Tag Archives: atheism

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.

Everything Is Possible

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

— Epicurus (maybe)

 

You are God.  Omnipotent.  You also have a beloved creation, human beings, for whom you would like to create a universe.  You also want to test the humans.  You want to see if they will behave, even if they aren’t sure you’re watching.

What does your universe look like?

Mine?  It consists of a single world.  The world provides it’s own light and warmth.  No need for an external source.  No need for stars, galaxies, or potentially deadly and harmful comets and meteors.  One self-sustaining and beautiful planet.

The planet, let’s call it Ceti Alpha 6,  also grows unlimited food, and provides unlimited clean water everywhere.  Most of the planet consists of dry land upon which my creation can spend their time.

Wait.  Why does my creation need food and water?  I’m omnipotent.  Ok.  Now humans no longer require food, water, or air.  The planet only provides warmth and light.

Wait.  Why does my creation need warmth and light?  I’m omnipotent.  Ok.  Now humans no longer require food, water, air, nor warmth, nor light.   They can experience and interact with one another without it.

My planet has no tectonic plates.  Not earthquakes.  No volcanoes.  Humans can live everywhere, not just on 1/3 of the planet.  No meteors to worry about.  No fights over necessary resources like food, clean water, etc.

Now, every human is born with a “tattoo” on their inner arms of my commandments.  Everyone is born perfect.  No birth-defects.  No mental defects.  Ceti Alpha 6 has no disease.  No cancer.  No parasites.  No deadly animals.

Being omnipotent, and omniscient, I know the exact moment at which any of my humans has truly chosen to break one of my commandments.  If they do, I simply blink that individual out of existence, and wipe the memory of them from every other individual.  Each person still has perfect agency, but a choice to use that agency to cause suffering only affects the evil person.  No external suffering need exist.

Of course, if I am omniscient, maybe this whole “test” thing is unnecessary and superfluous.  If I know who will be good and who’ll be evil, maybe I needn’t bother.  Or, hey, maybe I just shouldn’t have created evil humans in the first place.

That seems much less nonsensical.

“Once you believe anything is possible, everything is possible.”

Sinews of The Soul

This is my much-less polite and anger filled resignation letter, as opposed to the message I sent to my immediate family.  This was originally posted at The Friendly Atheist.

—-

Dear LDS Church,

It is amazing how much The Church has changed since my early Mormon upbringing. So many of the messages and teachings have changed and evolved over time. For example, when attending church:

Yes. This last revelation was the straw that finally prompted this long overdue letter.

Although I have found other policies of The LDS Church hurtful, ignorant, and bigoted, this last policy change seems so malicious. So full of hatred. And I won’t be a member of a hate group, even in name only.

I received many odd and certainly unique lessons on sexual morality, and was frequently told in oblique ways that homosexuality was a sin, I was never taught that this kind of sexual immorality would damn the salvation of my children.

The LDS Church claims to be a loving, knowledgeable, and charitable representative of a just and loving god, but their actions speak louder than their empty words.

Potential converts to The LDS Church are asked to commit to baptism in the first discussion, then rapidly pushed through a shallow and superficial version of The Church’s doctrine and history in a mad dash to get them under the water and on the membership roles.

Eight-year-old children are encouraged, expected, and demanded to make lifetime commitments they cannot possibly understand, to a church which continues to hide, obscure, and deny it’s history and doctrines.  Heavenly Fathers wants everyone, and quickly, before they start looking too deeply into the closet.

Except in this one special case; a child raised by same-sex parents.

Even if that child is raised in this fraud of a church by those loving, caring parents. Even if that child believes with all his/her tiny, pure heart that there is a Heavenly Father, and that Jesus knows and loves each of his beloved and innocent children. Even if all that child wants for their eighth birthday is to be washed clean of their supposed “sins.”

The LDS Church will tell them, “No. You are lesser in the eyes of Jesus and Heavenly Father.”

“Though you have done nothing wrong, your parents are the worst kind of sinners.  Jesus does not want you as a member of His church, nor will He take you until you are old enough to curse the names of those who loved and raised you, and shake the dust off your feet at their doorstep.”

As of the writing of this letter, I am an atheist and an ex-Mormon.  Should a Mormon member take my young child to be blessed into your twisted organization, however, my child would be accepted and blessed without pause or question because I am married to a member of the opposite sex.

This hate-filled policy is designed only to cause injury to an already injured population; the same-sex attracted people who The Church considers to be the loved children of Heavenly Father, who are doing their best to make it through this life whilst still maintaining some measure of belief in the deceitful message of eternity and love that you spout between vicious jabs at these wounded souls. It cannot and does not serve any other purpose.

This manipulative “guilt by association” is revolting behavior from anyone, let alone an organization which spends so much time talking out the side of its mouth about the importance and necessity of love, acceptance, and eternal families.

I have not claimed membership in this deception for years, but have never felt it useful or necessary to make it official. I do now. I cannot and will not allow you to continue to count me amongst your hateful, heinous, hurtful, and peculiar number any longer.

I hereby resign my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Bowing to an Empty Throne

For this entry, I’d like to take a step back from anything specific about religious beliefs or religious organizations and look at  the wider subject.

If you are a believer, I’d ask you consider, just for a moment, that God suddenly disappeared. Maybe God was here before, but no more. Suddenly and instantly this universe is godless. What might change?

Would some truly evil people use deceit in order to gain wealth? Would some truly good people be deceived because of their charity and empathy and finish their lives destitute and begging?

Regardless of their religion and the prayers said or not said on their behalf, would some people suddenly find their cancer in remission? Would others, regardless of their religion and the prayers said or not said on their behalf, die in pain from the same cancers?

Would natural disasters strike seeming random locations – killing believers and non-believers alike, completely indifferent to individual faith?

Could gravity still hold Earth in its orbit for the next several million years? Would the sun rise each morning? Set each night? The moon continue to pull up the tides on a predictable and regular schedule?

How might you act differently? Would you know right from wrong without spiritual guidance? Would evil have control over your actions? Convince you to lie? Cheat? And steal?

On the other hand, if there suddenly was a God, I would expect a great deal to change. I’d expect that everyone who faithfully belonged to God’s chosen sect would never get sick. They’d never be cheated for being charitable. They’d never go cold or hungry. If, for some reason, a faithful servant did get cancer, or diabetes, or other chronic disease, prayers and blessings should ALWAYS work – otherwise, what is their purpose? Prayer would always work, thereby saving the rest of the congregation from having to uncomfortably rationalize away the many documented failures.

When I look out upon the cosmos, the universe seemingly behaves as I have described its godless version; chaotic and indifferent. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. We sometimes get what our hearts most desire, and more often we don’t. The physical laws of the universe act as indifferently as one might expect them to do. Hurricanes flood Christian homes. Earthquakes bury Buddhists. Tsunamis drown Hindus. Disease kills the young, the old, the innocent, and the evil alike. In short, the universe works almost precisely as if God isn’t there. Maybe He isn’t. Maybe He never was.

As famed French scientist Laplace once sternly quipped when asked why he hadn’t mentioned God in his lengthy description of solar system mechanics, “I have no need of that hypothesis.”

Neither do I. I’ll find my awe in the stunning, glorious, and unsympathetic chaos.

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

Educated Empathy

You oughta be shot. Or stabbed. Lose a leg. To be a surgeon, you know? Know what kind of pain you’re dealing with. They make psychiatrists get psychoanalyzed before they can get certified, but they don’t make a surgeon get cut on. That seem right to you?” – Jubal Early, Firefly (2002)

When I was young, I would wonder how other kids in my class, who were not Mormons, could not see that The LDS Church was the living and restored gospel of Jesus Christ. How did I know? How was I so sure? They told me at church. They told me at General Conference. My parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all told me. It said so in The Bible, and The Book of Mormon. Heavenly Father gave us these sacred books to tell us how to behave, what was right, what was wrong, and what was true. How could anyone be so obtuse as to deny that? When I was old enough, I  would even get up and proclaim my perfect knowledge from the pulpit; “I know this church is true.”

Of course, later, I lost that perfect knowledge and faith. As I did, I began to empathize more and more with those who had doubted my previous point of view. They weren’t being obtuse, or hateful and evil. They weren’t just a bunch of “anti-Mormons” leading us from the straight-and-narrow. Either they believed, just as fiercely, in their own chosen faith, or they saw holes, contradictions, and logical fallacies in the claims of my former church. Just as believers had reasons to believe, doubters had reasons to doubt.

The experience of being so fiercely on one side of a debate, then having to admit that one was completely wrong, is a difficult but ultimately healthy one. It bestows a welcome gift of empathy that can be gained by no other means. Whether in religious discussions, moral, ethical, or political debates, there is no greater tool than understanding the position of the opposition, no matter how wrong it may seem to you. I believe the experience of believing gave me a better ability to understand why someone might feel that I am wrong, or even why they might feel threatened by my point of view.

When a business says that they are Christian, and won’t serve LGBT people because it’s immoral – I can empathize with the why, though I believe them to be completely wrong. Could they say the same? When believers get upset that “them damned atheists” are trying to move a Ten Commandments monument out of a courthouse, I empathize with their reaction. I think I understand, as much as anyone can, how they believe the action to be a attack on their faith and traditions, even though I don’t see it the same way.  But, are those believers able to, for a moment, suspend the concrete assurance that they cannot be wrong, for the purpose of trying to understand how in His name someone like me may feel differently?

Meet The Mormons

I have known a great many men who have left this Church for whom there is no chance whatever for exaltation, but if their blood had been spilled, it would have been better for them.” Brigham Young

There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies.” Gordon B. Hinckley

Last week, during the The LDS General Conference, the organization reported that the current membership of the church included 15,372,337 individuals. I am counted among that number.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I pay no tithes.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I do not know where my ward house is located.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I do not own a copy of The Book of Mormon.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I am pretty sure that sea-gulls did not save Salt Lake City farmers from hordes of crickets.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I accept all families as genuine and valid; not just those that resemble my own.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I do not know which of Joseph Smith’s many “First Vision” accounts to accept as truth.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I know the LDS Church lied for decades about Joseph Smith’s polygamist past.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I know the LDS Church lied for decades about the reason(s) Black members were denied full membership.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I believe that Brigham Young was a misogynistic and racist bigot.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I believe my brave, strong, and faithful pioneer fore-bearers were needlessly imperiled and endangered by the dangerous ideas and practices of the aforementioned misogynistic bigot.

I am one of those 15,372,337 million people, though I do not revere Thomas Monson, nor any of his peers, nor predecessors as prophets, nor seers, nor revelators.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I find it unethical, despicable, and immoral for any church to take 10% of their members’ hard-earned money — money that the congregation gives freely in the fervent belief that it will be used to build up The Savior’s churches and temples in order to fill the whole of the Earth with Christ’s light — and uses it, instead, to build a shopping mall in downtown Salt Lake City (I find this so repugnant, I refuse to set foot inside that abomination, yet, still, I remain one of the counted).

I am one of those 15,372,337 million people, even as I believe that Joseph Smith was a known treasure-hunter who plagiarized the text of The Book of Mormon from many contemporary sources, including The King James Bible, View of The Hebrews, and possibly Manuscript, Found.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I know that the church was repeatedly and repeatedly duped by Mark Hofmann because the leaders knew there were ghosts and skeletons in the Church’s history, and would do (and pay) anything to hide them.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I have long believed what the LDS church now readily admits, that The Book of Abraham was not “translated” from the common Egyptian funerary texts, but invented by Joseph Smith.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I do not believe that there is any kind of god, let alone one who lives on Kolob.

My name is Justin, and I’m a Mormon.

My name is Justin, and I’m an atheist.

My name is Justin, and I am not alone.

Eyewitness Faith

“Faith can move mountains, Milt, but it can’t beat a faster draw.”
– El Dorado

Each Monday morning, I start off my podcast listening schedule with an episode of “The Atheist Experience.” It’s a show out of Austin, TX that takes open calls – mostly from believing Christians – which discusses and debates the callers ideas on belief and God.

This past week, one caller brought up a subject on which I have often dwelt. After rambling a bit on his woefully inaccurate understanding of biological evolution, he came to tell his own conversion story. The caller claimed that he used to be skeptical and once fell to his knees and asked God if he was real and if He was the god of The Bible. The caller then claimed that he was visited by a being that convinced him that God was real, and that He was the god of The Bible.

A powerful story. At least, it was for the caller. Fair enough. Mayhaps it did happen, just as the caller purported. Neither the hosts, nor I, nor anyone else is in a position to claim it didn’t happen. We were not there, and there is no other evidence to prove or disprove the event.

There are a great number of issues I have with that story (start with the assumption that he asked God if God was real), but chiefly it reminds me of the story of Paul – struck down on the road to Damascus. Apparently Paul had been preaching against God, which upset God, and thus he was visited by an Angel, told to change his ways, and struck blind. Somewhat unremarkably, this confirmed to Paul that he was woefully wrong to doubt The LORD. Hence, Paul went on to become a mighty advocate for Christianity – though he no longer had need of faith as he now had pure, unequivocal knowledge. If questioned, he might have answered, “God and angels and supernatural things exist; I have seen them.”

Similarly, Jesus reportedly performed many miracles for the inhabitants of Israel during his life. Attendees to the wedding in Canaan did not have to have faith in the power of Jesus; they saw the water turned to wine. Neither did witnesses to Lazarus’ resurrection, nor those who were healed of blindness or leprosy. Their faith in miracles was replaced by sure knowledge that miraculous things, being the will of God, could and would occur.

Of course, we in the here and now are to take on faith that these events occurred. We cannot verify their experience. Even if the Bible stories were written first person, they are anecdotal at best.

I have prayed for miracles. Long before my doubt took full hold of me, I prayed often, and sincerely that I be made to understand. I asked God that I be shown something that would take away the rushing tide of doubt. I am still waiting for His response.

I am left to wonder, why a Paul-like experience does not befall me? I am known to most of my friends to readily question the existence of God, and miracles, and anything supernatural. I write this blog (which, admittedly, not many really see nor read), but nary once have I been visited by an angel, nor spoken with a deceased relative, nor struck blind, nor seen water turned to wine.

Some who know me from my youth may feel that I have witnessed miracles. It is true that I have been given a blessing and felt better. I cannot deny that. Of course, though I felt better, I still had a fever, still had a cough, still had strep throat, my leg still broken. Knowing what I know now of placebos, confirmation bias, and Pygmalion effect, I cannot help but assume that time, biology, and knowing I had the care and concern of my family, friends, and church leaders, did most of the healing, and that the most miraculous event was the love of a family, fortunately so common amongst our fellow human beings.

But, forget my tiny and insignificant contributions to the heathen realm. What about Dawkins, and Shermer, and Dennet, and Hitchens, and Harris? People who have truly led so many away from the road of faith – and specifically Christianity. Why does God not see fit to send upon them the visitation of an angel, much like Dicken’s Marley? Warning them of their folly? Their arrogance? Their pending damnation? Their damage to humanity? Why are they so different from Paul? Why am I? Why must we who doubt take the anecdotal word of long dead prophets as truth, whilst others are given visions that confirm the truth?

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.