Tag Archives: mormonism

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

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.

A Next Step

Dear friends and family,

I want to let you know that I am resigning my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Though likely unwelcome news to many, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise as I have not regularly attended church service in nearly 20 years, and no longer believe in a god.  Why do I feel it necessary now? To officially cancel my ties with The Church? As has probably been guessed, the new anti-LGBT policies of The Church are the last straw for me.

I hurt so much for those true believing children who were just told by the trusted and beloved representatives of their loving Heavenly Father and Savior that they were lesser and unworthy.

I clearly remember my own child-like and singular love and trust in Jesus — so pure and innocent and all-consuming. Jesus, who gave only love and comfort and acceptance; never a rebuke, even in the face of sin.

Because I remember that so clearly, an image comes to me of having that very love and trust bludgeoned by a visit from President Benson, on the day of my Baptism, suddenly breaking the news to me that Jesus won’t have me as a member of His church today.

I can imagine my heart breaking in my chest as President Hinckley shows up at our ward house, and stops my father’s hands, only to tell me that Heavenly Father will not have me as a member of His Priesthood today.

I imagine being filled with such abject misery and hopelessness when my Primary teacher tells our class that “Heavenly Father needs and wants all of your chosen generation, but not you.  Not you.”

Though I no longer believe in the importance of these events, the thought of the children going through less dramatic but nonetheless real versions of those scenarios right now fills me with heartache. That’s why I’m angry for them. That’s why I hurt for them. That’s why I feel it necessary to take this action.

I’ve considered this final step over the years, but this is the reason I’ve finally decided it’s necessary; to protest a church claiming to speak for a God of love and acceptance, which instead seemingly teaches children hate, exclusion, and shame. Teaching them that they will not only be punished for their own sins, but also for their parents’ love.

I understand that we may have different understandings and interpretations of this policy. I have read several different official, semi-official, and unofficial attempts to explain how this new policy is not vicious nor malicious. I’ve watched D. Todd Christofferson’s reaction video. I’ve read the letter from The First Presidency. I’ve read the press-release from Michael Otterson. I sincerely disagree with all of these rationalizations and explanations.

I don’t mean to preach in this letter, but I felt I owed at least a brief explanation before I join the other compassionate and empathetic believers and non-believers in requesting that we no longer to be counted among the membership of this church.

If this hurts you personally, I am truly sorry. It is not my intent, though that may be cold comfort.

Any and all of you are more than welcome to tell me or ask me anything you like, so long as we can remain a loving family in doing so. I love and value and respect each of you and know that each of us is walking our own path as best we know how.

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.

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?

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?

Causing Offense

“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
– Fatherly advice

 

Nicolas Ulmer is a little upset.  Due to God’s Folly, The Internet, he discovered that one of his relatives was posthumously baptized by The LDS Church.  Even more infuriating, LDS officials refuse to provide him with a sufficient explanation:

Carrying out online research into my family, I was surprised to learn from LDS posts that my direct ancestor, Johannes Ulmer, also of Steckborn, was posthumously “baptized” Mormon. I have repeatedly written to many Mormon authorities, including Brigham Young University and LDS headquarters, asking by what theological or legal right they presume to change my ancestor’s faith to theirs, but have gotten no substantive reply whatsoever.

Read the complete letter here.

When I was a young Mormon boy, I was baptized by proxy for many, many, many, many, many deceased individuals (all male, BTW.  It’s important to God that in proxy baptisms, the genitals match).

At the time, I sincerely believed I was doing those people a great favor; giving them the gift of God’s salvation.  Seeing it from their perspective now, I see just how offensive it could be.

I also have to accept the knowledge that I will have various posthumous LDS rituals performed on my behalf, though I make it  clear that I would not approve of those actions.  Regardless of my wishes, however, one of my relatives, no matter how close or distant, will eventually put my name on one of those little slips of paper.

Meet The Mormons

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.