Tag Archives: apostasy

One Half of Wisdom

“What do you believe, and why?”

. . . is the unofficial motto and often the first question asked of theistic callers to The Atheist Experience.  It is the question that drives most religious debates and discussions.

While listening to Tanner Gillibrand on MormonTransitions this past week, I stumbled upon his response to a family member who asked the question of Tanner when he announced his resignation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (…).  Tanner’s response, in which he details his desperate efforts to keep his faith, is beautiful, heart-breaking, and brilliant.

This was the hardest time of my life. I used to drive out to the fields in Rexburg and pray out loud for hours, begging God for some light, but it never came. Jesus said, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?” I begged for a loaf and received nothing. I would have taken a stone over the silence.

[…]

I thought I loved God my whole life. But as I studied the scriptures I realized I could not love such a God. Rather than a God that was found through love, I saw a God that was found through loyalty tests…

Tanner’s family member was brave to ask the question, and Tanner was brave to lay open his story.  Reading his letter, however, I realized that I had never been asked that question by my family or by those friends who had raised me to be a good, believing member of The LDS Church.  None of them  asked me to write on this blog.  None of them likely read it.

When I lost my faith, I was taken to a therapist.  I told the therapist I didn’t believe The Church anymore.  The therapist told my parents.  My parents were disappointed, and hurt, but I never remember them asking me why I stopped believing.

After I stopped attending services, my father once asked me if I was going on an LDS Mission.  Somewhat befuddled by the idea of giving two years of my life to a religion in which I no longer believed, I answered with a quick, “No.”  He asked why not, and I replied impatiently, “Because I don’t believe it anymore.”  He never asked a follow up question.  Was it because of my teenage attitude or his lack of curiosity?  I’ll never know.

Later I ran into a member of the local bishopric and a good friend of my father’s.  He asked why I stopped coming to church.  I replied that I didn’t believe it anymore, and that I had some problems with some doctrines and beliefs.  Before I could go on, he stopped me and told me that he knew people who had left The Church, and knew their problems with The Church, but it didn’t matter.  “It’s just true, and I think you know that.”

Instantly dismissive of my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs.  How intellectually lazy and willfully ignorant.  Though it is highly doubtful, this man may have been able to address some of my concerns, but, for him, it seemed better to dwell in ignorance.

After my child was born, our families passively danced around the issue of religion until I felt it necessary to confront my mother about my lack of beliefs.  Though she acknowledged the atheist position, of which she was already aware, she asked no other questions of me.  Even when I resigned my membership in The LDS Church, and sent a direct e-mail making my actions known, not a single member of my family, including my innumerable extended family members, asked any variation of, “What do you believe, and why?”

Why are we so afraid to discuss this topic?  I am guilty as well.  I often want to ask my siblings, father-in-law, brother-in-law, what they believe and why they believe, but I I avoid it – afraid of offending them, as I have been offended.  Why is this one topic so volatile?  So alarming? Though I study and obsess over these subjects, I never really ask those true believers who are all around me.  Are we all really that thin-skinned, or do we just assume that everyone else is so easily distressed?

It is likely part of why I continue to write here; so that I can openly express to strangers what I’d really like to express to those I love.  In which case, thank you for reading.

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” – Francis Bacon

Happiness, Truth, Beauty, and Wisdom

“Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.” – Christopher Hitchens

What is better about being an atheist rather than a theist?  Than a Christian?  Than a Mormon?

  1. Blaming yourself.
    • When you make a mistake, it’s your fault.  It isn’t Satan.  It isn’t God.  It’s your fault.  You can choose to learn from it, or you can ignore it, but it’s your fault and it’s your choice.  When you have trouble understanding something, it isn’t because “God works in mysterious ways”, or because you didn’t ask with enough faith.  you just need to study more, or ask better questions.  If you’re selfish and hurt a loved one, you weren’t “tempted by The Adversary”.  It’s your fault.  It’s your choice.  You’re not being punished.   You’re not being admonished.  It’s just you vs. The Universe.
  2. Praising yourself.
    • You earned the job.  You earned the paycheck.  You earned the bonus.  You caught the ball.  You hit the homerun.  Your anti-bodies beat pneumonia, or the flu, or the cold.  Your body healed the broken leg, and the sprained knee, or even beat back cancer.  You weren’t “blessed.”  You weren’t rewarded by God.  You did it.  Biology did it.  Your genes did it, and that feels pretty damned good.
  3. Blaming Nature.
    • Earthquakes are tectonic plates.  Volcanoes the same.  Hurricanes are warm air and a spinning planet.  Disease is biological and chemical reactions.  Parasites are an unfortunate side effect of evolution.  You don’t have to wonder why evil and suffering exists.  You don’t have to wonder if you’ve angered some omnipotent being.  You don’t have to wait for help and relief from above that isn’t coming.  Make your own miracles.
  4. Helping.
    • Really helping.  No “thoughts and prayers”, but actually donating time, money, and effort to help those in need.  Thoughts and prayers don’t work, and if they did, we wouldn’t need ambulances, first responders, or doctors.
  5. Sundays.
    • …or whatever Sabbath day was previously set aside for praising and worshiping.  Having two weekend days, pretty nice.  Wonderful, in fact.  An extra day for shopping.  And extra day for taking your kid to the aquarium, or the zoo, or the museum, or a hike, or a bike ride, or just to sit around and watch Ghostbusters for the 10th time this month.  An extra day to teach her how to make muffins, cookies, or soup.  An extra day to sit outside and enjoy the sun with a cool beverage, or an extra day to sit inside and enjoy the warmth with a warm beverage.
  6. Thinking.
    • Nothing is off limits.  You can imagine that there are ten gods, or none.  You can debate endlessly with William Lane Craig, or Rabbi Schmuley, or Frank Turek, or Christopher Hitchens, or Bertrand Russell in your mind.  You can contemplate the repercussions of any position without fear of going over some imaginary line.  “Was Jesus real, or wasn’t he?”  “Is there evidence for The Exodus?”  “Is there enough evidence to justify that position?” “What if there is a god?”  No stone left unturned for fear of the truth that may be waiting underneath.
  7. Reading.
    • Much the same as #4.  Nothing is off limits.  You can read history that destroys your heroes – secular and religious.  You can read history that builds up the ‘villains.’
  8. Money.
    • There’s no registration fees or membership dues to be an atheist.  As opposed to religions who say, “But God loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more.” (George Carlin)
  9. Guilt Free Sex.
    • Notice I didn’t say, “consequence free”.  Of course there are still consequences for your actions, but you need not feel guilty for responding to natural, healthy sexual instincts.  Masturbation is perfectly healthy and natural.  Safe, consensual sex is perfectly healthy and natural.  There is no need for young people to be shamed and guilted about natural drives.  They are better served with education about healthy and safe  sexual behaviors instead of needless shame.
  10. Freedom.
    • In short, freedom.  Freedom from supernatural thought, theistic thought, and religious thought.  Freedom to think for yourself.  Freedom to reason for yourself.  Freedom to be yourself.  Freedom to blame yourself.  Freedom to praise yourself.  Freedom to spend your money as *you* see fit.  Freedom to love, physically, mentally, emotionally, or all of the above.  Freedom to live without wasteful wishes for something more and better and to love all that this life is and has to offer.

Consistently Inconsistent

“Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.” – Bernard Berenson

In response to a statement regarding same-sex marriage issued by The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), which is required to be read aloud, from the pulpit, to each Sunday congregation, church member Paul Malan scribed and open letter to his local Bishop.

https://medium.com/@ungewissen/missing-church-in-july-928e90931ee1

The letter rightly, via the Church’s own essays, condemns previous LDS racism:

When our culture began to recognize the nonsense of racism, N. Eldon Tanner assured Church members “that no matter how convincing an argument might seem to be,” our prophets and apostles were “powerless to change God’s unchanging laws when it comes to the color of our skin.”

Thankfully, God’s laws may be unchanging, but our understanding of them is not. The Church recently approved an essay in which they “unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

Mr. Malan then goes on to draw the comparison between that needless, erroneous bigotry and the ongoing bigotry toward LGBT people:

There is nothing new or surprising in the wording of the letter you’ve been asked to read, but, as with past statements on race, it perpetuates misunderstanding and reinforces the “otherness” of our gay brothers and sisters. As a father, I hope our church can become a welcoming, safe place for my children to learn from Christ’s loving example within the context of their Mormon heritage. This letter makes that connection less likely.

As I am an atheist, I assume that Mr. Malan and I disagree on almost everything, though on this particular point we may find common ground; If a church celebrates that it receives modern-day revelation from its prophet, if that prophet speaks directly to The LORD, and if the church has received many, many, many documented revelations that have reversed previous practices*, how is it surprising or shocking to imagine that God may issue new commandments at any moment? Many LDS members believe that God will one day call them back to Independence, MO. Others believe that God will eventually call women to hold The Priesthood. Maybe God will even allow decency toward LGBT members.

As Dr. King said, “The arc of the  Moral Universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  So too does the will of benevolent LDS believers like Mr. Malan, Kate Kelly, Douglas Wallace, and others like them who drag a stubborn, intolerant institution with them into a future of equality and morality.

But no one wants to go back to Missouri.

* Polygamy, Law of Consecration, Blacks in the Priesthood, Word of Wisdom, “White and Delightsome”, Law of Adoption

We Have Found A Witch

“We did do the nose.  And the hat.  But she’s a witch !”
— Monty Python and The Holy Grail

Apparently, some LDS Bishops are on a witch hunt.  According to the latest Mormon Stories podcast, after not attending church for more than four years, Taylor Knuth-Bishop has been called before an LDS disciplinary council to face possible [likely] excommunication.  Taylor and his husband, Sean, were among those happy couples married, on-stage, by Queen Latifa at the Grammy Awards in 2014.

Taylor lives in New York, but recently moved back to Utah for the summer in order to help plan his sister’s wedding.  One night, while preparing dinner, the Bishop of the LDS ward he attended as a teenager called and asked to speak with him.  Taylor was informed that they intended to hold a disciplinary council based on his “choice” to marry Sean and the “lifestyle you have chosen.”

excommunicationIf God really wants to remove from Church membership, those of us who no longer believe and who live “lifestyles” that irritate The Almighty, He’d best get crackin’; there are millions of us.

As much as it doesn’t make sense to me that otherwise faithful people like The September Six or Kate Kelly are excommunicated for pointing out inconvenient facts, it makes even less sense to go after people who no longer really have any interest or affiliation with the LDS Church.  In fact, it seems very much like an old fashioned witch hunt – which stokes the fire, anger, hatred, and persecution complex of the still faithful and the expense of those deemed to be disposable.

According to Mormon Stories, at least two other couples have claimed that they now face disciplinary councils for the same reasons.

Taylor declined to attend his trial and, instead, sent this letter.

Ignorance is Strength

“Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck.”
— Joseph Smith

 

In 2013, the LDS church posted an essay to it’s official website (www.lds.org) denouncing many of their previously official, semi-official, and non-official racist teachings. Previous church leaders had claimed that people born with black skin were less faithful in The Pre-Existence (a spirit world where all souls existed before being born into physical bodies). The 2013 essay also reiterated the church’s 1978 policy of including persons of all races and colors in full church membership, which had been previously restricted to white members.

When Sunday School teacher Brian Dawson, who is married to a woman from Nigeria, was asked by one of his students about the 1978 change, he used the official essay to explain the polices and beliefs of the Mormon church.

For this, he was released [fired] from his position. From The Salt Lake Tribune:

    After the class, students told their families about the conversation. One parent complained to Dawson’s bishop.

“Anything regarding black history before 1978 is irrelevant,” Dawson recalls his bishop saying, “and a moot point.”

Then, the former teacher says, his bishop insisted during a February interview that Dawson agree never again to bring up the essay or discuss “black Mormon history” in the class.

Dawson declined — even after believing he would be “released” from teaching the class for disobedience.

“If the [Holy] Spirit guides me in a way that involves these multitude of documents,” he asked the bishop, “who am I to resist the enticing of the Spirit?”

The bishop replied, according to Dawson, “The Spirit is telling me to tell you not to use those documents.”

According to the Tribune article, and my own experiences, many current members are ignorant to the existence and content of recent essays written and approved by the LDS Church. These essays attempt to explain some “difficult” areas of Mormon history and belief, including race, polygamy, The Book of Abraham, and Book of Mormon archaeology.

The attitude toward these essays seem an anomaly for a population that usually hangs on every word of their prophets, seers, and revelators. Their existence and publication has been noted in local and national media, but remains an open secret among members. In addition, these essays are not directly navigable from the LDS website itself; one has to use specific search terms to find them.

For me, growing up as a Mormon, LDS Church history was critically important. My family read the official Church history at the breakfast table. I knew, or thought I knew, all about Joseph Smith, Kirkland, Governor Boggs, Haun’s Mill, The Pioneer trek, the founding of Salt Lake City, etc. Each piece of minutiae was a new faith-building anecdote. That these new essays are unintentionally and/or wilfully ignored seems telling that their contents are troubling and embarrassing. One might question why The Church has written them at all. Of course, if the “approved” versions can be this disturbing to members, what might unapproved sources have to say about these topics?

Deep Water

“You don’t know me; you never knew my heart. No man knows my history… I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself.”

(It is The Law of The Internet that every religious blogger must, at some point, narrate and detail their conversion story. This is mine.)

I, Justin, being born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, was raised up in The LDS Church, receiving all of the blessings thereof.

And it came to pass that I did learn The Gospel, and studied carefully. And, lo, I was blessed and baptized. Wherefore, I did walk in belief of The LORD. And, yea, I went forth to the ward-house each Sunday. And I did learn and answer and teach and sing mighty praises unto The LORD.

And it came to pass that bestowed upon me were the keys of The Aaronic priesthood. And I did take up fast-offerings, and did pass The Holy Sacrament, and was set-apart and sustained as President of The Quorum of Deacons.

And it came to pass that I did wax strong in the service of The LORD. And after a time I was raised to the office of Teacher and then of Priest. And I was set-apart and sustained as president of each. And, behold, I was exceeding diligent in the exercise of the office to which I had been called.

And it came to pass that bestowed upon me were many sigils of my faith. And I took each with great and unending joy. And, I carried their meaning in my heart. And, yea, I was loved of my parents, and I did love them mightily in return. And, lo, I did see upon the countenance of my father immense pride that I walked with The LORD, and I took joy.

And it came to pass that I was laborious in the exercise of The Gospel. And I did plan mightily to wander for two years so that I may spread The Word of The LORD amongst the gentiles in The Wilderness of Disbelief.

But, verily, it came to pass that without intent, I stumbled into knowledge of The Forbidden Fruit. And I did ask questions that were not deemed appropriate. Nor were they answered. And, yea, mine teachers did become stubborn and wroth, and hardened their hearts, and they did advise me to keep my faith and forsake my questions.

And it came to pass that I did also find a love of dance, and music, and theater, and explored those desires of my heart. And, verily, I did no longer find joy in the ward-house.

And it came to pass that my parents grew wroth. And they did beseech me hearken to their words, and command me to return to the ward-house. Yea, verily, they bid me serve the duties they deemed sacred, but which I did not. And they were exceeding diligent, yet the anger of mine young mind awoke and I did harden my heart against their words.

And it came to pass that I did rant and rend and was taken to see the shrinkers of heads. And, lo, they helped me not, but did impart my goodly parents with the knowledge that my anger and disbelief was genuine. And, though they grew exceeding sad, they did leave me to the desires of my heart.

And it came to pass that I did as my goodly parents feared. I no longer entered the ward-house. And, yea, I wasted many nights in the company of both friends and fiends and secret combinations. And I adorned myself with cloth of blackness and of jewelry, and of symbols deemed to be of The Adversary. And, lo, I did engage in the forbidden fruits of coffee, tobacco, and alcohol.

And it came to pass that this period was known as ‘The Rebellion.’

And it came to pass that with new freedom to wander outside the bounds of the ward-house, I did question the doings of The LORD. And I did wonder upon natural law. And, lo, to question as to why The LORD was once the cause of great earthquakes, but now it was left to the movements of tectonic plates. And, lo, I did dwell upon the creation of life, and the evidence for evolution. And, lo, I did also dwell upon the whole of creation and the singularity of “The Big Bang.” And, though I being somewhat ignorant in the ways of science due to budgetary cuts in The Public Schools, I wondered if these, having evidence, were better explanations for natural law than The LORD.

And it came to pass that I did pray aloud, and in my mind, “Is there no god?”, and answer there came none.

And it came to pass that I wondered with regards to the miracles of The LORD. And, lo, I wondered, “Wherefore does The LORD no longer do as he did in The Bible, or The Book of Mormon? If we are a wicked generation, as has been many times spoken, wherefore are we not smote as Lot’s Wife or as Zarahemla or as Babel? And how could so many animals fit on a wooded boat? And wherefore did God need a flood? Could he have not just smote every evil living thing in an instant?  And, yea, there are many amputees who have not limbs, yet pray, and they are not restored?”

And it came to pass that I did speak aloud, and in my mind, “Is there no god?”, and answer there came none.

And it came to pass that for forty days and forty nights, many such questions did I dwell upon. And, lo, I wandered in the desert of Southern Zion, but I read neither book about god, nor website, nor blog, but dwelt in mine own thoughts, and called myself ‘atheist’, as I believed not in The LORD.

And it came to pass that I deceived a wise and most beautiful woman. And unto me she became my bride. And, lo, I saw that she was very, very good. And I did cleave unto her, and she to me.

And it came to pass that my wise and goodly father did pass away from The Earth, and all who knew him did morn mightily. And, verily, I did again, question my faith in The LORD.

And it came to pass that The Ass of The LORD did visit upon me at the grave of my father, and did tell me that which I already knew. And The Ass spoke that my father’s heart had been saddened because I did no longer walk with The LORD. And, verily, I bid him, get thee behind me. And he did so. And I did name him Ass.

And it came to pass that I once again did speak aloud, and in my mind, “Is there no god?”, and answer there came none.

And it came to pass that it was given unto me a book. And, lo, the title of the book was “No Man Knows My History.” And, lo, the contents were familiar to the stories of my youth. And I did read the book and comprehend the words, and dwelt upon the words. And I did study and verify and look up sources. And I grew exceeding wroth once more. For, verily, it came to me that I had been deceived by those attending the ward house, and also by my goodly parents, who themselves had been deceived by their goodly parents, and their goodly parents, even unto the many generations since the parents of my ancestors traveled across The Great Sea and through the wilderness to The Promised Land.

And it came to pass that I sought more from The Tree of Knowledge. And, lo, there fell two wizards, seeming from the sky. And, yea, the wizards called themselves Penn & Teller, and as I beheld them, scales of ox dung fell from mine eyes. And, behold, the wizards did make appear in mine sight a multitude of scholars. And they were called Carl Sagan, and James Randi, and Michael Shermer, and Christopher Hitchens, and George Carlin, and Eugenie Scott, and Eddie Izzard, and Greta Christina and Richard Dawkins, and Bertrand Russell.

And it came to pass that I read the words of the scholars, and I heard the words, and I understood the words, and I questioned the words, and I pondered long upon the words. And, yea, the words rang with The Truth of Evidence and The Truth of Logic. And, yea, I saw that many had questioned as I questioned. Yea, verily, they thought as I had thought. And, verily, they had written down their thoughts and their questions and their answers.

And it came to pass that I discovered in me a deep and abiding love of physics, and astronomy, and geology, and paleontology, and biology, and all that which illuminates The Path of Science. And, lo, the whole of the firmament appeared much different to me, and mine eyes were opened – and I saw with the wonder of a child. And, lo, I found myself not alone in my skepticism. Yea, verily, there is among us a great multitude of those who take joy in not knowing, and discovering, and questioning.

And it came to pass that I saw that it was good. And, yea, verily, as I dwell in unbelief, I have found much joy.

Apostasy of Truth

For those who don’t know me, my name is Justin. I was born into an LDS family here in the state of Deseret.  My father served as a bishop and high-priest.  My mother served as relief society president, stake primary president, and many other positions.  My mother’s family has a long pioneer history going back to the cross-country Willy and Martin Handcart treks.

For those who do know me, I am sure it is not a surprise that I no longer consider myself a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Besides a few funerals, I have not attended a sanctioned church event in 20 years.

Acknowledging this, some people might be curious as to why I get angry when I read some of the recent noteworthy essays from The LDS Church, supposedly attempting to explain some of their more controversial and baffling past/present policies. The latest of which acknowledges that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, and married teenage girls as well as the wives of other men whilst in Nauvoo.

Prior to that it was an essay on the authenticity of The Book of Abraham. The essay admitted that those images were taken and “translated” from nothing more than common Egyptian funerary texts.

Prior to that, an acknowledgement that the priesthood ban on African Americans was nothing but racist bigotry and had nothing to do with gospel or God’s plan.

These infuriate me for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that I was taught exactly opposite of these things when I was growing up. When I dutifully went to church each week. Whilst I served in the office of Deacon’s Quorum President, Teacher’s Quorum President, and Priest’s Quorum President. Whilst I studied the Book of Mormon. Whilst I read the D&C with my mother each morning at breakfast. Whilst we read the official church history.

I remember specifically asking if Joesph Smith had other wives and was told, no, there was no one but Emma. I remember specifically the lesson that told me that The Mark of Cain was black skin, and that bigfoot might be Cain (a ‘fact’ quickly and rightly dismissed by my father), and that the black skin of African Americans was a punishment for unrighteousness – just as darkened skin was for the Lamanites. I remember repeatedly pondering and studying the images and text in The Pearl of Great Price, amazed at the rich cosmology built there.

(I stopped going to church for none of these reasons and contradictions, but for reasons that belong in a different and much longer missive.)

But, I think the real reason I am infuriated is that I will upset people simply by writing this.

The facts are these:

I was taught lies, plural. Not just differences of philosophy with now I disagree. Not just pedantic logical arguments and fallacies. I was taught multiple admitted concrete falsehoods – as if they were gospel truth. I have little doubt that if a common member were to have read those essays, word for word from the pulpit when I was yet going to church, they would quickly have joined the ranks of excommunicated Mormons. Imagine for a moment that the essay on African-American priesthood prohibition has been written and read by a ward leader in 1960. What do you suppose would have been the result for the author? A Mormon man named Douglas Wallace was excommunicated in 1976 for bestowing the priesthood upon a black gentleman – apparently doing the true, inclusive will of The Lord – whilst the appointed leadership of the church continued to lead the membership upon an immoral path of racial bigotry and discrimination.

Whether those lies were spread knowingly by the good people in my ward or whether they themselves were misled by their leaders, I can’t possibly say. It is my contention, however, that this demonstrates a concerted effort to cover-up history, distort facts, and mislead entire congregations of good, well-intentioned members of the church – including many members of my family.

There are so many other things that I could write regarding my various views of The Church – but why bother? These are confessions. Written, uncoerced, by The Church’s own hand. They are lies and damned lies by The Church’s own standards.

But most damningly, I hate that by simply publicly acknowledging these facts, I will upset people and be viewed as an anti-Mormon apostate. I hate that some people will think I have some agenda other than pointing out the clearly obvious truth – that the foundation of “The Church” is built upon a sand-bank of admitted lies, and governed by admitted liars. And I hate that these new essays will not likely cause more than a fleeting moment of pause.

I am not “anti-Mormon.” I am pro-truth. I never set out to disbelieve, and I never set out to break my family’s heart. If you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand me.

 

It is astonishing what force, purity, and wisdom it requires for a human being to keep clear of falsehoods.” – Margaret Fuller, 1842