Tag Archives: lds church

Strange Power

Years ago, at my brother’s LDS Temple wedding, as we waited outside, my wife and I were approached by a member of my childhood ward and her husband.  She was my first cub-scout leader, and a primary teacher.  Her husband was one of my Scout and Priesthood leaders.  She expressed her hope that I would someday be sealed within the Temple.  I dismissed them rather flippantly by telling them that it’ll never happen.  “Never say never” was their retort.  A few weeks later, I wrote this letter, which I decided against sending:

[The names have been changed]


Michelle,

I have to say I was caught off-guard by your comments at the Temple after James’ wedding, and apologize if my responses were a bit harsh. Frankly I was focusing a bit on James and Becki and the long day ahead of my family and I. I just wanted you to know that I love and respect both you and Brian a great deal. I have learned a great deal from both of you; how not to cut my hand off with a knife, how to avoid setting fire to my house, how to sand down wooden race vehicles, and much, much more.

I am sure you had the best of intentions at heart, and your attempt to shame me into a temple sealing was strikingly more tactful than Brother Akiona’s heavy-handed method. It may be that I bring these comments on myself. Perhaps I emanate an air of uncertainty, insecurity, and self-doubt with regards to spirituality. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

I am not sure if you have gone through something similar, but the decision to go against the predominant teachings of one’s entire life is not an easy one. Similarly, knowing that you will disappoint and embitter one’s entire family, becoming a kind of second-rate family member is not an option that is taken without serious thought.

Admittedly, a great deal of my initial issues with the LDS faith were a matter of 17-year-old rebellion. A know-it-all, stubborn quality that you, as a mother and teacher, probably find all too familiar. That rebellion has led to years of abundant research, on my part, of history, religions, spirituality, and philosophy. A great deal of time has been spent in quiet contemplation of these materials along with my own thoughts and conclusions. It is still an eminent subject of reading, thought, and discussion.

I do hope you posses high enough opinion of my character to believe that I would not have shamed and tormented my grandparents, my sister, my brother, my mother, and most of all, my father without some deliberate and methodical reflection. My father, I think you will agree, was a man of unquestioned faith and uncompromising morals. I am sure that Brian and others have, on numerous occasions, listened to the disapproval of his eldest son and the ‘misguided’ choices he made. It pains me to no end to think of the sadness and disappointment I must have caused him. A sadness and disappointment that never was, nor ever will be resolved. I asked myself, however, would he have not done similarly in order to live his life according to his beliefs?

Perhaps lacking in my decision process was a consideration of those other people who may have felt, at one time or another, responsible for me and my spiritual education. People like you, Brian, David, Christine, Bob, Mary, Pauleen, Elijah, and so many other respected people.

I don’t doubt your faith or your testimony. I know you live a charitable, compassionate, and faithful life. I am sorry for the disappointment I may cause you and others. I am not sorry that I live my life according to my beliefs. I am not sorry for questioning my beliefs, past or current, even if it is unpleasant to do so. I still remember the story of a 14-year-old boy questioning the teachings of those closest to him.

You are right to point out the folly in my saying, “never.” I will grant that, however unlikely, it is possible that someday, due to continued searching and questioning, I may find that the initial teachings of my life were always correct. If so, I will humbly admit my mistakes and return. Having said that, if such a thing does occur, it will not because someone tells me that my father always wanted me to view the Temple, or because I want to see my sister’s wedding. It will be because I have spent hours and perhaps years in careful reflection of those beliefs. There is no end on the journey for knowledge and understanding.

I hope that this letter finds you well and is received in the manner it was intended. It was my intention to reassure you that, as disappointing as it may be to those close to me, I am living a happy, complete, and content life.

Justin

 

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” – Cormac McCarthy

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

Laying Up Treasures


“If a destitute family is faced with the decision of paying their tithing or eating, they should pay their tithing.” – Elder Lynn Robbins

“To those of you who pay your tithing, I commend you. To those of you who presently are not obeying the law of tithing, I invite you to consider your ways and repent.” – Elder David Bendar

 

The LDS Church is, again, investing in commercial development.  Rather than using their vast holding to help the poor, the needy, the sick, or even their own financially struggling members, they are, instead, helping to build a new stadium in SLC.

One argument often made by LDS apologists is that donated tithing is not used for these commercial ventures.  Instead, The Church uses investment income from their commercial enterprises (one might ask why these exist) to re-invest in the new project.  I’ve written of this before, with regards to City Creek and The Deseret Ranches,  What came to mind today was the following analogy.  I give you:

 

Gospel Profits

Tommy: Hey, Gordie, can you give me some money? I really need some money to fix my bike.

Gordie: No problem, brother. How much do you need?

Tommy: Well, I’m not sure exactly, but if you could spare like, maybe 10% of what’s in your wallet, that might cover it.

Gordie: That seems a weird way to ask for it. But, since you’re my brother, and I love you, OK. Here’s $10.

Tommy: . . . . Are you sure that’s 10%?

Gordie: Sure. I’ve got $110, so I gave you $10.

Tommy: Well, but technically, 10% of $110 is $11.

Gordie: . . . .

Tommy: . . . . Don’t you want to help me? If you help me, I’ll help you.

Grodie: . . . . Fine. Here’s another $1.

Tommy: Thank you! Thank you!

<Several Weeks Later>

Gordie: Hey, Tommy! Looks like you got your bike all fixed up!

Tommy: Sure did! Also got these awesome stickers to make it go faster! And some sweet new biking gloves!

Gordie: Um. Where’d you get the money for stickers and gloves?

Tommy: Oh, well, so, before I got my bike fixed, I took the money you gave me and I bought some candy bars. Then I sold the candy bars door to door, and made $15! Then I used that $15 and bought more candy bars, and made $25!  At the end of two weeks, I had $130!  So, then I used $80 to fix my bike and used the rest to buy the stickers and gloves!

Gordie: But, I gave you that money to fix your bike.

Tommy: I know! Thank you SO much!

Gordie: But you had money left over? Shouldn’t you have paid me back with the excess, or at least saved the money so that you didn’t need to ask for money next time?

Tommy: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Gordie:  Well, could you at least help me mow the…

Tommy:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! <rides away>

 

 

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. – Matthew 6:19–21,24

 

Well Documented Evidence

“Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if they were less well-documented.” — Richard J. Maynes, Seventy

The founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith Jr., began his journey to prophet with an event that has been called “The First Vision.”  When I was growing up as a young Mormon boy, I was told that Joseph knelt to pray in a grove of trees to ask God which of the many churches was true.  According to the story I was told, Joseph was visited by both Heavenly Father (God) and Jesus Christ, who told him none of the churches were true, and that he was to found a new one.

In the 17 years I was active in The LDS Church, that was the only version of the story I ever heard.  It turns out that there are many versions, with widely differing timelines and subject matters.  The LDS Church even has an official essay on the subject, and you can read them for yourself at The Joseph Smith Papers Project.

FirstVisionsMormonInfographics

For many people, who were as ignorant to these facts as I once was, discovering this can be a bit faith-shaking.  This event is absolutely pivotal and essential in the Joseph Smith narrative, and the inconsistencies are troubling. One might think that such a momentous moment as meeting God, or God and Jesus, or an angel, or a Pillar of Fire, would be distinctly memorable.

If this is bothersome to you, let not  your heart be troubled;  Elder Richard Maynes explains how differing versions of an important story, with different dates, and different people, with different messages actually make The First Vision “the best-documented vision in history.”

To demonstrate my particular reaction to this breach of logic and reason, I present my original one-act play:

The Best Documented Dinner in History

[Scene:  Interior.  A small police department interrogation room.  Two detectives (Cop #1 and Cop #2 stand at a table in front of a seated ‘Gary’]

Cop #1: Hey, Gary. We brought you in because someone said they saw you over by the old Buckner place last Monday, just before it was robbed. Can you tell us where you were last Monday night? At about 7:30pm?

Gary: Oh. I was at dinner.

Cop #2: Yeah? Where’d you go? Any good?

Gary: Oh, yeah. New taco restaurant. ‘Los Amgios.’ Great chorizo.

Cop #1: That sounds great. What time did you get there?

Gary: Let me see. I started walking from my place at about 7:00.

Cop #2: And how far away do you live?

Gary: About 3 miles, which is why I took my bike.

Cop #1: But you just said you started walking?

Gary: That’s right I started walking over to Les Poissons, the French place.

Cop #2: Huh? Didn’t you say you were going to ‘Los Amigos’?

Gary: I did. It’s really good.

Cop #1: What about Les Poissons?

Gary: It’s really good.

Cop #2: Did you get a receipt?

Gary: Yup! It’s there in my wallet.

Cop #1: [shuffles through the wallet] Is this the one? To a restaurant called The Burger Bar?

Gary: Yup! I drove over there at a quarter after seven last Monday.

Cop #1: Is he putting me on, or am I putting him on?

Cop #2: So, on last Monday, you walked to a Mexican restaurant, biked to a French restaurant, and then drove to a burger joint, all on the same night, during roughly the same time period?

Gary: Of course! The consistent inconsistency proves how true it is.

No Man a Minister

“He’s creating a mythology to take back to his people.  Same thing happened to Joseph Smith, and now The Mormons have a monopoly on the hotel industry.” – Dead Like Me

There may be some people – family, friends, Sunday School teachers – who still harbor hope that I will some day choose to return to The LDS flock. That may happen. I can’t rule it out.  If I were, with the knowledge I have gained wandering in the godless wilderness, my personal gospel testimony would probably sound a little different than it did when I was 14.

*Note: To my knowledge, none of the factual claims below are at all disputed by The LDS Church, and every link is to an LDS-friendly website (mostly LDS.org and FairMormon.org)

“I want to bear my testimony that I know The Church is true. I know that The Book of Mormon is the keystone to the gospel of Heavenly Father as restored by Joseph Smith. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of The Lord, and that, when he was 16 or 14, years-old he was visited by God, The Father, and/or an angel, and/or The Savior, Jesus Christ. I know The Holy Spirit led Joseph Smith to a deep well where a sacred stone was hidden, which Joseph was able to use for treasure hunting and translation.

I have prayed and studied and felt the presence of The Holy Spirit when reading how Joseph Smith didn’t have or need or even use The Gold Plates in order to read the translated sacred words written in spiritual light on the sacred stone placed into his hat. And though there is virtually no archaeological, genetic, or scientific evidence that it is a historical document, and though it has been changed by The Prophets many times, I testify to you, my brothers and sisters, that The Book of Mormon is the most perfect book on Earth.

I have a testimony that Joseph Smith was similarly inspired by the seemingly common Egyptian funerary text to receive and translate the gospel written in The Book of Abraham, and that by following the words within its pages, we can all, some day, hie to Kolob and meet with Our Lord.

I know that polygamy, as revealed and practiced by Joseph Smith, was a righteous principle, anointed by The Lord. And though, for secular reasons, the mortal practice was commanded to be ceased, I know that spiritual polygamy is still the law in The Celestial Kingdom. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Joseph Smith was commanded by The Holy Spirit to marry the 16-year-old girl, Fanny Alger, who was, herself, led by The Spirit to live with Joseph and Emma in Nauvoo before becoming his first secret spiritual wife.

I have faith that all of the prophets from Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson, are God’s representatives here on the Earth, and that they speak to and for Our Lord and Savior, and reveal the truths of the restored gospel.

And though Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and countless other apostles are imperfect men, who occasionally lead The Church astray by exhibiting the racist mistakes of their times, and make other mistaken prophecies, there is no doubt in my mind that Thomas S. Monson and his counselors clearly speak for The Lord when they tell us that marriage is between one man and one woman, and it will always be that way.”

 

I wonder at what point in the previous I would be asked to sit down.  Should you remain a believer and find yourself uncomfortable with any statement in the writing above, you may have some studying and thinking to do.

Defending the Indefensible

In one of the most asinine articles I’ve ever read, Daniel Petersen of The Deseret News, the LDS-owned, for profit, pseudo-news source  in Salt Lake City, attempts one of the lamest, most intellectually devoid defenses of Joseph Smith’s seer-stone & hat method of “translating” The Book of Mormon:

Consider a smartphone or e-reader, for instance. Their screens are very difficult to read out in the sunlight and need to be shaded. Or consider your personal computer. You probably don’t place it directly in front of a window where bright light will be streaming into your face. You need contrasting darkness so that you can see the screen without strain, and especially so if you’ll be working on it for lengthy periods. Otherwise, your eyes will tire and your head will ache.

Technology companies often solve this problem by making the display brighter, but apparently having Joe stick his head in The Hat was a more convenient “darkroom” for The LORD.

Mr. Petersen does not address the obvious impediments of dictating with one’s face in a hat; the muffling of Joseph Smith’s voice and the toll it must have taken to yell through the fabric of the hat. <end sarcasm – maybe>

Mr. Petersen goes on, in stunning fashion, to admit that the golden plates upon which The Book of Mormon was written, weren’t even necessary to the translation process:

According to those familiar with the process, he [Joseph Smith] dictated the Book of Mormon from words that somehow appeared in a “seer stone” or (much the same thing) in the Urim and Thummim. He rarely if ever actually had the plates with him; he couldn’t read what was on them except through revelation anyway, and he could receive revelation (via the “interpreters”) just as easily without the plates as with them.

Once you believe that everything is possible, anything is possible.  If the plates weren’t necessary, why was the stone?  Why not just the hat?  While we’re asking that question, why not just close his eyes and read the words off the inside of his eyelids?

His scribes needed light in order to work, but it’s quite understandable that Joseph sought to reduce the fatigue of his eyes by using a hat to exclude the ambient light.

The implications of this, however, are intriguing. A manuscript hidden in the bottom of a hat would be difficult if not impossible to read.

Petersen seems to believe that the only likely method of committing a fraud on the scale of The Book of Mormon is for Joe to be working alone and fooling his scribes.  Of course, if his “scribes” were doing more than writing, it could make such a deception much less complicated.  Oliver Cowdery, one of Smith’s scribes, just happened to be a distant cousin of Smith’s mother, and also happened to attend the same church of the pastor who authored ‘View of the Hebrews’, which strongly suggested that Native Americans were of Jewish descent.  Sound familiar?  If they wrote the book together, they wouldn’t have needed the hat, except to keep up appearances for visiting financiers.

It appears, thus, that Joseph was dictating from an unfamiliar text. It also seems likely that what he was reading provided its own independent light source, such that he could read it even with ordinary light excluded, in what one historian famously called “a world lit only by fire.”

For anyone who has ready anything but the official LDS version of history, the only thing that seems ‘likely’ in this story is that Joseph Smith was a talented “Glass Looker” in a gullible and trusting society.

A Quicksand of Deceit

“They are as sick that surfiet with too much as they that starve with nothing.” – William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

My wife and I have been known to give amounts of our income to charity.  When we do, we always attempt due diligence to ensure that they money we give is not being squandered. We visit Charity Navigator, and other websites in an attempt to learn how much of our money actually gets to the intended recipient. Some charities are just terrible; with overpaid CEOs and staff, extravagant management costs, buildings, fundraising costs, etc. As we want to help as many people as we can with our donation, we avoid those. Others, like The Road Home, do so much with so little, it’s hard not to want to give them more and more so that they can help everyone in need.

This is probably why I gasp in awe, wonder, and justifiable rage at the singular audacity of The LDS Church.

We’ve known for years that they hold profit making companies and corporations – largely renamed or built into a tangled web of corporations and holding companies in attempt to conceal direct involvement (Bonneville Communications, Property Reserve Inc, Deseret Ranches, etc.) For some reason, The LDS Church owning broadcast stations never bothered me. I thought it funny that they often aired the most euphemistic and humorously filthy shows on television (Will & Grace, Friends), but it didn’t really bother me. It seemed largely out in the open – everyone knew that KSL meant “LDS News”.

City Creek, on the other hand. That bothers me. That bothers me a lot. The LDS Church used tithed money – money they require from their parishioners in order to remain in Temple Worthy standing – to buy and build a giant for-profit shopping center. Not a church. Not a Temple. Not a meetinghouse. Not a humanitarian aid station. Rather, a glorious monument to excess, gluttony, and opulence.

But, the restaurants there will not sell alcohol, because Mormons consider drinking alcohol a vicious sin.

Oh. Well, rather than scare off all those exceedingly profitable eating establishments, who won’t come near a location upon which they cannot sell booze, The LDS Church chooses to manipulate their leasing and perceived ownership through a third party to make sure they can say, “We don’t profit from the selling of demon alcohol,” while profiting from the selling of demon alcohol.

I’ve seen it argued on LDS apologist websites that no tithed money was used. Nonsense. Accounting tricks may, apparently, fool God, but they do not fool me. The apologists claim that only dividends from previously invested tithed money was used to pay for the $1.5 billion shopping atrocity. Why was that money invested in dividend-providing accounts in the first place? Why does any tithed money go unused? Why is it not, instead, used to invest in future tithers – er – members? Why was that money not used to build more churches? Open more missions? Recruit more missionaries? Lower the financial burden for faithful missionary families. Increase humanitarian aid? Or – ha ha ha – reduce the amount of tithing that members are required to pay? I feel that at least one of those alternative investments might be something a certain Nazarene might feel comfortable in endorsing.

Not content with the success of its lecherous City Creek experiment, The LDS Church is seeking to build another monument to its seemingly true focus of worship; currency.

Under the name of ‘Deseret Ranches’ in Florida, The LDS Church is planning, along with other organizations, “a decades-long rise of a Central Florida metropolis of a half-million residents within a 133,000-acre corner of the county.

Revolting.

Mormon families are often counseled to pay their tithing first. A whopping 10% straight off the gross amount of their income. Before shelter. Before food. Before medical expenses. The Church needs have the first taste.

From the December 2012 issue of the church owned magazine, The Ensign:

If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you.”

In my godless opinion, it is of the utmost immorality to ask this massive sacrifice of church members whilst The Twelve Apostles and other General Authorities are given generous stipends, who then use the monumental excess of tithed money (and their dividends), not to spread The Word of God into “Every corner of the Earth”, not to feed the starving, nor clothe the need, nor heal the sick and suffering, but rather to ensure that their coffers continue to overflow with glorious abundance.