I then discovered a commentator that was more aligned with my ideals (mostly Libertarian, although I hate assigning labels).  I started being very active on the forum on his website.  The majority of people on this forum seemed to be agnostic/atheist, and there were very very few who stood up for the traditional, conservative values.  Since I was not very well versed in politics and political history, I found myself mostly commenting on the social issues.  Many people challenged my opinion in ways that were very new to me, and I did not have adequate answers to their challenges.

LibertariansI started to realize that maybe I wasn’t really different than other religious people.  In fact, maybe my choice of religion was/is just as arbitrary as those I thought were not in the “true” church.  Maybe I was/am wrong altogether and have not realized it.  This caused me to question why I believed the LDS church to be the one and only “true and living church” on the earth today.  I started to ponder my own spiritual experiences.

I will admit that I have always found it difficult to discern the spiritual promptings I receive.  It has always been befuddling to me why some thoughts are just thoughts and others are the promptings of the Spirit.  Furthermore, I have always wondered what it meant to have a spiritual witness that the church is true.  Did this mean I needed to cry?  Do I just need to feel peace?  And how could these things be separated from just regular emotions?

As I started rehearsing the spiritual experiences I held dear, I began to realize there was often a common pattern in them.  Namely, that I was going through a rough time in my personal life, I had a lot of anxiety, and generally had an important decision to make to which I needed some confirmation or answer.  I also realized that in many cases, in fact, even my most serious life questions, I actually didn’t get any answer at all.  In those cases I did what I thought was the most logical thing to do, and often attributed it to the Spirit.  This seemed to happen in the most serious of life decisions, and I was left to wonder if God had any interest in me at all.

Psychology

I started to develop an interest in understanding more about my emotions, “revelations,” and other cognitions.  I started looking into psychology and was fascinated by what I found.  I felt that my experiences could often be very easily explained in normal psychological terms and were really no different than people of other faiths.  I began to distrust my spiritual experiences, considering them to not be adequately reliable to tell me the truth about such a perplexing question as to which religion was “true.”

Ultimately, this was the lynch pin.  I felt that I had never received an “unmistakable witness” as President Packer has indicated:

Sometimes you may struggle with a problem and not get an answer.  What could be wrong?  It may be that you are not doing anything wrong.  It may be that you have not done the right things long enough.  Remember, you cannot force spiritual things.  Sometimes we are confused simply because we won’t take no for an answer. … Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives.  Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them.  the answer may not come as a lightning bolt.  It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ (D&C 98:12).  Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers.  And occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration.  The prompting will be clear and unmistakable.

– Elder Boyd K. Packer

A Search for Evidence

All of this led to a search for some confirming evidence for the veracity of the church.  I didn’t know anything about all the conundrums, controversies, and tough questions surrounding the historicity of The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, polygamy, and Church History in general.  As most of you will realize this led to a lot of problems.  Of course, one cannot address these issues without discovering lots of anti-mormon literature, as well as FARMS, and FAIRlds.org.  Upon discovering these sources I began to devour information about these topics.  However, I quickly discovered that while there was plenty to read about these topics, there was so much antagonism, polemics, distaste, and lack of good scholarship so as to destroy any confidence in most of the sources.  It seemed completely hopeless to discover any sort of truth in all the madness.  Ironically, I started to feel very much like what I envisioned Joseph himself must have felt like.

Unleashing the Analyst Part II

By now, I was prepared to finally unleash the analyst to the realm of religion and spirituality.  I had been doing it in my professional career, and in other realms of life for a number of years.  I had become good at doing my own independent research, both for my professional decisions, and life decisions (you don’t even wanna know what a pain it is to shop for a major purchase with me).

Discovering Church History for Myself

So, having unleashed the analyst, I was prepared to do my own study of church history.  I wanted to find the “truth” about Church History.  Of course, when I say “truth” I note that in fact it isn’t really “truth” per se.  It is the best guess that honest scholarship can make.  History is an interesting pursuit for a multitude of reasons.  We don’t have all the resources we would like, the resources we do have are biased, and the researcher himself may have his own biases.  Joseph Freeman once said

Everyone falsifies history even if it is only his own personal history. Sometimes the falsification is deliberate, sometimes unconscious; but always the past is altered to suit the needs of the present. The best we can say of any account is not that it is the real truth at last, but that this is how the story appears now.
Joseph Freeman

StayLDS.com

At about my point of deepest despair, when I wasn’t sure whether or not I would leave the church, I discovered the Mormon Stories podcasts, and StayLDS.com.  For those who don’t know, StayLDS.com is a site, with forum, in which disaffected, or otherwise questioning Mormons can go and discuss tough issues with the intent of remaining LDS.  At the time, I actually wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to remain LDS.  However, I did know that I didn’t need anymore negativity, nor did I need anyone to feed my ego, or validate my ideas.  I needed someone to show me another side – a perspective in which people with heterodox ideas remain an active part of the community.

The site has been tremendously helpful for me.  I feel much like John Dehlin does.  I am a Mormon, through and through.  It is my culture, my tribe, my people.  And I love them, even with all the quirks.

So Where Am I At Now?

At the present, I am still in pursuit of learning about Church History.  I have learned a lot, and formed some opinions which I loosely cling to.  I still have much to learn in this regard and I remain open to any number of possibilities.

I do a great deal of study about philosophy, and psychology, and don’t feel any need to fit this into a Mormon theological box.

I have not forgotten what has brought me to this point, so I am still fairly skeptical, and try to remain firmly grounded in reality.  In this way, I think I often come across as faithless.

I also like to explore the “Middle Way” in Mormonism.  I believe that a metaphorical belief in the Gospel benefits me every bit as much as a literal belief.

I love serving others, and find that Mormonism offers me a great way to accomplish this.  I also like having my heterodox ideas challenged in new ways because this helps me learn and grow.

Finally, I am a 100%, dyed in the wool, Buffet Mormon.  Yep, I pick and choose what I like, and what I don’t like.  I have separated my spiritual growth from the LDS church, and view the LDS church as a tool to help me obtain that growth.

Now go ahead and let me have it!!

Comments

comments

Comments 82

  1. Now go ahead and let me have it!!

    What? Appreciation for being a sincere seeker instead of a group thinker?

    OK. Good for you. I hope you find what you’re looking for and use it to be a good man. Sounds like you’re well on the way.

  2. We are all on a journey, at differing stages of progression, I’m at the point where I’m starting to look into church history in a more analytical way. I have made some startling discoveries and deal with it by experienceing a little disaffection process, I try not to have too many all at one time. I think what you wrote is brill, and is essential part of this life’s experience.

  3. Interesting story, Analyst (a better handle than jmb275). For awhile there I thought you were going to go Fowler on us and proclaim yourself as One Who Has Achieved Stage 6, but it sounds like your feet are still on the ground. There’s nothing wrong with just muddling through life, picking up truth as you go. I happen to think the Mormon way of muddling through life and picking up truth is a very good one for most people. It almost sounds like you agree.

  4. Thank you all for the kind words!

    Re: 4
    Yeah, you’re right that is a better handle. Nope, no Fowler here. I have read synopses of his work, but haven’t read the book yet (although I would not be so arrogant to assume stage 6. I’m not nearly that good!). And yes, I agree that the Mormon way is not such a bad way after all. I enjoy being around such great people, and you are all evidence of this!!

  5. JMB,

    As I have said before I enjoy personal stories of this type. Thanks for sharing some aspects of your journey. I can relate to much of what you said. I was a good mormon kid all growing up, I went to BYU, and I lived in California during Prop 8 and it opened my eyes to certain things. Oh, and most importantly, I struggle with big decisions so I had to laugh when you said big the bit about all the hemming and hawing about big purchases.

    I find your position curious. Perhaps I am too black and white in my thinking, but I agree with Gordon B. Hinckley on this issue: the church is either the true (and therefore led by the lord and his kingdom on earth) or it is a fraud. You didn’t clarify your position as far as belief. You said you were skeptical but that you remain in the church, from my interpretation of your words, for the comfort of staying in what you have been raised in. Am I wrong? Do you believe it is true or not?

    If you believe it is true, it is something to be grasped whole heartedly. But if you believe it is not true, why would you support it?

    Assuming you do not believe it is true:

    If your reason to say is because of family issues, while I can certainly understand that, in the long run I think it is an unhealthy reason.

    If your reason to stay is that it provides avenues for service, I would say there are better avenues for serving your fellow man that NEVER involve perpetuating beliefs that you feel are untrue.

    I find this very interesting because I had a good friend who used to always tell me that even if he believed it wasn’t true, he would still stay in it for the sake of his family. Even when I believed it was true, I disagreed with him. This isn’t just a fun get together where people help each other out. The church has teachings that are intolerant and unhealthy, in my opinion. So if someone believes it is true and god’s word, I can respect them for sticking with it. But for someone to stay in without believing it is true, doesn’t make sense to me. Perhaps you are still trying to figure out if it is true or not, and that is fine. But for anyone out there who believes it is not true, but stays in it, I would love to hear an explanation as to why you would do that.

  6. JMB: I find many similarities between your story and my own. Two questions I’ve been pondering lately are these:

    1. What to do about a temple recommend? If you don’t believe certain things anymore how can you answer some of the TR questions appropriately? Many will say it doesn’t matter, but what if your status in the family and/or the your employer requires you to have a TR?

    2. In what Church capacities do you see yourself serving in the future, given your new perspectives on the Church and it doctrine? Would you feel comfortable accepting a calling as an EQ president, YM leader, Bishop, HC, or Stake president? How would you navigate the duties and responsibilities of such callings if you don’t feel inspired in your actions? How would you bear testimony regularly of basic tenets you no longer believe to be “true”?

    I struggle to answer these questions myself. At the moment, I’m waiting upon God to give me clearer direction and purpose. I know this holding pattern can’t persist indefinitely, though. My wife knows of my doubts and struggles, and quite honestly doesn’t know what to do (she is herself a TBM with little or no cognitive dissonance). She finds herself married to someone different than who she thought she was marrying 8 years ago. And in truth, I’m not the same person I was back then. I haven’t stopped striving, but I no longer come from a position of implicit belief and trust in LDS doctrine or practices.

  7. JMB and SteveS: do either or both of you have children? How has that played into your consideration of how to proceed?

  8. Re 6 Dexter
    A sincere inquiry deserves a sincere response. Yes, I purposely left off any rhetoric regarding beliefs. It’s so you can determine for yourself 😉 . If I spill all the beans now you will be satisfied, possibly label me, and see me through that lens.

    Okay, okay, maybe you don’t want to play games.

    “but I agree with Gordon B. Hinckley on this issue: the church is either the true (and therefore led by the lord and his kingdom on earth) or it is a fraud.”

    I disagree strongly with the GBH statement. In fact, I think it is these kinds of statements that make us seem like a cult to some. Black and white thinking is a well utilized cult mind control mechanism, and one I abhor. It is used in our society because it is easy, and creates ingroups and outgroups.

    “You said you were skeptical but that you remain in the church, from my interpretation of your words, for the comfort of staying in what you have been raised in. Am I wrong? Do you believe it is true or not?”

    Well, I led you on to believe that, but not quite. My last statement is the most important. I have separated my spirituality from the church. I use the church as a tool to aid me in that. In that way I suppose it is “true” if by “true” I mean it helps me accomplish that goal. If by “true” we’re talking about literal, faithful, orthodox “true” (one and only true church on earth through which I gain a literal salvation) then I would say I am very skeptical, and think it unlikely.

    “If you believe it is true, it is something to be grasped whole heartedly. But if you believe it is not true, why would you support it?”

    Support is a loaded word. I am not currently paying tithing in the traditional sense (gross pay). I have a very hard time with the fact that the church doesn’t release its financial information. I know they don’t have to, but I think it would be the noble thing to do. Because I have let go of literal belief, I don’t believe in “fire insurance,” or even that paying tithing gives me any blessings other than the obvious one of making me less selfish (if I allow it). Of course this can be accomplished through contributing to other things, so I do that.

    “If your reason to stay is that it provides avenues for service, I would say there are better avenues for serving your fellow man that NEVER involve perpetuating beliefs that you feel are untrue.”

    Now this is a very interesting point, and one I believed only a short time ago. I think you’re right, there probably are better avenues. But better avenues for whom? I don’t feel I perpetuate any beliefs I think are untrue. Maybe if we buy into the guilt by association argument. But we have to separate culture from doctrine. The church is pretty scarce on official doctrine (not that I agree with official doctrine either). The point is, for me, since it is my culture, it provides me a mechanism for serving those whom I love, and am closest to. I agree with you completely, but don’t feel a conflict as you suggest.

    “I find this very interesting because I had a good friend who used to always tell me that even if he believed it wasn’t true, he would still stay in it for the sake of his family.”

    I didn’t divulge this, but I was very very close to leaving. I even checked out how to submit my resignation letter. For a while there the only thing keeping me in was my family. I’m not sure on this point. I agree that it may not be healthy to stay solely for one’s family. But I am uncertain as to whether or not I would do it. I would be lying to you if there wasn’t at least a small portion of this reason in my own decision to stay. A lot of my “belief” in the church is now metaphorical, so I feel like I can talk about the beliefs without that affecting my view of reality.

    “The church has teachings that are intolerant and unhealthy, in my opinion.”

    I agree with you here too. But I don’t view those teachings as some infallible Truth. Quite frankly arguments from revelation, authority, etc. carry little to no weight with me. However, I also claim that at the end of the day, the church is full of many great people. Whether this is causal or coincidental I know not, but I suspect it’s a bit of both. From a psychological standpoint, one’s social group largely determines one’s sense of morality. In the church in Utah we’re a bit light on autonomy, and big on community and divinity in terms of morality. But this is largely cultural in my mind, and has little to do with the official doctrines. In other words, I’m separating the church from the culture (even though I recognize there is a relationship). I use the church as tool, and have tossed out the culture altogether!

    “But for anyone out there who believes it is not true, but stays in it, I would love to hear an explanation as to why you would do that.”

    Well, I’m trying to explain it and would love to discuss it more. I’m assuming that by “true” we’re talking about the orthodox view of “true”? The most important key is the separation of church, culture, spirituality, reality, science, etc. A huge problem, I think, is the conflation of many of these things. Too often we have allowed religion to dictate our view of observable reality when clearly science is a far more reliable tool. But science doesn’t tell us anything about spirituality. Religion excels in this area, so I use it for that. And not just Mormonism. I’m quite partial to Buddhism and enjoy a lot of the old Native American mythology as well.

  9. Re: 8
    “JMB and SteveS: do either or both of you have children? How has that played into your consideration of how to proceed?”

    Yes, I have 3. This is a great question, and ultimately this is why I almost left the church. I was convinced it was damaging. And, I admit that growing up in Utah, under strict orthodox, literal interpretations is unhealthy IMHO. But I have a unique advantage. My wife is not an orthodox Mormon either. We’re both quite liberally minded, and are Buffet style Mormons (although I am more skeptical than she is). Hence, neither of us plan to have kids that grow up in the church believing that Joseph was perfect, or that GAs have a direct link to God for the world and no one else does. They will likely grow up heterodox in nature and have a well adjusted worldview. They are still very young (oldest is 4) but I plan to take them to other churches from time to time, and help them learn and understand science. Something like “be in the church, but not of the church” comes to mind.

  10. #9 – I think these are all thoughtful and understandable answers. One question I have, though, is regarding the issue of church teachings or practices that you agree are intolerant or unhealthy. You say that you don’t think you’re perpetuating any beliefs that you think are untrue, and I’m sure on a personal level you don’t. But what of statements like the GBH quote above, which you clearly disagree with. What about things like Prop 8 (you didn’t say how you came out, but just using it as an example). If there are things the church unequivocally teaches as an entity to be true, then even if you don’t personally perpetuate them, aren’t you at least implicitly endorsing them? And if you have children, if there are teachings or practices in the church that you disagree with, how comfortable are you that you’ll be able to protect your kids or at least be able to qualify such teachings before they take hold in your kids? And even then, you and your family will belong to a group that espouses things that you don’t believe, and some that you think are actively bad. You can’t go around your whole life saying “yes I’m a mormon, but I don’t agree with its stance on issues a, b, c or d” can you? At what point does the scale tip? Granted, it’s not practical to think that we can divorce ourselves from every group or person who does or believes something we disagree with, but I think a religion is a singularly unique situation, and by and large, you’re going to be seen to endorse and support those things that your church espouses. I only raise this point because you said yourself that the church teaches things that are intolerant and unhealthy. For me personally, this was the tipping point in deciding whether or not to remain in the church. My wife and I decided that we couldn’t in good conscience raise our kids in an organization that taught certain things that we thought were harmful. That’s not to say that I think the church is evil or bad as a whole, but there are some things that are core beliefs and teachings and behaviors that I just can’t endorse with respect to my children, even tacitly.

  11. Thanks for the detailed response.

    I also abhor the GBH quote because I think it appears to be encouraging open-mindedness (the prophet is saying hey, I can admit it could be a fraud, find out for yourself!) but in reality it makes one choose that it must be true when faced with 2 options, true or a fraud, bc most people, especially young people, who look at the church and see all the good it does would feel wrong saying it is a fraud. The only option remaining is that it is true, if you believe GBH’s quote. But at the same time, any group or religion that claims so adamantly to be the only true church is unhealthy if it is not true, in my opinion. So I do agree with GBH in that if it is not true, I believe it is a fraud and I do not want to be a part of it.

    I guess my point is this. For anyone out there who doesn’t believe it is true I hope they would have the courage to replace the good things about the church (a sense of community and friendship, opportunities to serve, healthy social activities for children, etc.) through a medium that doesn’t bring with it the intolerant views and unhealthy beliefs. In other words, instead of staying in the church to take from it what helps us and discard the rest, why don’t we create groups that have the good aspects without having to disregard certain aspects.

    But I fully admit this is much easier said than done.

  12. Re: 7
    My first piece of advice would be to join the community at StayLDS.com. It is exactly suited to your situation. We discuss all these issues in depth, and the community is full of people just like yourself.

    “1. What to do about a temple recommend? If you don’t believe certain things anymore how can you answer some of the TR questions appropriately? Many will say it doesn’t matter, but what if your status in the family and/or the your employer requires you to have a TR?”

    These are tough questions. I currently hold a TR, but it will expire in a few months. I haven’t decided whether or not to renew. In many ways we take the questions in the TR interview too literally and exacting. They aren’t asking if we have perfect knowledge of Christ, or God. They are asking about belief (even very small belief as the case may be). The questions are vague for a good reason. Just because our culture has conditioned us to view these questions a certain way doesn’t mean we have to view them that way.

    “2. In what Church capacities do you see yourself serving in the future, given your new perspectives on the Church and it doctrine? Would you feel comfortable accepting a calling as an EQ president, YM leader, Bishop, HC, or Stake president? How would you navigate the duties and responsibilities of such callings if you don’t feel inspired in your actions? How would you bear testimony regularly of basic tenets you no longer believe to be “true”?”

    This one is much harder. Right now I’m the 11-year old scout leader. It’s the perfect calling for a heretic like myself. I love to serve, love to be with the boys, don’t have to preach, or teach beliefs. To answer your question though I will have to defer. Since I haven’t been asked to be one of those things at this time, I’m not sure how to react. I will have to decide when/if I get there. EQ Pres. would probably be okay because it’s mostly caring for those in need. YM leader would be okay too, but I would have to possibly walk a thin line. Bishop or something like it might be significantly harder. BUT, having said this, if people like us don’t accept these callings, we will always be left with those with whom we disagree to fill those callings. And that’s what we’re complaining about half the time on this blog.

    Not sure that helps, but I hope you can glean something from it.

  13. Re: 11 brjones
    Yes, you bring up excellent points. I think for me, this is where a lot of libertarian thought comes into play. The fact is, I can’t control what other people think of me, nor do I want to. If they choose to judge me by the label applied (which I know many will) then that is their prerogative. Furthermore, why do I care? I don’t care what others think of me, but I do care why they think what they do. That is, I don’t care so much if other people think something of me because I’m Mormon, but I am interested in understanding why they have the preconception that they do. If these are good points then I want to address it and tell them why I am maybe different. If it’s because of a misrepresentation or misconception they have then I will want to dispel it. I can’t be in the business of trying to represent myself in a way that everyone will find comfortable. I have to be who I am. If people want to get to know me and find the truth, they will. If they want to apply labels and pass judgment that’s fine too.

    “If there are things the church unequivocally teaches as an entity to be true, then even if you don’t personally perpetuate them, aren’t you at least implicitly endorsing them?”

    Well, I’m not sure this is a valid argument. Do you endorse torture? Yet (I presume) you are an American. If you are, why don’t you leave? My affiliation with an organization does not constitute my unconditional endorsement of their entire platform. I recognize the church is slightly different than gov’t because I (supposedly) at least have some say in my gov’t. But the point is that my affiliation does equal my complete support. I feel no obligation to defend the church against the valid complaints and arguments made against it. But there are numerous fallacious arguments made against it that are worth arguing against. For example, while I am in no way done with my study of church history, I don’t find a good explanation for the BoM that challenges Joseph’s claim. I lean toward it being a 19th century text, but I remain open minded. If someone were to declare to me they are certain it is a 19th century text (without some startling new information), I would take issue.

    OTOH, if people claim some church teachings are unhealthy, I’ll agree.

    Re prop 8. By the time the vote came around I was not far enough along the disaffected path to vote my conscience. I voted yes, and have regretted it ever since. I apologize to anyone for whom this is troubling. Having said that, I also would not have voted “no.” I would rather see the gov’t get out of the business of regulating personal relationships altogether. Hence I am neither for nor against gay marriage. I am against big gov’t interfering in personal affairs.

    “My wife and I decided that we couldn’t in good conscience raise our kids in an organization that taught certain things that we thought were harmful.”

    I completely understand that, and sympathize. I respect your decision. I was nearly there myself.

  14. I used to be a ardent blogger against the “growing problem of apathetic members” those who have significant doubts but seek to participate in full fellowship anyway. My views have shifted whilst and i’m not exactly sure where I stand. I’m confident that the Gospel is true, and equally as confident that the Church is true. I would love those who sin, and seek to help where I can, I would also love those who are becoming disaffected, and help where possible. I’m no longer in the all or nothing came because I don’t believe it helps those with doubts come forward. As I said earlier we are on a Journey I have reached solid ground, and wish the same for all but how we travel is different for different people.

  15. Re: 12 Dexter
    “I guess my point is this. For anyone out there who doesn’t believe it is true I hope they would have the courage to replace the good things about the church (a sense of community and friendship, opportunities to serve, healthy social activities for children, etc.) through a medium that doesn’t bring with it the intolerant views and unhealthy beliefs. In other words, instead of staying in the church to take from it what helps us and discard the rest, why don’t we create groups that have the good aspects without having to disregard certain aspects.”

    Well said. I will be the first to join said group given that you can guarantee that it will never waiver from those goals. But alas, since said group will have humans in it, I doubt such a guarantee can be made. The LDS church was very different in some important ways in Joseph’s day. It has grown to what it is now because of humans. But it will change, and it will evolve.

    There is one more reason I choose to stay that I have not mentioned. The last thing I need is to be in a group where I agree with everyone. No one grows by doing this. Clearly my ideas are challenged every week at church. I don’t mind this, in fact, I welcome it. Maybe I am wrong. I am not so arrogant to assume that I could set up such a group as you suggest and yet still maintain personal growth. We already have plenty of sources in our society from which we get validation of our ideas and feed our egos. This does not produce a better country, a better society. Rather it creates discord, and contention as we insist we are right and others are wrong. I am now toward the other end of the spectrum when it comes to religious orthodoxy. Therefore, I need to surround myself with those who are orthodox so I can understand them better, see their perspective and be able to work with them to accomplish goals. I don’t need any more us vs. them mentality.

  16. Yes, but a group with humans and inevitable problems is better, in my opinion, than a group where many claim to be speaking for god. This is the essence of the problem with the church. I believe that it is immoral to claim to speak for god.

  17. Re: 17 Dexter
    “Yes, but a group with humans and inevitable problems is better, in my opinion, than a group where many claim to be speaking for god. This is the essence of the problem with the church. I believe that it is immoral to claim to speak for god.”

    A fair argument. I suppose that since I don’t really believe they speak for god in a literal sense it doesn’t bother me that much. But yes, I see how this could have some damaging consequences, especially for those who take the claims literally. I suppose the only thing I have to go on is the fact that I have separated myself from these claims. As I’ve said I view the church as a tool, something to help me. If it doesn’t help, then I won’t use it. And in some ways it helps and other ways it doesn’t. I go for the ways it helps, and discard the ways it doesn’t. The lay clergy is something I really like. It is a source of problems as well, but it provides us with great opportunities for personal growth IMHO.

    Nevertheless, I understand your point, and it is definitely a cause for concern.

  18. Immorral as in it’s a sin? Immoral in that it’s a lie? Immoral in that it’s making the speaker into something/someone he/she is not? Immoral in that it’s something I, Dexter, don’t agree with? Immoral in that no one speaks or can speak for God? Immoral in that there is no God so he/she/it can’t be spoken for? A little clarity would help.

  19. Analyst/JMB – so much of your story resonated with me, with the one exception that I did have a strong spiritual witness. But even that experience is (in my mind anyway) subject to that same analysis I apply to everything. I’d like to be able to unpack and examine the mysteries of life, and Mormon theology and culture provides an excellent forum for that. And I agree that my spirituality is something that is fulfilled both within (by being presented with contrasting viewpoints or having my thinking challenged) and outside of the organization (through reading, meditation, and psychology/sociology). I enjoy understanding how things work.

    As to the idea that being Mormon implies you are just like every other Mormon, I think the American analogy suits well – we are each but one voice in a large chorus. Similarly, Catholics are now viewed to have very different views on things from other Catholics. There are divorced Catholics and pro-abortion Catholics. It has more to do with the size of the group eventually than the group’s tolerance for diversity. Beliefs and practices that would get you burned at the stake in the 1500s are somewhat commonplace now in Catholicism.

    I am not that concerned with human beings stating that they speak for God for a few reasons: 1) most of them didn’t state it (their predecessors did or people in the Mormon community perpetuate that), 2) leaders aren’t giving really crazy instructions in the name of God or enforcing those opinions at the point of a sword, 3) if we believe in divine human potential (as Mormon theology teaches) then we all speak for God through the divine spark within us (personal revelation, which seems to me to be mostly getting in touch with something within us). Doesn’t that put the church leaders in the role of older children left in charge to babysit while our parents are out? I think that’s an apt analogy for the type of “speaking for God” that we are talking about. It also explains the different tone we get from different leaders. Their personalities color their view of their responsibility.

  20. jmb, I think there is a significant difference between being a citizen and resident of a country and belonging to a religious sect. The U.S. is a nation of 300 million people, approximately half of whom are opposed to the government’s policies that constitute torture. The mormon church is a group of 15 million (or however many) people, the vast majority of whom believe that homosexuality is an abomination, etc. I think a religious affiliation is much more of a voluntary choice than is citizenship. Addtionally, while I understand your perspective that you want to be surrounded by people with differing viewpoints. But by that same rationale, if I’ve decided that I don’t believe in racism, it would be appropriate to go to KKK meetings so I can be surrounded by opposing viewpoints. I realize that’s an extreme example, and I’m not equating the church with the KKK, but I think the point is valid. I guess it depends on the degree to which you think certain teachings or values of the church are bad or harmful, but I tend to think that if you think something is harmful, you would not want to be surrounded by it. Again, I think this is particularly true if you have children.

  21. #20. This is basically how I feel as well. JMB, your story resonated with me, except that I have had a very low-drama story with the Church. Never felt like anything was forced on me, I served a mission because I felt the Lord wanted me to, learned a lot, and held very heterodox views the entire time.

    Hawk is right when she says that the size of the group matters. In a very large group, you can “fade into the background” a bit, and in a tiny branch like the one I grew up in, they couldn’t afford to exclude anyone based on heterodox views. It’s really a group in the middle that must force some kind of orthodoxy on its people in order to maintain some sort of identity, because they feel threatened.

  22. A sin would mean I believe it goes against some divine law. So I don’t consider it to be a sin bc I don’t believe in any divine law.

    Immoral as in it is wrong. It has nothing to do with whether I agree with what the speaker says. I think murder is wrong. But if a leader said, “God told me murder is wrong and I am telling you” I would still say the leader should not speak for god.

    I believe in freedom. It is the antithesis of freedom to proclaim that god told you such and such.

  23. #20 – Hawk, the Catholic analogy just doesn’t work. Within catholocism there are not just many differing viewpoints. The religion itself allows for varying viewpoints, to the point that there are widely divergent interpretations of fundamental doctrines. If you have a problem with the idea of Mary’s virgin birth, you can find a congregation that doesn’t really believe in the virgin birth. There are even congregations that are targeted to homosexuals. This is not remotely true in the mormon church. Certainly you are free as an individual to believe what you choose, but the church program is the church program, and you can either tailor yourself to fit it or not as you see fit, but you are not free to tailor the church’s program to suit you, which is much more permissible in other religions. The mormon church is a centrally run, top down religion in a way that the Catholic church isn’t even close to. So when you’re talking about freedom of personal belief, I would agree, but I don’t think that’s exactly what we’re talking about here.

  24. Hawkgrrl, I am surprised by your reasoning. You said that one of the reasons you are not concerned with people saying they speak for god is that “leaders aren’t giving really crazy instructions in the name of God or enforcing those opinions at the point of a sword.”

    First of all, in history, this is absolutely false. Vast numbers of leaders have spoken for god and given crazy instructions to do horrible things. It is still happening today. Countless wars, murders, suicide bombers were the result of this. So is your position that it is ok for mormon leaders to do it but no one else? If that is your argument than it is incredibly arrogant to allow mormon leaders to speak for god but no one else. ANd if you think that way about your church leader, then we have gained nothing, for everyone will then feel it is ok to believe in their church leader.

    Further, isn’t this type of view setting a trap for when a leader DOES give crazy instructions? If you allow and revere people who speak for god it is already too late. They could give crazy instructions tomorrow and people would obey. Germany put its trust and faith in Hitler when he wasn’t giving crazy instructions. But then it was too late when he did give crazy instructions.

  25. This is why we as a people should not be tolerant of anyone speaking for god. Even if 19 of 20 give meaningless, but harmless, advice, what about the one that orders murder bc god commanded it? We It is a recipe for disaster and history clearly shows this.

  26. #23 and #24. I’m having a hard time making sense of these two posts.

    #23. You believe in freedom, but not the freedom to speak for God? What kinds of freedom then? The freedom to not have to hear somebody saying that they’re speaking for God?

    #24. I’m going to have to ask you to show me of a Catholic congregation that doesn’t believe in the Virgin Birth. That seems pretty fundamental to me. The Catholic Church seems very much a top-down organization, from the Pope to archbishops to priests down to deacons. One of us has a deep misunderstanding of the structure and organization of Catholicism.

  27. “I walked precincts, went to firesides, donated to protectmarriage.com, put up signs, and did the other things I was asked to do.”

    I don’t envy those LDS who were compelled to participate in this. Had I been living there, I would have made some excuse…ie work is keeping me too busy…to be seen involved. While I was still an unmarried menace-to-society my sister gave me a matted framed proclamation to the family, which I kept in a closet. I didn’t want my guests with ambiguous sexual orientations to be offended by it. When I finally met the love of my life and married, I chose to emulate her devotion and faith. It now hangs in our house, but as a “boring” married with family, there is rarely a guest in our home that doesn’t know about our religion.

    A dedicated iron-grip Mormon friend quoted somebody’s advice on studying historical controversies as “if it doesn’t increase my testimony, its not worth my time.” I don’t quite follow that to a tee, but given the demands of career, family, calling there isn’t that much time left to spend. I would encourage whoever has a chance to serve in a bishopric to do so. I think the wisdom you have gained, jmb275, would be a strength to whoever you serve with in such a calling. Bishopric meetings are, to me, quite spiritual. I would compare them to the feeling of the “spirit of Elijah” that one gets when doing their family history. And you ARE worthy of a temple recommend, so you should answer the questions correctly and keep it. Hopefully you will have the rewarding opportunity to serve with the youth you are now teaching as they make their temple trips for baptisms in the future.

  28. Arthur,

    People can say whatever they want to say. People can claim to speak for god or unicorns or the tooth fairy. But we, the listeners or potential listeners, should pay them no mind. We should not honor them. We should not believe their words.

  29. Dexter – it seems that your problem with people “speaking for God” is mostly theoretical. If one of the Q12 tells me to boil chicken heads and bury rocks under a full moon, I’m not going to do that. Why? Because the religion allows me to require my own “witness” before I’m compelled to take action. With Prop 8 (Prop 102 in AZ), the church shared its stance (although not over the pulpit where I live), yet people still voted their conscience (JMB notwithstanding). No one was ex’d over it, called out, released from callings, ostracized, etc., at least not in my ward. So my experience during my lifetime is that leaders have not said or done anything crazy in the name of “speaking for God.”

    Is it a risk? Sure, whenever someone is in a position of authority. It’s called free agency. People are allowed, without my permission, to say they speak for God and/or that we should do what they say, but that doesn’t change my personal responsibility. Military power is usually required to compel people to follow crazy instructions. Your examples are full of situations that required military compulsion: Nazi Germany, KKK (anarchist perhaps but militant), Jihad (militant). My personal opinion is that anyone who will unblinkingly follow orders from a person who says s/he speaks for God is equally complicit to the person claiming to speak for God. When the action taken is benign (like wearing a white shirt), there’s no harm done, and it is probably humbling/instructive in some way to person who complies. But when the action is to harm other people or oneself, we are still accountable for those malignant actions.

  30. I have to disagree with 28. If you don’t believe the church is true, it is a lie to accept a calling in the bishopric. That is sheer hypocrisy.

  31. “A dedicated iron-grip Mormon friend quoted somebody’s advice on studying historical controversies as “if it doesn’t increase my testimony, its not worth my time.”

    This advice disgusts me.

  32. “If you don’t believe the church is true” But you cotton to the black & white dichotomy you described. There are many people who simply don’t view it that way. What if the church is both good and bad, teaching things that are both true and false? What about:
    – things that are true for some but false for others?
    – things that are true for one situation but false for another?
    – if the church is full of spiritual truth but also has some major flaws, does that make it true or false?

    I don’t believe anything is 100% true. Even Dove soap is only 99 3/4 pure. But very few things are 100% false either. When people speak of true/false they usually mean the authority claims of the church. But authority claims are not important to me. I’m more interested in what I actually get out of it, and being able to say I’m right and others are wrong is not getting me out of bed on a Sunday morning. But I realize there are many for whom that is important.

  33. #27 – Arthur, the operation of the Catholic church as a centralized body bears little resemblance to that of the mormon church. If you go to one parish one week and another parish another week, you will hear entirely different messages, and that includes differences in the interpretation of doctrine. As I said, there are parishes whose entire purpose is to appeal to homosexuals, and their messages reflect this, despite the fact that the catholic church is formally opposed to homosexuality as a body. That would never, in a million years, be allowed in or by the mormon church. Such catholic parishes are well known to the diocese in which they are located and are allowed to continue operating with little or no oversight from the diocese, let alone Rome. The roman catholic church is centrally run only in the loosest sense of the word. How much interaction have you had with the catholic church? I’m not saying that the doctrines in one parish are necessarily different than the next. What I’m saying is there is no central program, and any given parish is free to focus on whatever it wants, and to interpret the gospel in pretty much whatever way it sees fit. This bears very little semblance to the mormon heirarchy, in which every single ward and branch in the world is operating from a central manual, and is, in theory, teaching the exact same lessons from one congregation to the next.

  34. Arthur, you asked “should I believe your words?”

    This is the whole point. You should believe my words, or anyone else’s words, if they make sense, as opposed to whether they come from god. Socrates’ words have survived based on their value as words, not the value of the source. But with JS, members constantly say things like, well, since he spoke with god and for god, we should heed his words.

    I am inviting and encouraging all to choose to believe words and teachings based on the words and teachings themselves, not on whether they came from a god or a human.

  35. Hawkgrrl, how people view it is irrelevant. Personal truths are nonsense. If something is true, that means it is true for everyone. The term true for some is just improper use of language. If you want to say something suites me that is fine. But truth means objective truth.

    And even if you critically analyze everything your leaders say is irrelevant. I mean, good for you. But you are still supporting an organization that welcomes people who simply obey without thinking things through. And even if your church only gives good advice in the name of god, you are still tacitly supporting the idea that men can and do speak for god and that we should listen to these types of men. And my complaints are not really theoretical, history shows that millions have suffered and millions have died for no reason based on ignorant people believing men who fooled the masses by claiming to speak for god. We cannot root out the evil of religions who teach evil ways by simply saying your church doesn’t speak for god but mine does. This compounds the problem. What we need is an enlightenment. We need examples of good people who focus on the tasks at hand of doing good for the sake of doing good, without waiting for god or asking god how to proceed. We don’t need god to tell us what to do. We need to do what we already know is good.

  36. #38 – I do not agree that all truth is objective. However, I will admit that within the context of a prophet speaking, that is most certainly what is meant.

  37. “But you are still supporting an organization that welcomes people who simply obey without thinking things through.” My view is that we all do this. It’s called planet earth. Different people give their decision making power to different people. What’s the difference between someone doing everything Oprah says vs. doing everything TSM says? It was still their choice to abdicate decision making power to another person. I’m just saying that has nothing to do with me.

    “And my complaints are not really theoretical, history shows that millions have suffered and millions have died for no reason based on ignorant people believing men who fooled the masses by claiming to speak for god.” So, I see – you are stuck in rescuer mode. That is indeed a very theoretical place to be. If the masses have been fooled, I say: 1) shame on the masses, and 2) the masses have suffered the natural consequences of their foolishness. You choose to see victims (in need of rescuing) and persecutors (in need of punishing or neutralizing) whereas I see people who are making their own choices and living with the unfortunate results.

    “But truth means objective truth.” Also, I disagree that there is much universal truth that is knowable. I think you are talking about shared morality, which IMO is mostly socially constructed. However, I believe that the church uses the word true to typically mean having true authority (e.g. being authorized from God). That’s not the same thing at all as objective truth (an airy fairy term if ever there was one).

    It’s been fun sparring with you, but in reality I’m not sure we disagree that much. I just think we are talking past one another. I totally agree with this: “We need examples of good people who focus on the tasks at hand of doing good for the sake of doing good, without waiting for god or asking god how to proceed. We don’t need god to tell us what to do. We need to do what we already know is good.”

  38. I’m quite familiar with the Catholic Church, and I have attended often. I have also familiarized myself with a great deal of its history (from Nicea to the Vatican II) and doctrines. I don’t think we’re going to see eye-to-eye on this one. I think Hawk’s statement remains. The LDS leadership only seems stronger because the organization is smaller, but if it ever reaches a billion, we could make an apples to apples comparison.

  39. #41 – Arthur, I don’t necessarily disagree with that. I would agree that as the church grows it will definitely become more difficult to maintain tight control over all aspects. I was referring to a comparison between the current LDS and Catholic churches.

  40. Re Dexter:
    “You should believe my words, or anyone else’s words, if they make sense, as opposed to whether they come from god.”

    This is exactly my point as well though, and hawkgrrrls. I choose to heed the words of Mormon church leaders when they make sense. Otherwise, I don’t worry about it. Why is this so bad? I’m doing exactly what you’re advocating, I simply choose to do it as a member rather than outside the church.

    “I am inviting and encouraging all to choose to believe words and teachings based on the words and teachings themselves, not on whether they came from a god or a human.”

    Yes, I’m taking you up on your invitation. I fail to see where we disagree.

    “If something is true, that means it is true for everyone. The term true for some is just improper use of language. If you want to say something suites me that is fine. But truth means objective truth.”

    I don’t even know how to understand this. What on earth is objective truth? Can you cite an example?

    I’m with hawkgrrrl, I don’t see that we’re in disagreement. I agree with what you say, I just choose to remain part of the community. You choose to be outside the community. I still follow the same line of reasoning though. And I understand that my remaining a member could be viewed as support, and indeed I do support the good things Mormonism provides, and reject the stuff I don’t like. I do that with America (when it won’t land me in jail), the NRA, my job, the Scout program, IEEE, Eta Kappa Nu, and any other groups to which I belong.

    For the record, I often find myself agreeing with hawkgrrrl, but I have a different take on this:
    “My personal opinion is that anyone who will unblinkingly follow orders from a person who says s/he speaks for God is equally complicit to the person claiming to speak for God. When the action taken is benign (like wearing a white shirt), there’s no harm done, and it is probably humbling/instructive in some way to person who complies. But when the action is to harm other people or oneself, we are still accountable for those malignant actions.”

    To me, the Milgram experiment has modified my view of this. While I believe in liberty and personal accountability, it is too idealist for me to claim that those who do things because they were coerced are equally responsible as those who did the coercing. Yes, it is our responsibility as human beings to make the decisions on our own, but I can’t deny the awful effects of coercion and social mind control. There are many organizations (and cults) that will claim to take care of us (like the gov’t). It is easy to be drawn in, and in the case of cults, the coercion is severely damaging. Nevertheless, my solution would not be to outlaw the cults, or restrict the leaders, but to preach to the followers and try to help them see.

  41. Re 28 Hawthorne
    Thank you very much for the kind words. I suppose I’ll have to wait and see if they ever want to call me to be Bishop. I definitely won’t be applying for the position.

  42. Re: 21 brjones
    Yeah, I think I admitted that the analogy wasn’t perfect. Of course your KKK analogy is a straw man as well, which you seemed to admit.

    “I think a religious affiliation is much more of a voluntary choice than is citizenship.”

    Hmmm, maybe so. More so before we had airplanes and a more global economy. Religious affiliation in which one grew up is not a very voluntary choice IMHO. Most people will stick with it for obvious reasons. It seems that in that case it is closer to citizenship. Nevertheless, I am merely trying to point out that my affiliation with an organization doesn’t mean I completely support their platform. Obviously the KKK is a straw man argument since the KKK is hell bent on hate, anger, and violence. Much different than the church as you pointed out.

    “I guess it depends on the degree to which you think certain teachings or values of the church are bad or harmful, but I tend to think that if you think something is harmful, you would not want to be surrounded by it.”

    Yep you’ve answered it right here. In my opinion the good outweighs the bad in the LDS church, especially outside of Utah. In Utah, coupled with the culture it has some serious problems, although I still have plenty of well adjusted friends I grew up with in Utah. They don’t hate homosexuals (the church teaches we should love them even if we don’t want them to get married), they don’t hate people who don’t belong to the church, they don’t hate blacks, or latinos, or anyone else. They might have a more black and white worldview, and might believe they have the eternal truth, but this doesn’t make them arrogant, or rude, or unreasonable. Of course, then again, maybe I just have great friends!!

    What I have found, in my experience of speaking with people who have gone through something like this, is that they tend to pull out the magnifying glass on all the bad stuff, and then get out the telescope and turn it the wrong way for all the good stuff. I understand the cultural problems, some of the cult like mind control mechanisms (that are mild now compared to former days and compared with many cults), and I understand the authority claims. They just don’t mean that much to me anymore now that I have let them go. And I’m confident that I can help my kids understand this as well, especially if we live outside of Utah (which we do). The good news is that most Mormons don’t abuse drugs and alcohol, aren’t promiscuous, and care about their fellows (even if we don’t agree with all their reasons). I have been the recipient of much love, and service. Is this really harmful? Is it not possible to enjoy these fruits and perpetuate the good while disabusing ourselves of the bad? Isn’t this like a metaphor for all of life?

  43. Jmb – of course I agree with you that coercive parties are very accountable, moreso in some cases than the coerced. Of course, that’s with the obvious caveat that coercion is a broad category with Jewish mothers at one end and Somalian Warlords at the other.

  44. “Jmb – of course I agree with you that coercive parties are very accountable, moreso in some cases than the coerced. Of course, that’s with the obvious caveat that coercion is a broad category with Jewish mothers at one end and Somalian Warlords at the other.”

    LOL, indeed. Point well taken.

  45. Dexter:

    “But you are still supporting an organization that welcomes people who simply obey without thinking things through. And even if your church only gives good advice in the name of god, you are still tacitly supporting the idea that men can and do speak for god and that we should listen to these types of men.”

    Seems like you’re generalizing just a bit. Remeber the law of holes. If you find yourself in one, stop digging.

  46. #47 – Hawkgrrrl, I have no doubt that you were just poking gentle fun with this comment, but I think it’s more than a little insensitive. The common practice of making a joke of that done-to-death comic stereotype, the Somalian Warlord, really has to stop.

  47. Great post, jmb, and some great comments as well. Well done.

    Dex, I am really glad you are here. It really mixes things up well and sparks some good exchanges. Keep it up.

  48. Thank you for sharing your story. I found the psychology portion of your story very interesting. I took a few psychology courses in my undergrad because I minored in psych. My social psychology course pretty much ruined religion for me, especially the concept of the Holy Ghost. My husband and I have similar views about the church, but still continue to attend for many of the same reasons you described. I do have one question for you.

    Have you, or are you planning on telling your family?

  49. We are in very different times now. Our enemy used to be the “godless” communists. But now are enemy is very faith based. I think this danger is something we need to be aware of.

    I think it is hypocritical to say I support a church that is led by a man who claims to speak for god, while at the same time shaking our heads at the ignorant ways of suicide bombers and terrorists who are members of a religion which also claims to speak for god. A mormon could say, but my leader REALLY DOES speak for god, so that makes it ok. The problem is, the suicide bombers and other extremists would (and do) say that same thing. Well, then a mormon could say, but my leader is reasonable in his counsel, so even if he does not speak for god, no harm is done. Well, what is “reasonable” is relative. And as we all know, many members of many religions, including mormons, think it is noble and honorable to not question or critically evaluate what a leader says. Many are willing to obey what their leaders tell them without personal reflection on the command. Normally, this is not extremely harmful. But there are religions and there are followers that take it to the extreme and murder people based on their religion and some leader speaking for god. If we tolerate people in our own religions speaking for god we are sending a message to the world that it is ok for everyone to allow their leaders to speak for god. And we are perpetuating this belief through the generations. I think it is unhealthy. I think we need an enlightenment. Therefore, I do not think it is okay, especially for people who don’t believe the leader speaks for god, to support the religion and have the appearance to outsiders that they do support the idea that they will let someone speak for god. And I think to claim that it is unknowable whether there is a god or whether a church leader speaks for god is a copout. I think it is a justification to continue in what is comfortable instead of taking the morally correct stand, which is, to not tolerate men speaking for god to me or mine. How can we blame others for following their religious leaders if we do the same thing but the names of the religions are simply different? By that rationale, it simply comes down to wich god is correct, which is an impossible debate to win.

    I don’t know if there is a god or not. But even when things are unknowable, we have to make a choice as to what is the right thing to do. In my opinion, whether god exists or not, it is wrong for anyone to speak for him, and I think it is wrong for anyone to subject themselves to a man who claims to speak for god. If you look at history, speaking for god and listening to men who speak for god has caused countless tragedies, deaths, and heartaches. It is simply too risky. Even if 1 of 1000 really does speak for god, the damage of the other 999 is so great, it makes my blanket rule the safe bet. Of course, chances are it is much less than 1 in 1000 that actually speak for god.

    Just consider the odds. Would you counsel your teenage daughter to pick up a hitchhiker? I would counsel mine to never pick up a hitchhiker, under any circumstances. It is just too risky that one could have intentions to harm her. Even if only 1 in 20 of them would actually try to hurt her, I would prefer she stear clear of all of them bc of the inherent risk. History shows that many men who have claimed to speak for god were harmless, or spreading a loving message of some kind. But there are enough who have done terrible harms that none can be trusted.

    Now, obviously the strong believer will think my ideas are nonsense and harmful because they claim to know god exists and therefore find it unfathomable that it would not be helpful to hear a person share god’s thoughts and ideas. But for nonbelievers, I do not understand why you would support, even tacitly, any organization who claims to speak the mind and will of god. The chances of it are just so low. First, god would have to exist. Second, he would have to be an intervening god. Third, he would have to choose to communicate with a human. Fourth, the human would have to correctly understand god’s message and correctly convey it to the masses. I think it is more likely that unicorns are roaming around in France, but that’s just me. And if you think I am crazy to wonder how a prophet could misunderstand or improperly communicate a message of god just look at the history of the church. There have been enough contradictions in mormon doctrine to write books about it. Oh wait, they have already been written.

    And before anyone claims that my ideas stifle freedom, like the freedom to claim to speak for god, that is ridiculous. I am not supporting the idea that we should outlaw speaking for god. I am saying we should not pay them any mind. The same way we should not pay a racist organization any mind. Freedom of speech should be honored, we cannot place a gag order on racists. But we shouldn’t listen to their hateful messages. Similarly, we should not listen to people who tell us what to think by saying god said so. I think it is offensive to the idea of indepenedent thought. We should think for ourselves. We should question authority. If you like an idea, like the idea, not the fact that the speaker claimed that god revealed it to him. Further, claiming to speak for god is just plain weak. Because if the speaker is criticized, all he says is, these are not my words, but the words of god, so who are we to question them?

  50. That said, I do realize that on a personal level, what difference will it make on the world if JMB decides to leave the church entirely, or remain as a buffet mormon? None, really. And I hope that no one feels that I was personally critiziing their activity level in the church. Skeptical members raise a million other issues than perpetuating the idea of supporting men who speak for god. We have discussed several of them already, for example, if you don’t believe the church is true, are the teachings there helpful or harmful? (Be nice to fellow man-helpful, homosexual teachings-harmful, in the opinion of many). But those are separate topics. I am simply speaking of the general principle of whether it is right or wrong to claim to speak for god and whether it is right or wrong to support those who do, in any way.

    So please understand that I am not criticizing anyone for staying in the church even if they are skeptical. But on a general level, I do feel that supporting a religion that claims to speak for god is supporting the idea that it is okay to trust a man as an agent of god, and that some people who claim to be agents of god are doing terrible things. Obviously, I am not blaming a mormon for the acts of extremist religions.

    Bottom line: Would the world be a better place if fewer human beings claimed to speak for god and fewer human beings heeded those who claimed to speak for god? I think so. I would be interested to hear other opinions, though.

  51. shannon #54 – I majored in psych during undergrad, and had two social psych classes – it’s one of my favorite areas of research. I was wondering (as it’s a big topic) what aspects of social psych changed your views on religion? Thanks in advance.

  52. Re #54 shannon
    “Have you, or are you planning on telling your family?”

    My wife knows. She’s a bit of a liberal Mormon as well. Definitely not orthodox. So she is fairly understanding, and we have similar views on how to raise our kids in the church, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. My mom knows, but she’s also not very orthodox in many ways. She is very understanding and she even loves to discuss it with me. My dad is very orthodox. Basically we avoid the subject. My brother knows a little bit since we discussed it very early on in my disaffection. Basically we haven’t spoken about it since. My mother-in-law knows and she is very orthodox. She does her best to help me in the best way she knows how (often bearing testimony). Those are the only members of family that know.

    My big mistake was that early on in the process I got excited and told too many people. I talked to my bishop (which didn’t help, but it wasn’t that bad either because I wasn’t very bold), and I told a few friends. I should have waited until I saw where it was going to go before I said anything. My actions now still largely reflect those of an orthodox Mormon and no one would have been the wiser. I wouldn’t have tried to hide my opinion had someone asked, but I wish I wouldn’t have advertised it like I did.

  53. Re Dexter
    “So please understand that I am not criticizing anyone for staying in the church even if they are skeptical. But on a general level, I do feel that supporting a religion that claims to speak for god is supporting the idea that it is okay to trust a man as an agent of god, and that some people who claim to be agents of god are doing terrible things.”

    Thank you Dexter. I enjoyed your rant, agreed with most of it. I still say we agree more than disagree. I suppose I have a different idea of what it means to support people who claim to speak for God. I still say there are probably groups each of us belong to that we don’t completely agree with. In any case, I’m much more concerned with the fact that more people in this country aren’t claiming BS to current economic and foreign policy than I am people following leaders who claim to speak for God. Unless those two things are correlated!

    “Bottom line: Would the world be a better place if fewer human beings claimed to speak for god and fewer human beings heeded those who claimed to speak for god? I think so. I would be interested to hear other opinions, though.”

    Surely you realize by now that I agree with you. Yes, the world would be a better place if fewer human beings claimed to speak for god and fewer humans followed those who do. OTOH, the world would also be a better place if people actually lived the teachings that almost all religions are based on (e.g. golden rule, love others, etc.).

  54. I understand and have understood that we agree on most points for this entire exchange. But I just wanted to clarify why I feel the way I do with a more detailed explanation. And, the whole reason I participate in this blog at all, is that spelling out how I feel is how I determine better how I feel. Does that make sense? If my views were completely sorted out I wouldn’t be on this site. But conversing about them and being forced to outline (hopefully in fewer words next time) is simply a process of thought for me.

    And I agree 100% about our current economic and foreign policy. If this were Obama Matters I would be writing all about that.

  55. Re: 61 JTJ
    “JMB – what books have you been reading?”

    Most recently it has been a smattering. I read “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan. I then read “The Shack” by William P. Young. I am currently reading “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling” by Bushman. I am just starting “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. If you look at iTunes they have a University area where you can listen to classes online. I am just finishing an online psychology course from Yale (very fascinating). I also read “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Suroweicki. I’m also in the middle of a book called “The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis” by Richard Heuer. That last one is a book used by the CIA to help them do better intelligence analysis. It has a lot of information about the psychology of decision making and how we can improve that process. It’s only available to the gov’t (I think) which I work for.

    If you have any suggestions, I’d love to add them to my queue.

  56. Re: 63
    “And, the whole reason I participate in this blog at all, is that spelling out how I feel is how I determine better how I feel. Does that make sense? If my views were completely sorted out I wouldn’t be on this site. But conversing about them and being forced to outline (hopefully in fewer words next time) is simply a process of thought for me.”

    Me too!! Hopefully we’re all open enough to the idea that we aren’t exactly right. This is a big complaint I have about many orthodox Mormons, and anti-Mormons alike. I appreciate the dialog. One of the most important discoveries of my disaffection was becoming comfortable with uncertainty. I had to break the chains of certainty of my faith to get here. I won’t be making that mistake again, especially in the opposite direction.

  57. Absolutely.

    As an active mormon, as a child, I used to at times gaze at the stars and feel a little bit envious of those who didn’t know why were are here, and how this was all created, and what the purpose of life was. I thought it would be truly amazing to NOT know, because of all the possible scenarios one could think over. But then I would feel guilty and ungrateful for having the true gospel, and I would pray and ask god to forgive me for wishing I didn’t have the truth, even though it was only for a moment. But now, although the initial realizations were painful it has been very invigorating to NOT KNOW and to think through what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense and what the evidence of my life and of science points towards.

  58. Re: 66 JTJ
    “JMB – Have you read anything from Bart Ehrman, Michael Shermer or Sam Harris?”

    Yes, I thought someone might bring them up. I have not, but I have heard plenty about Shermer and Harris. I hadn’t heard much about Ehrman. His work looks interesting. I’d like to look into that.

    As for Harris, and Shermer, I’m not sure if I will read them or not. I am open to reading anything, but quite frankly I don’t need validation for what I already believe. I’m already a skeptic. I feel like I got a taste of this with “The Demon-Haunted World.” I liked the book a lot, but I felt like he was preaching to the choir. The people who will read these books already believe it, hence we are just confirming what we believe in. How does that help me?

    I’m more interested in learning factual information, from science, and drawing my own conclusions. Nevertheless, I may end up reading some of their work. I am interested in “Why People Believe Weird Things,” but I don’t see how it will really help me. I already understand the notions of cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, the spotlight effect, etc. etc. I’d rather learn about psychology from the studies themselves and make my own conclusions.

    But thank you for the suggestions.

  59. JMB – you should also try Dacher Keltner’s “Born to be good” who looks at evolutionary evidence for human behavior, but it would be a disservice to rule out Harris and Shermer. They seem to be the leading voices in the science v. religion, and there is information and arguments you have yet to see. Eherman on the other hand is an entire world that LDS perspectives have failed to grasp.

  60. I’m not going to discourage anyone from reading Hitchens, he’s by far the most articulate I have experienced, but even he admits that he is no scientist, and his strength is really in history and philosophy.

  61. Re 69:
    “JMB – you should also try Dacher Keltner’s “Born to be good” who looks at evolutionary evidence for human behavior, but it would be a disservice to rule out Harris and Shermer. They seem to be the leading voices in the science v. religion, and there is information and arguments you have yet to see. Eherman on the other hand is an entire world that LDS perspectives have failed to grasp.”

    Okay, okay, I’ll give it a whirl. What do you suggest for balancing it out? One of my mantra’s in life is that I never completely trust one side of the story. I read the NY Times, and the Washington Post, I read “The Demon Haunted World” and “The Shack.” I like to balance out any view with its opposing view.

    “JMB – I really enjoyed Ehrmann’s book Jesus Misquoted.”

    I’ll definitely read this one. Man, you guys are making this queue grow and grow. It’s going to take me 10 years to read all these books.

  62. #65 – I understand your reasons for being hesitant about reading Harris or some others. However, I think their writings are still incredibly enlightening, even for those who feel they already have a decent idea of where they personally stand on the issues. Harris and Hitchens, to name only two, are incredible at putting things in a much broader historical and social context. I am very certain of what I do and do not believe, but I don’t have much of a clue as to how those beliefs interplay with anything except mainsream mormonism, because that’s really the only lifestyle and belief system with which I am intimately familiar. I really enjoy reading those not only with different life perspectives, but those who are so knowledgeable about history and culture, because it helps me get a bearing on where I fit in on a more global scale. In my opinion, it’s difficult to truly get a good handle on your beliefs until you expose yourself to something of that scope. That’s not to say that you haven’t done that, jmb, or anyone else here, for that matter. I’m just speaking generally, and in my own experience.

  63. Re #74
    Maybe we need to have another post on such a great topic. Referencing #73, I would like a balance. I am open to reading these people even if it’s only so I can say I did. I am interested in understanding how I fit on a global scale. That is part of my new budding worldview. So I appreciate that. But what does someone recommend for a balance? I would like something to challenge my position, not just confirm it.

  64. #75 – Many of these books actually reference the books of their critics. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins contains references and citations to many, many other works, both those that support and criticize his position.

  65. JMB – For opposite views, try watching some debates, most are on you tube. Harris v. Wolpe, Ehrman v. William Lane Craig, Harris v. Hedges are a few. For comedy, see Hitchens v. Rev. Sharpton. I would pose a question to all if anyone has seen a serious challenge to Ehrman’s positions.

  66. It depends on what viewpoint you really want to get at. Shermer is brilliant with the science part, and Dawkins knows science. But every time Dawkins tries to make logical arguments he really embarrasses himself. Logic and philosophy are NOT his strong suits. By the same token Hitchens is very persuasive, using arguments that hinge on emotional response, but he’s not a scientist, either, and when he tries to be his arguments fall flat. His debate with William Lane Craig (who is, in my opinion, the foremost apologist for God in the world today that I’ve seen) was similarly embarrassing. Stick with Shermer if you want something with a little substance. I’m not familiar with Harris.

  67. The only question you have to answer is if the book of Mormon did not come by the process Joseph smith said it did. Then how did it come to be? I have a very similar history as you. And what I always come to is that the book of mormon literally stands in the path of leaving the church. There are many cultural phenomena that I don’t agree with in the church. But doctrinally the church is the most sound. Perceptions of that doctrine are often conflicting but the core principles stand unequalled by any other religion. Just my thoughts. I am a psychology student and I think about the psychological precepts of church doctrine.

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