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Posts Tagged ‘Book of Mormon’

Over the past few weeks it has become more and more apparent to me that, in a very real sense that will never go away, I am still a Mormon.

It’s been more than a decade since my de facto exodus from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and nine years since I formally resigned my membership. I am not likely to become a member ever again, and I disavow many of the church’s truth claims. I never, ever wonder if I made the wrong choice, or if the Church is Really Actually True After All.

But as I continue to struggle to find my way spiritually through the world, and to navigate my relationship with God (and it’s a big struggle, and one I hope to talk more about in the coming few days), I have realized that one of the many issues I have to work through, spiritually speaking, is how to integrate all of my pieces.

The reality for me is that, as attracted as I am to unidirectional zeal, I am never just going to be One Thing. I’m never going to be a Methodist, and nothing but a Methodist, through and through. (I mean, I don’t think I’m ever going to be a Methodist at all, but that’s just an example). Every time I try to be just one thing, I wind up only able to hold it together for a little while and then I disintegrate again. Because it’s always a lie. The truth is that, spiritually speaking, I contain multitudes.

I have a lot of pieces and I have to figure out how to integrate them.

Some of my pieces are bigger than others, and one of the biggest pieces is that I am a Mormon, regardless of my membership status in an organization or my belief in a given set of truth claims. I am still, in a real and deep sense, a Mormon. I was raised in a devout Mormon family, I went to primary, I was baptized and confirmed at age eight, I was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood at age twelve, became a deacon, teacher and then priest, I was active as a youth, I passed and blessed the sacrament every week for years, I graduated from Seminary, I received a Patriarchal Blessing, I was ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood, I made covenants in the temple, I served a full-time mission for two years, I returned with honor, I went to Institute, I met a girl and married her in the temple, I read the Book of Mormon fifteen times in two different languages, I prayed, fasted, and sought the guidance of the Holy Ghost, I spoke in Sacrament Meeting, I taught Sunday School, I served as Ward Mission Leader, I blessed my firstborn child in front of the congregation. I can walk away from that in the sense of formal disaffiliation from an organization, and my beliefs can evolve over the years, but come on. How am I going to say that all of that didn’t form and shape who I am as a person? Of course it did. To claim otherwise would be absurd.

My ancestors crossed the goddamn plains. How am I going to say that I am not Mormon?

When I talk about integrating my pieces, I am not talking about combining religions into some sort of weird syncretism, so much as I am just talking about figuring out a way to hold those pieces loosely together and not neglecting them completely. Because I am all of these pieces and if I just pretend I am not, then I think I will never be satisfied and never know God the way God knows me, becaue God knows me in all of my multitudes.

Of course, this also means, on some level, dealing with the fact that I will never be a full-insider in any religious community. And that makes me sad, because it’s something I want, but it’s also something that I wind up never really wanting, because the shoe never really fits right.

And I worry that it means that real spiritual depth might be elusive. I have an intuition that commitment to a spiritual direction is the key to truly diving deep. I hope that’s not the case, but I am afraid it is, because I want spiritual depth, but I just can’t pursue it at the cost of neglecting who I am spiritually. (Like, I literally can’t–I have tried and I always fail.)

So then, what does being a Mormon mean to me? Because, like I said above, it certainly doesn’t mean re-affiliating with the Salt Lake City church. Mostly, I don’t know what it means in terms of the big picture. I don’t really know what it means to hold all of my pieces together, even loosely, and still try to find and know and experience God in the middle of that. And I don’t know what it means in terms of navigating Sunday mornings, which are always complicated for me, no matter what I do. But I do know a few things that it means:

-It means I’m allowed to listen to “Come, Come Ye Saints” and still get choked up about it. And I can claim it as mine.

-It means I’m allowed to find this crazy nineteenth century prairie vision of Zion incredibly compelling. And I can claim it as mine.

-It means I’m allowed to still believe that families can be together forever (whether or not that has anything to do with what a bunch of octogenarian men say about The Temple), on a gut, visceral level. And I can claim that as mine.

-It means I’m allowed to find the Book of Mormon’s imagery and symbols compelling and meaningful. And I can claim them as mine.

-It means I can identify with and align myself with the people on the fringes of Mormonism (in and out). There are some pretty great people out there doing some pretty great un-correlated things. And I can claim them as mine.

I am a Mormon. I have always been a Mormon. I will always be a Mormon. It’s time that I made peace with that.

Postscript: I guess it’s interesting that I am thinking through this right at the time when the Salt Lake City Church, under Russell M. Nelson’s leadership, is distancing itself from the name “Mormon.” As silly as I think that is, I think it is infinitely preferable to the SLC Church trying to claim the term for itself alone and zealously police it’s use. Mormonism is a lot bigger than one organization.

Second postscript: My good friend Katie wrote a great post recently on similar themes, except hers is way more poetic, generous and Christlike and way less navel-gazing than mine.

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I referred to myself as a pagan in conversation with my beautiful and sexy wife a few days ago (we were talking about piddly, meaningless stuff like the meaning of life), and she recognized the significance: it was a casual but meaningful declaration of spiritual identity of the kind that I have not been able to make in years.

It wasn’t just a slip, either. I have been thinking about this and I came to an important realization. One of the issues I have been grappling with in the background of my mind is if at the end of the day I basically think that religion and spirituality are highly subjective and have more to do with assigning meaning to human existence than they do with making objective truth-claims about the universe, why shouldn’t I have just stayed Mormon? Wouldn’t it have been easier, after all, for me to just figure out how to reconcile the religion I was raised with than to try to blaze a completely new spiritual trail? My gut rebels against the idea of staying Mormon, but why? I think Mormonism’s truth-claims are bogus, but that’s not really the issue for me (except it kind of is, because Mormonism spends a lot of time and spiritual effort insisting that its truth claims are literal truth). I have problems with the Church as an institution, but a lot of liberal and New Order Mormons figure out ways to deal with that, and the insistence of the orthodox believer notwithstanding, my relationship with the organizational church should not really affect how I feel about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration, right?

So why do I feel like remaining Mormon, or going back to Mormonism, would just be unacceptable? I think it is because I never really internalized Mormonism in the first place. Sure, I internalized some ways of thinking about religion because I didn’t know any better–some cultural transmission from my parent subculture is inevitable–but in a spiritual sense, I was always torn and doubtful about Mormonism and I was always drawn to mythology, the gods, and the spiritual power of the wild places of the earth. As a little kid I was obsessed with mythology. As a young adolescent I stayed awake all night with my best friend on Boy Scout camp-outs talking about Beltaine. As a teenager I flat-out just wanted to be a druid. As a young adult I was absolutely enthralled by Joseph Campbell, the Arthurian romances, Celtic myth, and the cosmic and spiritual significance of poetry and literature.

Yes, when I was nineteen, I “got a testimony” and went on a mission, and began to live a fairly orthodox Mormon life. But let’s not give my conversion too much credit. The coercive pressure from my family was immense-it was made clear to me that being an adult meant setting aside childish things like entertaining the possibility of paganism, and taking Mormonism seriously as the One True Religion. People I trusted and relied on made it absolutely clear that there was no viable moral alternative, that anything less than fully getting with the program meant personal weakness, laziness, and a lack of integrity. So I did what I was supposed to.

But the pagan inside me did not sleep too soundly. As a young adult I was captured by the power of Norse myth, by the dynamic majesty of romantic-era classical music (I discovered Sibelius, and it was love), and ultimately by the brutal, mythic energy of heavy metal.

On top of this, I have noticed a clear pattern in my life: when I have lived out of touch with nature, I have been depressed, unbalanced, and extremely mentally unhealthy. Proximity and involvement with the natural world are simply things I need for spiritual wholeness. And I have consistently had feelings about love, the feminine, and sex that have been reverent, passionate, and worshipful.

The point is, I have been a pagan all along. It doesn’t matter that I went to sacrament meeting every week. It doesn’t matter that I spent two years as a missionary trying to convert people to Mormonism. Mormonism never really fit. My mother and I had countless discussions and arguments about religion and point of view: in her mind the right thing to do was to completely internalize Mormonism, and subvert your entire mind to it, to relinquish all non-Mormon thought as something unwelcome and alien. I always wanted to take the point of view of an outsider, because I always was an outsider.

I was a pagan, and I always have been.

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When I went running this afternoon, I saw some of the Mormon missionaries doing street contacting outside my apartment complex. As per my usual, I began to have a lively discussion/argument with an imaginary missionary in my head. This time, our argument was about the Book of Mormon (I didn’t bring my iPod, so I had nothing else to do but suffer for three miles; otherwise I would have probably been listening to the Doors).

One of the most frustrating things to me about Mormonthink–and something that I think is evidence of cultlike behavior and cultlike thought in the Mormon church and culture–is how complicated, intermeshed ideas get blurred together into a simple question of “true or not true” that winds up really obscuring and distorting the ideas that are being manipulated.

Specifically, when a Mormon talks about the Book of Mormon being “true,” they mean at least three different distinct things. First, there is the question of whether or not the Book of Mormon is a faithful translation of an authentic ancient document written by Hebrew religious leaders in the western hemisphere. Second, there is the question of to what extent the religious and spiritual concepts expressed in the Book of Mormon (regardless of its authorship) reflect eternal truths. Third, there is the question of whether Joseph Smith Jr. found and translated the Book of Mormon by God-given supernatural means.

In my experience Mormons often conflate these three issues, or insist that they are logically linked so that you can’t have any one without the others, and so they just wind up bearing their testimonies about how the Book of Mormon is TRUE. It’s imposing black-and-white thinking on a potentially nuanced and relatively controversial set of issues, and as such it honestly pushes the boundaries of brainwashing tactics.

Of course I am generalizing here. Plenty of Mormons have thought through all of the questions I have raised here, and have an answer–even possibly a really nuanced answer–for each. Nevertheless to the extent that they simply use the shorthand of talking about the Book’s truth, generally, they are truncating the issues and contributing to a paradigm that discourages or disables critical thinking. And that’s no good.

NOTE: At one time I down comments on this post because it was kind of swallowing my blog and dominating the traffic, but enough time has passed that I decided to open it again, especially since Jonathan Blake has since closed down the comments on his “Convince Me” thread.

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So, I thought I was going to be sent to Iraq with my National Guard unit this month.  Turns out it’s not happening.  If you have any experience with the military, you know how things can change at the last minute.  Anyway, I mentioned in an older post that I was reluctant to make any big decisions because of the upcoming mysterious, major life-changing event, and that’s what it was.  Now it isn’t happening.  So life goes on, and I no longer have an excuse for resting on my laurels.  But what do I do now?

We haven’t been going to church for awhile, and I have long stopped praying (since it started to seem mechanical and pointless).  Do I start again?  Do I give Christianity another go?  If so, what kind?  Back to Cedar Ridge?  Back to Grace Episcopal?  Just be a Christian on my own and don’t worry about church?  What does becoming a Christian even mean?  What does one do?  Becoming Mormon is a fairly regimented process: you take the missionary discussions, you read the Book of Mormon, you pray to know if it’s true (and get Your Testimony), you attend church meetings, you commit to live the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity, you get baptized, you get confirmed, you get the priesthood, you go to the temple, you get callings, and you endure to the end.  It’s all extremely structured.  I know how to become Mormon.  But I don’t know how you become Christian.  At what point do you become Christian?  What’s the right motivation for becoming Christian?  What does “being Christian” look like?

Do I even want to be Christian?  Right now, the answer feels like no.  Especially since Christmas is over.

Do I start a candidate year with the Ancient Order of Druids in America?  Do I want to?  Do I really want Druidry as a belief system?  Is it all just New Age flakery?  Do I want my whole life to be Celtic-y?  Do I always want to be thinking about ancient times and yearning for the forest?  Not really.  After I’m done with law school we’re moving back to New York, where we’ll probably stay.  I like the woods and nature, but I also love the city.  I feel compelled to be environmentally conscious and take care of the earth, but I actually think in many ways urban living is the best way to do that (it’s certainly more sustainable than suburban living).

There are a lot of things about Druidry that I find very appealing, but do I want to color my whole life with that crayon?  The answer feels like no?

Do I abandon the journey and just get on with life without God and without religion?  I’ve been sailing for awhile and it doesn’t seem like Byzantium is anywhere in sight.  I’m kind of getting tired of looking for it.  My main roadblock is clear (I was nervous about making any hasty decisions with such a major punctuation mark on the horizon), so what do I do?  Hinduism?  The Qur’an?  What?

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I’m a little bit angry with a particular aspect of Mormonism today. Mostly, I find myself just caring less about the Mormon Church all the time, but when something directly affects me or my relationships, it’s hard to just grin and bear it.  even if it means coming out of blogging semi-retirement.

Mormonism teaches that if you pray to ask with a sincere heart, that God will tell you that the Church is True. It’s a guarantee- you do x and God will do y. That seems innocuous enough, until you apply it to the real world, to real people, and discover that actually plenty of people have prayed about the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and Mormonism in general, and have not gotten a satisfactory answer. This is difficult to reconcile. God has supposedly made a promise, right? So either God breaks his promises, or the people who aren’t getting an answer are the problem. And Mormonism teaches that God is a God of truth and cannot lie. Therefore, people like me must be lying. It’s the only logical conclusion- or something like it. Either we’re being dishonest with ourselves, we’re blinded by our pride, we’re too far in sin or too caught up in the world to recognize the Spirit, or something like that. But any way you want to fold it, the result is offensive and insulting. This line of logic means that everyone who doesn’t join (or stay in) the Church is either lying or has allowed themselves to be in the bondage of Satan.

There are two ways out of this for Mormons. One is the fairly common idea that God answers prayers in his own time, and you’ve just got to have faith. That is total crap. Why should I have faith that God is eventually going to give me a satisfactory answer? How long do I wait? Forever? Why? Why would I do that? There’s a point where it just becomes more likely that the reason why God’s not telling you Mormonism is true is because it isn’t. If I don;t know the Church is true, what possible reason would I have to keep asking and persevering for my entire life until I find out that it is? If I want it that bad, I’ll wind up manufacturing it myself.

Plus, by that same logic, I should be just as persevering with any other Church or religion, if my only assurance is the testimony of others. What makes the people testifying the truth of Mormonism any more trustworthy or reliable than the people testifying the truth of Catholicism, Islam, Quakerism, or Atheism?

Furthermore, what good is a promise that will for all intents and purposes never be fulfilled, or fulfilled in a way that is completely unlike what you expect or is completely unlike what the plain meaning of the promise is, the reasonable interpretation of the promise. If God does that, then he’s wiggling out of his promises on technicalities, and that isn’t really being a God of Truth. Promising something that reasonably sounds like x when you really mean y isn’t honest, even if y is technically one possible interpretation of the promise. That’s not honesty and Truth, that’s deception, which is the opposite.

There’s one other way Mormons can escape the insulting reconciliation that forces them to brand everyone else a liar, and that is the ability to live with paradox. This is the best way, the most productive way- reconciling God’s promises with people who don’t get answers to their prayers by not reconciling it at all. By chalking it up to something they just don’t understand. This allows the Mormon to be a believer without assigning dishonest or evil motives to everyone else. It allows the believer to take people like me at face value, to not have to assume that I have a hidden motive or agenda when I say I just don’t believe the Church is true and I just don’t believe that the Holy Ghost has told me it is.

Unfortunately, not everyone can do this. Living with paradox means maintaining a kind of cognitive dissonance, and cognitive dissonance makes people uncomfortable.

So instead of just accepting the paradox, most Mormons reconcile a (God’s promises) and b (people who don’t get answers) by assigning ulterior motives, by questioning peoples’ integrity, and by assuming that there’s some hidden but grievous sin. In short, reconciling Mormon doctrine with reality requires Mormons to pass exactly the kind judgment that Christ commanded us not to pass.

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I’ve tried to articulate one particular problem I have with Mormonism, and it never seems to go over very well. The topic came up on one of my favorite blogs, Dando’s Mormon and Evangelical Conversations, and while discussing it (and being accused of spouting ridiculous nonsense), I decided to try explaining it using a strictly Mormon point of view, and I think I did a pretty good job (although nobody has responded to it, so I might be dead wrong):

Mormonism stresses the importance of gaining a testimony of critical principles of the Gospel, right? That testimony is theoretically gained by praying for a manifestation from the Holy Spirit of the truth of something.

Lets say I’ve read the Bible and I want to know if Jesus is really my savior. According to Mormonism, if I pray and ask God, he’ll tell me, and I’ll have a testimony of it, right? Now, that testimony is sufficient to infer the truth of the bible, because history places Jesus squarely in the middle of it. Sure, I could also pray to know that the Bible is true, but I don’t need to. Because if I know that Jesus is the Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost, the that means the New Testament must be true, and since the New Testament affirms the Old Testament on a number of occasions, I can also therefore infer that the Old Testament is true. I certainly don’t need to pray for a specific testimony based on a spiritual witness of each book of the Bible, each apostle, each epistle, and each prophet, do I? Again, I could if I wanted to, but it isn’t critical. If God has witnessed to me the truth of Jesus Christ’s divinity and mission, then the rest can be reasonably inferred.

But my testimony of Jesus Christ alone doesn’t let me reasonably infer the truth of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, or the Latter-Day church.

In order to know those things, I also have to pray to ask if either 1) the Book of Mormon is true or 2) Joseph smith was a prophet of God. Mormonism teaches that once I know either of those things, I can reasonably infer the rest: if I know that the Book of Mormon is true, then I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. If I know that, then I also know that the D&C and PoGP are true. I also know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is true, that the Priesthood was restored, and that the church is still led by a prophet, that the plan of salvation as laid out in the LDS church is true, that the Word of Wisdom is true, etc.

I can get individual spiritual confirmation of each of these if I want or if I’m having a particular struggle, but the standard answer is that I should be able to get a testimony of just the one thing (either the BoM or the First Vision) and reasonably infer the rest. Latter-day prophets have taught that, and the missionaries teach that all the time.

If all I had was a spiritual witness of Jesus Christ, I could in the same way infer the truth of the Bible and the Biblical prophets, and even reasonably infer the truth of the early Christian church, based on their historical connection to Jesus Christ, either before or after. A testimony of Jesus would be enough to let me be a faithful Protestan, Catholic, Orthodox Christian. But a testimony of Jesus alone isn’t enough to convince me of the truth of Mormonism.

To be a Mormon, I would at the very least need to get a separate testimony of The BoM or Joseph Smith. And I find that problematic because to me it places them on the same level as Jesus in terms of where our faith is placed.

What I find more problematic is that many Mormons don;t have a separate testimony of Jesus and BoM/JS, but that instead they begin with a testimony of the Book of Mormon or JS and infer the rest, including inferring the divinity of Jesus, the existence of God, and the truth (or at least general reliability) of the bible.

That means for many Mormons, the lynchpin of their faith is not Jesus Christ, but Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. Either that or they have two equal lynchpins, only one of which is Jesus.

If your faith is built on anything but Jesus Christ, you have a house built on sand. I think that’s why it seems that most people who leave Mormonism become atheists: their faith was ultimately grounded in the Restoration, not in Jesus, and when they lost faith in the Restoration, they lost faith in everything.

Put in non-Mormon terms, one problem I have with Mormonism is that it requires separate and independent faith in something other than Jesus Christ. As a non-Mormon, I can begin with faith in Jesus Christ and then because of his place in the Biblical text and his context in history, I can infer pretty much the rest of Christianity, without having to exercise actual faith in anything else. But because the Book of Mormon and the latter-day Restoration occur outside of the continuity of Jesus’s historical and theological context, I actually have to at least exercise separate and independent faith in them, from which I can at least reasonably infer the rest of the truth of Mormonism.

Alternately, and this is the unfortunate path taken by all too many Mormons, I can ground my faith in the Restoration or the Book of Mormon and use that faith to infer Jesus’s divinity along with the rest of Mormonism.

Either way is troubling because it elevates something other than Jesus to at least the same level as Jesus, if not to a higher level, in terms of our framework of faith and belief. Essentially, in Sermon-on-the-Mount terms, that is building a house on sand instead of rock, and it’s why Mormons os often lose faith in everything when they lose faith in Mormonism. Their entire belief system was grounded in Joseph Smith and/or the Book of Mormon instead of in Jesus Christ.

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I had a great discussion with my mother a few days ago (she’s a true believing Mormon) about the difference between faith and testimony in Mormon theology, and I’ve been mulling around some thoughts about it ever since.

“Testimony,” as commonly used by Mormons, is an unfortunate term. It’s an umbrella term, a thought-construct composed of several different distinct but related concepts, but they’re all blurred together into one conglomerate noun in the Mormon vernacular. When the Holy Ghost bears witness of the truth of x, a Mormon calls that your testimony. When you tell others the religious things you believe or “know,” that’s also your testimony. Those two I can handle, but the third main use is the most vague and elusive, and the one least based in (even Mormon) scripture and theology. It’s this idea that a testiony is a thing, a noun, an intangible object that you actually have and need to nurture and work on so it grows.

It’s not the same thing as Faith, which is given some pretty clear and basically consistent definitions in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) said “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV). In the Book of Mormon, Alma said faith “is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true,” and Moroni said faith is “things which are hoped for and not seen.” None of those are really the same thing that Mormons are talking about when they talk about their testimony. Testimony is the assurance of the truth of Mormonism via mystical experiences.

Faith is consistently couched in terms like “hope.” Your testimony is the things you know. You might talk about faith in terms of certainty, but you would never describe a testimony using the word “hope.” Sure, the terms are similar, but they’re not identical.

In Mormon theology, such as it is, the requirments for salvation are faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the holy ghost, and enduring to the end (which includes getting the necessary ordinances and priesthood, and continuing to develop faith, repent of sins, and renew your baptismal covenant by taking the sacrament). Testimony per se is not a requirement for the Celestial Kingdom. There’s not testimony checker at the pearly gates. Nevertheless, Mormons constantly talk about the necessity of having a testimony, as if it is basically the most important thing in Mormonism.

It has no real connected place in Mormon theology, so why is it necessary? All of the critical steps (the principles and ordinances of the gospel) for salvation are obtainable without ever once feeling the Holy Ghost, much less Getting a Testimony.

There’s a weird inconsistency yhere that bothers me. Basically, what it boils down to is that Mormonism in practice focuses almost obsessively on the need for the individual to experience successive, ongoing conversion experiences. No wonder Mormons are able to simply ignore their doubts and criticisms of the church that they hear! They are spending their time and effort constantly converting themselves. Why? I think it’s because without constant conversion-as-reinforcement, Mormonism doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. Testimony may not actually be a requirement for salvation in Mormonism, but if you aren’t constantly cultivating mystical confirmations of the Church’s truth, you’re far less likely to stay a member of a Church that is heavy-handed, authoritarian, wildly implausible, and extremely demanding.

I don’t really believe there is such a thing as “having a testimony.” I think that you can experience God through the Holy Spirit, and I think you can yourself bear witness to things you believe are true, but as far as this nebulous thing that you have, I think it’s a mental and cultural construct with no real existence. It’s a doublespeak term tat obscures what’s going on. Faith is something that you have. Testimony is something you hear or give.

Given that opinion, why then does it bother me when people say I must not have ever really had a testimony, seeing as how I left the Church. I mean, if I don;t believe that testimony exists, at least the way they’re talking about it, why do I care if they say I never had one? Again, it comes down to the nebulous doublespeak use of the term. When someone says I never had a testimony, they’re actually questioning whether I ever was really ommitted to the Church, and that pisses me off. I was raised in the Church, and I was a faithful member. I scrupulously tried to keep the commandments. I graduated from early morning seminary. I served an honorable mission and I worked incredibly hard, both physically and spiritually. I read the Book of Mormon again and again, not as a skeptic, but as an earnest believer. I married in the temple, which took great personal sacrifices on my part and on my wife’s part. I always paid a full tithe, and I gave generous fast offerings. I magnified my callings. I prayed daily. When doubts came, I did my best to resolve them. I tried to me a member-missionary, and I even tried my best to do my home teaching. I did everything I was supposed to do to “get a testimony,” and I did it with pure intentions, because I honestly thought it was all the right thing to do.

The Church promises that if you do this stuff, you’ll Get A Testimony. Thus, when people say I must not have had a testimony, they are insinuating that I never did the things that were required to get one, and that impugns my integrity and my earnestness, and that bothers me a lot.

I have to say that I believe that the Church is simply not true, at least it is not true the way it claims to be. It may be a fine place for some people, but it is certainly not God’s one true church, restored in these latter days in preparation for the second coming, led by living prophets, etc. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me, but I do have a problem with people assuming that the only reason I came to the conclusion I did is that I wasn’t really genuinely committed and faithful in the first place. That’s just insulting.

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I’d be lying if I tried to continuously assert that faith issues and spiritual experience issues were the only things holding me back from committed belief in anything. There are major parts of me that are reluctant to decide for God or for Christ because I don’t want to decide for God or for Christ. Simply put, I have a religious/spiritual fear of commitment.

I’m not talking about the stereotype of the unbeliever who is unwilling to change his life, so he chooses atheism in order to live a life of immoral license. For me, the hard thing about being a Mormon was never the commandments. I’m not saying I never sinned, but I generally wanted to do the right thing, and I was generally successful in repenting of major wrongdoings and staying on the right track. The hard thing was never all of the rules. It was always intellectual.

What I’m trying to say is that Mormonism was so intellectually complete that it was stifling to me. There was no room for the unconventional, or the speculative. That may sound strange in light of rampant “Mormon folklore” and elders’ quorum-style speculation about Kolob, but I assert that it was/is nevertheless so. Sure, there was “room for speculation” in one sense, but it was always limited to certain narrowly defined directions, and even then you’re encouraged to focus on the essentials and warned of the consequences of straying too far out of bounds (just ask the September Six!).

I don’t really feel like I’m articulating this very well, and I’m sure that be failing to articulate it well, I’m inviting well-meaning Mormons to completely disassemble what I’m trying to say.

I like the idea that anything can be true. I like being able to read science fiction and wonder if that kind of thing will really happen someday (whereas the Second Coming of Christ sort of puts a damper on the voyages of the Starship Enterprise). I like entertaining possibilities. As much as religion appeals to me, uncertainty also appeals to me. Freedom to be as heretical as I please is a precious freedom.

I want to be able to wonder if – or even wish that – maybe some crazy thing is true without worrying that it is somehow beyond the walls of my religious/belief system and I need to repent. I want to be able to entertain any idea without feeling like I have to dismiss it for being unbiblical or unbookofmormonical. Or whatever.

I don’t like the idea of saying “I believe x is true” because it shuts down the possibility of a through w and y and z. To me, that is almost suffocating. I know I want spirituality, a spiritual path even, replete with practices and a way of life, but I don’t know if I am even really interested in a worldview. I don’t want to have to interpret everything I see through the lens of Mormonism, Christianity, or anything else for that matter. Maybe it’s the postmodernist in me that wants to be able to hit the buffet instead of ordering just one thing off the menu. I don’t know. Maybe this kind of thinking is intellectually dishonest of me, but if I am to be personally honest, I have to admit that it might be the biggest thing holding me back from belief of any kind.

Thinking about this, is sounds to me like I’m begging to be a Unitarian Universalist, but I have to admit that I’m not interested in the UU at all. I actually like traditional liturgical Christianity, and even Christian theology. And besides, like I said, I’m not reluctant about a spiritual path or well-defined spiritual practices, or even scriptures or many aspects of theology (by which I mean the philosophy of religion). It’s a stifling worldview that I’m spiritually claustrophobic about. I know it has a lot to do with gorwing up Mormon, but I also know it’s not an unjustified fear, because I see it in other belief systems, even more so than in Mormonism.

So one facet of my spiritual fear of commitment is this panicky spiritual claustrophobia that I don’t know how to deal with, or indeed if I even want to deal with it, and certainly I don’t want to have to deal with it.

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One particularly (in my opinion) credulous meme in the Mormon Church is that the time, place, and manner in which the Church was restored was the only way God could have done it. Now granted, Mormon God is not fully omnipotent in the definitional sense (even though the missionaries teach that he is), but seriously, it seems pretty clear to me that if God needed to do the Restoration, he could have done it anywhere he wanted. Europe handled the Reformation, and Protestantism is going strong today. Europe could have also handled the Restoration, assuming such a thing needed to happen at all.

In my last post, I talked about the problems with the doctrine of the Great Apostasy. I want to now deal with a couple more. Primarily, if some regeneration did need to happen, why didn’t God do it within his Church, like he appears to have done at very other time throughout Mormon scriptural history? Why wasn’t Joseph Smith a Roman Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox!) priest who God raised up to be His Pope and restore all that was lost? Unless the Catholic Church wasn’t God’s church, but that could only be the case if True Christians were actually wiped out and replaced by impostors at some point. Gradual corruption never made God totally abandon his Church and start over again in the scriptures, so why would this be the one weird exception?

Because God couldn’t have done so? Poppycock. At best, God didn’t want to. Mysterious ways and all that, but to me that’s really a cop-out. The whole business is one more counterintuitive thing that has to be accepted on faith, or based on an extremely subtle “whispering of the spirit” that is absolutely indistinguishable from the rublmings in my stomach due to not having eaten breakfast yet.

And don’t even get me started on why God waited like 1800 years to restore the truth. That’s nonsense. The bit about how that’s when the time was right is also nonsense. Even if God had to do the whole Restoration thing the way he supposedly has done it according to Mormonism, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t have persevered despite the persecution just like all kinds of other heretical movements throughout Christianity have done.

And seriously, this is God. He can preserve his people from their enemies, right! Didn’t he have an angel kill like 180,000 people in the Bible once to preserve the Israelites? Sigh.

Note- I have also added this post to my Sailing Away From Mormonism page.

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In order for the Mormon church to make any sense, there has to have been a Restoration. In order for there to need to be a Restoration, there has to have been a Great Apostasy. This is fundamental enough that the new Preach My Gospel manual that the missionaries use starts out with the Great Apostasy from the beginning. The main problem, in my opinion, is that there’s no good evidence that such a Great Apostasy occurred, at least to the extent that it would have needed to occur for Mormon theology to make sense.

From the standpoint of Mormonism, the Apostasy meant that 1) there were no more living prophets and/or apostles to continuously reveal the truth, 2) true doctrine became subverted by human ideas and was thus lost (and without living prophets, it was not re-discoverable), and 3) the priesthood authority was gone from the earth.

Each one of those points is incredibly problematic. The first point seems hard to argue with, because nobody was claiming to receive revelation, prophet-style, on behalf of all Christendom. To many Mormons, thats eals the deal. However, the sad truth is that the Latter-Day church doesn’t seem to get ay revelation, either. After Joseph Smith, there’s basically been a long line of prophets who don’t prohesy. Now, most Mormons will dispute this, and their evidence will be geenrally statements that they personally ascribe prophetic-revelation-status to (though the maker of the statement did not), or they appeal to the “probability” that the prophet gets these big revelations all the time, but doesn’t share them with the Church and the world for whatever reason. Or, barring those, they will shift their definition of revelation to include a moregeneral type of inspiration.

In any case, there’s not much evidence that the rate of contemporary revelation right now was any different than during the Great Apostasy. Nevertheless, there’s a differnence- the next two points (true doctrine and priesthood authority) make clear the difference between the Church during the Great Apostasy and the Latter-Day Church.

James E. Talmage, in pretty much any book he wrote, was quick to trot out shady, questionable doctrines and practices of the medieval Catholic church as evidence of its apostasy. What it basically comes down to is that doctrines were changed away from the “plain and precious truths” that were taught by Jesus Christ and his apostles. This is also problematic, for a couple of reasons.

First, despite what Mormons may learn in Primary and Sunday School, many doctrines and practices have also changed during the not-quite-two-hundred years of the latter-day church. I need only mention the big, contentious ones like polygamy, Blood Atonement, and the Adam-God theory. Sure, some of those doctrines have come and gone, but so did some of the questionable Catholic doctrines that Talmage loves to pick on. It’s not limited to the anti-Mormon fodder, either. Plenty of other doctrines and practices have changed or evolved over time and members don;t even bat an eye.

As an aside- a common Mormon metaphor for the Apostasy and Restoration is a broken glass. You can’t just put the pieces of a broken glass back together to make the cup good again; you have to actually make a new cup. The broken glass is the Christian church during the Apostasy and the new-blown glass is the Restored church. If the Apostasy was just a matter of inspired leadership and correct doctrine, then the metaphor is complete junk. Rediscovering old, correct doctrine, if such a thing exists, is merely a matter of going back to old texts and seeing what was taught before the change away from the truth. It is well within human capability, and it’s exactly what the Reformers were trying to do. If it was just a matter of inspiration/revelation and true doctrine, then the Reformation (and accompanying counter-reformation) should have done the trick. The Mormon Church even teaches that those men were inspired.

This is the point in the discussion where the Mormon falls back to the bunker of Priesthod authority, but I am afraid there is no cover to be found there either.

According to Mormon theology, the big evidence for the Apostasy and Restoration, the real clincher, was authority. God’s priesthood, the power and authority to act (and lead) in His name, was gone from the earth. It had to be fully restored in order for God to run things the right way, for the ordinances like baptism to have any effect, and for the Kingdom of God to be built on earth.

However, there’s no real indication that the Priesthood, assuming that it did indeed exist the way that Mormonism teaches that it once did, ever left the earth. In fact, I think it’s completely and utterly unreasonable to think that it did.

Mormonism believes in a lay priesthood- all worthy men can (and these days should and are) be ordained deacons, teachers, priests, and elders. This Priesthood existed in the time of the apostles, but it was lost, so only the apostles themselves could give the Priesthood back to us. Thus, first John the Baptist and then Peter James and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to give them this priesthood, so there would be an unbroken line of authority back to Jesus Christ (for the Melchizidek Priesthood) and to Aaron (for the Aaronic Priesthood).

But that means that this lay Priesthood existed in New Testament times, but it had disappeared by Joseph Smith’s time. The problem is that the Christian church didn’t disappear during that time. In order to have the Priesthood die out and fade away but the Church continue, you’d have to have an entire generation of Priesthood-holders simply not give the Priesthood to anyone else. Simultaneously, you’d have to have an entire generation of Church leadership come in and claim leadership positions without even holding the Priesthood (if you think about that in the framework of the modern Mormon Chruch, it doesn’t even make sense).

The Mormons claim that John, not Linus, was the second leader of the Church (since he got Revelation on Patmos after Peter’s death, and only the leader of the Church would get scriptural revelation like that), which means that the Catholic line of authority was broken from the beginning. The problem with that apologetic is that it confuses leadership with the Priesthood. Linus may not have been “the prophet,” but as a member of the Church, there’s no reason at allt ot hink he didn’t have the Priesthood. Past that, the Catholic church (and the Orthodox Church and even the Anglican Communion) can show an unbroken line of apostolic succession all the way down to the current set of bishops. What reason then is there to believe that all those bishops don’t have the Priesthood?

Sure, they may not use it right, and they may have their heads full of false doctrine, but Mormon theology is pretty clear that priesthood authority doesn’t go away despite personal apostasy. A wicked missionary’s baptism is still valid, because he had the authority, and it was the Priesthood (i.e., God) doing the job, not him. Look at Alma the Elder in the Book of Mormon- he was one of a whole crop of evil clergymen who were ordained by the equally wicked King Noah and were doing al kinds of wring things and teaching all kinds of wrong doctrines. Nevertheless, the line of authority that gave Alma his Priesthood was still a valid one, so he could baptize all of those people at the Waters of Mormon. If he had the Priesthood, then why don’t the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox clergy have the Priesthood?

In short, although there may have been a falling away from the truth over time, there’s no real reason to believe that The Great Apostasy ever happened in such a way as to necessitate the Restoration as it is taught in Mormonism.

Note- I have added this post to my Sailing Away From Mormonism page.

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