True Mormon Believer (TBM) Discourse with Former Believer

Interesting conversation between a striving apologist and a former believer.

True Mormon Believer Discourse with Former Believer


The following transcript is an e-mail dialogue between a former believing Mormon, Steve Benson, and a True Believing Mormon (a.k.a. TBM).
The devout Mormon believer started by saying he wanted to discuss what he described as Steve’s “statement on Mormonism.”

The exchange proceeded as follows:


TBM’s First E-Mail Dear Steve:

I just read your statement on mormonism and your visit with “apostles” Maxwell and Oaks. It seems as if you have and continue to expect perfection from your religion as well as a profound fixation on old Grandfather’s health.

Your accusations of lying by Oaks seems a little overstated and your complaints about the church are not really compelling. It seems like you are expecting perfection from these individuals and the religion itself.

Ultimately, though you and Mary Ann must surely be better off–you seemed to never actually believed. I would note that many of your complaints are true of religion in general and cannot be limited to Mormonism. If you studied the Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant and Buddhist religions and you would be able to make the same (or similar) arguments against them.

I assume you must be a complete agnostic (possibly an atheist) if you are intellectually honest.

I have always found it interesting how Mormons who leave their religion seem to have an overwhelming need to justify. I wish you well in you endeavors and hope you have found peace.

Steve’s First Response

That’s quite a ringing defense of Mormonism–it’s no worse than any other.

I find it interesting how those like yourself who witness Mormons leave their church seem to have an overwhelming need to criticize that choice–and to, well, justify the actions of Mormon Church leaders in the process.

And I am, in fact, an atheist.

Thanks for writing.


TBM’s Second E-MailSteve:

Touche. Nice points.

I will say this. I don’t believe that I try to justify the actions of church leaders. I just try to understand them for who and what they are. I simply don’t believe a grand conspiracy is taking place–designed to hide the facts or truth. (I have read the Tanners, Brodie, Mike Quinn, etc. and I am a dues paying member of F.A.R.M.S.)

If you define prophet as you seem to have done (i.e. infallible, all prophecies true, always speaks for God, etc.), then by your definition the prophet who makes mistakes is false. Others may see it differently. They are men with imperfections and struggles and are trying to find their way just like you and me. I found it rather refreshing that Oaks and Maxwell did not have “burning bush” stories to tell. Why should they?

Oh well. I did not mean to offend.

Good luck and I do enjoy your cartoons. We need to be able to laugh at some of our silliness.

Steve’s Second Response

You, in essence, defended Mormon Church leaders (specifically Oaks and Maxwell) by asserting that my reasons for criticizing them (and, by extension, for leaving the Mormon Church) were less than compelling (and, hence, one might conclude), unjustified.

Since you offered your personal musings about what my views might be on matters religious, permit me, if I may, to offer some observations about yours.

You now acknowledge that you are a dues-paying member of F.A.R.M.S. Interesting that you did not offer that up in your initial letter to me.

Are you a faithful Mormon? I ask that, because you write and think like many Mormons I have known throughout my life, employing many of the same rationales, thought patterns and word choices of true-believing LDS when defending their faith against criticism.

I make this observation within the larger context created by your first letter. In your initial correspondence to me, when referring to Oaks and Maxwell, you curiously put the word “apostles” in quotes. (Your words: “your visit with “apostles” Maxwell and Oaks”).

Why did you do that?

Do you not regard them as actual apostles of God?

The impression you seemed to have been attempting to make of being an objective observer was further demonstrated by another choice of words in your initial correspondence: “I have always found it interesting how Mormons who leave their religion . . . ” By using the phrase “their religion,” you made it sound as if you were offering some kind of detached observation and that you did not necessarily share a belief in Mormonism.

If you are not a Mormon, what are you in terms of religious belief?

You have delved into my personal life with your own questions in this regard.

It is only fair that your probings be met with a similar inquiry.


TBM’s Third E-MailSteve:

Before I answer your question? Answer one of mine:

You made a statement I found very interesting:

“[Y]ou write and think like many Mormons I have known throughout my life, employing many of the same rationales, thought patterns and word choices of true-believing LDS when defending their faith against criticism.”

What exactly do you mean? Seems like a broad generalization and a significant conclusion to have drawn from a single e-mail. But you may have a valid explanation. I would really appreciate it if you would expound.

Steve’s Third Response

I would be happy to list manifestations of Mormon pattern thinking which I have repeatedly encountered over the years in communication with believing Latter-day Saints–and which are evident in your communiques:

Example #1: Twisting objections made by former Mormons into assertions that were never made–in your particular case, by reworking ex-Mormon criticism of Church leaders into the red herring that Church leaders must be infallible:

Your words: “It seems as if you have and continue to expect perfection from your religion . . .”

Example #2: Minimizing or dismissing misrepresentations by the Mormon Church about the actual capacity of Ezra Taft Benson to lead the Church in his final years as president, given his severely deteriorated physical and mental condition: [note: I changed the word to “his” from “the” in a subsequent typo-corrected version resent to the TBM]:

Your words: “. . . a profound fixation on old Grandfather’s health”

Example #3: Accusing former Mormons of having a compulsion to criticize the Mormon Church after having left it and to defend themselves for having made that choice, by offering a reworked version of the standard accusation, “you-can-leave-the-Church-but-you-just-can”t-leave-the-Church-alone”:

Your words: “I have always found it interesting how Mormons who leave their religion seem to have an overwhelming need to justify.”

Example #4: Passive-aggressiveness, in the form of extending best wishes to the targeted ex-Mormon, after having first excoriated him or her:

Your words: “I wish you well in you endeavors and hope you have found peace.”

Example #5: Evasively refusing to answer direct questions when initially asked, instead diverting into other areas:

Your words: “Before I answer your question? Answer one of mine.”

Perhaps you can now respond to my original questions about the curious nature of your first correspondence. I will not be answering any more attempted diversions until you do.


TBM’s Fourth E-MailSteve:

Fair enough.

Here is my response:

1. You said I defended Mormon Church leaders (specifically Oaks and Maxwell) by asserting that your reasons for criticizing them (and, by extension, for leaving the Mormon Church) were less than compelling (and, hence, one might conclude), unjustified.

I believe this to be true–although I only know what I have read. This simply would not persuade me to disbelieve.

2. You said that it is interesting that I did not offer up that I was a dues paying member of F.A.R.M.S. in my initial letter.

I am merely trying to show that I have actually read something on the subject, lest you think of me as ignorant–which you may anyway. Although I probably should have offered it up initially.

3. [You asked], “Are you a faithful Mormon?”

Yes. I think I am.

4. You said, “In your initial correspondence to me, when referring to Oaks and Maxwell, you curiously put the word “apostles” in quotes. ([TBM’s words]: “your visit with “apostles” Maxwell and Oaks”).” [You asked], “Why did you do that?”

I did this because I supposed that you did not believe them to be “apostles.”

5. You said, “Do you not regard them as actual apostles of God?”

Yes I do.

6. You said the impression I seemed to have been attempting to make of being an objective observer was further demonstrated by another choice of words in your initial correspondence: “I have always found it interesting how Mormons who leave their religion . . . ” By using the phrase “their religion,” you made it sound as if you were offering some kind of detached observation and that you did not necessarily share a belief in Mormonism.”

You are probably correct. Although I don’t think I was trying to tell you whether I was a believer or not.

Now on to your last e-mail:

You said:

Example #1: Twisting objections made by former Mormons into assertions that were never made–in your particular case, by reworking ex-Mormon criticism of Church leaders into the red herring that Church leaders must be infallible:

[TBM’s] words: “It seems as if you have and continue to expect perfection from your religion . . .”

COMMENT: The best I can tell from reading your writings is that your expectations with religion were not met. I do agree with you that twisting objections is a common method of an apologist defending criticism.

Example #2: Minimizing or dismissing misrepresentations by the Mormon Church about the actual capacity of Ezra Taft Benson to lead the Church in his final years as president, given the snverely deteriorated physical and mental condition:[note: “the severly deteriotated” changed by me to read “his severely deteriorated” in a corrected version I sent to the writer]

[TBM’s] words: “. . . a profound fixation on old Grandfather’s health”

COMMENT: To me as LDS, I never felt like I was misled–even knowing and fully believing your account. Your grandfather was obviously incapacitated and unable to do much. The LDS process was to have the First Presidency assume a decision making role, which it seemed to have done. Was there some attempt to buoy him up or overstate his capacity? Could have been–. Do I minimize the misrepresentations? To the extent there were any I do, because I don’t believe them to have a material impact one way or the other. Again, this goes back to Example #1. As his grandson, you are more likely to see this as significant. I just don’t.

Example #3: Accusing former Mormons of having a compulsion to criticize the Mormon Church after having left it and to defend themselves for having made that choice, by offering a reworked version of the standard accusation, “you-can-leave-the-Church-but-you-just-can”t-leave-the-Church-alone”:

[TBM’s] words: “I have always found it interesting how Mormons who leave their religion seem to have an overwhelming need to justify.”

COMMENT: True enough and you made a similar statement about current LDS. Thus the same could be said of ex-Mormons defending their decisions to leave.

Example #4: Passive-aggressiveness, in the form of extending best wishes to the targeted ex-Mormon, after having first excoriated him or her:

[TBM’s] words: “I wish you well in you endeavors and hope you have found peace.”

COMMENT: Also agree here–although excoriate is probably a bit strong. Looking at it my statement was also a bit condescending.

Example #5: Evasively refusing to answer direct questions when initially asked, instead diverting into other areas:

[TBM’s] words: “Before I answer your question? Answer one of mine.”

COMMENT: Agree. I was being a little evasive.

So what does all this mean? That I am a typical defender of LDS faith? Is that good or bad?

I am sure that over the years you have received literally thousands of e-mails from many LDS and non LDS alike. (In a passive-aggressive way) I wish you all the best!

Steve’s Fourth Response

Thank you for your forthrightness. Sadly, it came only after I requested it.

I also commend you for recognizing how your communications represented the type of behavior I often see employed by believing Mormons against those with whom they disagree.

My response to your question about whether being “a typical defender of the LDS faith” is good or bad is as follows:

From my experience, you responded as many LDS believers do who attempt to cope with dissonance by adopting rhetorical devices and arguments which are often:

–a) less the straight forward;

–b) hostile, even perhaps to a personal level, toward those who have abandoned the Mormon faith;

–c) apologetic of inappropriate, misleading and dishonest behavior by LDS leaders operating in their official capacities;

–d) extremely defensive when challenged in their religious claims; and

–e) unwilling to change their opinions, even when presented with documentable historical and scientific evidence that is at odds with their beliefs.

You ask me if that is “wrong.”

It is wrong for me.

It seems to be right, however, for many Mormons.

Best regards.


TBM’s Fifth E-MailSteve:

I tend to agree much of your assessment of a typical LDS defenders and apologists. (In fact it seems as if I fell into the same trap which you aptly pointed out). I appreciate your perspective and agree that it is wrong to engage in the sort of defensive measures you describe.

I wonder though if at least some of the initial negative reaction to your statements stems from the fact that you seem to be viewed by the ex-LDS and anti-LDS as a hero–given your status as a member of the Benson family and your unique access? I am not trying to be offensive, but just wonder why you chose to publish on a site that contains much that I perceive a simply designed as attacks on LDS faith (I understand that numerous of those who write in on the same site have personal specific experiences, offenses, lack of scientific basis (or even view science as having disproved the LDS faith).

Personally, I am interested in learning, understanding and I don’t have all the answers. I love science and history. I don’t believe many LDS understand the history of the church very well or understand errors that have been made and continue to be made–or it may be that they don’t want to know. But for me, I must rely on some concrete belief system. I do believe in the spiritual–it is something I have experienced and won’t deny. I am sure that you view the preceding sentence as typical apologist jargon, but while it may be typical, it is also personal. Thus, I must attempt to square the spiritual with the scientific (Darwin, old testament, lack of specific evidence for BOM, lack of old world genetics in new world, King James version in the BOM, etc.) and historical (enforcement of WOW, changes to text of scriptures, Abraham, polygamy, accounts of first vision, apparent misrepresentations, etc.). It is at times difficult, but also (for me) makes religion vibrant and interesting. I cherish learning (spiritual, scientific and historical).

I would love to hear more about your odyssey. I’m sure it was difficult to make the decisions you did. Are there other writings?

Again, thanks for taking the time to correspond.


Steve’s Fifth ResponseI can’t answer for how others regard me–or why they react to me the way that they do. Admittedly, I do have something of a public profile and my criticisms of Mormonism are, I am sure, seen by some in the ranks of the faithful as a challenge to Mormon claims that deserve a response.

My criticisms of the LDS Church have been open, readily-accessible and offered in reaction to the drumbeat of pervasive and aggressive projection of the LDS faith into the public arena–as made and encouraged by its spokesmen, apologists, adherents, defenders and missionaries since Mormonism’s invention and spread. If the Mormon Church is going to enter into that arena, where it argues and angles for both converts and their money, I think people have every right to offer critical and contrary perspectives regarding Mormon claims.

There is much, in my opinion, about Mormonism that deserves critical analysis and skepticism. I find it curious that you would object to seeing my opinions published on a site which you perceive as being “simply designed as attacks on LDS faith” when, in fact, F.A.R.M.S. itself–the organization to which you pay dues–regularly and harshly criticizes those who openly oppose Mormonism. Curiously, Maxwell’s defense to me of F.A.R.M.S as essentially being an arm of the Mormon Church with the specific mission to prevent the General Authorities from becoming “outflanked” by Mormonism’s critics, combined with his personal attacks on Brent Metcalfe, don’t seem to raise your ire. I suspect that this is because you believe such assaults are justified. It all boils down to one’s perspective, does it not?

I am not going to contest with you here on the subject of things “spiritual,” other than to say that I am an atheist and find absolutely no compelling evidence in the physical world for what believers claim to be both supernatural and real at the same time. (I have written on this matter at some length over the years, including an article that was published in Harvard’s Nieman Reports on my exit from the Mormon Church). The burden of proof for the existence of god and so-called “spiritual” phenomena outside the realm of the physical world lies with those who make such assertions. It has been rightly observed that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs. So far, those proofs from the believer’s side of the aisle are, in my opinion, sorely lacking. You are a believer who clearly came at me with an agenda: one designed to attack and minimize the claims of Mormon critics. In this, you are comfortably and historically aligned with a legacy of Mormonism’s apologists: F.A.R.M.S, Mormon missionaries, Mormon leaders up and down the hierarchical spectrum and, of course, rank-and-file Mormon faithful, all of whom faithfully follow their leaders in doing what they are told.

The historical contradictions, scientific absurdities, documentable atrocities, and overt ecclesiastical abuses of power committed by Mormons in both the name and in behalf of their faith do not make Mormonism vibrant to me–rather, they makes Mormonism a hoax worthy of well-deserved criticism, exposure and ultimate rejection.

I hope you are able to find your way satisfactorily through the significant issues surrounding Mormon doctrine, history and claims, as you (to you cite your own words) attempt “to square the spiritual with the scientific . . . [and] historical.”

I would simply observe that on the matters which you list: Darwinian evolution, the Old Testament, lack of specific evidence for the Book of Abraham, lack of Old World genetics in the New World, King James language in the Book of Mormon, changes to Mormon scriptural texts, enforcement of the Word of Wisdom, Abraham, polygamy, various accounts of the First Vision, “apparent” misrepresentations, etc., the verdict is in–and it is in not only compelling, but devastating.

That verdict, in my opinion, is that Mormonism is a sham which does not hold up under honest, critical and rational scrutiny.

But you must find your own way. Given your interest in research and study–combined with your obvious sincerity–I am confident you will.


TBM’s Sixth E-Mail, with Steve’s Responses Highlighted as Bold Within the TextSteve:

Your criticisms of the LDS Church have in fact been open, readily-accessible and apparently offered in reaction the LDS faith’s purveyance in the public arena. We should expect as much. I would also agree with your statement that certain parts of “Mormonism deserves critical analysis and skepticism.” We should not simply accept what we are told without critically examining the underlying facts and establishing a basis for belief. With respect to F.A.R.M.S., I must take you at your word as to its mission (as stated by Maxwell). However, just as you believe you are justified by your criticism, shouldn’t you also allow for opposing views such as those expressed by F.A.R.M.S.? In fact, all really does boils down to one’s perspective.

I look forward to reviewing your work published in Harvard’s Nieman Reports.

You say you find absolutely no compelling evidence in the physical world for what believers claim to be both supernatural and real at the same time. Again, this is a matter of perspective and whether you take a man’s word at face value. I do agree however agree that that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs. You say that such proofs are sorely lacking If, as you seem to believe, the LDS faith is a hoax, then nothing offered to you as proof, whether visions, healings, witnesses, appearances of holy beings, as recorded in both modern and ancient texts could ever convince you, unless you personally experienced it. (Again, I resort to LDS dogma, of which I know you are critical.) I ask you as to what proofs you would accept? Ancient text proclaiming Jesus” performance of miracles?”

Simply because a text makes claims that “miracles” have occurred is not proof that they, in fact, took place. The Book of Mormon claims that white people suddenly became brown-skinned due to a god-imposed curse on them for supposed sinfulness. The Bible claims that donkeys can talk in human tongue and that dead people can miraculously regenerate. Any text can make any fantastic claim it wishes. The question remains, are such claims rational and can they be proven?

“God actually appearing to man?”

The operative word here is “actually.” Lots of people have claimed that god actually appeared to them, including televangelist Oral Roberts, who a few years ago asserted that a 900-foot-tall Jesus manifested himself to Roberts and warned him that if more financial contributions weren’t forthcoming to the Roberts ministry, Roberts would die.

“Man being healed through a blessings of faith?”

Please provide empirically testable data indicating that physical healings have resulted from “blessings of faith.” Again, many people ascribe their physical recuperation to divine intervention, based on their particular form of faith. Since they make that extraordinary claim, it is incumbent on them to provide the extraordinary proof. Certainly, many people have seen their health improve after appealing to their respective deities. Others have not–and have remained sick or even died. Please provide evidence that the healings were a direct result of divine intervention.

Ultimately, proofs are based on perspective. I take your statement as true when you say that you do not find anything particularly compelling in your own experience, yet you refuse to accept anyone else’s statements which if believed could serve as a at lease a plausible basis for the existence of the supernatural and spiritual.

Please define what you mean by the “supernatural.” Or for that matter, please define what you mean by “god.” Then please provide proof that this supernatural presence or god actually exists. The believers make the claim of the existence of the supernatural; the believers therefore shoulder the burden of proof. As an atheist, I am without belief in god. I do not need to prove your claim. You assert that god, the supernatural, the spiritual–however you define the terms–exist. The ball is in your court to so demonstrate.

I also note that I am a believer and I did come at you with an agenda. My agenda was based on my incorrect assumptions about you based on my reading of your material. I have had dialogue in the past with some who have no experience with LDS, yet purport to and spread what I believe to be inaccurate statements. I have however altered somewhat my “agenda” based on your open dialogue and your significant experience with these matters. I will also concede that my design is at some level to minimize the claims of Mormon critics. Yet, I would quibble with one point, I do not follow church leaders in doing what I am told without some basis for doing so. It seems as if you may be suggesting that all faithful LDS are blind follower, unable to logically process, interject or question. It may be the case with some, but certainly not all.

Your agenda was to attack my claims against Mormonism in defense of your faith, which you initially did (by your own admission) in a somewhat evasive manner. I have seen other Mormons adopt this approach, as well. Having thus seen it employed many times by faithful Mormons during the decade since I left the membership rolls of the LDS sect, these tactics are not new to me and are readily recognizable. Your use of them is merely one of the latest manifestations.

Please also note that I did not use the term “blind follower”–you did. You may want to guard against employing red herring arguments. That said, it is a matter of both Mormon canon and record that LDS leaders expect and teach that ultimate obedience on the part of the Mormon faithful is an imperative for eternal salvation. You acknowledge that you are a believing Mormon. As such, one would then expect that you follow the commands of your designated, allegedly divinely-called and -inspired prophets, seers and revelators. If ultimately you do not, then, according to Mormon doctrine, you are not being appropriately faithful in the eyes of the Mormon god who chose these leaders to show you the way.

You noted that the historical contradictions, scientific absurdities, documentable atrocities, and overt ecclesiastical abuses of power committed by Mormons in both the name and in behalf of their faith do not make Mormonism vibrant–rather, they makes Mormonism a hoax worthy of well-deserved criticism, exposure and ultimate rejection. With this I would also disagree. While I do not disagree that much of this may have happened, it goes back to perspective or application to one’s own experience and knowledge (i.e., what do these mean to me as an individual with my own experiences? For example, because Oaks may have misrepresented, should I lose my faith? I think not. You would say that based on the whole of it; there is nothing that could possibly be true from a spiritual perspective. I would say that based on the whole of it; there is much that is in fact true and supportable.

I made my comments within the broad panorama of evidence marshaled against Mormonism’s claims. Oaks’s deceptions and dishonesty are but one manifestation of the overall fraudulent nature of Mormonism. No one can compel you to accept any of the contrary evidence against the claims of the church to which you choose to remain devoted. Suspension of disbelief in the pursuit of maintaining faith–despite evidence striking at the very foundation of the faith–is a common device used by those not wishing to abandon their particular form of sincerely and fervently held belief.

You seem to resort to a witness of the “spiritual” as the ultimate confirming sign to you of Mormonism’s validity. Billions of people, of course, in their own purported contact with the divine, have had their own “spiritual” confirmations, based on what they also describe as “spiritual” feelings. Most of those experiences do not confirm that Mormonism is god’s “one and only true church.” In fact, to the numerous religious opponents of Mormonism, their personal “spiritual” witnesses are regarded as god’s personal and undeniable revelation to them that Mormonism is, in fact, false.

You noted that with respect to the matters I listed: Darwinian evolution, the Old Testament, lack of specific evidence for the Book of Abraham, lack of Old World genetics in the New World, King James language in the Book of Mormon, changes to Mormon scriptural texts, enforcement of the Word of Wisdom, Abraham, polygamy, various accounts of the First Vision, “apparent” misrepresentations, etc., the verdict is in–and it is in not only compelling, but devastating. Again, I disagree, in my eyes it is not devastating at all, and in fact it serves as the basis for additional discussion and learning. I also believe that Mormonism does in fact hold up under honest, critical and rational scrutiny. Are there flaws?, of course there are and there should be. We disagree on the significance of these matters in the grand scheme.

If, as a devout Mormon believer, these evidences are not fatal to your faith of choice then, with all due respect, continue to believe whatever you wish. In my view, Mormon claims of divine origin have been thoroughly decimated by empirical examination, rational thought and scientific evidence. But, as I have frequently seen in the arguments offered up in defense of the faith by true believing Mormons, feeling ultimately trumps fact.

I am not going to argue with you over these matters. You need to follow your own path and do your own study. You know the resources. The fact that you apparently felt compelled to challenge my views indicates to me, at least, that you may have internal issues yet to be resolved regarding your own religious convictions.

I’ve seen it before. I used to think like you.

Many thanks.

Sincere regards.


TBM’s Seventh E-MailThanks for the opportunity to speak with you. I found your article in the Harvard Nieman Reports and it was most interesting.

Ultimately, it seems we must agree to disagree. In spiritual matters, I remain convinced of the veracity of the gospel.

It seems as if we likely do agree on political matters.

Thanks again.

Steve’s Seventh Response

Many people remain likewise convinced–or unconvinced, as they believe the spirit moves them.

Best wishes in your continued research.

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