Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Little Study Will Lead You Out of the Church; A Lot of Study Will Bring You Back, Or "Don't Study Church History Too Little"

Edit January 31, 2014. As you can read here, I have decided in general to stop responding to those who do not believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here on my blog. I believe in the church very strongly, and I find it too tiring to engage with those naysayers, (and looking over my blog find it a little embarrassing I've spent so much time trying to engage with them) so I'm going to stop. I'm not disavowing what I've done or said, or even my path these past few years, but I feel I'm being drawn by the Lord out of the specter of internet arguments about Mormonism. So, just keep in mind that what you see here may no longer reflect my engagement with naysayers against the church.

[This one got long, since it morphed into both a commentary on current changes to lds.org and a post I've been collecting links for since like September. Sorry. I think it's well worth the read, though, for believers, doubters, those considering leaving the church, or those who have left the church! If I get too ranty or offensive, such was not my intention, and I apologize. Whoever you are, you are my brother or sister, and I claim you as such with no reservations. That doesn't mean we'll always agree, of course.]

Confession time. In private, I'm not generally very pleasant when people decide to leave the church. Oh, this isn't in public, and it's not in the open, and it's certainly not to their face. But at home, or in the privacy of my car, or in the shower, or in my mind's eye (like this Onion piece), I usually have very loud arguments with their stated reasons for leaving. Because, with few exceptions I can't think of any reason to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that makes any kind of sense to me. (The legitimate ones I can think of would mostly involve abuse by a church leader, but to be clear I also don't think my paradigm is the catch-all best one for everybody, even if I have only my own firsthand experience to draw upon. I am not the ultimate barometer of truth.) To be a believer in the church, as I am, and to see people leave it is deeply disheartening and saddening. I join with President Uchtdorf when he says "In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, we respect those who honestly search for truth . . . It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found."

So I yell at people. When I'm alone. It's more a way of achieving catharsis for myself than how I actually feel, but I find that ranting is good for my soul on occasion, since I don't have ready access to a punching bag. Maybe I should go running more. Anywho . . .

In my limited, personal experience, the reason a lot of people leave the church is as follows, or at least their story follows a kind of general pattern reproduced here (I'm not claiming to speak for anybody in particular, just noting the general pattern that I've seen, so if you're reading this and you don't fit the pattern exactly don't freak out on me):

1. They are born into the church/are converted.

2. They live many wonderful blissful years enjoying the fellowship of the Latter-day Saints.

3. They go through the correlated curriculum, probably several times depending on the length of time this stage takes.

4. They fulfill callings. Bishops. Relief Society Presidents. EQ Presidents. Gospel Doctrine teachers. Full-time missionaries. One Area Authority 70. Etc.

5. At some point they discover that some of the things they have been taught over and over in the church are not entirely accurate, or at least represent a very much watered-down version of church history. This usually happens nowadays because of the internet.

6. They frantically do some more research, trying to disprove these new "facts." They can find very little official information from the church on these various issues. (This is because the correlated materials are prepared for a general worldwide audience, and while I think the correlated materials have been wonderful in many ways for the far far majority of the church members, for people going through this general process, the general topics for a general audience approach isn't as helpful.)

7. Because these new facts are, in fact, true, their minds are completely blown.

8. If they try to talk to someone about these new facts, those facts are typically labeled "anti-Mormon" and the concerns of these people are dismissed. Their personal worthiness might be brought into question. They are told to read, pray, and study more.

9. Because, again, these new facts are actually true, none of step 8 actually addresses any of the root problem, and further serves to drive them to silence and to drive their newfound doubts underground, where they fester.

10. Because they now know all these facts, church becomes a substantially less fulfilling place to be. In fact, it seems so watered down and false that they begin to think "the church has lied to me about this. In fact, the church is lying to me, and everybody else, right now!"

11. After some time, the person decides that their personal code of ethics demands that they adhere to reality more than adhere to the church as they once saw it. So they leave.

My friend Seth wrote a paper analyzing "Ex-Mormon Narratives," and in it he actually crunches some data on all of these elements or stages in a non-statistically valid kind of way. Still, it's worth a quick gander.

And he and I aren't the only ones who have noticed this general pattern. (I don't agree with everything in this hour-long presentation, but it's the first 15 or so minutes I'm really interested in here that I do generally agree with.) 

This whole narrative frustrates me for two major reasons.

The first reason is that this narrative was not my experience at all. I hit step 5 on my mission. By the time I had gone on my mission I had already read the approved mission library in preparation. At the time the approved books were A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Jesus the Christ, The Articles of Faith, Our Search for Happiness, Truth Restored, and the Gospel Principles manual. Since that was all we were allowed to read on our missions, I read all of those books, cover to cover, twice, in the first eight months of my time in New York. Since that I had now read each book three times in the past year and a half or so, I was quite ready to move on and read something else. I remember that conversation with my mission president. Basically, I told President Stoker that I was just not going to obey the rule about only reading approved books, though I would still be reading religious books in general. Given that I had just read all the approved books, cover to cover, again, twice, and had memorized the discussions four months ahead of schedule, he was generous enough to be okay with my adjusting the rules to fit my situation. I don't recall all the other books I read on my mission, but I do remember several of them. I'd like to talk about two in particular.

First, I read Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman. It was my first introduction to real, bona fide, biblical scholarship, and it was like a river of pure intellectual water flowing into the parched riverbed of my mind that I didn't even know existed. So wonderful to really see someone dive into the text in a way that was light-years beyond the superficial readings I'd encountered previously. I still have my copy of that book, and still believe the documentary hypothesis is largely correct. (The Old Testament is still inspired scripture. You can believe both the documentary hypothesis and the idea that the scripture is still the inspired word of God, if "translated correctly," as our 8th article of faith says.)

Second, in my last area I found Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism by Richard Bushman in my local church's library. This was the first time I learned that some of the anti-Mormon things that I had heard about Joseph Smith being a treasure seeker and some kind of clairvoyant local mystic person thingy were actually true. But, you see, because the "new" information I had discovered was not framed in a way that basically said "see what dirty liars the church correlation committee members are!" or "Joseph was clearly a fraud because he did all this stuff before he claims he met Moroni" I didn't leave the church. Richard's approach was to place Joseph in his historical context, where magic was indeed part of the culture, and then discuss what that would have meant. His conclusion that Joseph was a fish out of water on all sides, those who believed in magic aghast that he was using it for quasi-Christian reasons, and the local Christian clergy aghast that he was using it at all, resonated with me, and helped me come to know Joseph better both as a person and as a prophet. It also helped me by contextualizing the translation of the Book of Mormon. Basically, Joseph hadn't done anything like that at all previously with his seerstone and other gifts, and then he spits out a 500+ page book in a single draft. Orally. Without notes.

Basically I never needed to get to stage 6. I didn't need to frantically do some more research to disprove these "new" facts. I discovered them through good scholarship, by a man who was still a believing member of the church, who helped me find a way to put the following two sets of facts together:

First, that the church is true. Joseph was a prophet. Book of Mormon is true. Etc. These important things I had already learned spiritually.

Second, [insert random "difficult" or "new" facts here.]

I've learned that I have to have to adjust my paradigm. The biggest part of the paradigm shift is the idea that prophets and apostles aren't infallible, and not everything they say is official church doctrine. This was mentioned in just the last October 2013 general conference by President Uchtdorf, as well as Elder Anderson in October 2012, and Elder Christofferson in April 2012. So I have recent apostolic quotes to back me up on this, several times over. 

This most major part of the paradigm shift boils down to this-we have an overdeveloped sense of what it means to be a prophet or apostle. 

In short, my path differs from the above one by following this (general) pattern, starting with a new step 5 because 1-4 were the same for me:

5. At some point I discover some new thing that demonstrates that what I have been taught over and over in the church is not entirely accurate, or at least represents a very much watered-down version of church history. For me this usually comes from reading the Journal of Mormon History or something like that.

6. Because of my new paradigm I can usually find some way to adjust my thinking to both account for my testimony and the new data.

7. I continue my membership in the church, and continue reading good scholarship about the church.

Repeat steps 5-7 as necessary. There are currently three issues that I have not yet found a way to deal with to my satisfaction, but I'm not willing to junk the entire project of being a Mormon because of three (as of yet) unanswered questions. I'm a patient man. So the above narrative frustrates me because I wish my experience was what everybody else's experience was like.

The second reason the narrative frustrates me, is that it relies on, in my opinion, a superficial reading of the historical data.

There is a saying from Francis Bacon. "A little philosophy inclineth a man's mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religon." With apologies to Bacon, I'd like to rephrase that just a bit. "A little bit of church history inclineth a man's mind to disbelief; but depth in church history bringeth men's minds about to belief." Hence the title of this post.

It should come as no surprise that "those who know the most about Mormon history do not simply and inevitably join the ranks of disbelievers and Mormon-haters. It is quite possible, apparently, to know a great deal about Mormon history and still be a practicing, believing Latter-day Saint."

For a people commanded to study out of the best books (D&C 88:118), I bet we do a terrible job of actually reading any books at all. This is because we're largely American, and Americans are absolutely lousy at reading books of any variety. 

The commandment to study, and to study church history in particular, and to study it deeply, has recently been reiterated by Elder Christofferson in a BYU-I forum. There he said, quoting Assistant Church Historian Rick Turley, "don't study history too little." 

When I find that somebody has decided that, say, the dearth of archaeological evidence proves the Book of Mormon is not historical, I almost roll my eyes. High Nibley nipped that one in the bud back in his appendix to An Approach to the Book of Mormon, which was published back in 1957. Or his Since Cumorah, published about 10 years later, that I talk about here. Actual Mormon scholars actually responding to what the book actually says and actually taking it seriously without preconceived notions have actually not thought about finding massive stone buildings from the Book of Mormon lands since, like, ever. This kind of argument applies to almost every other major criticism of the Book of Mormon. 

So despite the fact that we have nice pictures like this in our minds, the book itself makes no such claims. (And I don't think that anybody in the history of ever actually built stone city walls that high or that thick.) 

We have to deal with what the text itself actually says, not what we think the text says. Sadly, I feel that looking at the text critically is not something Mormons are very good at. (The fact that the hemispheric model is still considered viable by anybody who's actually read the Book of Mormon boggles my mind.) So we don't even get the book itself right, let alone even attempting to do any reading of the secondary literature. (The fact that former Area 70 Hans Mattson didn't know that Joseph was a polygamist represents a total failure on his part to have read D&C 132 and its accompanying explanation carefully at all. The other issues he stopped believing in the church because of them? I am much more sympathetic towards him on those issue, especially since he is not American, and isn't, I don't think, a native English speaker. Those other issues were harder to find in official church publications than they ought to have been. Polygamy was not.) 

Then what we basically have is this. 

Because if you do actually go read the secondary literature, then the situation that you've likely been presented in your overly basic church classes is shown to be clearly wrong. Conversely, if you do actually go read the secondary literature, then the situation that you've likely been presented by the overly basic sources you find on the internet is also shown to be clearly wrong. Just about every question that causes people to leave the church is complicated if you actually get into it. I'm not quite with Terryl Givens when he says that the evidence has to be weighted evenly for us to make a moral choice, since I think the evidence is much more favorable to Mormonism than not, but to think that there's no evidence against the church is silly. To think that there's no evidence for the church is also silly. 

As Exhibit A that a little bit of learning will lead you out of the church, and a lot will lead you back in, I give you my friend Don Bradley. This Salt Lake Tribune article does a good job of detailing his leaving the church in 2005 for historical reasons, and then coming back in 2011 because he found those reasons inadequate upon further reflection. He came back while doing the research for Brian Hales' 3 volume opus on Joseph Smith's polygamy and polyandry, which I have not yet read. If polygamy/polyandry isn't the most complicated issue in church history (I think it is, though it's not one of my 3 questions I don't yet have figured out), then it's at least in everybody's top 5. Yet this researcher, who has literally gone through every piece of documentary evidence on that subject, has recently returned to the fold as a full-fledged temple-recommend holding member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even being employed by the Church Historian's Office! 

In short, if you're going to leave the church, at least take the time to do a proper lit review before you do so. That involves reading books. All the way through. And scholarly articles. Lots of them. From a variety of sources and journals. Peer-reviewed stuff is best. I bet if you did a proper lit review, you'd actually be less likely to leave. And if other problems crop up later, you'll have some good tools to deal with them. That's what happened to me. I agree with Elder Snow when he says "Because in my view, the more you study, the more your faith will grow and develop."

Things are getting better, however, in several ways. While it may have been true several years ago that it was difficult to find official church statements on the "difficult" issues (though various articles or comments did exist, just too hard to find in my opinion), that is rapidly becoming untrue. Everybody was in a hubbub last week about the church's new statement on race, but I think they all missed the bigger things coming from lds.org. The statement on race is merely a symptom, not the underlying cause. What's the underlying cause? Well, watch these new videos from the Gospel Topics page on lds.org.

And finally, the one I liked the most, from Elder Snow, the Church Historian, which I'll post in it's embedded glory for you all. This is fantastic! 

A few conclusions we can draw here. 

1. Since there's a general authority in charge of lds.org, these aren't just random changes by some guy in the server room. 
2. This revamp has been in the works for several years. 
3. They're moving away from "everybody has the same lesson worldwide" to something like "adapt the core principles for the saints in your particular congregations." (Can I get an AMEN!!)
4. We are to seek learning by study and by faith. Since this is in D&C 88:118, this is nothing new. God "gave us brains for a reason," says Elder Pieper. Who knew, right? 
5. These new statements have been approved by the presiding brethren of the church, but are primarily written by scholars. 

I'm going to take a guess on what some of the other issues that will eventually be addressed are. I bet I get at least four or five of these right. I'll check back in later to see if I was. 

Book of Abraham and Egyptology. Edit 7/8/14: Yup.
Pre-Utah Polygamy. 
Book of Mormon Archaeology. 
DNA and the Book of Mormon. Edit 1/31/14: Yup. 
Book of Mormon Translation Methods. Edit 12/30/13: Yup. 
Masonry and the Temple. 
Joseph Smith's History of Treasure Digging. 

Why would I pick those? Look at page 9 here.

The church is noticing that many people are leaving over these issues. The topics these new statements are addressing can't possibly be coincidentally the same ones that typically drive people out of the church. This is refreshing for me, because I've been in the trenches in this fight since I started my MA at Yale. I've watched more friends than I care to count leave over a superficial reading of the data, so I've tried my darndest to make sure that superficial readings aren't given when I'm teaching. I get a lot of push back on this in the church, which is also frustrating because if not me in my congregations, who? If not in Sunday School or Seminary/Institute, when? It seemed for years the only person actually addressing these issues to help people in their faith crises was John Dehlin, and having him on my side is a pyrrhic victory at best, because he does way more damage than good. His devotees are even worse. (Edit 6/11/14: The Church has decided to initiate excommunication proceedings against him, so, yeah, I called this. Having him on my side isn't even a pyrrhic victory anymore.) FAIR has more recently been coming around to this idea of helping people through their faith crises. Also, recently Terryl and Fiona Givens, along with Richard Bushman, have begun to give firesides to help address these issues. But I still felt like a lone voice in the wilderness for much of the past 9 or so years, because none of these resources were official, or from the church.

But now the church has our back, officially, in trying to present the more complicated, meaty, and non-watered-down version of church history. If we can present the more complicated, meaty, and non-watered-down version of church history, people are less likely to leave. Inoculation works. It's much easier to get to people before, or at least at the beginnings of their faith crisis. Once they've left, it's much more difficult to get them to come back. But, as Don's story indicates, it's still very possible. Never give up hope on anybody.

And now that it's no longer true that "the church lied" (which was never totally true to begin with) we have to deal with the actual issues, without the emotional entanglements that come from the shock of finding these out and having nowhere officially church approved to turn. Those emotional entanglements are very real, and I fault nobody for having them. 

In fact, if you look back at stages 5-10 above, those trapped in that cycle are trapped there precisely because there was no good, readily-accessible information on these issues from official church sources. This feels like betrayal. One thing I did not put above, but I am convinced happens, is that Lucifer is also very much at work during stages 5-10. It is a completely natural emotional response to go "what on earth is all this stuff I've never heard of?!" If there's nothing to be found in the official curriculum or on lds.org then the feelings of betrayal set in. And I have a testimony of the very real power that Satan has in taking a natural, normal, understandable reaction like those feelings are, and twisting that reaction and enhancing it and staining it for his own nefarious purposes. The emotions these issues generate are intense. Enhanced for evil, they are more powerful than one would otherwise expect. I speak here from personal experience. One little teeny tiny fact out of place in my understanding of the church? "OMGWTFBBQ IS GOING ON HERE?!?" And then, after a few deep breaths . . . "Sheesh. Where did that reaction come from?" So I'm not kidding when I say I have a testimony of Satan. 

What's my point, I guess? What's the TL;DR here? 

The church is true. You should stay in it. 

Church history is much messier than you were taught in primary. That doesn't mean God isn't directing the work, though through and with us slow, dim-witted, sinful humans.  

There is much good scholarship that enhances faith. You should seek that out and read it. (I'm always happy to offer suggestions, and lds.org is posting some of this good scholarship in its footnotes.) 

Superficial readings of complicated issues in church history are silly. There are intelligent, well-meaning people who know everything about church history on both sides of the belief spectrum. 

If someone is having doubts, let them work through that and don't write them off. Ever. They might be on their own personal road to Damascus, and don't you dare try to guess what God's timing is for them. 

Despite my claim of "yelling" at people, that really is more how I achieve catharsis about the situation than how I actually feel about those people. Ask my friends or relatives who have left the church; I'm still nice. (At least, I really try to be.) One friend said that I'm the only apologist he would go golfing with. I'm sure we would have a good time, and he would have a great time because I've never been golfing, so he'd probably wipe the floor with me. If more people were nice to those that were having doubts, like the opening story from this blog post, I think we'd all be better off. 

So be nice, be patient, and be kind to everybody regardless of where they are on the faith spectrum. 

And be thorough in your gospel studies. Very very thorough. Church history, when looked at in aggregate, with no false expectations, indicates that the church is true. Often messy and human, sure, and very occasionally uninspired, but still true. 

P.S. For those of you who think I have oodles of time to read Mormon scholarship because of my chosen profession, that is not true. I've written one paper on Mormonism through both my graduate programs, and Yale Div and CUA theology programs aren't that interested in Mormon theology. All my reading of the secondary literature on Mormonism? That's been on my own time, for my own enlightenment. 


Julie Uppendahl said...


I actually liked this post. Thanks for posting this. Some of the issues you talk about are just not issues for me, therefore, I don't usually read them. But, they are issues for others. The reason I liked this post is because you are telling people to be wise and to study more. We can't possibly understand any of the controversial issues because we aren't [insert name of first-person witness such as Joseph Smith] so we just don't perfectly know what, why, or how something happened. Isn't that every historian's problem? Maybe that's why we have to have longsuffering and patience. We need patience for our limited understanding. No matter how brilliant we think we are, we can't match God. Also, I wonder if most of this stuff will seem trivial after this life. This life on Earth is, luckily, small compared to the hug vastness of our existence. Therefore, the injustice we ALL experience on the Earth will not matter, just like old arguments with friends in elementary school don't matter anymore.

Jeff said...

Excellent post. I have thought many of the same thoughts. I try to study scholarly works, but you're clearly way ahead of me on that front.

Mark N. said...

You are telling me that if I no longer believe in Mormon Doctrine, it is because I have not read enough Mormon Doctrine? Can you please go ahead and roll your eyes and just tell me how science, archeology, and history do not disprove the claims of the Book of Mormon? Let's start with DNA evidence revealing that Native Americans are not of Hebrew ancestry.

Tyson said...

I'd be curious, as a student of theology, what literature would you suggest for someone that began their journey to atheism with issues other than the roots of their native Mormonism (problem of evil, theodicy, etc)?

FormerMormonWoman said...

Hey Carl. Thanks for your post, I think you made some really good points. However I do think you are oversimplifying the ex-mormon narrative. There are quite a few of us who knew about the problems for years, and were faithful, and yet have still at some point decided that the church no longer works for us. The best way I can describe my disaffection is that, after many many years of faithful and active membership, the weight just shifted to the other side of the scale and my emotions changed. I feel like a have a pretty nuanced understanding of the faith experience, and I do still accept it as legitimate. I think faith and reason are two very different systems that can't really be compared. But yet, I just don't want to have faith anymore, and I can't exactly say way (part of it has to do with my experience as a woman in the church, but I couldn't say that's the only reason why I left). I think that at some point, one has to either choose to privilege faith over reason, or reason over faith. You have clearly chose faith over reason. I've chosen reason over faith.

Anonymous said...

"And be thorough in your gospel studies. Very very thorough. Church history, when looked at in aggregate, with no false expectations, indicates that the church is true. Often messy and human, sure, and very occasionally uninspired, but still true."

Some of us have been very thorough and still concluded that the church is NOT true. Unless you are arguing that your reading has literally been more thorough than anyone who has ever left the church?

Carl said...

Mark N., thanks for commenting. I answer your question thusly: the Book of Mormon makes no claims that every Native American from the North Pole to Patagonia must be descended from nothing but 6th century Jews. I adhere to the limited geography model because the Book of Mormon itself supports nothing but that model, despite what many leaders of the church have taught.

Keeping in mind that literally 90% of Native Americans were wiped out by smallpox or other diseases from the Europeans, that the Lehites were a small group inserting themselves into a larger already existing population (read "Nephi's Neighbors" by Matt Roper or some of John Sorensen's early work on exactly what the Book of Mormon Claims with regard to others in the area), I'm okay with all of this. Just because the church claimed for years in the introduction that they were the "principle ancestors of the Native Americans" doesn't mean the book actually claimed that. The newer introduction, that says they are "among the ancestors" is a much more accurate reading of what the book actually says. It's a good question to ask how much of a factor the Lehite/Mulekites are in the overall current population of the Americas, and whether that influence could even be detected, and it's a question I think that would require time travel to fully answer accurately.

Now, moving on to 90% of the Natives being wiped out by disease we get to . . .

The Problem of Evil, as brought up by Tyson. Thanks also for commenting. I'd encourage you to look at David Paulsen's "Joseph Smith and the Problem of Evil" in BYU Studies. I think Joseph's answer is much better than about anything else. But, if I'm being honest, the next best option is actually . . . atheism. (Well, Theravada Buddhism, but that's a form of Buddhism that's largely atheist, so it almost amounts to the same thing doctrinally.)

I have a few comments here that you might be interested in:


FormerMormonWoman, it's true I've oversimplified it. I was also mostly focusing on those who leave for the intellectual reasons. To be able to write a blog post that accurately details every way to decide to leave or to accurately describe each person's experience is . . . impossible. Again, forgive me if I have erred. Your reasons for leaving, as you've quickly described them to me, do not seem to be the reasons I am discussing here in this post. But, for the record, I think the evidence is more weighted towards the church being true, so I actually think I've privileged rationality over faith. You might not believe me when I say this, but I'm a deeply skeptical person.

Anonymous @ 10:51, I'm mostly arguing against the oversimplified version people come up with in their knee-jerk reactions. Maybe I should have said "indicates TO ME that the church is true." I tried to leave caveats strewn throughout the blog post. From some of the reactions I've received, I apparently didn't do a good enough job, but I stand by my assertion that, in general inoculation works. It does not work 100% of the time. You might be the percentage for whom it does not work.

For any of you, there's always room next to me in church to make you feel welcome if you desired. We in the church have done a terrible job at making doubters feel welcome, but I think and hope that's changing. Or, if you'd rather, we can just hang out at Starbucks. I'll just not be having coffee while we talk, and probably can't meet during my ward's 3 hour block. :)

FormerMormonWoman said...

Carl, almost all of the things you mentioned contributed to my leaving. I couldn't disagree more that the evidence is weighted more toward the church being true, but that's alright. I think there needs to be a lot more thoughtful discussion about a lot of these issues and it seems like you do too.

Julie said...

I have found myself nervous and uneasy every time I hear about Church history. Mostly because it's impossible to find fact in history. I also didn't want to jump down the historical rabbit hole without going full speed ahead like you have asked of people. My heart has been lightened with the new information of lds.org!! I am so glad you wrote this post! I actually discovered the article on blacks and the priesthood by myself and just kept reading. I was so hungry to read about church history from people I trust! I was also filled with the spirit when I was reading different articles and moved that at the end of the article it asked you to pray to know if the information was true. History is flawed and circumstantial. It can be interpreted and falsified. My heart is light! Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

The way you framed the ex-mormon narrative seems valid and I could have worked within that but when I examined my feelings about how women are treated in the church I became restless. I wanted things to change. I started aggitating for change. Then I realized that it wasn't going to work. The church really has no place for feminists. That was enough for me.

History is one thing but the underlying structure doesn't work for half of the church. (I want to say half because half of the church must be female, however I know there will be a lot of women who say things are working fine for them...so I have to say.."the underlying structure doesn't work for a segment of the population.")

William said...


Thank you for such a well-written and accurate representation of the journey which so many of us have taken. It is refreshing to hear honest discourse about these subjects, instead of the "they left because they were weak/offended/wanted to sin/etc" responses which have been de rigueur for so long. I think that this recent trend of frank and open discussion about church history issues will be beneficial in the long run.

My doubts didn't arise from anti-Mormon literature or exposure to rabid ex-Mormons. It came from deeper study of church-approved works. When I brought up these concerns with my own ward leaders, I was basically told that I lacked faith, and needed to pray harder. That was tame compared to the responses received after bringing up some of these topics in Priesthood or GD classes, where I was more or less treated like a war criminal.

I think that the issues tackled in this series of essays on LDS.org are a long-needed step in the right direction, and I'm thankful for that. I'm saddened that even as recently as 3 decades ago, discussion of these same issues could have landed an otherwise-faithful member before a Court of Love.

Alex said...

I would like to comment about the claim by Mark N. that science, archaeology, and history disprove the Book of Mormon. I say that they do nothing of the sort. I'm tired of people claiming they do. You see, a proof is only unequivocal if it completely rules out all other options. In mathematics, that's easy. In history or archaeology, it's impossible. There's simply not enough data. We see that in the fact that history and archaeology are frequently revised, especially in the New World ("1491" by Charles Mann is an excellent source of information on that). History books of the 50's are very different than today, are they not?

Here's a couple simple examples of loose ends that support the plausibility of a Book of Mormon. Columbus himself wrote of meeting white, blonde Indians. A Jewish rabbi, Manasseh Ben Israel, born in Lisbon in 1605, recorded the story of an acquaintance, Aharon Levi, who while in the New World in the 17th century was led to a hidden colony of white Indians who claimed to be Israelites after it was discovered that Levi himself was Jewish. I can give references on this if you wish. These are completely non-Mormon books, and there are a lot of records from conquistadors who talk about this kind of stuff, many of whose manuscripts weren't even published until the late 19th or 20th centuries, ruling out any possibility that Joseph drew inspiration from these records. Proof of the Book of Mormon's authenticity? Not even close. But it disproves the claim that history and science rules out the Book of Mormon. If you have information that does unequivocally rule it out, please share.

We often look at history as we would a fully fleshed out individual, thinking we see a completely defined object. The reality is, and any archaeologist not on an ego trip will tell you this, that we really only have a skeleton, with many of its bones missing, and the imagined flesh we see draping those bones is known as "inference."

I think we'd be shocked to know the real history of the planet. I saw a great comic around the end of 2012 with some Maya guys carving a calendar. One guy says "I ran out of room at 2012." The other responds, "That's gonna freak people out some day." Maybe Occam's Razor rules that out as a real event, but it's still a possibility.

My point is that ruling Mormonism in or out based on scientific evidence is wrong because we don't know enough. Thus, to me, Mark N's comment only serves to support Carl's thesis here.

I commend you Carl on this post, and personally agree with you that evidence points to a good possibility that this is true, and I especially agree on the point that we need to study more. About everything. We should be voracious truth-seekers in everything, scientific or otherwise. I am still pretty bad at this, but hope to be better.

Final point: whatever you study, I don't think that the Book of Mormon will ever be proved or disproved. I think God set it up that way. The truth or untruth of the Church and any of its doctrines can only be found by revelation. And that can only be found by honest, open search for God. For those who say that their revelation says it's not true (I've met some), I say that that among Christ's condemners were those who had seen his miracles. For those who feel stung by this (you have a right, it's pretty harsh), I say that if you are honestly doing what you think is right, how can that be points against you?

Thanks for reading. I'm sure there are holes in my thinking, so please forgive me and know I mean no one any disrespect.

Anonymous said...

You might want to rethink including that meme with the African American woman and reading Hugh Nibley. Many would consider it offensive and racist and it reinforces negative stereotypes of African American women. Considering the current sensitive issues in the church involving racism, you might want to steer clear of that kind of meme.

Bill Reel said...

Carl, My name is Bill Reel. I contribute to the FairMormonBlog podcast and wanted to reach out to you and have a conversation. Please contact me at
reelmormon at gmail dot com
PS. I enjoyed the post and agree but would ask, where do we get such incorrect views of our leaders? fixing the problem is a bigger issue

Anonymous said...

I'm a fully-active member, but a closeted unbeliever.

Looking back over the years, I've spent about as much time doing things explicitly for the church as I spent on my B.S. degree. To say that I didn't spend enough time on it or take it seriously enough is a slap in the face. The appeal to religious scholarship is also less-than-satisfying, considering the dim view that the church takes very publicly of uncorrelated materials.

If the church can't communicate some basic defenses against the most egregious accusations in all that time, then I'm left with the conclusion that either it's not what it claims to be or it's one of the most inept organizations of all time. I don't need to have an explanation for everything, just something convincing to argue against the idea that Joseph Smith was a serial philanderer and a borderline pedophile that made up the Book of Abraham out of whole cloth.

Even assuming all the teachings are literally true, I don't see how you can blame the members for leaving. I think it would have to be on the heads of the leaders for doing such a horrible job conveying the message. In reference to D&C 8:2-3, they told me in my heart, but they left my mind completely adrift.

Judging by your tone, I think your heart is in the right place. But to say that you need to study more is disingenuous and only going bolster those who are already on the borderline for a short time.

David Olson said...

Great post, Carl, and it's wonderful to see such good and respectful discussion ensuing from it.

I'm amazed at how much being a scientist has taught me in my approach to faith and religion. I have the privilege of working with people from the whole religious spectrum — from zealously devout, to a self-described "militant agnostic: I don't know, and you don't either" — so I've seen and heard a lot of argument for and against faith with about every logical tack you can imagine used to navigate the seas of truth. It's a funny thing, truth: it doesn't really care what anyone believes, and therein lies the difficulty.

In science and mathematics, as in all philosophical fields, it's impossible to create new ideas (or discover them, depending on your viewpoint) without a set of fundamental assumptions. (In mathematics, we call them axioms, which I'll use for lack of a better, more general yet succinct term.) Axioms make it possible to interpret observations and predict results in a consistent way. They're concepts that we accept as true, knowing that there is no way to actually prove that they are. Rather, we observe, interpret, and predict to test the strength of the axiom. If we find a result that contradicts it, then we begin to question whether the axiom is true or not.

While the axioms we have established in modern thinking have produced miraculous technologies and abilities, they are not without problem, and are often the source for a lot of the social conflict in history. It's difficult for two people to have a productive discussion using logic when they approach the topic with fundamentally incompatible axioms, and ensuing arguments can lead to grudges and feuds that last for generations. Axioms also cause problems with how we use others' work. In order to get a favored theory to work with the observations, sometimes a scientist will introduce an idea that simply holds a place needed to tie everything together, with little justification for its presence other than it keeps their theory from falling apart. We sometimes refer to this tool as a “fudge factor”, and its use results in all kinds of scientific patches, such as string theory, dark matter, or the cosmological constant, stitching together the thread-bare theories we've held for some time. It doesn't help that related research is often separated in both time and space; one scientist's fudge factor becomes another's gospel truth. That's not to say that our current theories are wrong; rather, our approach to and use of them sometimes masks the truth with our interpretation based on incomplete axioms. It's impossible to interpret any observation without the context provided by axioms--and context is everything.

David Olson said...

As an example, one real problem with historical research is that the context for many historical documents relies on axioms without which none of those documents could be used. For example, if we have an old newspaper clip from a local community accusing a person of some gross misdeed, it can only be used as historical evidence when you take the axiom that journalism is (at least mostly) historically accurate. That leaves little room for issues such as the journalist feeling personally slighted by the subject and having a grudge so strong that they'll resort to libel to find satisfaction. The truth is then masked by historical “evidence” that has been misinterpreted due to our assumption that the article was accurate. If we keep other possible explanations open, further research may reveal inconsistencies or patterns that reveal the true intent of the author and nature of the article.

I once researched what happened to the Three Witnesses, and discovered to my dismay that David Whitmer's letters not only sounded lucid and logical, but I found his arguments for why Joseph Smith had fallen as a prophet made sense. Only after I had collected a large handful of them along with documentation from his excommunication did I start to see his deep jealousy of Sidney Rigdon's position and influence in the general church. Given what happened after Joseph's assassination, some might well argue that he was, in fact, right about his opinion of Sidney. Where he was wrong, however, was in his treatment of not just Sidney and Joseph, but of everyone else and, most especially, himself.

It's worth emphasizing the importance of agency in our lives. Our ability to make our own choices was so important that God was willing to sacrifice his son. He was also willing to risk losing a large number of us due to our making the wrong choices. Our independent choices are so vital to what we are that not even God would dare interfere—I think that says something. Many of the bad things that have happened in history aren't a result of religious teaching, but rather the misinterpretation of the axioms presented by religion. After many years of study in both science and religion, I've come to believe there is a version of Occam's Razor that applies to historical views of religion: Never ascribe to evil intent or the nature/existence of God what can more easily and appropriately be attributed to stupid people. Or, as Agent K put so well in Men in Black, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”

Zillah said...

A couple points (which I'll also post on your facebook page):
While you acknowledge at the beginning that there are other reasons why people leave apart from 'intellectual' and historical issues with the church, the rest of the post seems to be taking for granted that this is the main reason people leave. It's problematic for a few reasons of which I'm sure you're aware, but the one I wanted to point out is the implicit line being drawn between these intellectual issues and praxis, or one's lived experience of the Church--its doctrines and its teachings. The issues you bring up are ones that don't really have much bearing (if any) in how I go about my practice as a Mormon. You also assume a kind of progression within the church--issues are worked through, maybe covered up for a while, the church becomes more open about them, sometimes moves beyond them (blacks and the Priesthood, for example). But most of my friends who have left have done so specifically because of the ways in which their 'intellectual' questions correspond with their lived experience: how, for example, would you advise a teenage girl to inoculate herself against accusations that the church represses women? Would you advise her to dive deep into Church history, so that she can learn in depth how women used to give blessings? so she can explore Joseph Smith's nascent teachings on women and the Priesthood? So that she can learn about the history of the Relief Society and its disenfranchisement? I have my own answers, but I'm curious as to how you square these issues with the history of the Church and the way that it teaches its history and doctrine, and the approach that you outline here.

Carl said...

Julie, you're welcome.

Anonymous @ 3:45, your reasons for leaving the church sound to me to be very different from the ones I was addressing in this post. So feel free to ignore whatever doesn't apply to you; I certainly don't claim to speak for everybody's experience, just one general trend I, and others, have noted. I too am sad to see you go, because I'm sure some of the things that you want to see change in the church I would agree with, and want to see changed as well. I call myself a feminist, and I feel that I fit well enough in the church for my purposes. I'm sorry that it appears that you don't fit well enough in the church for yours.

William, I'm sorry you were told merely that you were less faithful and needed to pray harder (Stage 8 above in the post). I've come to realize that we Mormons do a terrible job of being friendly to those going through a faith crisis. I'm trying to help that, and thank you for noticing my efforts and acknowledging them. It means a great deal to me to receive such compliments from those on the other side of the fence, because it means I've at least not majorly misrepresented them.

I agree with Alex that the situation on the BoM is more complex, and that it certainly allows room for faith and religious experiences, such as the ones I have had, to be considered valid.

Anonymous @ 8:26, I'm aware of the "Hilarious Black Neighbor" trend and it's negative side effects. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/05/07/charles_ramsey_amanda_berry_rescuer_becomes_internet_meme_video.html But it's just a meme. Don't read things into it that aren't there.

Bill, I'll be in touch. I really enjoyed your interview with John on Mormon Stories (before I stopped listening to it) and your work on the FairCast, which has gotten much higher in quality because of your efforts. I didn't even know about Mormon Discussion, and I'm now subscribed and look forward to listening to it!

Anonymous @ 8:50, you say "considering the dim view that the church takes very publicly of uncorrelated materials." That used to be true, but thankfully it is not anymore. The new items on lds.org's Gospel Topics page have decent footnotes that cite good scholarly material, so I think we've turned a new page. The church can communicate some basic defenses, and it is doing so now. I wish it would have been earlier, but again, these things are like an aircraft carrier, and those don't just turn on a dime. Any leader who told you to think with only your heart and never your brain was wrong. I'm sorry you heard that. You would not have, and will never, hear it from me, and the statement I link from Elder Pieper he strongly disagrees. I'm glad that you think my heart is in the right place. Such compliments mean a great deal to me coming from someone in your situation.

David, great to have you here. No SciFi night tonight, sadly. We're going to dinner with Russ for his birthday.

"Never ascribe to evil intent or the nature/existence of God what can more easily and appropriately be attributed to stupid people. Or, as Agent K put so well in Men in Black, 'A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.'"

With regard to the correlation committee and the overly watered down manuals that haven't met my needs for years, I change that first sentence to "never ascribe to malice what can be attributed to stupidity." It's an overstatement, but the point is still there.

Mantaraya said...


Your post is a good example of why I coined these two phrases to describe the LDS Church:

"The web of a million rationalizations", and
"The eternal hamster wheel of truthiness".

The first refers to the mental gymnastics required to preserve cherished belief. For every "issue" in the Church, there is a rationalization. The problem is that the believer ENDS their investigation once they come up with a rationalization that suffices, without realizing how many of their rationalizations contradict each other or are themselves unfounded.

Perhaps a better way to put it is that "a little study will lead you out of the Church, a lot of study will lead you anywhere you want to go, but honest inquiry based on reliable principles of validity will reveal the truth."

The truth is that the Book of Mormon is fiction.

You cite the "limited geography" theory. Never mind that theory doesn't mesh with ANYTHING that Joseph Smith said about the Book of Mormon and Ancient American history, in other words, if the "limited geography" theory were true, we'd have to dismiss as false nearly everything Joseph Smith taught about the Book of Mormon, from Zelph to skin color.

How does that work? That we are so desperate to rationalize the authenticity of the Book of Mormon that we dismiss everything the "prophet" that translated the book taught us about it? We completely discredit his inspired commentary but praise his inspired translation?

As I said, never mind that ^^^. Let's just take the "limited geography" model and for now, ignore the Joseph Smith implications. The problem then arises that once you take ALL the data from the Book of Mormon (and ONLY from the Book of Mormon), concerning geography, culture, and population, and create a model based on that data (the best one I have found is here: http://www.ocii.com/~cmeek/BoM_Geog01.htm ), and then try to find a place where that model will fit, you discover that it cannot fit anywhere in the Americas. 100 years ago, when our knowledge about Ancient America was more limited, it was easy to find a place where you could put down such a large model, and then speculate about how it's part of the larger picture. Today it's impossible. There are lots of geographic places where you can suggest a lot of the data fit, but eventually you encounter fatal errors in trying to force the model into the actual geography, culture, and history.

And then you have the DNA issue, that you so readily rationalize away, perhaps because you've only read a little genetics and apparently don't understand how the study of genetics actually works. The Book of Mormon claims three major migrations to the Americas: Jaredites, Lehites, and Mulekites. Our methods of measurement today are sufficient to detect migrations even smaller than any of these three, yet independent researchers find zero evidence that supports ANY of these three migrations. Of course, even if there were a DNA connection that matched one or two of those stories, there would still be some question as to whether it was just a coincidence. But we don't have to worry about that, because the DNA evidence rather definitively proves that none of those three migrations occurred. I'd say that you probably haven't read enough on genetics to understand the science, but by your logic, the real problem is that you've read too much?

Carl, there are a lot of people (like myself) who have been where you are right now, who got stuck in "stage 5&6", in the web of a million rationalizations, in the realm of finding an excuse for every problem, driven by the desire to preserve cherished beliefs in the Book of Mormon and the Church. It's not that you haven't studied too much or too little, it's that you've relied more on confirmation bias than on reliable tools to validate truth.

Mantaraya said...

PS - I read much of what Hugh Nibley wrote, and even took a Book of Mormon class at BYU from him. I can honestly say it was the worst college class I took, both in undergrad and grad school. His ramblings were disconnected and sometimes incoherent. Of a whole semester, the only thing I learned from listening to his lectures was a clear understanding that I wasn't learning anything by listening to him.

A whole Hugh Nibley book? I've done a dozen. I sat through a whole Hugh Nibley class, and discovered there wasn't anything there to learn. I was at a Grigg's lecture at Education Week when he brought Nibley on stage to share a supposed "ground breaking revelation, soon to be published", and watched him steal 30 minutes of the next lecturer's time rambling on and on about Abraham Facsimiles, while sharing nothing coherent with the audience, who had also missed the beginning of their next lecture hanging on every word Nibley said, in the hopes that it would help them make sense of what he had previously said. Eventually everyone gave up and he was ushered off the stage.

In other words, "Nibley" is a buzzword meaning "Church scholarship", a buzzword I once embraced, only to discover it was just an empty buzzword.

PPS - The Book of Mormon relies on a LITERAL Great Flood, which never happened, a literal Tower of Babel, which never happened, and on a pseudo Jewish/Christian culture which never happened until hundreds of years AFTER Lehi allegedly left Jerusalem.

It's not that there are some anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, it's that there is nothing in the Book of Mormon that isn't anachronistic. There's nothing in the Book of Mormon that converges with scientific study. It's not a matter of limited convergence, it's a matter of complete divergence. It's easier to find Mordor on a map of Europe than it is to find Zarahemla on a map of the Americas.

James Allred said...

I appreciate your willingness to share your journey and your frustrations with others who have made different choices than you on your faith journey. It felt sincere.

I can appreciate that you have satsified yourself on how to reframe your faith when you discovered that the things you were taught over and over and over again turned out to not be true, or in a more generous phrasing, nuanced.

I did find it interesting that you were so dismissive with people who would actually have the increduilty to question the historicity of the book of mormon. You dismissed that topic with a flick of your hand and a quick reference to (place authority name here).

Clearly this issue has been resolved by anyone who has really studied more deeply than the people who only get introduced to the issues and make up their mind that they know it all.

I would encourage you to keep reading.

I don't think your journey is over.

All the best.

Troy said...

Dig deep. Follow all the leads. Keep your mind open. Truth is not afraid of investigation or testing. You will find new and deeper truths. Deliberate ignorance is not a virtue.

Anonymous said...

I tried to study my way back. I am a citation hound. With Google Books, it is easy to find source material. The problem as I see it(and the problem that I believe you gloss over) is that the more time you spend looking at source materials, the more you realize the institution (COJCLDS) and authors (such as Nibley) are not completely honest with their works.

Everytime I go down the rabbit hole and attempt to prove that The Church's teachings are true, I come away with the opposite conclusion. Instead, I am left saying, "That conclusion was not only incorrect, but it was dishonest." Or, "That source material never said that. In fact, I am left with a different conclusion."

So what am I left with? I am left taking a Benjamin Franklin approach to evaluating my relationship with The Church.

1) Does the LDS Church support a bit-tent approach to belief? No. Absolutely not. In fact, LDS Church culture creates an environment of exclusion (if you are not a literal believer).

2) Are LDS Church services enjoyable? No. You only need to look around to see all of the people playing with their smartphones to realize that The LDS Church has a bad product.

3) Is the instituation worth supporting? No. The LDS Church spends too much money on business ventures, and little money on humanitarian causes. In fact, the only good thing about The LDS Church is the goodness of the people (at a local level).

4) Does the LDS Church do a good job of teachning His Gospel? No. Or at least The LDS Church does a poor job when compared to other Christian churches.

5) In fact, you can easily argue that The LDS Chuch has become so Pharisaical that Christ is just about gone. When the Pharasees and Lawyers attempt to find fault with Christ, he responds by saying Matt 22 (35) One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: (36) "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (37) Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
(38) This is the great and foremost commandment. (39) "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' (40) "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."
The LDS Church, IMHO, has moved far, far away from these teachings.

In short, everything good about The LDS Church can be found in other Christian churches. And everything that is unique about The LDS Church... well, we are left mostly with the baggage.

Anonymous said...

Even if 90% of the Native Americans were wiped out by small pox, small pox does not eat archaeological evidence. For a civilization the supposed size of the Nephites and Jaredites to not yet be conclusively proven causes a great problem especially given that archaeologists found a Viking settlement in Canada whose occupancy spanned no longer than a decade with no more than a hundred settlers. A literate group of tens of thousands of people does not vanish without any trace evidence of ever existing whether or not small pox decimates their descendant's population.
2.2 million people died at the Hill Cumorah according to the Book of Mormon. That's a massive amount of carnage that couldn't possibly have only been located at the hill itself, not to mention that in other areas of the world in order to get to that kind of carnage (Jaredites) siege engines must be used. The earliest conquest of equivalent scope of death was in 1258 A.D. by the Mongols who made use of siege weapons upon Baghdad. BYU accepts that no siege weapons were used in the Americas by Nephites or Lamanites.
There's no evidence of anyone in Pre-Columbian America ever using steel as a weapon, let alone crafting with it in the first place. The Native Americans primarily used metallurgy in ornamental purposes with copper and gold being primarily used. If there was a plate-mail wearing, horse riding, chariot driving civilization in existence prior to Columbus, that civilization would have conquered the American continents because of superior military advantage and the technology would have been widespread after their conquest.

How about we cut it short and say over a hundred and fifty years of scientific inquiry has produced no evidence of Native Americans being Jews. People that say they have found such proof are liars, fools or frauds. There is no peer reviewed evidence to support the theory of Nephites, Lamanites, Mulekites or Jaredites. The only people that ever say they've found proof typically are twisting a small cultural find within a dig to fit the narrative of the Book of Mormon instead of looking at the whole picture, ignoring that the rest of the culture revealed in the dig does not support the idea that it is Nephite/Lamanite in origin.

Anonymous said...

"with few exceptions I can't think of any reason to leave the Church". Um, I just don't like it. It's not spiritually uplifting to me. I disagree with its teachings of A, B, C....X, Y, and Z. Etc, etc, etc......

Anonymous said...

According to the Bible, a prophet is not a prophet if he speaks one falsehood. Hence, it is doubtful that any Mormon prophet is in fact, a prophet. I loved how the church website just threw Brigham Young under the bus regarding his racism. He is a victim of his culture, just like Brigham Young, eh? A prophet wouldn't be wiser than THAT? The Bible clearly states we are not to be beguiled by culture. It is almost embarrassing.

I also think you are greatly understating and oversimplifying why people leave.

I am considering leaving because I think God is far bigger and greater than the Mormon church makes him to be. Much of our doctrine contradicts the Bible. Our doctrine is not sound. There are too many falsehoods, contradictions and inconsistencies. One simple example, the word of wisdom. Anyone else notice how we only adhere to a small amount of it. It clearly says, "eat meat sparingly, only in times of cold or famine." Ever seen a vegetarian ward party? I think not.
God was once a man? No scripture says that, just mormon prophets. Since the church has clearly stated they don't always know what they are talking about, how can we trust anything they say? It may or may not be His opinion and he might just be a victim of his culture?

Let's be a bit more honest. I could write a book but my time is out.

Marcus said...

Good article, however here's a slightly modified version of the path people take when leaving the church:

-You find something disturbing about the church that causes you to question.
-You look it up only to find a lot more, even more disturbing stuff.
-You decide to bail because there's no way to stay in light of what you have learned.
- At the point of bailing, or soon afterwards, you are faced with the enormity of the role of the church in your life and you realize that what you are giving up goes much, much further than just a doctrine and a book. It is a key part of every aspect of your life.
- You decide that you want to give it a very serious look again, this time hoping against hope that it's true because you (really now) do not want to to lose it.
- Because of that hope, you appeal principally to people who have gone through similar experiences and have found ways to stay in the church.
- Through your research you, get a much more nuanced view of church history and doctrine, though due to the sources you naturally choose, it is unavoidably biased.
- Some people find what they're looking for and stay, there's a strong motivator to let your biases move you in the direction that the church is the only true church. Some people don't.

Generally if someone's core problem is with church history, they can make it back in. If their core concerns have to do with the LDS epistemology or theodicity, it's a lot harder.

Anonymous said...

Are you actually trying to make the point that ...Ok the church was misleading, deceptive, etc, but people did not research enough?

Seriously? Gordo Hinckley gets on Larry King and when directly asked if he is a prophet of god does not say yes, but rather "I am sustained as such"

That is not some anti mormon spin. That is reality and everyone can view it. That is far different from the primary age indoctrination that damages and hurts so many people.

It is time to stop making these horrible apologetics for a vile, sinister, racist, homophobic, misagogynistec and greedy organization...and start really taking a look into the very real harm it has caused people and continues to cause people.

Perhaps mormons should look at the stunning success of Pope Francis. A rock star to a lot of the world. Do you think that Boyd KKK Packer will have that kind of success when tommy takes the dirt nap?

Anonymous said...

Good luck, Carl. We'll see you on the "dark side" in a few years. you'll be surprised how bright and clear it is.

Anonymous said...

I liked this post quite a bit. I was once a believing LDS member and I put considerable time into the church. Not only was this through callings, but I was an hour a day student of the scriptures, at least. I would delve into all things Mormon as far as books go: Everything from Brodie (which deepened my love of Joseph) to Bushman to BH Roberts.

I lost my faith in Mormonism over a sort-of historical issue: the trinitarianism of early Mormonism, pre-1835 or so. It sent me on a long journey of theological study when I found that one of the most important documents, and I would argue more important than the book of Mormon, written in regards to LDS theology was not by Smith (Christ, if you are a believer) or any other prophet, but by Talmage and his "Nature of the Godhead" paper. I read it, and found a fundamental disagreement with his theological conclusions of the Godhead. The most fundamental doctrine (nature of God) was determined by theological argument and not by revelation in a church that purported revalatory doctrines.

This led me to another serious study of theology through biblical texts, the apocrypha, Mormon scriptures, and even saints of the past, Mormon or no. I discovered that while I was, at heart, a Trinitarian and had a far more traditional view of God than what Mormonism and Mormon doctrine presented.

So, in short, a crisis of faith occurred in a historical event (evolutional doctrine vs. revelatory doctrine) and led me down a path of theological study that led to a path other than Mormonism. I'm Anglican now and part of the ministry.

Anonymous said...

I challenge you to do a study of the psychology of religion and ask yourself while you read/listen, "How have I possibly been influenced by this principle?" Look up Dr. James Nagel on the Mormon Stories website and AntiCitizenX on YouTube (same guy). The difference between you and most ex-Mormons is you have not overcome the psychological barriers that keep a person believing things that aren't true. Becoming aware of what those barriers are and how they have influenced your belief will completely change the way you think about religion, unless you actively "choose to believe" in spite of the dissonance and counter evidence.

Anonymous said...

Your ad hoc solution to Book of Mormon geography problems (the so called Limited Geography Theory), makes every last one of your "Prophets" false.

Since reading MORE history leads to stronger Mormon testimonies, please tell us about all of your fellow Divinity Students who you have converted in your post graduate studies.

Anonymous said...

Carl has a very strong shelf and I ain't talking man boobs.

Mungagungadin said...

I feel like this post is about 2 years too late. The people who discovered that church history is different than history left quite a long time ago.

I *dislike* the timing of this post only because it offers itself as a reason why people are leaving NOW. The people who are leaving, the Mormon LGBT and the women, aren't leaving because of church history. We're the ones who've been in pain for so long that we've been studying for half our lifetimes and own three walls of books. We're leaving now because we don't think the church will really get better for us. It will do all it can to sound nicer and be more reasonable to having its imperfections known, but to us that stuff isn't news. We've held on hoping for change. It isn't coming.

tweedmeister said...

I quit the church as a high priest and when I was 59. I'm here to tell you that you are wrong. I studied myself to the bone over all the issues, and all I can say is that the church is wonderfully simple to debunk. The Book of Mormon is very easy to prove false, and the Book of Abraham transparent fraud. After all that, you got nothin'. I would have stayed in if I had believed that the church had any redeeming qualities at all. Any. But it doesn't. Once you discover the fraud, nothing else counts for much. It's a church that is fueled by shame and guild and built on a very sandy foundation of fraud and lies. The sooner one terminates one's membership, the better off one is.

Head of Shiz said...

I too disagree with the idea that studying even more and with more zeal will bring us back. I was a young professor when I started to have doubts concerning the church and luckily had a huge library exchange with many other universities at my disposal. I read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on. If it had the work mormon in it, I read it. I knew there had to be some golden nugget that I was missing. Alas, I never found it, and when I went to talk to the bishop he took away my temple recommend, accused me of having no faith, and released me from my calling. He will not let me baptize my kids, and I have now become nothing more than a bench warmer in church. All because I asked a few questions and brought up some issues that he was obviously unable to resolve.

I'm really happy to see some faithful members of the mormon church who are willing to talk about some difficult issues within their church, unfortunately the willing are not the norm. I am treated like I've got a contagious disease for using my brain and reaching independent conclusions. As long as the church treats its previously faithful members this way, we will continue to leave, if not physically, then spiritually and mentally. In spite of being ready and willing to leave, I stay for my wife, and I have found there are SO MANY others like me, its shocking, and a bit sad.

In spite of our disagreement Carl, keep it up! The church needs people open and willing to talk. People like you will hopefully become leaders of the church one day and make changes from within! Until that day, I'm dedicating my energy to organizations that want people like me.

Porter said...

I left the church, but it had nothing to do with historical issues. I left over Proposition 8 and the homophobic views of the current "prophets." No need to do research or parse through complex and disputed history; its all out there.

Justin Blake said...
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Justin Blake said...

I just hope that I will eventually have a servant sealed to me someday, just like Joseph did. In case you are wondering, her name was Jane Elizabeth Manning James.

Allen said...

The real problem with Mormonism is that it is completely dioceses from the Book of Mormon both today and earlier. It railed on polygamy yet the translator and prophet was practicing it. Recently the church through Brigham young under the bus for racist view and bad policy and practices, not bad revelation and guidance. But the BoM is avert thing but a guide on how to be a racist. It fully fits into the view of the world of BY.

Let's stop saying that "the church is true" and "the BoM is true". Those are binary statements that can easily be falsified. Rather lets say "the church has truth" and the "the BoM has truth". As much as I know that the BoM is not a literal historical accounting of native Americans, i think that 2 nephi 2 is a great commentary on life and it holds truth. But the BoM is as much true as Moby dick, Les Miserable, and the epistles of Paul.

Jesus was a great philosher and spoke a lot of thirty, but I don't hate my parents, so I cannot follow him. And because I am Luke warm with all of the teachings, I get spewed out of the Mormon mouth rather than loved or even tolerated.

Anonymous said...

For the record—and to correct your post above—Hans Mattsson was well aware of polygamy in the early Church. He was not, however, aware of the underage brides, coercive polyandrous marriages, and outright deception Joseph exhibited.

Anonymous said...

Let's see: Adam and Eve, The Flood , The tower, Abraham, Moses and very doubtfully the wall coming down/the "sun stopping (!!!), were all not real and barely legendary. So what does the Church stand on??? JS spinning happily over any stimulus come his way and ever since we have very smart people (whether on not under church payroll) trying to make sense of it--ultimately saying "have faith."

Anonymous said...

Hi Carl,

You're post seems to have awoken the creatures lurking in various internet cesspools. Perhaps (if possible) it would be good to turn on moderation to filter out the ones that don't add to respectful discussion?

It's a good sign, though, because it means it was powerfully threatening.

- Beth's husband

Anonymous said...

Bah! "your" not "you're". Beth would kill me...

Anonymous said...

Very little of your disaffection pattern fits me.

A lot of people leave based on historical or scientific problems. I left on principle: there is no meaningful consent in the church. Specifically, there is no meaningful consent of scripture, doctrines, practices, policies and any other substantive features of worship in the church by its baptized members. The current church practice of a sustaining vote is a farce, mockery and shadow of meaningful consent.

Authentic divine authority is indicated by persuasive leadership and consent of followers, not top-down mandates. God never intended for church to be governed by top down mandates from a small, closed, non-transparent, unaccountable, elite group of self-selected insiders, however well-intentioned these flawed men of individual biases might be. A mandate, proclamation or any other resolution is not necessarily inspired or God’s will merely because such a group of men unanimously agree upon it. Inspiration is as much a matter of meaningful consent by those affected by it as anything else.

God also does not micromanage nor give a multiplicity of trivial rules to follow to receive the most divine, supreme gifts. He has given few principle-based commandments, and God expects us to be one and to figure out the other details of worship together by consent. However, current church worship is overwhelmingly so many “commandments of men” dictated by unaccountable leaders.

So long as you choose to drink the kool-aid, you will find all the reasons in the world to keep your shelf from collapsing. Once my perspective changed, I felt a fool for drinking the kool-aid for so long myself because it becomes so readily apparent how everything about the church demonstrates it is just another man made religion.

mikapower said...

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Michael said...

In actuality, you're wrong. Where you say "a lot of study will bring you back," it will send you further out because you'll realize more than a few things:

1. It's a destructive cult;
2. It continues to lie about its history and its actions;
3. It continues to violate its own 11th, 12th and 13th Articles of Faith every time a missionary opens his or her mouth to try to convince someone that the only way into heaven is by apostatizing from their belief system and becoming a Mormon.

The list goes on and on, but I'm of the impression you don't want to hear it.

Anonymous said...

I left in moral outrage. The teachings in 1 Nephi 13 are racist and morally condemnable.

World Council of Churches statement on the doctrine of discovery, February, 2012

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


No amount of study can change that.

Anonymous said...


Appreciated the post. I apologize for all the horse's asses on this post that expect you to be able to defend every official Church Statement, every statement by every General Authority throughout church history, every verse of scripture that could be taken various ways that offends them in some way, and be an expert in the latest data in Genetics, Archeology, and American Continent History (and by their lack of sources cited for these "facts" that they are spewing, it is obvious that they aren't either). That was not the point of your post. To those of us who read your post and took from it the points you tried to make, it was well-written.

Anonymous said...


At what point has someone studied sufficiently to make an informed decision? In my experience, I studied far more, far more intensely, with far more prayers for enlightenment being offered, as my belief in Mormonism changed.

The more I study, the less and less Mormonism makes any sense at all. The more I study, the more amazing it is to me that more people don't leave the church than already do. Then I realize the church is not unique. There are other churches on earth, whose implausibility is on par with Mormonism, and they are still around as well. Some people will always be attracted to the things that the church offers. But truth (in the sense the church claims itself to be true) isn't one of those things.

Best wishes on your journey, wherever it leads.

Unknown said...

Add my name to the list of those who have invested years of study of LDS history and doctrine and in the end found the Church to not be what it claims. My study and departure were anything but hasty and I still actually continue to read and study LDS history. Where I once studied to learn more about troubling issues I now find the LDS history a fascinating look into early America and my own heritage.

In any case, I have to disagree and say my experience has been the more I study, the more I appreciate the LDS narrative but the more I am convinced that Mormonism is a man made fallible faith just like those it rejected as apostate at it's inception. It leaders are no more inspired than any other men and at times the commitment to past revelation actual keeps the Church from progressing. Like a Seurat paining, the bigger picture becomes clear with each new dot.

Terryl Givens has said that in the end believing in Mormonism boils down to choice— down to how we want to see the world— and then in our minds that shapes how we see the evidence. I don't actually agree with him completely but do agree with what I've heard others say, that before one can even consider the Church might not be what it claims, the Church has to no longer work for them in one way or another. Comments I've heard from Givens and Bushman and the like (there's too much good to leave etc.) make me think the Church works for some who have studied in-depth and a desire to stay helps them see the evidence in such a way that they can stay. For others that bond is no longer there if it ever was.... so therefore no reason to 'make it work.'

I'm sure you disagree but based on empirical evidence and study alone I don't think a good argument that the Church is what it claims can be made. I do understand though why when people factor in the social benefits and lifestyle facts they value that the scales are tipped. There's certainly more to belief for many than just facts.

Anyway thanks for the post. I'm certainly all for LDS studying the history more. What most LDS know about their own history is an inch deep and a mile wide. If only the Church would do a better job of accurately addressing the issues rather than continuing to release statements that still obfuscate. The statements of late are certainly improvements but are still crafted to avoid certain tough issues.

Brad said...

Carl, I could say a ton of things, but I'll try to be succinct:

The church is in the absolute truth business. If it has the fullness of truth, why does it take strenuous scholarly activity, endless doctrinal retractions, and complicated apologetics to make it all work? In what other field does truth not manifest itself from the beginning, and not become more obvious with testing and studying? And I'm not talking about nuances of truth here. I'm talking about claims that lie at the foundation of everything else is based on. Why does it take so much work to come to the 'truth' of the church's most important claim, that it's the one 'true' church? Shouldn't that at least be evident at the outset, and become more obvious with additional scholarly work? Why has it become so backwards currently?

If I have to go through all the work you suggest to convince myself that the church is true (nevermind all the other 'peripheral' distractions), then let me suggest that this is a legitimate evidence that what the church claims is 'truth' is not what most people think it is.

Carl said...

Well, I'd like to welcome our friends from the exmormon subreddit, recovery from Mormonism, Mormon Discussions, and any others I've missed. I will not be moderating anybody's comments. "Anonymous" will have to stand by what he or she says. :)

I won't be able to respond to every comment, so I'll speak in some general terms, and then hit on a few of the more salient ones I'd like to continue the discussion with. I will not be bringing up specific examples anymore, because I don't want to sit here arguing every piece of minutiae. My point in the post about archaeology was a quick example of having to deal with what the text of the Book of Mormon actually says, not what we think it says.

If you did do a proper lit review before you left the church, then my post was not directed at you. As I say, there is both evidence for and against, and I think the evidence is more for, and if you disagree with me and leave, I am saddened, but at least salute you for doing your homework first. Those who leave without doing their homework are those I directed the post towards. It was not meant to be a catch-all for every person who ever left the church; I was describing one general pattern I've seen, one noticed also by John Dehlin, and by Seth Payne. Not everybody will fit that general pattern, but that doesn't mean the pattern itself isn't worth discussing. Several of you bring up leaving for more emotional reasons than the scholarly or intellectual ones I discuss here. That's a different discussion, one worth having, but not germane to the points I was making.

Mantayara, it doesn't surprise me that taking a class from Hugh Nibley was that kind of experience. I've read enough from people to know that his classes were tedious and boring. He was a much better scholar than teacher, but he's more than a buzzword. I don't expect everybody to think that he answered all the problems, but think that the he was just running around being incoherent and just saying smart stuff that none of the rest of us understand? That's just not true. The emperor, in this case, was actually wearing clothes. It's probably more time than we want to spend examining all of those clothes up closely, but they are there.

Justin, I know all about Jane Manning James, and how she was sealed to Joseph posthumously because the then-current brethren didn't know what to do with her. (It's not like sealings were very orderly and systematic in the church before 1894 anyway, see Stapley and Brown in the 2011 Journal of Mormon History on that point.) It's not a valid form of the sealing ordinance. I doubt you could find a member of the 12 or the 1st Presidency that thinks that it was today.

Carl said...

The NY Times piece indicated that Brother Mattson did not know about polygamy. If I was wrong, I apologize. That's what it said, and I took it at face value. Perhaps I should not have, on this particular detail.

Brad, I apologize for not being entirely clear on the points you're addressing. I don't think you have to go through all of the secondary literature to get that the church is true. I think merely reading and praying about the Book of Mormon will work most of the time. (My path was more through the secondary literature, but I think that's idiosyncratic to me in many ways.) The further understanding beyond that, which I believe we are commanded to get, involves lifelong study of these issues. That lifelong study should not be superficial, and I'm afraid too often it is. Again, if your study was not superficial (and only you can speak to that) then my beef was not with you, even though I may disagree with your conclusions. Some of my most engaging discussions ever were with two of the Mormon Yale Div Students, Seth, who is no longer a literal believer but still considers himself Mormon, and Jason, who is now doing a PhD in biblical studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. It was precisely the well-informed differences that made the conversations so engaging. I've just found that many of my discussions with those who have left the church are not as well-informed. (No, I don't expect everybody to be at the level of an Ivy League grad student.)

Carl said...


You are right that I am prioritizing a particular general pattern. It's one that I've noted, as has Seth Payne, as has John Dehlin, but no, not everybody fits the general pattern. It's also a particular pattern that appeals to someone like me. For those who leave because of lived experience differences with the church, that's a completely different discussion. To be frank, it's not one that really resonates with me personally, because if it makes sense to me in my mind and in my heart, then who cares about the lived experience. "To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life" seems apropos. My lived experience in the church isn't all that great. I'm kind of a fish out of water, but I recognize that a) it's very true that I get out of church what I put in, and b) it works well for many more than just me, so I go and get the most I can out of it. I enjoy the temple more than church, and especially since the new video came out.

Now, despite my comment about this not resonating with me personally, it needs to be addressed, and I will attempt to do so using your examples and questions. We can extrapolate general principles as necessary. I would very much be interested in your answers to these same questions, because as a smart brainy outspoken woman, I'm sure that your experience in church has been very different than mine, even if I'm also smart, brainy, and outspoken.

"How, for example, would you advise a teenage girl to inoculate herself against accusations that the church represses women?"

It may very well be that diving into the history of female blessings and the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes might be the best thing for her. But if it's a typical teenage girl, I doubt it.

I would do a few things for sure. First, I would acknowledge that there is much that is damaging to women, hurtful to them, and downright misogynistic in the church and especially in church culture. YWs budgets should be equal to YMs. There's just no way around that. But I have a policy of "ignore the dorks" and it's one that I think most of humanity could benefit from, and having such a policy goes a long way to mitigating the things that are damaging, hurtful, and misogynistic in the church.

Second, aside from the fact that women cannot (as of yet) hold the priesthood (and I'm not holding my breath on that one-we were talking about female ordination in the Roman Catholic church before! That's what we need to pick up again!), there is much that the church does that does not repress women. Although we could be better at it, women can be called to lead others as early as 12, they are involved in BYC meetings, they should be part of every council in the church from the bottom to the top. They are called to minister to each other, are now valued as missionaries explicitly, and in mission councils too!, are commanded to get an education, etc. etc. etc. So while I acknowledge first that there are many bad things that the church does, there are also many good things the church does. Those should not be dismissed lightly. Kind of a forest for the trees sort of analogy would be good here, even if there are some bad trees.

Carl said...

Third, and this is perhaps more for older women, especially those who have been through the temple, I'd like to point out that in a church organization that prizes heterosexual marriage as its crowning ordinance, and whose second highest ordinance is about the primordial couple moving through creation together, there is much that is being taught there about the equality of the sexes in the temple. If I'm being honest, there are a few things that I think could be changed there to make it even more clear, but that's about a gazillion levels above my pay grade. Regardless, this summer I was talking with a church scholar and he mentioned that he almost thought we should have a couple atop the spires of our temples, not the angel moroni. I also think it interesting that an endowment can only be done if there are both a male and female officiator, and a temple must be presided over by a married couple. I think the temple is the pattern we all ought to be following, and I acknowledge that we're not 100% there yet in translating that equality to the everyday experience in the church.

Fourth, and finally, though it is trite, I'd ask her what kind of woman she wants to become, and whether the church can help her be that woman, and if she thinks she ought to stay or not. I bet after giving it some prayer and thought, most would stay. When I say that there actually are some good reasons to leave, mostly involving some kind of abuse from people in the church, I'm aware that the people affected by such situations are disproportionately women. We need to be better.

You'll notice that none of this is really about studying things out like I outline in the blog post. You've asked a different kind of question, and I hope my answer has reflected that I think it needs to be answered in a different kind of way.

I'd love to hear your own thoughts on how you deal with these things, or have dealt with these things (didn't you have a dumb SP who barely let you get endowed before your marriage?), and what your advice to this hypothetical teenage girl in the church would be.

EnergyofAngels said...
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EnergyofAngels said...

I enjoyed your blog post :) But the REALITY of it all is that the God of Mormonism, is not the God of Christianity/the Bible. Mormon god is a man of flesh and bones on a planet near the star kolob with multiple wives and infinite spirit children, who once was a man like you who sinned and progressed to godhood... he has a father and he has a father and he has a father. The God of Christianity is very different, he is not a man of flesh an bone, has ALWAYS been God from eternity to eternity, has no father, is the Creator. So if the "God" of the religion is different, then everything on which it is based becomes skewed and has different meanings. Joseph Smith is subject to Jesus Christ, not the other way around. I have no problem with the apostles being 'human' or with Smith being 'human'. I have a problem with him boasting that he did more than Jesus and bringing souls to hell by preaching a different gospel, with a different god a different salvation a different atonement a different Savior, a different grace, and yet... putting Jesus Christs name on it. #SatanComesAsAnAngelOfLight

McKay said...

Mantaraya: For me, the requirement of a literal worldwide Flood was a great example of the kind of thing Carl is talking about, where studying more led me to realize that some of the church's nonsensical "beliefs" are really just traditions, not doctrine at all. In my case, my faith was strengthened by some writings by Elder Widtsoe in the 1930s, where he, too, questioned the feasibility of a worldwide Deluge. He came to the conclusion that there was no doctrinal need for the worldwide flood to be literal; if anything, worldwide rainstorms (at the same time as a flood in a particular area) would suffice to fulfill all of the symbolism of the Flood that Mormonism "requires."

I'm not sure your other examples aren't similar situations. For example, some aspects of the Tower of Babel story have to be literally true in order for the Jaredite narrative to make sense: people in the Middle East have to have built an actual tower, and they have to have intended that tower to be a symbolic rejection of dependence on God (or, as they would think of him, the God of Noah). But other aspects of the story, such as the tradition that everyone spoke the same language before this event, could be non-literal with no damage to the foundational narratives of Mormonism.

As for your overt rejection of EVERYTHING about the Book of Mormon ... well, that's obviously just too simple to be entirely correct. As Carl says, there is lots of evidence in both directions. To name just one tiny example, all of science now accepts that there were, in fact, horses in the Americas before the time of Columbus. The details of whether they survived long enough to interact with Nephites are murky, but still, this is one "anachronism" that has been pointed out in the Book of Mormon since its publication, which turned out to be feasible after all. I'm NOT saying this proves the Book of Mormon true; it's nowhere close. But it shows that your dismissal of the Book aligning with ANY evidence is far too hasty.


Anonymous @ 1:36 PM on Dec 19: To me, your example of a Viking village found in Canada is actually a great example of that fact that archaeology has by no means thoroughly discovered all there is to be discovered in the Americas. :) There is plenty of room for discovery still. I had a roommate that went on an archaeological expedition to Guatemala ... yeah, there are likely whole towns in Guatemala, buried under sentiment and jungle growth, that archaeologists haven't even touched yet. I do not know if those cities are related to the Book of Mormon or not. But the idea that we've discovered all there is to discover about America's history is wrong.

McKay said...

Head of Shiz: I admire you for being willing to use your brain even when an unfortunately imperfect Church leader tried to prevent you from doing so. I also admire that you keep enough perspective, in spite of this mistreatment, to recognize some good things about the Church (as implied by the "benchwarmer" comment and your desire to baptize your children). Keep being a good person! I hope eventually we can get the body of the Church to be more friendly towards people using their brains and being willing to express doubts. :)


Allen: The conflict you point out about polygamy is interesting. (Technically, Jacob in the BoM explicitly says there are times and places where polygamy is appropriate, but you're correct that his tone about the subject is overall very negative.) I don't think anyone thinks JS was an idiot; he was clearly a pretty intelligent person no matter what you think of him spiritually. So with that as a fundamental assumption, personally, I find it hard to picture him as the source of both negativity and positivity regarding polygamy. I'm curious how you resolve this discrepancy in your beliefs.

I actually agree with you that saying "the Church is true" rather than "the Church contains some truth" is misleading, and kinda wish we would say the latter instead. I'm torn on applying the same language to the BoM. Obviously (comparing it to Les Mis) you have different opinions about it than I do, but I think we can both agree that it has some imperfections, and on that basis we *could* disqualify it for the phrase "the Book of Mormon is true." But if we are that precise and nitpicky about our language, it more or less seems like the adjective "true" becomes entirely useless ...

I assume that the "hate my parents" comment is tongue-in-cheek? I have a hard time believing, based on the intelligence of the rest of your comments, that you take that verse literally ...


Michael: If you're under the impression (as some people are) that Mormons believe all non-Mormons are going to hell ... that's very much incorrect. We believe people will eventually (in the afterlife) come to agree with our understanding of God if they are good people, yes. And that might still bother you (it does for some people). But if you have been taught that we don't think Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King, and billions of other goodly non-Mormons have any hope of making it to heaven ... then you have been misinformed. One of my favorite verses in the Book of Mormon (because of its optimism) states: "And I pray that MANY OF US, IF NOT ALL, may be saved in his kingdom at that great and last day."

McKay said...

Brad: You ask a very good question. But notably, out of all the topics people are arguing about here, pretty much only the factuality of the Book of Mormon falls within the "center" of Church teachings. (I.e., basically, I'm defining the "core" message of the Church as the topics that missionaries teach as part of their proselyting program.) I have a lot of friends who have joined the Church relatively recently, and from what I can tell, their experience with this "core" message sounds a lot like the "truth, evident at the outset" process you would like to see.

I'm not sure why the Church gets so caught up in all the other stuff, rather than focusing more on this core message. Or why it has such a hard time accepting the imperfection of prophets. (I don't think the "Fourteen Points of Following the Prophet" talk has helped.) Or why it ever got into a pattern of obfuscating its more embarrassing aspects -- perhaps an understandable defensive overreaction during the days when Mormons were in danger of being shot on sight? But yeah, like I say, you ask good questions overall.

McKay said...

EnergyofAngels: God being an intangible spirit, rather than a man of flesh and bone, was declared by consensus in the 300s AD. Before that, it was far from being a universal principle of Christianity; opinions about the nature of God were quite diverse. So unless you don't consider anyone before 300 AD Christian, it doesn't make much sense to disqualify the Mormon view as being "the God of Christianity" on that basis.

God having multiple wives is not part of Mormon doctrine. It is a statement we neither confirm nor reject. (There are lots of Mormons with opinions on both sides of that question.) Also, Joseph Smith certainly did NOT boast that he had done more good than Jesus. One of his friends (a Church leader) made a famous statement that Joseph had done more good than anyone EXCEPT Jesus, and that statement has been misquoted a lot.

Some of your other concerns are definitely more confusing. :) "Eternity" -- a time frame with no beginning and no end -- is a really difficult concept. My personal opinion is that none of us CAN comprehend it while we are mortals. But my (imperfect) understanding is that, because of how eternity works, God has *always* been God/perfect AND was once an imperfect being like us. Those ideas do seem contradictory, but I think if we understood the interaction between time and eternity better, we'd find that there's actually no conflict between them.

I totally get that the idea of God having sinned at some point can totally be disturbing. But if you look at it the other way around, as we prefer to, it means that we believe the Atonement of Christ has SO much power that it can truly turn a sinful being into a perfect being that might as well never have committed a sin.

Kolob is an actual belief, but not really an important one. (I don't know why it gets so much attention ... I mean, doesn't every Christian believe that God rules over much more than just one solar system? If you accept the "man of flesh and bone" idea, then God having a particular place, and that place having a name, aren't really crazy ideas.)

To make a long story short, we believe in a God who is the Father of our spirits, who sent Jesus Christ to earth to save us, who spoke at Jesus' baptism, saying "This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." We believe that this Jesus was the Creator of the world, and is "one with the Father" in terms of sharing the same goals and being perfectly obedient (just like the meaning of "one" in the end of John 17:11). We believe that this Jesus, before he was born, and under the direction of the Father (and using the title "God" for convenience) was the being who gave instructions to prophets like Abraham and Moses and Isaiah. When he was born, he was literally God's son (although the mechanics of that aren't clear), grew up in Nazareth during the early days of the Roman Empire, lived a perfect and sinless life, suffered for our sins, was crucified to death, and was restored to life (including a physical body that could eat fish and honey) three days later. His resurrection makes us, too, able to overcome death and go to heaven. Because of his role in allowing us to be spiritually cleansed and reborn, he is sometimes called a "Father" even though he isn't our literal spirit father (he is, rather, our Brother).

Most of that sound familiar? :) I'm not going to deny there are differences in what I believe and what you believe about God. But hopefully this helps you understand why we Mormons like to cling to the semantics of saying that our God is the same God as other Christians'.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps changing the wording of your title from "Will" to "May" would clear the air a bit?

Anonymous said...

I think you just flicked your hand.

Anonymous said...

I'm surpised yu were ever a member.

Anonymous said...

Lie much?

Brad said...

Carl and McKay,

In a way, you're right. The Book of Mormon really is key, both in joining the church and deciding to leave it (among other things). Yes, for a very long time it was sufficient to keep me in the church. But after studying it so many times, you come to realize that there are some very serious existential issues that, if the book is literal truth (and it absolutely has to be in order for the church's truth claims to be valid), destroy the concept of a loving, constant, and never-changing God. So when these issues arise, and if the same prayer/study routine isn't cutting it anymore, people look for help outside of the official church publications. You'll have to take my word for it, I did study exhaustively. And for me, my studies accelerated these issues, and forced me to make a 'best guess' that led me out of active participation in the church. Could the church still be all it claims to be? Sure, and I guess I could still be screwed in the hereafter. But if there is a loving God, I will beg for mercy at that day.

DaveyOnline said...

I enjoy how many of these posts begin with "your pattern doesn't fit ME," and then go on to describe a disaffection tale which, while perhaps more detailed than Carl's model, does not actually depart from it. After a time of having people dismiss one's very personal emotional and intellectual battle as a defect in character, I can understand one's desire to be heard individually, but it doesn't change the fact that you do actually fit the description of an intellectual objector.

Gamileon said...

I look forward to the future posts by the lds website. I agree that many of the issues you bring up will likely become topics.

Unfortunately members in the church are too often focused on the "wo unto the learned who think they are wise" doctrine rather than actually studying and researching. I have had one wonderful bishop (very well-educated himself) who was even willing to discuss his own doubts. Otherwise, most leaders I have had simply take everything on blind faith. For this reason my own doubts are usually kept to myself and my own studies.

Being well-educated tends to create a life-structure of critical thinking which is often looked down on in the church. As much as some members in the church would like me to, I cannot turn off the skeptic in myself by ignoring the issues on blind faith. So, rather than bringing up such issues in church, I simply sit quiet in meetings, struggle inwardly, and when I get time, to research.

Hopefully the change on the lds website will foster a greater change church-wide and an understanding of us learned, though apparently unwise, skeptics along with our many reasonable doubts.

My personal experience has been that of a great struggle with even the greater fundamentals. I still cannot seem to get my mind past the most fundamental questions, e.g. the very existence of God. Without this, the minutiae of whether, for example, DNA evidence debunks the church is meaningless. By the way, I believe it was Elder Oaks that has written a nice article online regarding this issue and the difficulty of proving a negative, if you haven't seen it yet.In that article, Elder Oaks even, in essence, stated that if the Book of Mormon is debunked, the entire church is debunked.

My studies have pulled me in every different direction, usually result in even greater confusion and frustration, and end in apathy and consignment to choosing to believe and practice, while largely remaining quiet about my doubts. I do this because of the "fruits" I have seen from the lives of many faithful members, including my own family.

In the end, if nothing else, the moral structure of the church is a great way to live a good life and have at least a small positive effect on the world while we all try to figure all of this out.

I was truly grateful for Elder Uchtdorf's comments this last conference, which you cite, about the struggles many of us face in deciding whether to continue in the church.

I do everything I can to not be among those who judge someone's leaving or staying in the church. I struggle with it myself, and I think any critical thinking person should struggle with faith. I applaud all truth-seekers.

If there is a just God, he will account for all of the uncertainty we face when judging us in the totality of our circumstances. If struggle with faith is sin, then I will most certainly be damned.

Head of Shiz said...


Kind of you to say. I have the barest minimum of desires to baptize my son at this point to be honest. But I definitely would do it if I was given the chance. I see it as a great bonding experience for a family, and would prefer to do it over having someone else step in for me. Regardless, and setting aside the venomous comments on both sides of the debate (people need to remind themselves of their manners it seems), I find the church fascinating. I appreciate people who are willing to discuss the problems openly in spite of their conclusions. When I started really studying, I had never felt so isolated in my life and would have welcomed a polite, safe discussion with an "orthodox" member (for lack of a better label).

So keep it up Carl! The certain will continue in their polemics and embody the antithesis of learning, others will respond positively. The fact that you are thinking about things gives me hope.

Just Jill said...

"6. Because of my new paradigm I can usually find some way to adjust my thinking to both account for my testimony and the new data."

You say 'paradigm'; I say 'cognitive dissonance'. For some of us when the light comes on we 'see' with new eyes that there is no value in constantly making the truth fit our faith. After going through your steps 5-7 for several years. I finally stopped the madness and brought peace and plenty to my life by leaving the church and accepting belief beyond the confines of Mormon theology. Though like you; I am a friend to many Mormons who make the opposite choice. I also scream in private at the madness and the craziness I feel when a friend just stays in the church simply because they feel a burning in their bosom and they don't take time to study it out first. I appreciate your position and your conclusions thank you for accepting mine.

Yours Truly,
A Feminist, a 'so called' Intellectual (in somuch that I question) and definitely a Homosexual

Carl said...

Well, I've been gone too long that it's probably not worth responding to any of the individual messages anymore. For those that helped keep the discussion positive, thank you. For the rest of you . . . well, thanks for dropping by, I guess. See you next time?

One note, though. Joseph actually did boast at one point in his life that he had done better than Jesus at one thing, so when McKay says, "Also, Joseph Smith certainly did NOT boast that he had done more good than Jesus," he's not quite correct.

The relevant quote is thus:

"God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil--all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet."

HC 6:408-9.

While in some ways he's technically correct, boasting you are better than Jesus at anything is conduct unbecoming a prophet. It's one of the few things I can point to with 100% certainty and say "he was wrong to say that." There aren't many, but that was one. Ever prophets are allowed to use hyperbole without falling from grace and becoming a fallen prophet, but, yeah, I wish he hadn't said this.

nathalia said...

Loved this post. I wish I had/made more time to read everything you post! 1. There has to be a wall as thick and tall as one depicted in the Samuel the Lamanite picture, right? Somewhere? and 2. Yes, love that you say that Mormons everywhere should be more inclined to read, study, ponder good books of all sorts! Knowledge!