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Does history even matter to Mormons?

June 26, 2009

My quest is complete. The quotation I’ve been searching for since the start of this blog (most recently mentioned in, “What if Mormonism is wrong?”) has been found.

I chanced upon it in a Recovery from Mormonism deconversion narrative, but the actual source comes from Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Specifically, the summer 1970 release, in a review by Klaus J. Hansen.

…To a professional historian, for example, the recent translation of the Joseph Smith papyri may well present the potentially most damaging case against Mormonism since its foundation. Yet the ‘Powers That Be’ at the Church Historian’s Office should take comfort in the fact that almost total lack of response to this translation is an uncanny proof of Frank Kermode’s observation that even the most devastating acts of disconfirmation will have no effect whatever on true believers. Perhaps an even more telling response is that of the ‘liberals,’ or cultural Mormons. After the Joseph Smith’s papyri affair, one might have well expected a mass exodus of these people from the Church. Yet none has occurred. Why? Because cultural Mormons, of course, do not believe in the historical authenticity of M ormon scriptures in the first place. So there is nothing to disconfirm.

So that leads me to a question…does history even matter? Should the church open up to intellectual historical scrutiny?

In the next sentence, Hansen laments the regrettable state of affairs (at least, for 1970s, that is) that “too many Mormons, whether “orthodox” or “liberal,” regard their history as irrelevant.”

Funny story: when I was searching for a Dialogue logo, I had Sunstones in mind

Funny story: when I was searching for a Dialogue logo, I had Sunstone's in mind

Many disagree with me (as my previous article’s comments suggest), but I think that many people do not care for historicity and history. I suppose if one could take an orthodox believer and convince him of the incorrectness of some history (for whatever religion or cause) and then extinguish all possible rationalizations of faith that could come about, then you’d have yourself an apostate on your hands, and from very rough anecdotal experience, it seems that is precisely how some ex-mormons are made.

But for liberal or cultural Mormons, it won’t work. Because we, after all, do not believe in the historicity in the first place. I remember growing up and chuckling at accounts in the Book of Mormon of steel and horses — it seemed ridiculous enough to me even back then. I don’t mean to belittle the apologists who are working hard to make it work (or believing members who make it work every day now), but for me, I didn’t even worry enough to try to rationalize or explain. I casually noted, “Whoever wrote this was misinformed.”

I imagine what believing cultural and liberal Mormons do is begin to take these scriptures metaphorically or allegorically. Don’t liberal members of other denominations already do the same (especially for the Old Testament?) So, it doesn’t matter if Moses was an actual person…but the lessons are clear. And if your last name is Spong, apparently it doesn’t even matter if many of the central New Testament people and events were actual.

The question is if religion can work like this. Already, we’re asking *several* questions of the Book of Mormon when we ask about its truth. One of those questions has been: is it an authentic ancient document? General Authorities have worked hard to present the case that this is necessary. But is it so? In the far, far, far future (as far as Christianity has come to produce liberal denominations), could Mormonism exist without audacious historical claims? And would that be a better Mormonism? Is that a church worth pushing for (one that doesn’t look at you funny if you publicly don’t literally believe in its historicity?)

I think this provides some insight on the different kinds of members and therefore the different kinds of ex-members. It seems obvious and intuitive that there are orthodox members or even apologists who believe in the historicity of the scriptures, and also liberal or cultural members who value other criteria. And so, what I may have overlooked before was that there should be “orthodox” and “liberal” nonbelievers as well — I can even anecdotally pull up examples of each. The orthodox nonbeliever finds the perceived nonhistoricity of a religion terribly important and foreboding — perhaps it’s what shook him out in the first place. He is bothered when others aren’t bothered by the history. But the liberal nonbeliever (which I would like to refer to myself as, if it’s not too pretentious) isn’t affected, because that was never the emphasis of belief or nonbelief.

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112 Comments
  1. You ask a lot of questions. History matters to me, but I suspect I’m in the minority. (Thanks for the pingback.)

    Frankly, I think history is not very important in any religion. Faith is much more important. There are those who dispute the historicity of the Genesis account of creation, the Exodus, and even Christ himself, so I don’t view Mormonisms problems as any more problematic than other religions. Skeptics want to throw religion away because of these “historical inaccuracies”. For believers, the history probably doesn’t matter nearly as much as the moral of the story.

  2. I agree with your account about faith being that much more important. (and then that’s how you tell the difference between a skeptic and a believer, I suppose).

    But I mean, if you dispute the historicity of the Genesis account of creation, ho hum, nothing happens. If you dispute the Exodus, ho hum, not much happens. If you dispute Christ himself…well, ask Spong how he does it. I think it’s because as you say, history doesn’t matter as much as the moral of the story.

    But can you dispute swaths of proposed Mormon historicity and truly have nothing happen? I mean, how much is faith dependent on the belief in BoM or other scriptural historicity? Why do GAs constantly hinge everything on this historical parts.

  3. This post reminds me of a book of mormon class I took at byu about 4 years ago… my teacher told everyone in our class to avoid those who might not take the scripture literally like the plague. He had a little diagram that “proved” the earth was only 6000 years old, and he also said that if you didn’t believe that, that you were leaning on apostasy. It was interesting how he made a big deal of telling us we needed to accept the scriptures and world view as he saw it, or we were leaning on apostasy. He even said that “There are those within the church who would tell you that the BoM is to be taken as ‘nice stories’ but that they didn’t really happen. These people are to be avoided! They are the ones we were warned about in the BoM who would be the wolves in sheep’s clothing in the last days.”
    Of course, he never gave a reason why scriptural literacy was so important. I thought doing good unto others was requisite to get into heaven, not believing the earth was literally 6000 years old?

  4. In my case I suppose. He was right. I apostatized. haha.

    Granted, there were other more important reasons at stake, but it was instances like those described above that were the icing on the cake for the case for me to distance myself from the church.

  5. Wow Hypatia–why I am I STILL being surprised by people like this… bordering on apostasy? In my mind those types of teachers CAUSE more apostasy than anything else. Ug.

    History DOES matter to me (well, I would have to define what “matter” means–it definitely seems like an emotional construct). It bothers me though when Mormons get put into these dichotomous categories, e.g. “liberal” or “cultural” mormons vs. orthodox. I would consider myself orthodox, but I certainly wouldn’t agree on a lot of things with some members. History matters, it is interesting, we should know it. BUT, the construction of history is NOT gathering truth, imo, but putting together a mosaic (consisting of what we can learn) according to our own worldview–at least I think that’s how it works if we are truly honest with ourselves.

    One of my favorite quotes on history goes something like this: For every complex problem, there is a simple, clear, and wrong answer.”

  6. re Hypatia:

    Yeah, I agree with AdamF (on the apostate side).

    I mean, it is one thing to believe the BoM is literal…but that doesn’t lead to Young Earth Creationism…if religion TRULY hinges on YEC, then I lament for it starting today. I like how you put it: It was interesting how he made a big deal of telling us we needed to accept the scriptures and world view as he saw it, or we were leaning on apostasy.

  7. re AdamF:

    Now, now, now, we have a vocabulary problem. How can we get anywhere when no one can agree on vocabulary?

    It seems though that viewing history as narrative fallacy (to use words from another MMatters writer), or as you put it, a “mosaic…according to our own worldview” is what I mean by a liberal view. Maybe I’m presumptuous, but it would seem to me that orthodox members would want a history that is solid enough to actually be “gathering truth,” even if such is unrealistic or not how history actually works.

    Of course, you may be right in that the distinctions are flawed…because it’s not like we have a “solid” and “comprehensive” theology of creeds that defines orthodoxy vs. not…we don’t have many/any creeds at all.

  8. Yay for vocabulary problems! :)

    The only thing I don’t like about labels is so often people use them to marginalize or discount others. For example, I have talked to people who left the church about what bothered them, and when I explain my views, or the way I was raised, they’ll say “yeah, but you aren’t orthodox” or “that is a ‘liberal’ view” etc. Basically they are discounting me by putting me into one of those categories, rather than just accepting that their categories *may* be narrow and rigid.

    Re: “orthodox” members and wanting a history that is “solid” – this seems to be the case for some who leave as well. Guest Writer (from the 800 comment post) seems like one of these. Things were clear before, and they’re clear to him now. Perhaps it’s not just our worldview that shapes our history, but also our personalities. Some need neat and tidy (whatever the result), some (like me, and many others I’m sure) reject that.
    E.g. Joseph Smith as a womanizing charlatan vs. THE Prophet. Not to get into that debate here, but I just want to point out that imo there is enough historical “evidence” to work with when putting one’s mosaic together about JS that you can come to all kinds of conclusions, but you necessarily have to leave out (or discount, etc.) some things if you want to have a clear picture either way.

  9. Re: the original topic–I think there are many who don’t really care about history. I would be curious at what % of members have even read the JS bio by his mother, for example. I have seen Bushman’s RSR in many homes in the last few years though, which is promising.

  10. re AdamF:

    Re: “Orthodox” members and wanting a history that is solid:

    That is exactly why I have begun to include the idea of orthodox nonbelievers. I had Guest Writer precisely in mind for that. orthodox nonbeliever finds the perceived nonhistoricity of a religion terribly important and foreboding — perhaps it’s what shook him out in the first place. He is bothered when others aren’t bothered by the history. Whereas for me, history wouldn’t bother me. So, even if “orthodox” or “liberal” is not a good distinction, I think there is a meaningful distinction between historically focused and not-so-focused. Again, this isn’t to say that history becomes one way or another, so it probably isn’t right to say “historically focused” or “not-so-focused.” But perhaps it’s as you say: “neat and tidy” vs. “mosaic.”

    I hope I’m not discounting you or anything, but I think I can see what people mean when they say, “Oh, you’re just a liberal Mormon.” It’s something like, “I’m trying to speak to a recognizable audience and I know who it is. I call it “orthodox” for lack of a better term. I know what they believe and what their accepted points are. If you don’t accept these points, great, but that means you aren’t much of a help in my case.”

    For example, it’s great to find members who…for example, support gay marriage. But ultimately, we need to find a way to convince the ones who hate it and fight against it with a passion and believe it to be evil/the road to hell/etc., because they represent the power-arm of the church. For lack of better terms, we say that that represents an “orthodox” view.

  11. re adamF 1:18 PM:

    I would also like to see this percentage, but also the percentage of ex-members who have delved into the history. Because I think we might be able to discover interesting things either way — are the number of historically-read members the same, lower, or greater than ex-members? Because it anecdotally SEEMS that ex-mormons all care about history, but even I don’t think that’s true. Sure, we have many stories and narratives of those who did delve into history and not like what they saw, but I think this may just be because these kinds of figures are more vocal as well.

  12. awe permalink

    I wonder how “liberal” apologists come to terms with their cherry-picking the good from the scriptures? Each of the LDS bedrock books have lessons of vengeance, blood atonement, xenophobia, bigotry and hate. The literalists at least live “The Word” to the best of their ability, even if it means stomping over others. If you choose and value only the least offensive moral allegories of a religion then maybe you really are not part of that church after all.

    • I’d imagine it’s rather easy: different standards for different eras. It’d probably be more fallacious to expect the message to remain the same in today’s society as it did way back when.

    • The problem I have with your comment, awe, is that you are forcing someone like me to “not reall be a member” when in fact I am. Everyone is a cherry picker in some form or another, at least int the sense of placing value on certain things over others. I try to live what I believe, reject what I don’t, and allow everyone to label themselves. That has led me to stay in the church. I thank you for saying it tentatively, but I still mus reject your dichotomous categorization.

  13. Very good points.

    So, the “orthodox” member in this case would be the one who follows the majority of the power in the church. Now my brain is starting to feel a bit muddy on this, but I think I get it. The funny thing is is that there may be no orthodox view on what is orthodox, e.g. Hypatia’s institute teacher who “knew” that his view was THE view. Perhaps in this type of case, orthodoxy is subjective, which is why there can be orthodox nonbelievers, etc. etc. In my personal view, I am VERY orthodox to what I believe. Now, that may not always be what someone else believes, or perhaps even the “majority power” of the LDS faith, but what is considered orthodox in the church changes over time. AAAAAHHH. Getting confused (and wordy!) again. :)

    Incidentally, this issue of labeling is one reason why I am no longer a “democrat”. I do not like the baggage or pre-conceived notions that people have when I tell them I’m in this or that party. I have found, for the most part, this is not a problem for me with being a “Mormon” because many of the people I meet are generally curious and open and want to learn. Then again, I do generally hang out with a bunch of therapists, and they often have similar personalities, even if we have different faiths, or none at all.

  14. “Whereas for me, history wouldn’t bother me.”

    Andrew, I think this is one of the reasons why I like reading your stuff. You are not an “orthodox” nonbeliever. :) In general, I have a hard time with rigid orthodoxy I guess! Or better termed “militant orthodoxy.” ;)

    A while back I was having–at the same time–three ongoing discussions/debates with people: a VERY conservative/orthodox Mormon, a fundamentalist Christian, and a very “orthodox” ex-Mormon. The funny thing was, they all felt very similar to talk to… if it weren’t for specific beliefs being stated, I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.

  15. re AdamF:

    I’m willing to agree with that classification of orthodox member — especially when you focus on majority of the *power* of the church. This means that with new prophets, new general authorities, or even from the bottom up, the “orthodoxy” can change.

    And you’re right — we may not have an orthodox view on what’s orthodox. Because Mormonism shuns creeds to a great extent. Instead, we have to go by what “feels” or “seems” orthodox, which, as Hypatia’s teacher shows (or anyone who points to the obscure writings of one GA to “trump” another)…we can be incorrect.

    I think everyone is orthodox to what they believe…or rather, if they aren’t, that makes them a *hypocrite*. But what if this orthodoxy isn’t orthodox w/ respect to the “power” and “authority” of the LDS church? I think you get at the LEAST weird looks (imagine what a GA would say to any contested belief you hold…would he nod without reservation or give you a funny expression)…and at WORST you get disciplinary actions. So I propose that orthodoxy is what *wouldn’t* get weird looks from the GAs or from whoever has the “authority” (for example, if we could phone the Lord at this moment…it might be that he would have very different ideas).

    I agree that the various orthodox people of anything — Mormonism, nonMormon denominations, ex-mormonism, etc. — feel similar to talk to, but for the beliefs espoused. And I think that’s regrettable

  16. I thought I’d clarify something. This wasn’t an “institute” teacher really. . . He is a member of the BYU Religion staff and was responsible for teaching us a course about the book of mormon… presumably from an academic point of view. Unfortunately (and I got all sorts of amusing stories) this guy took this college class, which was a requirement to take to graduate from the Y, and used it as a sort of soap box for all his crazy ideas.

    I would consider my dad’s side of the family to be “orthodox” Mormons as well. If confronted with evidence that doesn’t jive with their version of history, a history which is so integrated into their religious identity, they just discount it off hand. For some reason, believing the earth is only 6000 years old is such a huge part of their beliefs in doctrine of the church. I’ve had conversations with my father after he would make a comment while watching a discovery channel show that states life has been on earth for billions of years. After numerous discussions (with my father, not extended family oi vey) with him, I think he finally started to see how putting emphasis in the age of the earth, was really irrelevant when saying you were a believer in mormonism or not.

    I can see what Adam means however, when people just disregard your point of view as “liberal” or whatever. My father’s extended family have all labeled me as “liberal” and “ungood” simply because I don’t follow their rigid world views.

    However, I feel all my work will be undone with my parents when they find I want to leave the church. It took me months to try to half convince them that the church shouldn’t be so concerned about making sure gays don’t get married. And talking to my parents about the irony that they are claiming persecution on the people they have persecuted. I don’t mean to totally change this discussion. I’m just making a point from a personal example… but when I come clean, eventually, I feel all that hard work I did, in my pursuits to instill the idea that having a different perspective on gay rights and being a good Mormon works and can be acceptable, will be destroyed. They will discount me as merely “ex mormon” so everything I ever said about anything will be just fine to ignore.

  17. That’s probably the worst thing about leaving the church in any sort of “public” way (even if it’s just telling your folks). You immediately lose all credibility you once had and tried to build for yourself.

  18. Unfortunately you right Hypatia, although it’s not just Mo/ExMo stuff at work here. Generally people will trust “one of their own” who is critical, rather than an outsider (or in this case, someone who will have left). I think that’s why John R. of Mind on Fire stayed in the church (on the records anyway) for so long. He wanted to have a stronger voice.

    Re: science and religion – Maybe my perspective is skewed, but I think the “earth is 6000 years old” is an extreme view–just estimating but I think only 1 in 10 members I have talked to about that actually believe that.

  19. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Hello guys-

    My ears were burning, so I thought I’d come over. I was definitely an Orthodox believer and am now an Orthodox non-believer, but at the same time, do not think that history is black and white. BUT, there are certain aspects of history that I think ARE black and white. Did Joseph get plates from an angel or not? Did Sidney Rigdon give him pages to dictate or not? From there, I can move on to what I can look at to figure out the validity of those claims: If the translation was word for word from God as described by those who took part in it, then why all the errors? and etc. So all the other stuff is piecing together the evidence to see if those fundamental claims still fit. Those are the aspects that I think are important. So, while some things/claims appear small, I think they can tell a lot about the larger claims. For example, Joseph said that Huntsville, Missouri was the site of the ancient city of Manti. Seeing apologists drop this idea because it obviously does not fit with Book of Mormon geography is a bit strange to me. For me, it looks like someone discarding Joseph’s word in order to believe Joseph’s word. They came from the same source, but they are willing to give one up in order to believe the one they like more. The Book of Abraham is another great example of this. His failed prophecies would go in this mix as well. At some point, I followed the Biblical thoughts of: “But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true” (Jer. 28:9) and “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:22). Following this criteria, I do not fear Joseph Smith.

    I never believed in the church because of its moral/life principals and teachings. I agreed with a lot of them, but disagreed with a few of them. The ones I agreed with, I would live with or without the church because, uhhh, I agreed with them, but the other ones, I felt bound to believe in or follow, because God said that was how things were. I guess I felt that if the church was not true, then I would be free to live what I considered a higher moral standard.

    Ha ha. I probably didn’t clarify anything, but just reiterated what you already knew.

    • That’s a great handle: 800+!

  20. Thanks for the comments; I’d hate to feel like you thought we were just talking behind your back.

    I think that as far as the end truth matters, there are black and whites. Obviously, everything either is or is not (and how things divide into those categories can be more awkward than we thought, but they do divide into those categories). The problem is…can when we study history, are we getting a 100% clear picture of the issue? Ever? I don’t think so. We are getting some facts, some rumors (some more plausible than others), and then are putting them through our interpretive framework.

    I understand where you’re coming from with your second-to-last paragraph (counting the “haha” one has the last). I just feel that I could see a similar dynamic playing but with more nuances. Because it didn’t matter, when I was in the church, if Joseph Smith said this or that. I never put the divinity to it, even though I did feel “bound to follow” for certain things from my upbringing. It’s confusing.

  21. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    I agree with the historical stuff not being 100% clear. But, I feel that there is a ton of evidence where we can’t take Joseph at his word when he makes bold claims. It’s enough for me to be able to let go of Mormonism. Although there were aspects that I found hard to let go, believing in the teachings of the church had compromised my personal sense of morality enough that it would cause more pain to stay in it than leave. If my study of history were different. If Farms and FairLDS actually had a good amount of evidence FOR the truthfulness of the BOM and Joseph rather than a huge database full of justifications for why things don’t add up, then it would be easier for me to hang on. The facts would be backing up the leap of faith I was making.

    For me, the historicity and the moral claims all went together. It all bundled up into the same group of truth. If the historicity didn’t add up as truth, if the story behind the source of the BOM could be called into question, then it called into question the authority of Joseph/Brigham/(Insert prophet here) on moral issues and how we live our life. I could tie this back to a convo I had with adamF about my parents not participating in oral sex because Spencer W. Kimball announced to the church that said practice was a perversion of the sacred act of procreation. If the man’s a prophet, then I guess he knows what he’s talking about and we should follow his moral authority. If he’s not, then I say let the people have whatever type of sex they want and don’t pay that man any more attention than you might an article in Reader’s Digest.

  22. This illustrates my issue with the b&w/”orthodox” approach very well. To be a prophet, one cannot teach anything false. That idea creates this dichotomy of either bending over backward trying to explain everything and make it fit, or relegating the person to the reader’s digest. I was taught over and over again that prophets are human and make mistakes, yet there are many who seem to have been taught otherwise, hence the two available options are “orthodox.” Again, my favorite quote of late comes to mind: “for every complex probl there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

    • Whoops, typos abound on the iPhone – “problem” not probl

  23. re adamf:

    I agree, and I have written about this several times. The frustrating part is that certain general authorities promote this very thought process, so people who want to believe in a black-and-white, all-or-nothing approach have the authoritative guidance to back themselves up. So, members who will believe in such philosophy have “ammo” against those who don’t, even though if you look at other quotes from the same GAs (or from other GAs with just as much authority), it is as you say: we know the Prophets are human and make mistakes.

    But at the same time, I am conflicted. Because I can see the point of those like Guest Writer (or even the GAs) that some issues should conceivably be all or nothing. Being as a windtossed wave is…unappealing. And there is an allure to believing the prophets to be superhuman…following a flawed human doesn’t seem pressing.

  24. Good points, and I can see your point as well as 800+’s. Our environment and our personalities really seem to play a huge part in our approach to faith and history.

    Andrew Ainsworth has a post today at MM with some interesting points, esp. regarding what members do when there is a major conflict in their views with that of a church leader. He puts it into two categories, (which I don’t have to repeat that has problems in and of itself) but it is still interesting. If there is a conflict, some side with the church leader, others will side with their conscience. I suppose I fit better into the latter group, although I don’t consider myself a NOM. Really though, I don’t understand people who always view the prophet as “right” because they have not always agreed among themselves. You can’t agree with ALL of it.

    • Adding to that, one thing that concerns me is the apparent emphasis in the church on the idea that everything fits together neatly. Things aren’t neat, regardless of one’s viewpoint in or out of the church. I may try to turn that “mosaic” idea into a post sometime.

      • Adding to that, I wonder what the “objective” things (in church history) are–that 800+ suggested–that ARE black and white, i.e. those things that HAVE to have happened, or else it ALL comes crashing down.

        Some ideas: some kind of first vision occurred, JS received at least some true revelation… wait, perhaps those are NOT objective! Really, I don’t see how these things can be black and white. For sure, either an angel gave the plates to JS or not, but what it all means, who Joseph was, who the angel was, what was really written on the plates, how correct the translation was, what the significance of the translation was, how much importance we individually place on the teachings, etc. is not black and white at all to me.

        I’m definitely not saying those are my standards for history in the church, but just wondering what HAS to be black and white. Perhaps it’s not black and white in terms of considering what is black and white. ;)

    • (comment moved for…continuity?)

      I enjoyed Andrew’s post today, but I have some reservations as some of the other commenters expressed. While Eve is embraced, others who one could make the comparison to are not. So it seems like people are saying, “So, in Eve’s case, it was ok. But never again.”

      And people are reluctant to even admit that what Eve did was a good thing. Remember we still have to deal with a majority of Christians who believe that the Fall was purely bad.

      I don’t think you quite fit NOM either though, lol. I didn’t quite think it was fair for Andrew to say “Prophet vs. conscience” (even though at face value, it’s an OK distinction)…but I liked how he didn’t make it all or nothing. It was more, “when things are close.” Still, I think there are flaws with the model.

      And you’re right — it’s almost trivially true that the Prophets have not always “agreed among themselves” because that’s the precise nature of revelation! Yet, you have people who are disappointed with the direction things are going and decide to go fundamentalist (yikes) or those who want change to happen faster and who denounce the past.

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        That brings up a difference of opinion though. My understanding of revelation was definitely NOT that there would be disagreement between them. I saw revelation as something that built upon itself. Even if new revelation came, it would not contradict the former revelation, just build upon it: “line upon line.” With things like Adam/God, Blacks and the Priesthood, I had done the mental gymnastics to make it all fit, to make it so the prophets revelations were not wrong. That’s why the pronouncement of an apostle stating that Brigham Young put false doctrine in the temple upset me so much. Or, how about when I learned that certain revelations in the 1833 Book of Commandments were altered to say the exact opposite of what they had originally said and seemed to conveniently fit the changes that had happened between when they were first recorded and when they were placed in the 1835 D&C? Those are examples of things that shattered my very system I was using to patch up things that made me uncomfortable about Mormonism.

  25. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    But, relegating their words to Reader’s Digest status is not saying that they are always wrong or have bad points. Reader’s Digest is often right and has good points. It just doesn’t stand at a higher level of moral authority than anything else.

    • I need to read some more RD! :)

      “It just doesn’t stand at a higher level of moral authority than anything else.”
      This is where the spiritual side of things comes in for me. I also think (and perhaps we agree here) that it is a mistake to follow someone SIMPLY because of their label, mantel, supposed authority, degree, etc.

      • To be more specific and personal, I follow the prophet when I believe what he is saying is true. If I don’t, then of course I don’t follow it… and not to “cherry pick” but there are plenty of quotes from LDS leaders that advise doing that, and warn against holding up prophets as perfect. That being said, I also think we agree that there are plenty of quotes on the other end, that proclaim that we should always follow the prophet, even when we disagree.

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        “I also think (and perhaps we agree here) that it is a mistake to follow someone SIMPLY because of their label, mantel, supposed authority, degree, etc.”

        Yes I agree with that statement.

        “I also think we agree that there are plenty of quotes on the other end, that proclaim that we should always follow the prophet, even when we disagree.”

        Those are the quotes I grew up with.

    • waaaah, embedded comments raaagh. (I turned it on, so I have to deal with it).

      Back to the discussion…I actually agree with Guest Writer on this point. I have often described it as being a fan of a company’s products. If I like Google’s products, then I’ll use them and enjoy them. But Google is not “true” or “inspired.” They are run by humans that have caught on to nice business practices, but I wouldn’t get too sad if they stopped being competitive. I’d buy another product.

      This is, I think, the difference between a believer, of any stripe, and a nonbeliever. The believer believes there is SOMETHING more than just humans who have good practices (not saying that the believer has to believe the company/organization/church can do no wrong, but still).

      • You would prefer putting all comments on the bottom?

        I don’t necessarily disagree with you here. I have my worldview / what is important to me / what I believe in, and if I felt the church as a whole had strayed far enough from that in enough fundamental ways, and also felt like I could personally do nothing to bring about change to correct it, I would leave, no question. I am committed to my beliefs, and find *most* of the fulfillment of those in the LDS faith. So yes, I would say it’s more than just “good practices.”

      • it’s not that all comments need go on the bottom. but now we have a few tangents going on and they aren’t sequential. can’t just look at the bottom for new comments.

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        Ha ha, I should really choose a moniker other than Guest Writer.

        I did not think that the company had to be right on everything. For example, it didn’t bother me when I found out about the Kirtland Bank collapse. However, that DOES start bothering me if he really did PROPHESY that said bank would grow until it filled the earth. As soon as his PROPHETIC claims are called into question, that’s when I start to question any ties he has to a supernatural source.

        Another example might be polygamy. Although he may have gone about it in a way that hurt a lot of people, that does not mean that the original commandment didn’t come from God like he claimed. However, when the year of when he claimed to receive the sealing power is much later than encounters with Fanny Alger and, debatably, others, then I start to question which came first and whether one was not invented to cover the other.

        Or when he undermines his own claims to authority. First declaring that he received authority from Peter, James and John, but years later (Found in “The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”) declaring that he was reading the German Bible and found that it was a better translation than any other Bible he had seen and that it declared the three to be Peter, JACOB and John. He then goes on to explain how anyone who had ever claimed to get authority from Peter, James and John were wrong and should never have been followed.

        When the claims that tie to a higher source don’t add up, THAT’S when I start getting bugged by the discrepancies.

      • Try Ghost Rider. (oops. isn’t that copyrighted?)

        For me, I would look to broken/unfulfilled prophesies as things like puffery (imagine if someone “prophesied” that they could build a ship so reinforced that it wouldn’t sink even if it hit ice? I don’t think the Titanic had quite that level of assurance as a prophesy, but similarly, one could argue the ads were puffery).

        In the end, I think the same conclusion is “reached:” the questioning of supernatural ties. But I see your points. I probably just started from a different place (not being convinced) and through reading more, it didn’t shake that…so, I never worried about the issues of polygamy because I could always say, “Well…they are human. What can we expect from flawed people in a flawed world without supernatural ties.” What took me time was realizing what exactly it means not to believe in the supernatural.

        Whereas you started from a different place and through reading and searching more, it broke the original expectations and beliefs.

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        Interesting, so you started out atheistic?

      • I think so. I think my problem was in not realizing it. And so growing up in the church made me consistently think that I was broken or wrong or defective for not having the same spiritual experiences as the others. It wasn’t good at getting me to think it was divine. But it was good at making me *want* to think it was divine, and because I couldn’t force it, that was no good for me.

        So, my process has been to understand, appreciate and better me instead of rejecting it for some ideal I don’t believe in and which hasn’t helped me.

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        “And so growing up in the church made me consistently think that I was broken or wrong or defective for not having the same spiritual experiences as the others. It wasn’t good at getting me to think it was divine. But it was good at making me *want* to think it was divine, and because I couldn’t force it, that was no good for me.”

        That describes me perfectly as well, just that I had two belief systems being built in my mind ever since my Santa dilemma- either the church is true, or I don’t believe any of it comes from a God or Gods. So, for me, the transition has been pretty quick, because I was simultaneously building the other in the background the whole time.

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        “Quick” albeit late in coming.

      • LOL, my parents spilled the Santa thing waaaay back when (we were in Houston over one Christmas break…and we just went to the mall to get presents. My parents tried to say, “Uhh, Santa doesn’t come to Houston. It’s too hot.” Even that wasn’t shattering, because I never really believed. I guess I just have that kind of naturally skeptic trait.

        Unfortunately, because of that I didn’t have that dichotomy thing. Things were weird. Despite my nonbelief, I just thought, “but if I am more righteous and if I read and study more, then I’ll get it eventually.” So much for that.

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        “I guess I just have that kind of naturally skeptic trait.”

        And being a skeptic can save a lot of time, and possessions.

        Have you watched any Derren Brown videos? I highly recommend his “The so called Messiah” series (they can be found on youtube). He has training as a hypnotist/mentalist and he takes on major belief systems and fools people into believing he has a special connection with the divine.

      • I’ve seen some of brown’s mentalist stuff, but I hadn’t seen The So-called Messiah. Will have to check out

  26. I also wanted to add that this blog is becoming one of my favorites… although I’m sure my wife doesn’t appreciate all the time I spend commenting here!

  27. LOL, I definitely don’t want to become a homewrecker. Especially with your latest post about knowing your partner well (and my latest post about my obvious latent “anti-mormon obsession”)

  28. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    I have one more thing to say about this post.

    Since I realized that the history was nothing like I was taught in church or at home, I quickly started telling people. Why? Because I would have wanted them to do the same for me. It has been really hard for me to come to terms with the idea that people don’t WANT to hear the history that sounds bad even if it IS true. As you are pointing out, for most, the history doesn’t seem to matter. I thought people would want to know. I was trying to help.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      To some extent, I feel like a person that walked outside of a building and, after inspecting the foundation, found out it was full of cracks. I went running into the building to warn people that the building was not sound, but was surprised to find that the people didn’t care. “But…but…the foundation….the cracks…don’t you want to get out and either remain in the open air or find a new building?” The people just stare at me- some of them with incredulous looks on their faces, others with looks of annoyance or anger and others with a slight grin on their face shaking their heads almost imperceptibly. After an awkward moment of standing there, with everyone staring at me, I get a confused look on my face and walk back out of the building, staring at the ground and puzzling.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Oh! and I forgot one group. When I run in and blurt out my information, there are a few of them that actually do look a bit alarmed and almost say something, but then start looking around at the other people that don’t seem to care and slowly lower their heads and go back to what they were doing, only occasionally casting furtive glances in my direction above their busy-work.

  29. In some ways I have had similar experiences regarding sharing church history with other members, especially with the “cracks”. Many people just don’t want to hear it, and that has been frustrating. I have found, however that looking at it from their perspective, eg that it may be quite threatening to consider certain things, at least helps me understand a little better / be more patient.

    Re: revelation – I was taught growing up that revelation did “add” to what came previously, but also that it corrects what is false. E.g. the restoration restored some things, but as a church and as a people we have long way to go, and still have many things that are false and need to change via continuing revelation. The best example of this would be the priesthood ban–definitely wrong in my view, and my father taught me that when I was old enough to get it, and it was later corrected or set right via the 78 revelation.

  30. Another thought re: alerting others – I think they will respond more often or be more interested if they don’t feel like they have to come to the same conclusion that you do. Iow, the meaning or importance attributed to the historical issue may vary from person to person, and if they feel comfortable, and not like they’re being led to certain conclusions, they will more likely listen. Just wondering 800+, because sometimes your style comes across as “if you know this stuff, then you ought to leave the faith.” if that indeed is your intention, okay, but I don’t think people will want to listen in that case.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      This goes back to my analogy of the building with a cracked foundation. I definitely went running in thinking that I better tell people because the implications were obvious. I was warning them to hurry out of the building. That is why, when I walked out of the building alone, I was so puzzled. I didn’t realize when I went running in, that people might see the same cracks and feel that they don’t run as deep as I thought they did. I didn’t realize that they might see them as the natural course of things, but nothing to worry about. I didn’t realize that others were, in a sense, looking at a very different foundation than I was.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      My style of “if you know this stuff, then you ought to leave the faith” comes from what seemed so obvious to me.

      I hear some members laugh at Scientology. They say, “How can anyone seriously be part of a church that was founded by a Science Fiction writer?” I think to myself (but never dare say it), ‘Isn’t that better than a religion founded by a man that was on trial for being paid for illegal and failed treasure seeking?’ The LDS church being wrong is as obvious to me as the Scientology church being wrong to many LDS members. They aren’t using their own criteria for things passing the smell test.

      • Yeah, that makes sense (re: your style) – I just think you will never get that understanding (if that is what you are looking for) taking that stance. I know it’s not the easiest thing to do, but if you “meet people where they are” so to speak, and ask open-ended questions that are not leading, and listen in a non-judgmental way, people WILL open up. They need to feel safe first. As long as they don’t, they will ignore you, change the subject, practice bad apologetics, lower their eyes-as you said, etc.

        “They aren’t using their own criteria for things passing the smell test.”
        Honestly, atheists (and/or perhaps agnostics) are the only ex-mormons I can really understand. It doesn’t make sense that someone gives up one set of beliefs that “doesn’t pass the smell test” for another one that doesn’t either.

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        Yes, well, for the most part, I have left the building still struggling to understand some of those people. My mind is constantly mulling things over. I only jump back in occasionally to test the waters and maybe cause a stir. Either that or when a guy I knew from grade school invites me to. :)

        I completely agree with your comments about ex-mormons. I am baffled by those who leave, but default to another religion that I think falls for the same reasons they thought the first one did.

      • I agree with AdamF on this one. Not only will you never get that understanding taking this stance, but you will create a rift.

        This is why I think it’s important to realize the subjective value of religions. With scientology, we don’t have a mist of time past to cloud details…but people still believe in it (even though we can EASILY find the damning quotes and actions of its founder and early parts)…but the fact is…people subjectively get something from scientology. It still could be dangerous (I think it is rather dangerous, but oh well.) But we can’t rush headfirst, because then we risk alienating.

        So Mormonism has a bit more historical mist, and other denominations more. I think we still have some rather damning evidence everywhere, but this is why I point out the history doesn’t really matter so much. We have to come to an emotional understanding.

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        I agree. Don’t worry guys. I know how to be diplomatic. I just don’t feel I need to be for you guys. :) I would like to consider myself a fairly perceptive person. I have always been a people watcher. I can usually tell when a subject I am broaching is making someone uncomfortable. At which point, I will just back off.

        You would be surprised at how little I have said to anyone. I have only even tried mentioning the 1826 trial to one of my friends in passing and that went so poorly that I have not mentioned anything as damning since. I am aware that they don’t even want to talk about it. If they were curious, they would ask me questions. I have tested their waters and they are far from welcoming. Had I been on the other end and someone brought the subject up to me, I would have been riveted. I wouldn’t have necessarily believed it, but it would have sent me into deep study mode to find out if the accusations had any merit.

        The only people I have thrown the big stuff out to are my parents. But, it was because I was living with them at the time and a person leaving their parents’ faith can be a contentious thing. If they started getting after me, I would just bring up something new from history that they were unaware of that would make them uncomfortable. It usually worked to keep them from hassling for awhile. When they came back, I would just have to be prepared with more info. Luckily there was plenty for me to raise questions with. :)

  31. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Whoops! I meant to post this here not the other place.

    I’m sure I could site all sorts of Prophets, Apostles and other GAs to show where all the info came from, but I think we all know there was a lot of embarrassing stuff said about this, so I will skip it. I will, however, say what I had been taught about the priesthood ban.

    I was taught that the priesthood ban was on those with the Mark of Cain. It would not be just for God to put such a restriction on a whole group of people merely because one person did something wrong, so God must have a reason for having them be born in a cursed race that can’t get the priesthood. I was taught that, in the pre-mortal life, they accepted God’s plan, but did not accept the responsibility of the priesthood. So, in a sense, they were a third group. In the book of Revelation, John talks about a third PART of heaven following Satan. This does not necessarily mean the mathematical 1/3 like most take it to mean, but could mean that there were three camps of people in heaven: the ones who fully accepted, the ones who fully rejected, and the wishy-washy middle grounders that were born with the Mark of Cain. (The last part from Revelation was a part I heard taught in church within the last five years.) In 1978, heaven ran out of the wishy-washy middle grounders waiting to be born, so at that point, God opened up the priesthood to everyone. The supply of those less than faithful spirits had run dry and while the Mark of Cain remained, the Curse of Cain was no more.

  32. I have heard all of that junk as well, 800. It is abhorrent, and one of the biggest issues I have with some members when it still (unfortunately) comes up. It’s especially bewildering that stuff like this is still taught when Elder Holland and others have specifically said that we should not teach this stuff.

    I always like to point out to people that believe that black people have the curse of Cain, or that they were “less valiant”, that Ephraim, the man whom many of us white people apparently sprang from, HAD A BLACK MOTHER! It’s in the bible. That means, WE’RE ALL CURSED!!!

    UGGGGGggggg. Sorry, this kind of sets me off, but I just can’t stand even hearing all that crap about blacks being less valiant or being cursed etc. What a load.

  33. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    It’s still taught because for people like me and my father and many others, if they opened the door for the priesthood ban on Blacks to have just been a mistaken opinion, it opens the door for it all to have been a mistaken opinion. It is a door that many are unwilling to open, so they must keep it closed with these justifications.

  34. Re: door – I agree that may be the case for many. There is too much anxiety even pondering that door opening. The justifications may make me sick, but I can understand the motivation. What I don’t get is how people can come up with all these justifications, when there are plenty of prophets and other leaders who have not agreed with each other. What then? Well, obviously more “mental gymnastics” or justifications. Just a few weeks ago I was talking to a friend about this issue (i.e. how prophets aren’t always right) and brought up birth control, and how prophet’s views have changed on it quite dramatically. He gave me almost the craziest answer I think I’ve ever heard: The commandment condemning birth control was taken away because members could not live it, a la the law of consecration. Seriously.

  35. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    I kind of thought something along those lines. That’s what I had been told, the law was still in effect, it was just the higher law that many were not ‘righteous’ enough to live. I had been told that the first presidency had been harangued about it so much that they finally said, “Fine! It is a personal matter between you, your spouse and the Lord, but you all really know what the actual commandment is.” I had heard it compared to Martin Harris’ request for the 116 pages. “Fine, have the pages, but you know My will.”

    I was not planning on using contraception in my marriage because of this.

    • Oh wow, so that idea is a fairly common one? Yikes! I thought I was just talking to one person with an extreme idea.

      I guess I’ve been living in sin! ;) Wait, on this logic does that mean I can harangue leaders into being okay with anything I want to do?

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Yes, but you will receive your reward for living a lower law-> a lower glory.

  36. Ah well, if I’m surrounded by people who believe stuff like the priesthood ban hooie, than I welcome a so-called lower glory.

  37. “If they started getting after me, I would just bring up something new from history that they were unaware of that would make them uncomfortable.”

    Now there are some interesting family dynamics! No offense, but that all sounds a little dysfunctional… them getting after you, an ADULT, and you firing back trying to make them uncomfortable. I hope the dust has settled more now.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Ha ha. I said that somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but there probably is some truth to it. They would start getting after me and then I would say, “Ok, if this isn’t supposed to bother me, explain it in such a way that it doesn’t. Help me out with this.” The end result of which was for them to usually stop getting after me. I tried not to take offense though. I understood that they were just trying to save their son from Hell. I think now they just go with the consolation prize that they will be able to get my sister and I back after we have paid for our own sins, since we are already sealed to them.

      I let the dust settle by moving out. I had finally finished my Master’s in December and was working full-time, so leaving was already high up on my list. The disagreements over religion just propelled it to the number one spot.

  38. 800/Andrew – if this post gets too much longer, I’m going to consider the explanation that 800 is just a lightning rod for comments. Wow. Care to submit another post for MM sometime Michael? Wow.

    I have this nearly insatiable curiosity about people, and when you throw religion–esp. Mormonism into the mix, I just can’t seem to get enough. It is interesting that I am more comfortable around ex-mo-atheists than I am around the Packer/McConkie types (fundamentalist-leaning? I don’t know what to call them).

  39. I do believe that 800 is a lightning rod for comments. and I’m lovin’ it (ba ba ba ba baaaa).

    I personally think ex-mo-atheists and non-superhardcore believers (uhh…let’s use that instead of saying “liberal” or “orthodox”) are more exciting because we don’t fit the mold…I mean, McConkie types…yawn…rabid antis? Yawn. People who don’t fit either? That’s new and exciting.

    • If I could just attract him over to my blog now… ;)

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Ha ha. Don’t tempt me. :)

  40. “nonsuperhardcore” – LOL!

    We really do need some new labels… but YAY for exciting!

    • Actually Andrew, we should start a new group blog: “What’s New and Exciting in the World of ExMoAtheists and NonSuperHardCoreBelievers”

      • but if anyone affiliates with me, they’ll be labeled as “antimormons” with “obssessions”

  41. Hmm. I don’t know what I’d do if I was labeled “anti” …. that would be weird. For starters it would completely void the word of any meaning.

  42. See: Seth R (who has been oddly enough labeled anti occasionally).

    I think when people do the labeling, they don’t really have much meaning other than, “Doesn’t believe the way I believe and isn’t willing to be quiet about it.”

  43. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    To further explain my thoughts on this post, my confusion with people who don’t care about history, and my currently steep learning curve I will add this:

    What I am learning is that people actually think religion is a good thing. I’m not even writing that as a joke. It really is somewhat of a new concept to me. All my life, I saw religion as a necessary evil. If the church was true, then I guess I had to put up with all bad things that came from religion in order to preserve the right to worship my own. As soon as I reached a point of not believing, the ‘necessary’ part of necessary evil had disappeared. I was just left with evil. That is one reason I have had such a difficult time in the past few months. I have been trying to gain a different picture of religion and learn to better understand those who see it as a good thing.

    In a sense, I thought when I ran into the building with a cracked foundation, that my words would be welcome. I went in there saying, “Hey the foundation is cracked,” but what I was really saying to them and to myself was, “Hey guys! You don’t have to justify all those immoral things the god of the Bible did. You don’t have to justify even some of the teachings and actions of Jesus. You don’t have to think homosexuality is a sin. You don’t have to worry about what TYPE of heterosexual intercourse you are taking part in. You don’t have to accept women pledging obedience to their husbands. You don’t have to believe pre-1978 blacks were less valiant. You don’t have to believe certain people will go to a lower kingdom because they drink alcohol or smoke. You don’t have to avoid playing with face cards (ok, so I was one of the few that actually followed that teaching). You don’t have to feel ok about polygamy. You don’t have to believe in angels, demons, ghosts, demigods, instantaneous healing, resurrections and other such supernatural beings and occurrences. You don’t have to look at Joseph and Brigham as good men. You don’t have to…..etc, etc, etc.” Then after getting winded from reciting my long list, I am told by the others that they like those things (maybe not all the ones I mentioned, but religion in general). Not only have they never felt it was a necessary evil, they have never seen it as evil at all. For them, it has virtually only been a positive thing. For them, the concept of religion having bad traits is foreign.

    For me, religion was the story, not the moral teachings. The moral teachings were the obvious, somewhat superfluous part. Religion was not about morals to me, it was about where we came from, why we are here and where we are going. “Oh, God wants me to go down into water and come back out? Ok, I guess. I get that it has symbolism, but is there something magical about the water itself? Why can’t you have a symbolic new birth just by starting to believe in him? Why do I need to go down into water for that and why on Earth would baptisms need to be done for the dead? Why can’t God just know if someone would follow him or not and let them into his kingdom if they had a valiant spirit?” “Because he said it was necessary, at which point, it became necessary for entrance to heaven. If he hadn’t said it, it wouldn’t be required, but he did, so it is.” Religion was about following the rules that would get you to the best place hereafter, even if I personally found some of the rules to be strange, nonsensical or even immoral.

  44. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    For me, religion was the story: the who? what? where? when? why? and how? of the universe- What God or Gods were out there and their role in the whole mix; what they wanted me to do (regardless of my own feelings on the matter); how we can tell if they have given me or anyone authority to act in their name; and where everyone will end up if we do or do not follow their commands. For me, the story is what made each religion different. There may have been moral teachings mixed in that were somewhat part of it, but they were the back end of the coin.

    However, for someone like my mom, I am starting to realize, they look at the coin from the other direction. For them, the morals are what matters, the nice teachings. The story behind the religion is the superfluous part. That is why I could not understand what she meant when she would say to me, “The church has been such a blessing in your life. Who cares what Joseph, Brigham and others said? Just follow the current prophets.” To me, that was so backwards. I was not looking at the coin from her direction. Hearing her say that made no sense to me, because what the current prophets and apostles teach was generally independent from religion. I would not understand where my mom was coming from so I would just say, “But the prophets don’t SAY anything anymore. All they talk about is, ‘be nice to one another’ and ‘love one another.’ That stuff is a given. They don’t say anything new.”

    It has been two people looking at the same coin, but from two very different directions.

    • Ironically (is it irony? I can never remember despite AP English), I have had similar experiences with superhardcorebelievingfundes. I have been dismayed at what they don’t care about re: the church and its history, and have gotten similar responses as you have mentioned. I DO care about the story, about the history, about the teachings, and about my personal experiences. It DOES bother me that JS and many others had young brides (whether a true “marriage” or not, it’s still makes me ill). Esp. after my wife and I have been reading a book by a woman who escaped Warren Jeffs and company, it makes me even more ill. 1826 trial notwithstanding, polygamy definitely is the worst thing in my mind. Nothing even comes close.

  45. Yeah, that’s a really different (interesting, IMO) look at things. For me, religion was never about how it happened, who, what, when, why, where, how, etc.,

    So, for a long time, my problem was that I knew the “reporter” details were wrong (I just said things like, “Ok, WHOEVER wrote this was misinformed about steel in the new world…oh well.”) but I still thought that some of the practical/pragmatic teachings were helpful and useful. So I thought, “Well, I like how the church is run like a business. I like the emphasis on lay ministry and public speaking and service, etc., etc.,”

    So, part of what got me was that I essentially had to formulate testimonies around this. It was funny, because I was at an EFY testimony bearing session and I got the courage to get up and stand…and I said something like, “I don’t really believe in the church or in the spiritual precepts, etc., etc., but I believe in the practical parts. I believe in the good that the church has done in shaping my life, etc., etc.”

    It was an awkward testimony, and it must’ve been awkward for others to here…but I was totally oblivious. I was totally oblivious to the silence and stares from some in the crowd during and after — I didn’t realize they were shocked at my heresy — I thought they were deeply intune with my message. I didn’t get a lot of comments after the testimony (usually after a talk, I hear things like, “Great talk! How spiritual! I loved it! etc.,) People just kinda stayed away.

    I didn’t realize it for a long time until I wrote it out. And then I realized what I was saying the entire time. I don’t believe in the church. I don’t believe in the spiritual parts of it, and I don’t even *like it*. And worst of all, I never did. I’ve been trying to change myself around it by finding other parts of the church to like…but the fact is…the FUNDAMENTAL thing that makes a church is not pragmatic improvement or business professionalism. It *is* the spirituality. So if I don’t have that, I’m a joker.

    So, now, the challenge has been seeing that even on the grounds that I liked the church, I find flaws. The spiritual dimensions of the church poison the pragmatic dimensions. For example, I admire how the church was able to mobilize in California for Prop 8. That’s impressive, no ifs, ands, or buts about it, and that’s the kind of things that interest me as a business major.

    But…for what cause? For righteousness and spirituality? How disgusting! How uncompassionate! I recognize that people can’t fight back as they did…really, the other side just needs to get a better business and marketing machine.

    I sometimes did see religion as a necessary evil based on the idea that it might represent (a rather unfortunate) eternal reality. But I never paid this much mind, because I was more masochistic than that — I’d be willing to suffer than follow the necessary evil. If I die and there is a god who wants me to account for things, I know that the scriptures say every knee will bend or whatever, but I think I’m going to have to have pointed questions first. Call that pride, rebelliousness, whatever.

  46. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Interesting! Maybe I AM really hitting on something here. This could be an essential piece of understand that I have been looking for.

    What we are discussing better explains one of my friends (the one who Jen said was probably a porn addict). When I expressed some of my early doubts about the church to him and how I don’t believe in a god without the church, he told me that if he no longer believed the church was true, he would probably become a Muslim. That one about knocked me over. But, maybe it is the two-sided coin thing again. For him, it isn’t about the story, switch Jehovah and Jesus for Allah and Muhammad, it doesn’t matter to him, as long as he has a book of morals to follow.

    Of course, he is also one who has made fun of those who believe in Scientology, but then thoroughly dismissed the trial of 1826 as ridiculous.

    Hmmm…..I have more to think about.

    • I agree–I think there are many that if you took away their religious structure from them, their lives and morals would fall to pieces. Think of that what we may, I think it’s probably true. I have known some people in that situation, and they went off the deep end. HOWEVER, there are many who do not, and have a stable internal moral set (like you and Andrew and MANY others) who don’t.

      • whoops, I mean’t “and have a stable internal moral set–like you and Andrew etc.”

        I really do think some people are better off NOT in the church. Their lives seem to be much happier and healthier, and they live with more integrity. I also don’t believe in a God who damns people based on the fact that HE didn’t give them “an answer” to their prayers. What kind of a God is that?

  47. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    Great EFY testimony by the way. I would have never dared say those things to fellow EFYers. I was more prone to keep quiet about it.

    • A HA!!!! I never went to EFY. My Dad was not fond of it… this is explaining a lot! Perhaps EFY is the cause of apostasy? ;)

      • haha, EFY DEFINITELY showed me some of the stuff bad kids do, so if seeing bad influences will hurt you spiritually, EFY is definitely a place to avoid.

    • I was pretty oblivious to the heresy of my EFY testimony until a few weeks after when I actually wrote the words down and thought about what they meant.

      LOL, I would be very hardpressed to walk in now and say everything (even though that’s how it is for me) now.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Correlation = Causation FTW!!!

      • sounds like a good blog name, considering how much everyone loves correlation in the church lol

      • Nice. :) I just never miss a good opportunity to knock down some superhardcorefundes’ views of the church, and how it should be lived, like EFY being a good idea, and etc. Reminds me of Jesus Camp. Yuck. Not that that there’s anything wrong with that! ;)

  48. I just had a personal insight–Re: esp. 800’s experiences. If I was raised in an environment like that, I can’t say I would still be a member either. I would still be spiritual in some sense, because that’s just a part of me, but I don’t think I would have made it. I wonder if that’s why my father kind of directed me away from stuff like EFY and organized scout camps, and from getting TOO excited about seminary (he was never fond of CES), and from going to BYU (we’re rabid Ute fans). Maybe it’s that he is a rebel at heart as well… Anyway, things make more sense to me about your experience. That stuff would definitely kick me out had I been in the thick of it for that long.

    • Whoops, I meant EFY. Too many typos–Andrew, is there a comment thing you can turn on like on MM to correct the comments?

  49. Well, to be sure, on MM, comment editing doesn’t work.

    Although I did find a “rate this” feature LOL which I promptly have turned on

  50. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    To be sure, all these things must have played a part. But, for me the largest factor really is the believability of the story of Joseph. My issues with what I saw as immoral in the New, Old and Another Testaments as well as in many of the teachings since the beginning of the church and continuing today gnawed at me, but they weren’t greater than my belief of it being true due to what I knew at the time. Also, I would like to add that I was one of the rare people that actually ENJOYED going to church and reading the scriptures (I was a cross-referencing fiend. I rarely was able to get through more than a few continuous verses a night. Instead, I would immerse myself in linking from one scripture to the next, finding common themes. It really appealed to my intellectual side and trying to fully comprehend concepts).

    I left because I didn’t think it was true. The Book of Abraham alone wouldn’t have done it. The Kinderhook Plates alone wouldn’t have done it. The 1826 trial alone wouldn’t have done it. The altering of revelations alone wouldn’t have done it. The evolving story of the first vision alone wouldn’t have done it. The ‘Christianization’ of occult terms by later calling his peep stone a Urim and Thummim or morphing references to Cowdery’s use of a divining rod in revelations from “working with the sprout” to “working with the rod” to “the gift of Aaron,” such word smithing alone wouldn’t have done it. The inconsistency in keeping straight whether or not it was Nephi or Moroni that visited him alone wouldn’t have done it. Archeological and DNA evidence alone wouldn’t have done it. Polygamy and lying for the Lord alone may not have done it (but, like you say Adam, those are really hard to swallow). The failed prophecies alone would not have done it. The undermining of his own claims to authority from God (as mentioned above in this thread) alone would not have done it. The immoral (to me) teachings in the scriptures alone would not have done it. The solid evidence for evolution alone would not have done it (yes, I believed what was taught in the early days and is STILL taught in the Principles of the Gospel Manual, that the Earth was in a state with no death and no procreation before the fall of Adam. No death and no procreation = no evolution). I know there are more, loads more, but those are the ones that come to the top of my head at the moment. The point is, it was no one thing that made me lose my testimony. It was the accumulation of many things. The final straw that broke this camel’s back was what I mentioned in the thread over at MM, the Adam=God teaching and why I was supposed to believe anything that was taught by the prophets if something so fundamental about who God was could not be settled on by their supposed mouthpiece.

    After the breaking point was when things changed for me. I no longer enjoyed being at church when I didn’t believe it was stuff worth knowing anymore.

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Ha ha. The “Rate This” feature let me give a thumbs up to my own comment. Most sites don’t allow that.

    • Thanks for this comment–I am going to write a post looking at why people stay and leave (at least, those who have read and thought about a lot, not those with their heads in the sand) from a mosaic model, i.e. we put different pieces together to make up our experience.

    • cool. Looking forward the the post; i’ll try to see if I can link it to Main Street Plaza to get some other ex-es’ opinions on it.

      • Guest’s experiences almost seem like that of a romantic relationship. None of those issues individually would have done in his belief, but add them all up, and then throw in that final one that does it in, and what else can you expect as a result? It seems inevitable to me at that point. So I can see why he does the “kitchen sinking”, as it is called in couples therapy when women (usually) throw out about 20 compaints at once. When I read a comment like that, my first instinct is to want to list of 20 reasons why I love my faith, but I don’t think that will do any good because we’re dealing with subjective experience here. We are all affected in different ways and to different degrees by different issues and experiences–perhaps that is where the mosaic comes in. For a personal example, the polygamy issue would have led me out by by now, if it were not for the peace I have received on the matter, as well as the rest of the good parts of my mosaic.

      • interesting…I wonder how far the relationship analogy goes in other ways. For example, is the main goal of marriage counseling always to maintain the marriage (which in this metaphor would be akin to maintaining membership in the church). Because I hear the cliche that it’s all about getting both parties to sacrifice and then everything will be “happily ever after.” But is there ever a point where you say, “OK, under a, b, and c conditions, you should try to make this work. But without these conditions, then counseling should be about breaking up with the least pain and anguish possible.”

      • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

        I don’t know about “romantic,” but definitely a relationship.

        Most of the people I have spoken with that have left the church refer to it as leaving an abusive relationship. For a long time they blamed themselves or they justified their religions actions, but, eventually, the abuse was too much and they and their religion parted ways.

        About your idea of listing reasons for staying. That’s the thing, for me, it would have been a list of reasons of why I thought it was true. But, for me, that amounts to how much of the story adds up, so most of those things I would have formerly listed as reasons for believing switched to the side of reasons to not believe or to a neutral position. Other stuff like, ‘It makes me happy’ or ‘Look at some of the good things it does in the world’ or ‘Look at how it changed this person’s life’ were never valid reasons for staying, because I never believed religion was the only way to be happy, do good things in the world, or change a person’s life for the better. The only subjective reason I had for believing was the one I thought I had in the MTC, but reading my journal years later dissuaded me of that notion (I certainly hadn’t considered it a spiritual experience at the time). Plus, I had a mountain of subjective experiences that matched the description of physiological responses people have had that have given them a testimony, only my comparable physiological responses came at all types of moments, some that could be seen as promoting truth, but others that most definitely could not, and in fact sometimes accompanied lies- the lie has to be bold, though, told powerfully.

        My point is, I can’t think of a single good reason to stay in the church. I can think of reasons that others might give, but not one of them would be a good reason for ME.

  51. I did not mean romantic in terms of passion or “romance” but rather an intimate relationship that is not just a friendship. Also, no fair shooting down my list when I didn’t even write it, lol. What you wrote does bring up some thoughts though. I don’t know if I have a single objective reason for doing anything in my life, including being in the church. I guess I don’t understand the objective side of things very well. And those feelings you describe, well, I have had those watching the tv, so I can totally see your point there. I generally don’t trust those unless they came with other things as well (and I’m not just talking about spiritual things there). So anyway, if I listed 100 things, maybe 2-3 of them would be why I think it’s true. Important for sure, but not as much as it is for you. In the post I did at MM a week before yours, I did a kind of list like that, and I actually don’t think I said anything about Truth, although spiritual experiences can be related to that. Don’t get me wrong though, the truth issue does matter to me.

    In the end, I have very strong, internalized beliefs, and Mormonism fits those the best (along with some Buddhism).

    Re: Andrew- there are indeed some relationships, I think are better off not together, but I would never tell a couple that if they both wanted to make it work (and there was no significant abuse going on). So for the analogy, I do think some are better off NOT in the church and its culture because they describe their life in it sometimes in ways that sound like they’re being abused.

    • some edits made (if I could enact commenter edits for regular commenters…I would, but I think that’s only available via wordpress.org plugin, not for .com)

      At least I’ll know never to get an iphone and stick with my reliable hardware QWERTY keyboards :)

  52. Haha, I mean “I don’t know if I have a single objective reason for doing anything IN MY life”

    What I wrote sounds like I was talking about tattoos. :)

    Here is my “list” btw, if you had not read it already Guest–either way, let me know what you think:

    http://mormonmatters.org/2009/06/03/what-bothers-me-and-why-i-still-believe/

    It was surprising to me to think back on that and realize I didn’t say anything about truth per se, or believability, but I did mention spiritual experiences, which I would agree with the mainstream of mormonism here, they confirm truth. Although again, like you, I don’t trust those “physiological responses” to equal the Spirit.

    I

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      Thanks Adam, I went and read it and also all the comments. How do I get so sucked in?

      A couple of points:
      -It IS very interesting to me that none of your reasons deal with believability.
      -Andrew, your first answer after reading Jared’s article made me laugh: “Jared, I just got done reading the talk, but I regret to inform you that it didn’t do anything for me.”
      -The talk on Sleep Paralysis was fascinating to me because it is a new topic for me. I first read about it a few weeks ago.
      -Speaking of which, Adam, you really should have read or listened to The Demon-Haunted World before even attempting The God Delusion. A very large portion of atheists feel Dawkins does more harm than good. I, personally, have a man-crush on him, but that is because what he says is better suited for the choir. If he’s not preaching to the choir, then he is probably alienating.

  53. I’m going to think more about the believability issue. I’m sure it is an issue for me–perhaps I have just not focused on it that much. I think the idea of a god is very believable, Christ less so, and something like the first vision, gold plates. Angel Moroni even less… That is my thought on the matter just thinking about it now anyway.

    I’m planning to read The Sagan book. Looks way good. If you have any other recommendations I’m totally interested.

    One thing I did appreciate about The God Delusion was it seemed like it would be very validating for someone who was a newly converted atheist, or had just lost their faith. For that, I appreciate him. Yes, he comes off as an arrogant evangelical/Calvinist preacher to me, but I can totally see why the choir loves his stuff!

  54. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    No more recommendations I can think of. I’ve watched more youtube videos than I have read materials on the subject.

    So, I mentioned Sleep Paralysis. I think my Ex-girlfriend has experienced that a number of times. She told me stories that fit the description perfectly. And, just like jjackson, she took them to be experiences where the devil was trying to get ahold of her, but God finally freed her.

  55. Guest Writer 800+ permalink

    I keep thinking about this discussion. I inferred a lot of things in what I wrote, but thought that I would boil at least one part of it down.

    I never thought that Mormonism made me a better person. In fact, I was often embarrassed, because I felt that some of its teachings left me on the moral low ground. But, that was a small price to pay for being right in the grand, universal scheme of things. (Besides, I would often say to myself that our take on morals may just be skewed because of the point of view that we have. For instance, God ordering genocide seems like a huge deal here on Earth, but to him, he was just calling those people back. Yikes! It scares me just to write how I use to justify some of the stories.)

    Anyway, other people feel that their religion makes them a better person overall. I felt it made me a worse person overall. Perhaps my different reaction to historicity than many who stay, in a large part, can be boiled down to that. Finding out about Joseph finally freed me to live what I saw as a higher moral standard. Many could only see themselves as worse without their religion.

    Like I said, maybe this post is a bit redundant, but how I’m expressing it is new to me.

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