There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life!

Jameschurch, curiosity, death, diversity, doubt, faith, LDS, liberal, Mormon 63 Comments


Every year I go back to the states to see my family and am surprised how many friends I know have left the church. I’m sure a disproportionately high amount compared to most of you. So if you’re superstitious and still want to be active in the church it’s probably not a good idea to be my friend.

Because of the above it’s been an obsession of mine the last few years wanting to know what happens to returned missionaries in their 20’s 30’s 40’s 50’s and beyond. I have a friend who works in the stats dept for the church who said I would imagine we would know activity rates of returned missionaries but don’t publish them. I did a Google search returned Mormon missionaries and why the leave and found Mormon stories @Why people leave the church and what family and friends and community can do about it’, which is another story in it self.

What I have found is not what I expected through the decades from many of my friends who now blend between agnostic and atheist. I expected from the folklore you hear in the church, i.e. that if you don’t believe in God and being judged, why would you be honest, why wouldn’t you lie a little, be immoral, have a drink, take drugs, sleep around? If there is no god or after life why worry now if you cheat on your spouse, watch X rated shows, get drunk or even sleep around  because there won’t be any consequences in this life or hereafter. Its knowing that there is a god and will be judged that keeps us in check.

What I have found is vastly different from that perceived view of what happens to people who loose their faith. They have hardly changed except they talk more freely and honestly about how they feel about life with a real refreshing candour and openness. They aren’t sleeping around and are loyal to their spouses. Some have the occasional beer but none of them have drinking problems or brushes with the law.

They aren’t so worried about seeing R rated shows but don’t have pornography problems. They seem more honest with themselves and others, Many are involved in charitable service and helping family. They seem to handle the same pressures, which we have of jobs, kids, and financial worries and seem to have the inner fortitude to work through these related pressures and problems as members of the church do. They do good works and charity from an inner desire to do what is right  and not so to speak to be chalking up points for the after life. If anything they are more present with the here and now because in some of their views  this could be all there is! They seem to be genuinely happy.

My preconceived view thirty years back of how their lives would have turned out from not taking part in the church has been spoilt.

Famous Atheist Quotes

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored” – Aldous Huxley

“An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that deed must be done instead of a prayer said.

An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death” – Justin Brown

“If anything, an atheist has to be more morally responsible precisely because we don’t blame a god for our own actions” – Ivan Ratoyevsky

“The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it” – Terry Pratchett

“Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned” – unknown

“A man is accepted into a church for what he believes and he is turned out for what he knows.” — Samuel Clemens

“The foolish reject what they see and not what they think. The wise reject what they think and not what they see” – Huang Po

I’d be curious to hear your experiences

Please discuss

Comments 63

  1. Interesting thoughts.

    I have also noticed that those who choose to leave the gospel due to these belief issues don’t necessary become promiscuous or alcoholics. They continue on just as they previously were in terms of general human behaviour.

    But some of these quotes make me cringe. Just because one has a very external, spiritual experience from a source not yet proven by physics doesn’t mean we will never question religious matters, or the experience itself. And we are seeking the truth every week in Sunday School and Priesthood/RS class, we never claim to have found it All but only maybe just the correct road to it.

    Paraphrasing Aldous Huxley: Spiritual experiences do not cease to exist because they are ignored by atheists.

  2. I left the church in my late 30s as a never- married single. I have since married. All my siblings, both parents, and extended in-laws are still LDS, and yet:

    We (the ex-Mormon atheists) are the only ones who did not have pre-marital or extra-marital sex as singles, despite having had ample opportunity and despite being single the longest of anyone in our families. This includes our temple worker parents, both sets married in the 50s.

    We have never smoked.

    We do not drink or do drugs.

    We could otherwise qualify in every way for a temple recommend except we simply don’t believe the church is true and refuse to lie for a recommend as many Mormons admittedly do.

  3. The post is spot on. I too, left the church after serving a faithful mission and you describe my experience perfectly. To hear my life articulated so faithfully by somebody else is refreshing to say the least.

  4. All my siblings, both parents, and extended in-laws are still LDS, and yet: We (the ex-Mormon atheists) are the only ones who…

    Very cool. My experience has been almost the polar opposite. I guess anecdote != data.

  5. I knew a sister, who was briefly a member, but left the Church, because she wanted to smoke – and her live-in boyfriend didn’t want to get married.

    She did come up with more sophisticated reasons after the fact, but the slide started when she started to drink and smoke again. She didn’t express any of those ideas before – and we talked a lot about how she felt as a divorcee in a ward that mostly had families. She was convinced that she’d have to look for a husband in the bars, and she found him. He just refused to marry.

    I’m just saying that *stated* reasons are not always the real reasons.

    However, I have no doubt that many of those who have left are living fulfilling lives and aren’t bitter about their experience. Faith isn’t the only thing in life for me, either.

  6. There are a lot of reasons for leaving the church–many of them are completely unrelated to sin.

    Quite bluntly, the social aspect of religion is important, or else the command to gather as Saints wouldn’t be there. We gather because of the strength that is there. Ask any psychologist (or any person with an advanced degree in psychology) and they will tell you that humans are social creatures. We CRAVE social interaction. When the church doesn’t provide that, then people will inevitably look elsewhere.

    When I look around a ward and see ANYONE who doesn’t have a close and immediate friend, I worry, because it doesn’t matter how strong they seem right now—they’ll be gone in a year or less if they don’t find a good friend. There may be about 5-8% of the population that will count as an exception, but if you were a gambling person, you’d take those odds ANY DAY!

    Sin? Bah. It’s not about sin. It’s about the social experience that sin offers. Satan just makes people think they need to sin in order to have the social experience. Which is why those that leave the church AFTER they are happily married are often not found to be great sinners, but simply finding their social fulfillment elsewhere.

    I think when most people say “if it weren’t for the church, I’d have been a big drinker, done a lot of partying, slept around, etc”, they are thinking about what their life could have been like, IF they hadn’t grown up in the church. That’s usually what I think about when I make those statements.

    But when I think about it, if I were to leave the church at this point in my life, I’d probably be more inclined to change very little about my life other than my Sunday routine, scriptures, prayers, and tithing. Everything else is already habitual and part of my character. I would probably start cooking with wine a bit more experimintally, but whatever.

    That said, I’m capable of getting my LDS social interaction via my long-standing (though distant) friends even when I’m in a ward where I don’t really fit. It’s a good thing, too, because I make friends VERY slowly.

    My wife, on the other hand, typically makes friends quickly, and has had a VERY hard time with our most recent move. Why? Because this ward is a touch heavy with the social cliques. (This is VERY BAD!) People have their groups based on how much money they have, and that’s that. If you don’t fall into that group, you are out of luck for the most part. Fortunately, there are a FEW people that are willing to step outside that mould.

    Now I’m just kvetching. Oh well.

  7. So what do we conclude? That religious observance cannot be directly correlated with religious worthiness–and, I dare say, with salvation. There is a very serious question–would it make it past correlation?–as to whether someone who honestly lives a life away from religion will fare better (in whatever sense) than someone who tries to live a religion but just isn’t feeling it.

    “For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God” (Moroni 7:8).

    You know I don’t mean evil, per se; I’m focusing on the “grudgingly” part.

    Actually, come to think of it, my post Monday ( )deals with the issue of worshiping God in a similar vein to this–whether we worship Him or our concept of Him. This may be more relevant than at first glance to the question of the value of religious observance.

    “The invisibility of God seems to us less tolerable than the questionable visibility of what we like to call ‘God’” (Karl Barth, Epistle to the Romans, p. 47). I suspect that this lies at the root of many problems in our world today, and the Church seems either unaware or unwilling to address it so directly as this.

    As one who has struggled with serious doubts and has, for the time being, had them allayed sufficiently, I am not convinced that deciding that there is no God would make me either happier or less stressed (unless it involved less Church meetings).

  8. “There is a very serious question–would it make it past correlation?”

    If that’s the standard, then many things taught by GAs would pass muster.

    There are anecdotes to support many positions, but actually very little systematic social science research. Altemeyer & Hunsberger published a couple of books that examine what they call “Amazing Conversions” of people who leave faith and adopt atheism or vice versa. In general, it appears that people don’t change fundamentally when they change their beliefs to atheism or from atheism, but we really don’t have sufficient systematic data to say one way or the other for sure. But don’t let that stop anyone from rattling off their favorite anecdotes 😉

  9. I appreciate the general tenor of this post…and I do so as a believing, active Latter-day Saint who knows something about skepticism and agnosticism (I’m a graduate student in history at a very secular university 🙂

    That said, I hear this often from those who seek to undermine the Church’s claims…if the Church can make no claim to the “moral high ground,” then what claims can it make?

    Yet as a believer, I would ask WHY these agnostics continue in lives of morality…why do they believe in morality at all? In some ways, this is an issue of semantics; what is the practical difference between my conception of God as a loving, just tutor who wants me to be like him and their conception of morality as a number of established (or even more flexible) principles? Unless one swallows relativism completely, one accepts that there is a moral good. And the lived difference between this “moral good” and my “God” is a fine one in the final estimation. Fortunately, LDS theology is liberal enough to suggest that if someone did not have a fair shot at learning the gospel (and just because you join the Church does not mean that you did…only God knows these things), even leaving the Church would not of necessity preclude them from attaining exaltation in the hereafter.

    I could conceivably see myself saying the same things as an athiest on certain issues…the difference is in our motives. As G.K. Chesterton noted, when we hear of complaints about moral depravity, I want to know whether it is said by “some great philosopher who wants to curse the gods, or only by some common clergyman who wants to help the men.” Similarly, if I hear the praising of secular humanism, I want to know if it’s by Christopher Hitchens or Thomas Merton.

  10. Russell asks why agnostics behave decently? Really? The only reason you don’t go around raping and pillaging and having overdue library books is because you think you’ll be punished in the afterlife? The only reason you do good things is because God will give you a gold star? You’re not kind, just because it’s you know, kind? Mice act all upset when a sibling is hurt. Got it, they have sympathy. Humans are moral beings because we’re herd animals, we have to get along with other humans. We’re more or less born with morals. That’s why such similarity between the basic rules in different religions, across time. Be nice to your group, be mean to those on the outside. Hopefully the modern world has, as least, increased the size of those we see as our group.

  11. If I understand your post correctly, you’re suggesting that we equate “going along with the crowd” with morality. Morality is simply self-survival…”we’re herd animals, we have to get along with other humans.”

    Well, too often we’ve found that we don’t have to get along with other humans. And you suggest that morality is “being nice to your group, be mean to those on the outside.” If morality is something we’re born with, what makes an act immoral? If I kill a peasant to take his grain, am I justified in doing so because I’m doing it for those I see as my group? After all, I’m born with it right?

    Such a definition of morality could be used to justify any action at any time to anyone–all in the name of identifying the group. You call it “the modern world.” Yet the modern world–so-called–has also produced genocide and nationalism (which by definition partitions us from each other). If we just use morality to define “how things are”–then we’re again acknowledges relativism. We could justify yesterday’s murder in the same breath as today’s good deed.

    I feel the love.

  12. I could have been much clearer. The Old Testament, to a large part is about being kind to those in your group (the 10 commandments–not to mention all those rules in Leviticus) and committing genocide to those who are not.

    Why did Bush have a 90% approval rating after the 9-11 attacks?

    I can’t type anymore, try to answer later

  13. I’m very impressed by this post, especially the open-minded willingness to consider the atheist’s perspective. It’s actually even kinder to atheists than I would be, and I’m an atheist. 😉

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  15. I think atheists and agnostics (is there really any difference), are not basically any more or less moral than religionists. They may seem more moral because most of them are well educated and thus less prone to being in the underclass that tends to have higher crime rates, but we all know educated people who are not very moral. (By moral, I mean how people treat each other, not whether someone smokes or has unconventional sex partners, etc.)

  16. Well Douglas Adams argued that there WAS a difference… a big difference… between atheists and agnostics. But to be clear he called himself “radically atheist.”

    Because atheism would imply that a person has weighed the evidence and believes actively that there is no God. It’s almost a theological system that requires just as much faith as having a religion, in my opinion.

    Agnosticism (as Talmage implies) is just anyone who claims to lack the “gnosis” or secret hidden knowledge of God… AKA, they remain in the dark, not knowing if God exists or not. This doesn’t necessarily require “faith” in a broad sense.

  17. Excellent post.

    I really confuse the members of my family who know that I am no longer active by engaging in meaningful acts of service, avoiding perverted movies, and giving freely to good charities, including the church.

    Most figured that I’d be on drugs and have a few affairs going on by now. I think about drinking every now and then, but can’t come up with any good reason to start. (besides that fact that most of my family reunions can be so easily confused with funerals)

    I love the Church and its members. I’m just not sure about a lot of things.

  18. Agnosis is just greek for “abscence of knowledge.” It doesn’t have anything to do with the Gnostics, who claimed to have secret hidden knowledge of God. I would say that anyone who doesn’t believe in God is an atheist, as opposed to being a theist. It doesn’t necessarily mean you KNOW there is no god. That would seem to be an irrational position, because how could one know such a thing? I’m not sure what Douglas Adams meant.

  19. #16 James,

    ahh???? Dude I’m not going to sit through 1:30Hrs of radio program to see what they are saying. What’s it about? The start is about dreams so are you suggestion that all my spiritual experiences are like dreams? Or that my brain induced an answer from the lord? Because when a ‘revelation’ comes one can see that light in the room and that it comes from the top downwards -and it doesn’t actually make one cry!

  20. I took a non-member girl to a church dance one time at a popular California stake center location, thinking it was pretty cool. She informed me that it was really “white bread”. Some of the returned missionaries I am aware of felt that same impression and wanted a more colorful social life. They wanted to enjoy clubbing with the mood elevation of alcohol. Others sought the opportunity to dabble in gay/bisexual social scenes. Some are genuinely happy, others didn’t fare so well, as is the case in life. I am grateful for Sandra’s comments because I’m certainly not perfect and never have been, and at least I know there are other active members out there like me still trying.

  21. Interesting post. I think you make a good point. Many people have an idea of what mormonism is “suppose” to be like and they try to mold themselves to it. If one were to live up to all the ideals set forth in “mormon culture” they would at best be a prude and at worst be suicidal. I know many mormons who are unhappy and would probably leave if they had the fortitude. My wife and I have very strong testimonies in the gospel, she teaches primary and I am in the EQ presidency. We do have a problem with main stream mormonism. We live very happy lives but are looked at by others in our ward as “rebels”. My parents constantly tell me I am “straddling the fence” and to “be careful”. I think the key is to figure out how to see past the false doctrine taught in “mormon culture” and focus on the light of the gospel. Not every one wants or tries to do this, some leave the church and it does not surprise me at all that they feel better not having to deal with the overbearing “mormon culture” expectations.

  22. Would you have me believe that those who leave the church are actually superior to those who hang in there and continue faithful? That seems to be the point of this post.

    I’ve been through the “leave the church thing”, and I am here to tell you it’s a wasteland in comparison. I’m also one the Lord has given many manifestation of the Spirit to since I came back. I can speak by experience from both venues. Being faithful to the point of receiving the Holy Ghost is far, far, far more rewarding than anything the world has to offer. I believe those who leave the church never really experienced the Holy Ghost to any depth. Those who have been baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost–being born again, becoming a son or daughter of Christ don’t leave the church.

    Look at those on the GA level. How many of them leave the church and then tell the story of how great it is since they left? If what this post is saying has any truth to it there should be many, many stories where GA’s, since the church was founded, have such a story. Certainly, 10, 20, maybe 30% of them would have done so if this were merely the works of men.

  23. Jared, there is no logic to your assertion 10% of the GA’s would have left the church if this were merely the works of men. Firstly, in the early days of the church the apostasy rate was very high, and it happened every couple of years or so. Secondly, there is no incentive for the well taken care of and eulogized GA’s to leave the church because of doubts. How often do you see a Catholic cardinal actually leave the fold because the Catholic church is not true?

  24. #25 From what I know about other churches and there GA equivalents comes from the evening news and news periodicals. It seems that when they get involved in sin, many remain in their respective churches, are moved around within the church, and the leaders try to keep it quite. In the LDS church when a GA falls into sin they are dealt with. Elder Richard Lyman, George Lee, and Paul Dunn are examples.

    Your point about being well taken care of and eulogized don’t make sense to me. Are you suggesting money is a moving reason for being a GA? If so, that won’t stand up to logic. Many of them take pay cuts to be a GA. As far as being eulogized I don’t know what to make of that. I’ll let some others comment on that.

    Being a LDS isn’t easy. The standards are high, I know of no other church which requires more of it’s members. The fact that we have had so few GA abandon the church for the world is a testimony of the power of conversion had in the church.

  25. #25 Continued

    I think your point about being taken care of and eulogized fits better with other churches than with the LDS.

    Look at the spoken testimonies of our GA’s and compare it to what is said in other churches. In recent years I recall hearing about a poll of some sorts where many leaders of churches said they didn’t believe that Christ is divine, but a great moral teacher.

    GA testify from their personal experiences with things of the Spirit. That is why they serve the Lord–not because their well taken care of and eulogized. If they were of that ilk then you would see 10, 20, 30% of them leaving or saying how they really believe.

    As far as the early years of the church goes many of those who left never denied their testimonies and many came back. It would be interesting to see a list of the GA who left, lost their testimonies and never returned. I’m sure such a list exist, but I’ve never seen it.

  26. When I saw the title of the thread, the first thought that came to
    mind was “channelling Korihor?”

    Speaking in general terms and not of specific cases, there is a scripture that talks about those who were “not valiant in the testimony of Jesus”. Not that these are evil people, they are grouped along with the honorable men of the earth who were blinded by the craftiness of men. They may very well be better off than the hypocrites who pretend to be faithful and lie about their misconduct, but that doesn’t win them the crown promised to those who overcome by faith.

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    24 Jared

    I’ve been through the “leave the church thing”, and I am here to tell you it’s a wasteland in comparison. I’m also one the Lord has given many manifestation of the Spirit to since I came back. I can speak by experience from both venues. Being faithful to the point of receiving the Holy Ghost is far, far, far more rewarding than anything the world has to offer. I believe those who leave the church never really experienced the Holy Ghost to any depth. Those who have been baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost–being born again, becoming a son or daughter of Christ don’t leave the church.

    Jared I think you are one of the fortunate ones in that you have maybe both a feeling and manifestation testimony but many don’t and many question some times after if it was the holy ghost or was it a feeling. I think you’ll enjoy this link by Jeff Burton it certainly helped be more sensitive to those who may not feel as strongly as you do. It would be good to know what you think

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    22 Rigel

    Thanks for your comments about your friends I would be interested to know what time period this sort of took place in. Was it 3 or 4 years or was it longer?

  30. It seems to me that most of the posts for or against a God are seeking some sort of justification for their behaviour/moral considerations. I don’t get why that is necassary much of what we are is formed by the society that we live in. As an englishman I cannot find it to hate or want to cause harm to a Scotsman because he isn’t english but clearly there are very many people who would be happy to kill a neighbour because they are of a different tribe or ethnic group.So the arguement that ‘I have now left the Church but have not changed’ should be an expectation of behaviour not a reason for pride in staying ‘good’. I am astonished by Russell he says that he wants to be like his loving kind God, is this the one that djinn mentioned that allows and encourages genocide, destruction, murder, hatred, land grabbing and then says that there is only evil or good,you are either for me or against me. In the Church or out of it I wouldn’t follow that creed.

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    23 PallasAthena
    My parents constantly tell me I am “straddling the fence” and to “be careful”. I think the key is to figure out how to see past the false doctrine taught in “mormon culture” and focus on the light of the gospel.

    After watching Mormon Stories Interviews BYU students and my own nieces and nephews I’m surprised how clued up those in their 20’s and 30’s are about some of the major issues of the church and yet are still active. I think you will know a lot of these issues your parents wouldn’t even dare look at. This will obviously reflect the way you live your life in the church but they wouldn’t understand that unless you talk about the issues which I am sure is probably a no go area.

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    26 Jared
    Being a LDS isn’t easy. The standards are high, I know of no other church which requires more of it’s members. The fact that we have had so few GA abandon the church for the world is a testimony of the power of conversion had in the church.

    I think this is true except for maybe the early years of the church. Is it the same as it goes farther down the ranks Stake Pres Bishop etc.

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    6 Benjamin

    We CRAVE social interaction. When the church doesn’t provide that, then people will inevitably look elsewhere.

    Benjamin that hits it perfectly!! If you have been in a ward where you click with people you end up volunteering for anything take any calling going to everything because its a blast. They could be teaching any bizarre doctrine and it doesn’t seem to matter because your happy!

  34. Returning back to the question of people leaving the church and staying moral, or more so, the bit i found interesting was James’s comments about being happy, stable and dealing with pressures of life and doing these things because they want to. It seems that this raises an interesting point that i think has resonances for me as still active. Is my morality considered or is it accepted on an authoirty basis. For thos who ahve left the church maybe they have been placed in a position where they have to consider their morality and found that it is good, and continue for that reason without official sanction and this makes them happier. I think this is a good place to be whether in or out of the church.

    But this also raises question of the purpose of religion… is it to teach moral values. Society does this well, fairly well, because of the explanations given so far. In my understanding religion is more experiential, to use a scripture to be a partaker of the divine nature. This spiritual change is in part this coming to be moral because we think it is right but also involves otehr changes that might take us away from what is socially acceptable and also most importantly into a relationship with God.

    Further, not to undermine James’ anecdotes, but I would like to know how many of these people were raised in the church and how many converted and had substantial morality changes in doing so. My point being, if a Mormon raised in the church left would their behaviour post-church be different to someone who engaged in pornography, adultery, alcohol, drugs, whatever!! I wonder if there is an increased tendency to revert back or not! I guess i am suggesting there might, but i am very open to persuasion on this because i am really not sure.

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    19 Nazenail

    I think about drinking every now and then, but can’t come up with any good reason to start. (besides that fact that most of my family reunions can be so easily confused with funerals)

    Sounds like a good excuse to start drinking 🙂 only joking!

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    36 Rico

    “if a Mormon raised in the church left would their behaviour post-church be different to someone who engaged in pornography, adultery, alcohol, drugs, whatever!! I wonder if there is an increased tendency to revert back or not! I guess i am suggesting there might.”

    I think your right its got to be major factor or odds are against someone who lived a different post church life compared to most Mormons.

  37. Hey, Gordon Banks, I would propose that agnostics/atheists appear more moral than religionists because they don’t have that artificial barrier saying that people only within their religious tradition are “on God’s side, and therefore good,” with the others “not on God’s side-less valiant, going to hell, they have let Satan influence them, so you should tiptoe around them so the bad influence doesn’t leap from them to you” -there’s a rather rich tradition of invective to choose from here. It’s been my experience that in church (type unspecified) God’s love is showered pretty much only on the believer–so, humans tend to think and act “If God doesn’t like you, I don’t have to either.” I have certainly seen this play out in my family. There is no church of atheism. I don’t think you’re going to Hell for your beliefs, whatever they are, and so have to come up with some other reason to dislike you, or not.

  38. Djinn:

    Your categorization of “religionists” is simplistic…and woefully so. Have you ever asked me if I agree with the “I’m and God’s side ergo I’m good and not going to hell” stance? Have you asked me if I think that God’s love is only shown to the believer? Maybe your family has been that way, but I would recommend you let your sample size not only be larger but more representative.

    Accuse me of being the outlier if you wish, but since you’re willing to use anecdotes, I will too. I’ve attended quite a few wards packed with outliers…most of them in Provo, UT.

  39. Christopher Hitchens is fond of claiming that most of the atrocities committed in the world are based on religious conflicts. There are some counter examples. I don’t think the holocaust was primarily religious but racial, but Hitler was wrong about there being a Jewish race. Genghis Khan also was probably not motivated by religion to commit his slaughters. But it does seem that religious people are more susceptible to the kind of fanaticism that leads to mass slaughters. We certainly see it today, don’t we? Also, recall Mountain Meadows, the worst religious slaughter in the USA until 9-11. Someone said it takes religion to turn good people into murderers. I think there is truth in that. If you think God wants you to kill, that can override your conscience that tells you not to do such a thing. I don’t think the suicide bombers are basically evil people. If you knew them, they probably are as likely not someone who tries to follow the commandments, and tries to treat others of their society well. But when they swallow the wrong doctrines and think they are doing god’s will, they can do all manner of horrible things. It would be hard to imagine an atheist doing anything like that.

  40. Gordon:

    Your post places an undue influence on religion as a motivating factor. You’re giving it FAR too much credit.

    One can make precisely the same argument for the executioners of Hitler’s holocaust (see the epic Christopher Browning-Daniel Goldhagen debate on this), on the collectivization atrocities in Stalin’s Russia (see Lynn Viola’s work), and on the Guatemalan massacres after the 1954 coup. The Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap forward, the Purges and the Gulag…all completely secular. Atrocities generally require ordinary people, and religion is only one of many rationales.

    One might as easily say “when they swallow the wrong ideology and think you’re doing ‘the people’s’ will, they can do all manner of horrible things.” And yes, I can point out stacks and stacks of books are secular people carrying out atrocities worse than any Crusader.

  41. #24 Jared-

    “The standards are high, I know of no other church which requires more of it’s members.”

    I used to have the same opinion. That was one of the things that comforted my testimony of the church as a youth. My family and other members of the church seemed so devout and extreme in their beliefs compared to other Christians that it really seemed that it must be true for them to act that way. Back in High School I used to have a sort of unspoken competition with my Jewish and JW friends on who could be more radical in their doctrine or daily lives. It seemed like the right thing to do if you were to be a peculiar people or an example to the “gentiles” .

    It wasn’t until much later that I realized that our Church really asks very little compared to some others. Most eye opening was my time with middle easterners and people from India.

  42. Congrats on knowing church-goers that don’t listen to all that “we’re the chosen people,” with the implied “you’re not,” “Satan’s influence is pervasive, alluring, and easy to miss” with the implied –see, her over there, she’s got more than two earrings, AVOID!!!! I know some of them too. But ……..

  43. # 30 James said: Jared I think you are one of the fortunate ones in that you have maybe both a feeling and manifestation testimony but many don’t and many question some times after if it was the holy ghost or was it a feeling. I think you’ll enjoy this link by Jeff Burton it certainly helped be more sensitive to those who may not feel as strongly as you do. It would be good to know what you think.

    I read, “Easy Come, Easy Go…”. I found it informative. Thanks for pointing this out to me and others reading this post. I found it to be a thoughtful analysis and at the same time sought to increase faith.

    You said I am one of the fortunate ones by having both a feeling and manifestation testimony. I don’t understand all the whys and wherefores of the various testimonies had among members. It seems to me that the scriptures point out several reasons Alma 37:46, Alma 13:3-5). In our day, I feel it has to do with the “prosperity” of the times we live in. It is easy to forget God when we have so many resources to rely on other than God. For example, when we get sick we have all kinds of experts available and as a result we “forget” God (Helaman 12:2). My most profound Spiritual experiences have come in a crisis–I couldn’t rely on anyone else so I directed my whole soul to the Lord relying on Him completely.

    I have leaned if we want to know God we need to diligently seek to fulfill our baptism covenant and receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost–to be born again. There is the baptism of water and the Spirit to have a complete baptism. I wonder how many members in our day have received a complete baptism. In my opinion, the problem with anemic testimonies comes from lack of diligence in doing those things the Lord has told us to do (2 Nephi 31). Many members serve in the Lord’s church, but somehow neglect drawing near to the Lord.

    I’ll close with a quote from Dieter F. Uchtdorf on this subject:

    The Church, with all its organizational structure and programs, offers many important activities for its members aimed at helping families and individuals to serve God and each other. Sometimes, however, it can appear that these programs and activities are closer to the center of our heart and soul than the core doctrines and principles of the gospel. Procedures, programs, policies, and patterns of organization are helpful for our spiritual progress here on earth, but let’s not forget that they are subject to change.
    In contrast, the core of the gospel—the doctrine and the principles—will never change. Living according to the basic gospel principles will bring power, strength, and spiritual self-reliance into the lives of all Latter-day Saints….
    May I add a word of caution to those of us who live in large wards and stakes. We have to be careful that the center of our testimony is not located in the social dimension of the Church community or the wonderful activities, programs, and organizations of our wards and stakes. All of these things are important and valuable to have—but they are not enough. Even friendship is not enough. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Christlike Attributes—the Wind beneath Our Wings,” Ensign, Nov. 2005, 100

  44. Hmmmm…religion is the motivation behind most atrocities? If we go by number of dead, I would disagree.

    Political motivation:
    Pol Pot 1.7 million
    Lenin 6-8 million
    Stalin 30 million
    Mao 40 million
    Chang Kai-shek 10 million

    Wars motivated by peace (the irony is stunning):
    WWI 15 million
    WWII 55 million
    Viet Nam 1.7 million
    Korean War 2.9 million
    Iraq wars 2.5 million

    Atrocities motivated Race (well, sort of):
    Hitler 6 million
    Armenia 1.5 million
    Rwanda/Burundi 1.3 million

    This is just in the 20th Century. And I’m only counting the big ones (1 million or more), leaving out Indonesia, Philippines, central America, Tibet, all the tribal and civil wars in Africa, the Middle East, Mexico, etc etc ad infinitum.

    Nope, religion is just the scapegoat du jour for the horrors of this world. But the fact is man(kind) does a pretty good job of being horrific all on his own. Determining motivation almost seems an afterthought. It kind of calls into question man’s innate morality.

  45. In response to these numbers i think it should be remembered that many of these are fairly recent and have the ‘unfortunate advantage’ of having modern technology to back up their aims. If the crusades occured today, can we really be sure they would not have had similar type numbers.

    Moreover, numbers in this range are past comprehension for me, as are the ones that occurred during the religious wars. But citing numbers neglects the idea that all of the above are atrocities and have multiple motivations, i agree that religion cannot be so broadly blamed but i am sure i think counting up who’s responsible for the most vicious events is not helping either side deal with the tragic possibilities inherent in any ‘utopian’ vision that can become fanatical. I am sure that prairie chuck was not intending this to be the case but it is worth mentioning because this type of response from both sides is common.

  46. It’s not numbers that are significant to me…one death is too many when done in the name of the people…

    The Rwandan genocide (just to quibble) was fairly unimpressive in terms of its technology but horrific in its outcomes.

    At any rate, it’s simply polemical–even absurdly so–to say that religious motivations should have any kind of special place in our condemnation above secular ideology. “The people” have been used as much or more often that “God” as a rallying cry for atrocity.

  47. “And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
    “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” — Mark 2: 16-17

    “And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
    “And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
    “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
    “And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
    “And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
    “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” – Luke 15:2-7

    It is should not be surprising to find we publicans and sinners within the Church– or any church– while the ninety and nine who obey God’s commandments naturally and implicitly, have no interest in church-going, or even consider themselves atheistic or agnostic. They don’t need religion. Those outside religious communities are so humble, they probably don’t even think of themselves as righteous– only “moral”.

    Ss for myself, weakling and sinner that I am, the only way I can live my life is Ecclesiastes 12:13 — “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

  48. I’m taking this train late but I am teaming up with Jared here. James, you said several times, through several of these posts, that guys likle me or Jared are some of these guys who have had ,the, spiritual experience who keeps us going.
    My experience of people who left the Church is vast. And I can identify 3 main reasons for their choice:
    1/ Tried to live by the standards of the Gospel and Church but found it too hard and not rewarding enough
    2/ Not rewarding enough because lack of involvement in chore activity of the Church: establishing a solid relationship with God through the Holy Ghost who is found in humble obedience to the basics
    3/ Pride: just cannot accept to be one of the sheep and want to stand out by being different, which never leads to being more ‘of’ the flock.

    When people leave the Church, they tend to fall into these categories:
    1/ Hostile, bitter and very much against God or the Church (sometimes manic, obsessive or weird behaviours are displayed like engagements in ‘obscur activities’
    2/ Are comfortable with their choice and get more involved in community service as a substitute to Gospel-action living (working with charity organisations and baking cakes for the neighbours is good, done on your terms and no pressure, but hardly follows the straight and narrow path set through the mysterious and powerful path of the Priesthood)

    None of them come back, as Jared pointed out, to say how much more meaningful their Spirit of God-unenlighted life is compared to when they felt the Spirit or to lives of people who say they feel the Spirit regularly. We can’t compare the two, as this is highly subjective, but I can be the lab rat here. Give me a day when I don’t feel the Spirit because I am too busy doing un-uplifting stuff, and a day where I feel his power and blessings: the day without is tasteless, frustrating and forgetable.

    It is said in the scriptures that to some it is given to believe in God/Christ, to others it is given to believe in their words. So there are some people in the Church who have a gift of powerful relationship with the Spirit. I don’t understand the gift-distribution process, but what I know is this: if Moroni promises that each one of us can know with certitude that “these things are true”, then I am reinforced in my belief that those who quit the Church or stay in it (as NOMs or wingers)fail to walk the way that will lead them individually to the materialisation of that promise.
    I may be talking of the P word here, the one flying over all the scriptures and causing the fall of nations.

    A last point: it is not the fear of God who keeps the ‘converted’ in check. A good man is not a guy who is afraid. It is a man who has tasted of the fruit, because he has humbled himself and has followed. He has listened, searched and he has found. What he found is there for all to find. I don’t take the sacrament because of fear, nor go to the Temple because of it. No! There are foods there that take the sheep in patures greener that any other. I’m still waiting for a guy mto come back to me and say: you know, X, since I left the Church, I have been grazing in these greener pastures.
    By the way, you can be an active member and still bake cakes for Mrs Smith or take a holiday to Guatemala with your family to spend 3 weeks helping the poor.

  49. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness, not prop.8 edition | Main Street Plaza

  50. Mr X, you leave out of your reasons for leaving the most common that I have found: People discover that Mormonism, like so many other earthly organizations, is founded by men for the purpose of controlling the actions, thoughts, and resources of other men. It adopts a mystical spiritualism that is used to authorize its own validity. These people who leave find an alternate form of spirituality which is defined by a connectedness to other humans and the nature in which they live. Then, when confronted with spending time and resources on the dead or the living they choose the later.

    Of course such a reason cannot be accepted amongst believing members because it is premised on the idea that there is nothing of divine origin in the Mormon Church. This alternate form of spirituality cannot be tolerated as equal to ‘Mormon’ spirituality and therefore these people must be either prideful or lazy.

    I have no reason to believe that the spiritual experiences these people have are any less fulfilling and reinforcing then those that you have had. To label them as prideful or lazy is simple ignorance.

  51. Of course, James, I am not immune to ignorance. And thanks for the blog: it stands as a learning opportunity. But after re-reading my article, I find a fair, as opposed to cheaply critical, account of my feelings.
    I am not immune either to pride, nor lazyness of thinking. But this is not from me only.
    I have studied the Book of Mormon, like your average man. When I read of pride so many times over the course of my church life, I wanted to really understand what it means. It is thrown at us so often, I thought surely the nice men whom we call the prophets of the B of M are not attempting to offend our engagement by bashing at us with this word. Then what do we do? We make a deliberate effort to understand. And what do we gather from this? An understanding that the reason Christ invites us to become like little children, is because we are not. We are, considering our carnal nature, more keen on gratifying this more sombre part of our complex entity than completely submitting ourselves to this invitation.
    But now, I fail to see the link between leaving the Church and engaging engage in more meaningful activities. It assumes that your typical Mormon is a twat who blindly follows a set of orders and stupidly, with a smile, hands the tithing cheque every month, knowing for sure that God will inspire the guy who cashes it to maximise its good use. Perhaps there are some guys who go through the motions without doing much thinking. But here is a point. When people are ill or suffer from some afflicting condition, they are automatically granted compassion and our warmest feelings. It is a natural attitude. But to those who appear to be healthy, no such feelings are dispensed. Spiritually, it is the same thing. We tend to lend our generous charity to the faltering one mainly. I remember U2 dedicating one of their concerts on their US tour to the healthy rich white young men, because nobody has compassion for those. So we shouldn’t regard the ‘on-going’ members with contempt and lack of compassion. They too have many questions about the Church, but decide to walk the enrichiing path of faith based on their uplifting relationship with the Spirit.
    As to people who leave the Church, no doubt the motives should be mocked by those who remain active. But based on feelings on which it is difficult to expand, I completely believe that many look for excuses for not being able to invest themselves completely in the service of God THROUGH THE CHURCH PROGRAMMES. Of course one can do more work ‘for the living’ once out of the Church because he saves time on meetings, Temple attendance, family history work, etc. But who is going to do the work for the dead if not those who are active in the church? I believe we need opportunities to serve for each person. To some, carritative associations and Salvation army et al are the way for them to serve. Memebers of the Church have a duty towards the living (Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching, service projects, all the callings and groups as YM/YW) and the dead (Temple work). We all have only 24 hours on our clocks, and there is only so much we can do. Moreover, to a Mormon with a testimony, a dead person is mnot dead at all and there are numerous accounts of members having a contact with an ancestor who showed him/herself unto this person.
    The Church will only look man-made to those having no roots in the gospel. It is not new, it has always been. Not later than today, I have seen the very narrow minded side of my Bishop, which offended me as it was a pretty much personal comment made to 40 people. So be it: he still has the keys and inspiration for the essential stuff.
    The apostasy of many individuals is now backed up by the thinking of academics. It strengthens many in their position. But why so many people who leave the church become hostil to it? Is it just my narrow minded opinion that the Devil sees them as good little helpers and influence them for his dark purposes, or is it that there is this very frustration to have the path before one’s eyes and refusing to commit and invest in the humble and spiritually rewarding exercise of enduring discipleship?

  52. I think there is an innate morality in humans, but it doesn’t stop atrocities done against people who are demonized or dehumanized or targeted by ideology. The innate morality applies to those of your own family or tribe. (And about 10% of people seem to be psychopaths, who have no innate morality with regard to anyone else, even their own family.) In order to get “good” people to commit atrocities they have to become convinced of the evilness of the targeted group. It can be religion, racism, or pseudo-religions, like Marxism or Maoism, but the essence is becoming a true believer. Psychopaths such as Stalin can make use of ideology in order to get people to carry out their atrocities, even if they themselves are not true believers. Skeptics are unlikely to become fanatics.

  53. Gordon:

    Yes, skeptics are unlikely to become fanatics…an admitted benefit. But is skepticism the highest form of human existence, to just not believe anything? Nothing is eternal, lasting, enduring? Makes for good survival, but I know skeptics…and few of them have struck me as particularly happy people. You second-guess history, you second-guess everybody you know…if you used the historical methods most use in reading a monography in analyzing your friends, you probably wouldn’t have very many friends.

    And I really am not inclined to call Marxism a pseudo-religion given Marx’s vitriol towards religion…yes, we can acknowledge that Marx was just fighting for the true believers and was therefore fighting over the same turf, but I fear lest we do undue violence to Marx…alas, I quibble…

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  55. Post

    58 Thanks jkoorts – very Though provoking 🙂

    Stumbled across this today

    “History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose. ” – Thomas Jefferson to Baron von Humboldt, 1813

    “The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.”

    “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” –Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782.

    “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.” –Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

    “Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.”

    “I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.”

    “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.”

    “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

    – Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President, author, scientist, architect, educator, and diplomat

  56. I agree with jkoorts. Less fire and brimstone and anger and cruelty, and more apathy.

    “It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God. ” ~Denis Diderot

    I think this is true for many theists as well as atheists. It really doesn’t matter if there is a God or not, because they aren’t acting out of belief in god or not. They are doing what they want to do, and what they feel would be most improving to themselves, others, the environment, etc.,

    I mean, consider people who claim to believe, but who do not seem too concerned about repentance and changing their actions. I think this is really indicative of the idea that these people at least do not *really* care about the fundamental theist proposition. It’s not that vital in their life, because if it were, it would motivate them to act differently.

    So for me, recognizing that I don’t believe in the spiritual claims of the church didn’t lead to that much of a change in my behavior, because my behavior was never based on trying to please God or follow God’s commandments or reach exaltation. It was my culture and my upbringing, it was how my personality formed. It was years of habits. Even now I must determine what aspects I will keep and what I will drop — I scrutinize aspects of this culture to make sure if it still makes sense, but it’s not the case that as soon as I said, “I don’t believe” that the next week I was out having wild bacchanalias. that’s not how it works.

  57. Prof. Rudolph Rummel makes much this point in his work, “Death by Government.” The non-religious have been exceedingly busy murderers, at least in comparison to the religious. It was more dangerous to live in France during the French Revolution (liberty, equality, fraternity, remember) than in Spain during the Inquisition, for example. Not that body counts prove everything, but they do suggest that some humility is due all around. Human beings are not innately virtuous. Every child has to be socialized.

    Religion has the benefit of explaining what is otherwise absurd – meaning in life, the significance of the individual, and such fictions as the equality of all human kind. Without a greater good, genocides are neither more nor less tragic than a morning gargle with mouthwash.

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