i have some posts that continue on the theme of this blog (my spiritual journey). check ‘em out and comment here: http://markii.wordpress.com/category/journal/
This post is basically a short summary of my own journey through Mormonism. There are many hyperlinks included in the text- mostly referencing my own writings at the time I went through the particular stage/struggle of my faith.
I think I’ve caught the “rational bug”. I’ve tried and tried to make Mormonism and the LDS Church work for me but “faith” and “just put it on the shelf” is usually where my inquiries lead me. I am now very much interested in Science and reason, rational thought, and evidence-based belief. I am still attending church for familial reasons, however I think that the fundamental Mormon inside me died. And the liberal Mormon in me has become uninterested in Mormon Studies and Culture. It’s sad, even sad to me, but the “real” world out there is much more exciting and fulfilling, full of greater truths, even.
These last two years (I just this second realized that it’s been two years exactly) have been a fun roller-coaster- immensely interesting and entertaining at times. The boring parts I would have to admit have been Sundays in the chapel, hearing loose interpretations of old cherry-picked scripture writ.
Four years ago found me on my mission- I made the largest collection of G.A. articles of all the missionaries on my mission. Why? Because I loved “the truth” and wanted all I could get my hands on. It was “that fruit” that I couldn’t get enough of. Three years ago found me on the internet (only MormonShields, FairLDS.org, and other apologetic sites). Why, because I wanted to be the best defender of the church I could possibly be- for myself, and my non-member friends and family. I hadn’t stumbled upon the archiving-abilities of “blogging” yet (yes, I blog mostly to archive my studies, not just to put out poorly-written material), so I printed out hundreds and hundreds of pages of articles to add to my mission books and to study and devour.
Two years ago I found new material on church history (not “anti-Mormon” stuff, don’t worry). To me, the authors would strive for objectivity, it was mature and didn’t have to “edit” out parts of the LDS’ history for me- it treated me like a big boy. If Joseph Smith drank, and liked to drink, I could know. It didn’t have to be edited out for me. If a church leader was married to several women and having sex with all of them, it was now fair-game to study. I could know about it (remember, big boy). And if the church had a peculiar policy on race, I could find out more details on the subject. I found it fascinating to get a glimpse of the other side to some issues. My world “took on color” instead of its previous black-and-white, 2-D nintendo 8-bit version.
I then started to have doubts. I always saw my belief in something in terms of a percentile. That percentile came from the very high nineties as a true believer just back from a mission (you can’t have 100% because that would be “perfect knowledge”…or self-deception, you choose). The doubts I started to have took me somewhere around a 55% belief-range (these were my liberal or “intellectual” Mormon days). I expressed my doubts to my family openly and publicly on online forums.
I became very sympathetic to doubters, disbelievers and ex-Mormons. I did not think like most of them, but I understood where they were coming from. I developed a critical mind towards some things in the church. I was then split. I saw myself in two worlds at once. Part of me felt like the father in Keith Norman’s T-Word. It is a story about a father whose son returns from his mission, studies church history and loses his faith. A story where the father is sympathetic towards his son’s situation and continues to love and not judge him. I felt like the son in the story, jealous of how the father showed empathy towards his son. At the same time, part of me was critical of that same father.
In a letter to a friend dated eleven months ago, I summarized my strongest points for disbelief. They were:
- The translations. Book Of Abraham+ Kinderhook= Reconsidering the Book of Mormon translation/claim of divinity.
- The ever-constant change of core doctrines in the Church which upon one’s perception of this instability members may find less genuine the “fullness of the gospel”, or a “restored gospel”, or a “peculiar gospel” or uniqueness from other churches. After seeing one church in JS’s time, a completely different one in the 1950′s, and another completely different church as it stands today, leaders can be seen as completely human in their opinions, prophecies, and commandments and that can make it hard to take them seriously today. After seeing so many doctrines thrown out in the past, how many of today’s doctrines will remain? How can we put faith in today’s doctrines and suggestions after seeing a history of constant and convenient re-modeling of the Church?
- “Permissible Human Imperfections” (where people say “oh, but they were just human”) of past leaders are of the most heinous: Fraud/scams (Treasure seeking/magic, running away at midnight from a bankrupt bank). Murder (the doctrine and implementation of Blood Atonement, Mountain Meadows Massacre). And sex/adultery. These imperfections are far from being merely “warts”.
Those were my issues nearly a year ago. To seal the deal of my apostasy for me today- or the “final nail in the coffin” for me was probably and quite simply learning how to think critically for myself. Let me explain: anytime an issue was brought up with my father or anyone concerned with my doubts, their factory-produced replies came packed with logical fallacies. Every single argument for belief either ended in an unacceptable fallacy or that magic word to suspend rational thought and inquiry…faith.
Equally damning for me has been the gaping abyss found between religion and Science (see this article for some great examples). I soon found that the only way to be intellectually honest with myself would be to accept Agnosticism. Less than a year ago I started to read Dawkins and Harris’ works. I listened to anything I could on the subject of science and reason. Favorite podcasts for me became the Skeptic’ Guide to the Universe and Point of Inquiry. I became to find these things truer than the ultimate religious “truth” I once proudly proclaimed. I had traded reason for faith. And I’ve been loving it ever since! I have found an exciting world in that which is rather than that which one hopes for. I know that doesn’t work for many, but it represents what I’m about in the most perfect sense. The popular Astronomer Carl Sagan put it this way:
For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
An archive of my studies in science and reason can be found here. So my One Dude’s Mormon Studies has now come to a end, basically. On the percentile-level there is still a small hope that lingers in me for Mormonism, but it’s pretty small. Part of me thinks that is sad, too, but another part of me rejoices in the possibilities. Indifferent of my disbelief, my morals are here to stay and my love for friends and family around me only grows. I may not “know” anything in this world, but this, I am sure about.
To conclude this short story, here’s a question I proposed to my friend John Dehlin (who by the way appeared on Good-Morning America- (yeah, awesome, huh) and I put it below for anyone here that may have an intelligent answer for me as well:
Hey John (and any readers out there that got to the end my story),
My question to you is about [John's post, where he says]:
I don’t care what you say. Krista Tippet of Speaking of Faith is in every way as compelling in her arguments for faith, and maybe even more so, than Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins are against faith
You say that Tippet’s arguments are “as compelling or more so” than Hitchens and Dawkins. I have two questions:
1) would you say that “compelling” in this context can mean “rational”? I guess I ask that because to me only rational thought is “compelling”.
2) If so, can you paraphrase any of her main points where her “compelling” arguments may be found as rational as the atheists’ take?
I ask this not as a cynic, but per serious inquiry. I’ve listened to many of SOF podcasts in the past (a history of doubt being my favorite), but lost interest when I recently found the rational thought of the two atheists mentioned in your post to be much more compelling for myself. In other words, I am interested to find compelling rationalism in the philosophy of “faith”…. and if anyone can have a shot at being able to enlighten me in this, I’m sure it’d be you, John.
Maybe there’s no hope for me, however.
This episode of Point of Inquiry was so interesting to me on so many levels. Professor Schimmel speaks on Specious Proofs for Quranic Divinity (basically Qu’ranic apologetic methods). Throughout the interview the word Qu’ran seemed to easily be interchanged with the Book of Mormon. Many of Islam’s apologetics with regards to the Qu’ran appear to mirror some of those of the LDS’. An example in the podcast is where the point was made that many defenders of the Qu’ran claim that the ancient text held scientific truths (about the history of the universe) well before man discovered these truths. I have heard many such claims about the Book of Mormon as well.
The whole podcast, like I said earlier, could easily be a podcast on Mormonism, it’s apologetics and it’s holy scriptures. It’s amazing to see how similar we are to other religions in many regards. If you check out this episode, let me know what you think by commenting below.
[Download Mp3] [Description from POI]:
Solomon Schimmel is a psychologist of religion and Professor of Jewish Education and Psychology at Hebrew College. He has been a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar and Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University and has lectured widely throughout the world. An expert on the psychology of forgiveness and reconciliation among the world’s religions, he is the author of The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian, and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology and Wounds Not Healed by Time: The Power of Repentance and Forgiveness, both published by Oxford University Press. His forthcoming book, also to be published by Oxford University Press, is tentatively titled The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs: Jewish Christian and Muslim Scriptural Fundamentalists.
In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Professor Schimmel discusses the psychology of religion, why some believers use specious arguments for the divine authorship of their sacred texts, and the threat to civilization that certain Muslim extremists pose. He also talks about the obligation he says scholars have to undermine such anti-social and anti-democratic belief-systems.
I’m actually somewhat excited to go to church today. We’ll see how it goes!
I went to church yesterday. In-laws are in town and I’m still NOMmin’ it to keep things somewhat cool between us. During the Sacrament talks I didn’t pay attention, instead I read through 25 pages of 1st Nephi while sitting in the front row. I heard bits and pieces from someone from the Stake Presidency speaking on tragedy preparedness and things of that nature. I think that’s great- that’s important for a community, I think. But I got a lot of reading in the BOM done that morning. Overall I still like reading the BOM. It’s a nice story. I felt content. I wondered if I would have felt the same while reading a good fiction story (I think another good book probably would have felt great too, on a nice Sunday morning). One thing that jumped out at me as weird, though, was when Nephi spoke to Laban’s servent in Laban’s voice. He then explains (1 Nephi 4:20)
[...] I commanded him in the voice of Laban, that he should go with me into the treasury.
21. And he supposed me to be his master, Laban, for he beheld the garments and also the sword girded about my loins.
No big deal, really, it just seemed to me that verse 21 should have explained that Laban’s Servant “supposed me to be his master, Laban, for I just performed an incredible feat by speaking in another man’s voice.” The clothes and sword wouldn’t be quite as big of a deal, to me. I dunno, just something that popped out at me. (by the way I can easily apologetically make sense of this for myself so spare me any explanations, please.)
But I enjoyed my reading. I’ve been reading the BOM my whole life. Its words have been present in my childhood, teenage years, and most of my adult years so it was nice to hear these familiar verses once again. It may be like reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” or 2 Luke at Christmas time. Familiar stories with many memories behind them. Many fond memories. Hopefully I can embrace all that is still good in this religion as continued attendance may be the best thing for my family relationships. Religion will never go away. Embrace any/all heritage you have- you don’t have to agree with it all but embrace it- it may be your culture. If it is not a necessity in your particular family than that’s another story but it is appearing to be a necessity for normalcy or acceptance in mine. I’ll bite the bullet for a while. I’ve started to out myself but maybe I can back up a little and climb back into my old Mormon abode.
Bored in Vernal describes my situation oh so poetically:
I put on black,
My head I bow.
You like me now.
You like me now.
I put away my chartreuse scarf,
And colored things I used to wear.
My second piercings now are bare,
I gel down my unruly hair.
I do not have a lot to say.
My makeup now is quite subdued.
I seem to cook a lot of food,
I don’t go swimming in the nude.
I nod and murmur when I should,
I shut my mouth, my thoughts I still,
My questions and my quirks I kill–
My secret longings none can fill.
The ward is suddenly so kind.
I’m not as different now, you see!
A call has been extended me
To teach Relief Society.
Sedately I walk down the aisle,
The Bishop’s wife sits by my side,
She nods at me; you smile with pride,
I feel a tearing deep inside.
I clean the toilets and the hall,
Read stories to my sweet sunbeams.
We never argue now, it seems.
I wonder where I put my dreams.
Your temple marriage now is safe,
You hold my hand that wears the ring.
I never dance, I never sing,
You would not notice such a thing.
I’m all in black,
I’ve kept my vow,
You like me now,
You like me now.
But this is what
You do not see:
I don’t like me,
I don’t like me.
[by the way, bored in vernal, re-reading this again just pulls at my heart strings!]
Since I’ve agreed to “put on black” I’ve seen my relationships drastically improve with some famliy members and I’ve thought to myself you like me now, you like me now.
Getting back to Sunday, for SS we had a lesson about the apostles from the NT and the apostles nowadays. There was 20 minutes of people saying how we should not question authority, and how these are “literal” witnesses of Christ (it’s funny how we believe this as members, though no apostles or prophets will either elaborate, be specific (like say “the Lord visited me”, nor will they clear up or refute this belief, nowadays). Then we spent 10 minutes seeing who could name all of the current apostles. Then we made a list of the apostles from the NT, next to a list of the modern-day apostles. Instead of having this hour-long lesson I think I could have just been handed a paper with “the lists” and been cool. My wife agreed. We left after SS, cooked up some food and played Halo with some friends (yeah, we’re that cool).
This poem/hymn by MagicCicero summed up our Sunday experience:
Sung to the tune of “Who’s On the Lord’s Side? Who?”
Who’s on the bored side? Who?
Now is the time to doze
They drone consistently
Who’s on the bored side? Who?
The talks are all assigned
They’re the same ones every time
No incentive to improve
Who’s on the bored side? Who?
We only get the milk
There is no time for meat
Avoid the mysteries
Who’s on the bored side? Who?
No doctrine fresh or new
No thought original
Who’s on the bored side? Who?
(my comment from Within the Bubble blog)
I think for me, those could have been the best two years of my life up to that time. I loved my mission, for the most part. I didn’t walk around my areas, I pretty much floated on my spiritual highs (I now think this “spiritual joy” may actually come from the cognitive belief/relief of being “one with God”, and His will. It feels good to be practicing self-control and to feel you are accomplishing worthy goals. It’s cool to think that you’re living a disciplined and devoted life comparable to a monk or priest). Of course married life and adult life probably trump the happiness I had on my mission, but I still loved those two years.
I loved being selfless for the first time and doing what I saw as “serving” my fellow man by offering the “gospel of happiness”. I learned how to work a full-time job, while on my mission. Being with someone 24 hrs a day and working side by side him, you can make amazing bonds with people. I loved that too. Man I miss the comradery I had on the mission. The oneness with the other Elders, the conferences, walking down the street looking at others around you and feeling like you are Neo from the Matrix with a special pill to wake certain special people up. I ate it up, man.
I grew up a lot on my mission. Became tri-lingual as a result from it and gained some really good qualities, too. However, can these things be learned and experienced in other settings? I definitely think so. Steve M, on his blog said:
Why were mission leaders so insistent that we pace the streets for hours each day in the middle of August, trying to talk to people who were frankly annoyed by us? Why didn’t we teach more English classes or help build houses or in some other way contribute to the general well-being of society? I know, I know, that wasn’t our purpose; we were to preach the gospel. But couldn’t we have used those hundreds of hours–for which we delayed education, dating, employment, and other personal endeavors–for something more fulfilling and productive? I don’t recall whether or not it’s a general rule, but in my mission we were limited to four hours of service per week. We usually spent over fifty hours proselytizing, if I remember correctly.
About a month ago, at the PCC Luau in Oahu, my family was mingling with an older couple sitting next to us. They were a very educated couple, the man working on his PHD at the time, and his wife studying Psychology. My dad told the couple that the PCC was owned by the LDS Church and that my brother and I had served missions for the Church. They turned to my brother and asked what kind of projects he had worked on while in urban-area mission. He had kind of a confused look on his face and asked, “what do you mean by that”. I told him “they want to know what kinds of things you did for the people while on your mission, like building houses, teaching, community service, etc. Tell them you mainly knocked on doors and proselytized.” He told them that and it made me wonder how much tangible good (not just spiritual seedlings) I could have done with those two years of my life like many other religious-based missions do. I think the possible net amount of “good done” could be huge, with time being used correctly, not just used trying to convince people of the falsity of their religious beliefs.
Steve M also said:
it seems like an inordinate amount of missionary time is poured into activities that produce little, if any, proselytizing success and probably result in a substantial loss of goodwill.
I think I will tell my little brothers to try and focus on building up the community they’re in while on their (possible) future missions. Just imagine how much good can be accomplished with all of that “free” time you have to offer!
All of this said, however, I still value my mission very highly and favorably. Amen.
This is a picture of me getting my grub on, or I mean serving, or rather self-service. Yum.