December 27, 2009

Pigs Among Men

Orwell, one of my favorite writers, spent his life examining and exposing the methods used by those in power to manipulate, use, and control others. He concentrated on tyrannical governments, but these same principles apply to many religious practices. In his classic work Animal Farm, he creates a microcosm of this power struggle on a small farm. The animals run the farmer off the land, and establish a government of their own. The pigs assume the position of leadership, making promises that the animals' lives have changed and that a new era has begun. At the end of the story, however, the rest of the animals are repulsed to find the pigs have become the very thing they claimed to abhor; they had turned out to be no different from the farmers. The final line of the book explains, as the animals peered through the farmhouse window to see the pigs sitting with men,
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. (read entire book here)
The phenomenon of the revolutionaries repeating the behavior of those they fought against was certainly present in the LDS church as well. For example, Joseph Smith preached against adultery and other lustful acts (e.g., Jacob 2). He founded his church promising purity and chastity to those who would follow him. Of course, once he had established his power, he became the very thing he preached against; he took a large number of wives, often from their first husbands, several of them teenagers (source). He and his early elite became the adulterers they professed to condemn (those who disagree are first directed to this post, then feel free to respond).

Another common theme throughout Orwell's writings is that the leaders allow themselves special privileges that are strictly forbidden to the followers. For example, in 1984 (full text here), the high members of the Party have control over the devices monitoring their movements and speech, may have quality chocolate and other such comforts not permitted to the rest of the society. The elite members of the Party may make exceptions to their own rules as they see fit. They are somehow above their own laws: requiring the followers to practice restraint, but not themselves.

This is also true of Joseph Smith, Jr.; his own conditions for the practice of polygamy were that (a) it be only for the purpose of producing children (Jacob 2:30), (b) plural wives must be virgins (D&C 132:61), (c) the plural wives may not belong to another man (also D&C 132:61), and (d) the first wife must give her consent (also D&C 132:61).

Smith followed not one of these conditions: (a) he produced, at most, 3 children from extramonogamous marriages (Compton, 2001; Embry, 2007); (b) he married at least 15 women who were not virgins; (c) at least 11 of whom belonged to their living husbands (Compton, 2001); and (d) Emma did not give consent until 1843 - years and wives after Smith started the practice (Brodie, 1945; Embry, 2007). Thus, Smith felt that he was somehow above the conditions of polygamy he set forth. Somehow his rules did not apply to himself. So we see that the LDS church is no exception to the corruption that comes with power.

Thus, while Orwell demonstrated how pigs, when given ultimate power, become the men they despise, Smith showed us how men, when given ultimate power, become the pigs they despise.

Brodie, F. M. (1945). No man knows my history: The life of Joseph Smith. New York: Vintage Books.

Compton, T. (2001). In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

Embry, J. L. (2007). Setting the record straight: Mormons and polygamy. Orem, UT: Millennial Press, Inc.

December 20, 2009

The Message

In the Orwellian-themed fictional world of Equilibrium, a new doctrine has been introduced in an attempt to rid the world of hatred and injustice. The hero of the film eventually concludes that the doctrine is contradictory in nature, and that the very thing the doctrine is meant to fight is actually what it perpetuates. He brings these concerns to his superior, who tells him "It is not the message that is important, but our obedience to it."

I have found this to be a similar response in the LDS church. Discussion of things in Preach My Gospel and other Church-approved manuals is fine, but anything beyond should be left unexplored. At that point, we must stop concerning ourselves with the message/doctrine/practices of the Church and instead concern ourselves with obedience. Consider the following selections from a talk by Robert C. Oaks:
For us, to 'believe all things' means to believe the doctrine of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the words of the Latter-day prophets. It means to successfully erase our doubts and reservations. It means that in making spiritual commitments, we are prepared to hold nothing back. It means we are ready to consecrate our lives to the work of the kingdom... If we have spent any time considering the nature of faith, we must realize that 'believing all things' is the equivalent of full faith, not full knowledge... At some point in our quest for perfection and eternal life, we may come to have perfect faith and eventually perfect knowledge. But between now and then, there will certainly arise intriguing questions with answers reaching beyond our capacity to comprehend. Such questions can drive the prideful person to conclusions such as 'Given the constraints of Christian doctrine, there is no possible answer to this question; therefore, a thinking person cannot be a Christian.' Such pride and arrogance must greatly offend the heavens... One day there will be answers to all our questions, and they will be based on divine fairness and love... Let us believe all things. Let us have unquestioning faith in all of the doctrines and truths of the restored gospel.
In other words, if the message of the Church seems contradictory, problematic, incomplete, or just plain wrong, that is where we "prideful" people (who believe that the truth should make sense) need to give up our desire for a clear message, and clutch onto obedience to the message. At that point, the Church desists stressing its message and instead stresses obedience thereto. Again, "It is not the message that is important, but our obedience to it."

This is a classic step in destroying clarity of thinking. Adolf Hitler, for example, made his officers and soldiers swear obedience to him - not to the laws or to the German constitution (source). That is, whatever message Hitler gave was irrelevant. It was the obedience that mattered (Please do not misunderstand the comparison; members of the Church are not Nazis! The principles used to control their thoughts and behavior are the similarity). One of the most basic steps of a force that wishes to have ultimate power over others is to indoctrinate its followers with "Don't think about it too much: just obey it."

I'm sure that's why so many of the believers who attempt to contend with me fail to address any of the concerns I've raised, and instead concentrate on the simple fact that I have deviated from the path beaten in front of me. For some of us, the message matters. And I will not, cannot, abandon my deepest values for the sake of obedience to a flawed message.

December 13, 2009

Wizards and Men

Near the end of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions are shocked to discover that the person they had revered and admired as the "all powerful" wizard was nothing more than a mere man, hiding behind a curtain, pushing buttons and turning dials that put on the appearance of superhuman abilities. He was just a simple man from Omaha who had gotten lost in the land of Oz, and was hailed as a mighty wizard by its inhabitants as they witnessed things they did not understand. The man proceeded to live out his role as a leader, slowly building up new ways to impress and awe his followers until he had perfected the deception. By the time Dorothy and the others had arrived to call on him, his reputation preceded him; everyone knew he was a wizard, because he had all the deception in place, structurally and socially.

While he may have brought order to the Land of Oz, and perhaps his reputation kept the wicked witches at bay, he was a fraud, in far over his head, and eventually was discovered.

I often wonder if this simple man from Omaha was in a position similar to that of the so-called modern day prophets. I doubt he had a malicious and power-hungry motive in taking the seat of power that was set in front of him. More likely, he did what everyone expected of him, and fit the role that he felt was needed. Similarly, I find it noteworthy to read some of the things past presidents and apostles of the church have stated regarding their personal experiences which separate them from other members (click here).

It seems to me that the leaders of the Church today are not that different from the little man from Omaha, putting on the show that the followers expect, pushing buttons and turning dials that keep up the deception that they have superhuman abilities. Whether the man is hiding behind a curtain, or claiming to see beyond the "veil", the principle is very much the same. And just like the trusting people of Oz, believing members of the LDS church trust that Thomas Monson is exactly what he is built up to be, paying no attention to the mysterious curtain (i.e., problematic history) that would expose him as a mere man.

November 19, 2009

Personal Interpretations of Obedience

One of the LDS church's more respectable doctrines is the 89th section of the Doctrine & Covenants, more commonly called the "Word of Wisdom". It's been called the "Lord's law of health." It is essentially a set of fairly simple guidelines about what is good for the body and what is not. LDS often use the Word of Wisdom as evidence of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s gift of prophecy. They say that he could not have known about the dangers of tobacco or coffee in his day; therefore, preaching against the use of these substances means he had direction from the Almighty (source).

In any case, I find the Word of Wisdom an interesting part of the LDS church. Some of its segments are specific in their meaning (e.g., "tobacco is not for the body"), while others are extremely vague. However, the leaders of the Church have somewhere established clearer definitions for some of the vague terms (i.e., "hot drinks" means black or green teas and coffee). And still, for some of the sections that are just as vague, they have left the decision up to the individual member. For example, when asking a bishop if caffeine is prohibited by the Word of Wisdom, the member will be told that it is between God and his or herself (here's a similarly vague response).

That's quite the statement. In other words, what the Church does there is state that God might have a different set of rules and consequences for each person. That is, what may be a sin for one believing member may not be a sin for another.

I've always seen this as problematic. For example, the temple recommend question simply asks, "Do you obey the Word of Wisdom?" I have never understood how an obese person could answer affirmatively to that question. If we are commanded (though it has been a slowly-developing commandment) to take care of our bodies, and told our bodies are temples (1 Cor. 6:19; John 2:21), how can somebody say they follow the commandment while obese, or even overweight? Can you imagine a bishop with a scale in his office, weighing each member during an interview, and then tearing up his or her temple recommend if his or her body mass index were over the limit set by the Brethren?

Couldn't obesity be compared to alcoholism (check this out)? Aren't they just two different forms of harmful behavior to the body? But then if a person can ingest trans and saturated fats every meal and still be temple worthy, why can't a member who has an occasional cigarette after dinner, or a beer on the weekends say, "this one's between God and me"?

Why would God have some universal commandments, and then some commandments that are individualized? Really, the only solution I see is to either list out the Lord's recommended daily caloric intake, and publish a list of approved ingredients and unapproved ingredients for the members who so badly want to be righteous. Either that, or leave the whole thing between members and God as the Doctrine and Covenants state.

November 6, 2009

Speaking Against Majority

Recently a commenter asked me why I do not simply remain silent about the reasons for my decision. Why create a blog about it? Why not just let the Church be and go on my way? I would like to revisit this here.

In 1956, a scientist named Asch was interested in conformity. Specifically, he wanted to know under what circumstances people conform to group pressures, and under what circumstances a person would not. Here's what he did:

Asch brought seven of his own students into a classroom. These seven were confederates (i.e., they knew what the study was about and were given instructions on how to behave). Asch then brought in the study participant, who thought that everyone else in the classroom was also a regular participant. Up on the board in the room was a set of two cards (there were a total of 12 sets) that looked something like this:
The researcher went down the line asking each of the participants to say which of the three lines on the right card most closely matched the length of the line on the left card. The confederates were instructed to give false answers on 7 of the 12 trials. What the researcher wanted to know was how the naive participant would respond depending on what the majority of the group said. It was obvious which line actually matched the model, so would the participant choose the right answer even when the majority chose the wrong answer?

What he found was that about 37% of participants gave an incorrect answer every time the confederates did, and about 75% of participants gave at least one incorrect answer when confederates did.

But getting back to the question, here's the most interesting finding, I think; when just one of the confederates went against the rest and chose the correct answer, participants were much more likely to also choose the correct answer. When just one confederate went against the other six, only 5-10% of the participants conformed to the majority!

To put it plainly, it seems that people will often choose something that they perceive as obviously wrong in order to go along with the majority around them (even in something as trivial as a visual test). The reasons for this could vary greatly, but most participants blamed their behavior on poor eyesight (which was controlled for in another part of the study). In other words, these people said to themselves, "Gee, I guess there's something going on here I don't understand. Everybody else seems to think B is the right answer, so maybe what I'm experiencing is wrong."

We see this kind of thing all the time in the LDS church; a believer first learns about polygamy or the denial of priesthood to Black persons, and tells himself, "Gee, that doesn't seem right. But there are so many other people here that think it's okay, so there must be something wrong with my perception. I'd better just do what they are doing."

But the study shows that if just one person has the courage to speak his or her mind and say, "Hold on a second - I really don't think that line B is the right answer. Every way I'm looking at it from right here says that line C is right," then the next person is that much more likely to say what he or she is really thinking. That person is much more likely to trust in his or her own judgment.

This is a large part of why I do not stay silent. I'm saying, "I really am not seeing how B could be the answer; here's why..." I sat on that back row for most of my life saying what everyone else was saying, even though it was not at all what I was seeing. Now, I am calling it like I see it, and if someone can explain to me how line B is more correct than line C, I am completely willing to discuss it. If someone else has been in that position for most of his or her life, feeling very uncomfortable about what he or she is seeing (or not seeing) on the Sunday School board, I am attempting to be that voice that says, "Follow your conscience. No matter what the majority says, follow your conscience. And call it like you see it."

Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies on independence and conformity: A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs, 70(9).

November 3, 2009

These Things I Believe

In the past month I have been asked independently three or four times about what it is I do believe in. This blog tends to focus on why I do not believe in the LDS church, but may often leave the reader wondering about how I view life, the universe, and everything. I hope the following helps.

I believe in the truth. I have never seen it, and I admit that I do not fully understand it, but I have absolute faith that the truth exists and that I can get closer to it in this life. I suppose that I do not feel it entirely necessary to obtain absolute truth in this life, but I do believe what is most important is the seeking of the truth. To paraphrase the old saying, the truth may be the destination, but the journey is what's most important.

Although I do not consider myself an atheist (click here for some thoughts on atheist spirituality), I am open to the possibility. I do not fear the truth even if it means we are all just blobs of flesh with a few short years of existence on a rock. Because whether I like the truth or not is a matter of how I interpret it. Suppose we do discover some day that this life is all there is. In that case it is what it is - we can choose to think of it as devastating, bleak, meaningless, or we can think of it as giving even greater urgency to living life to the fullest now. Many believers I have spoken with end up saying something like "I just have to believe." In other words, the idea of there being nothing after this life is too terrifying to deal with, even if it is true. I feel that, although this may be a comforting route to take, it may ultimately be inauthentic. Even if these are the only few years we have, that is all the more reason to make these years meaningful. I fear that religion too often gives people excuses to delay living life. Believers may suffer needlessly for a lifetime, never experiencing the good that life has to offer, insisting that all will be made right after death. "God will sort it out." While I do hope that justice is served at some point, I do not believe that that is any justification for delaying life. By experiencing life, I do not mean that we should live fast, have as much pleasure as we can, and die young with a big smile on our faces. But to deny one's self happiness for the sake of religion is often unfortunate (e.g., a young LDS football player was offered a position in the NFL, but reluctantly refused so as not to miss church and be labeled faithless; otherwise excellent marriages sometimes never happen because of religious differences). I believe that the ultimate pursuit in life is an understanding of who we are, and how we fit in to this place called the universe. For me, I feel that family and education are the keys to living life to the fullest.

Spirituality means different things to different people. For me, a "spiritual" experience is one that involves giving meaning to my existence. It is something that helps me to feel like a worthwhile organism in the context of this Earth. This is why I have expressed several times on this blog that my family is the most important thing I have; I can be the most meaningful person to my children. This may also be the reason I was drawn to clinical psychology for my profession. By making this life more tolerable for others, I obtain the most meaning for my own existence.

I certainly hope for something more after this life. I am constantly amazed at the complexities of the universe and especially of life on this planet. I make no claims to know what happens after we die. If something happens, I can honestly say that I am doing all I can in this life to know what it is, and living a good, decent, honorable, and full life. If there is nothing after this life, I am spending the time I do have authentically, following conscience, embracing knowledge whether it is what I hope for or not. And if nothing else, I feel that my existence on this planet has been and will be of some good to those around me. As Billy Corgan said, "My life has been extraordinary: blessed and cursed and won."

October 23, 2009

Past & Future Behavior

As a student of psychology, I'm interested in what makes people tick. Understanding why people do what they do is the most basic concentration of my discipline, along with eventually being able to predict behavior (some take it even further and argue that the ultimate goal is to control behavior, which is probably at least partially true).

One thing most people tend to agree on is that a person's past behavior can often tell us a lot about present and future behavior. That's why character witnesses are called in trials before deciding on guilt, why we get asked about our past work history in job interviews, why colleges want to know our high school GPA before admitting us, and so on. Past behavior often (though not always) is predictive of future behavior. If a person has been fired from the last four jobs, the interviewer has pretty good reason to believe that he won't do much better in this job.

Similarly, looking through Joseph Smith's character before the founding of the LDS church may give us some insight into the type of person he was. Of course, all believers are aware of the stories of him refusing alcohol for his leg operation, reports of his strength of character, his spiritual mindedness, etc. But what about his profession of locating buried treasure for a fee (source)? The fact that he told trusting individuals that he had the ability to see things that no one else could see, and then was unable to deliver the promised goods, I think, tells us quite a bit about his character (discussion and history).

Whether he believed he could see more than others is for another discussion. My point is that he was able to convince people that he had special powers, and not by actually delivering anything. Smith was actually fairly successful in getting money out of people who trusted him. And so what does this tell us about his later behavior? Did he make the most of his ability to convince others of anything he wanted? Did he really have special powers? Was it just a short step from getting people to believe he saw buried treasure to convincing them that he had visions of angels?

What was his motivation in peeping through stones before the Book of Mormon? Was it God's will that he look for treasure? Was it to better mankind? Or was it for a quick buck? And again, what does this tell us about Smith's character?

October 19, 2009


I had an interesting conversation the other day with a member of the Church who follows the advice of a non-traditional doctor in her diet. The conversation concerned times when this doctor's advice conflicts with the doctrine of the LDS church. In instances where her church competes with her medical caregiver, who wins, and why?

It turns out that there are several instances where she chooses her doctor's advice above the Church's. For example, this doctor advises large quantities of meat to be ingested at every meal, which contradicts the Word of Wisdom as written in the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church. Additionally, several of the herbal mixtures the doctor prescribes contain alcohol, which, according to the Word of Wisdom, is "not for the belly."

I think similar questions could be asked to several of the members of the Church. I know of no one who follows LDS guidance to the absolute letter of the law, and I would love to know why this discrepancy exists. When given a choice to follow "the prophets" or someone else, why is it that so many members make decisions that go against what "the prophets" have said?

For example, I know very active members who buy lottery tickets regularly. I know dozens who watch rated "R" movies. I know several who get tattoos or extra piercings despite statements against these by The Brethren. My experience is that only about half of home teaching gets done in any given month. I know a gentleman now who is very active and insists he knows the Church is true, but has chosen to work on Sundays despite promises of great blessings for keeping the Sabbath day holy (example). Without words, he has said that he either doesn't want those blessings, or that he truly does not believe that is a true promise.

I don't mean to call these individuals hypocrites, because that is a bit too far past my point. What I want to point out is that it seems faithfulness is a continuum. Even the most faithful of LDS have instances where somewhere deep down they tell themselves "Oh, that doesn't apply to me. I'm sure God will make an exception. That's more of a guideline than a commandment, even if the prophet said it. It's not that bad."

And what does this tell us about a testimony "beyond a shadow of a doubt"? If these people did have absolute faith in their testimonies, why are they telling the world, "I know that Thomas Monson is a prophet of God, but I won't do my home teaching like he asks," or "I follow the Word of Wisdom, except for this part and this part."?

Doesn't it really mean that everybody follows the Church up to the point where they actually disagree with its absolute truthfulness? Sure, we are all imperfect and working on our weaknesses, but when someone consciously chooses against the Church, but insists that it is the absolute truth in the universe, how am I to interpret just how convinced that person really is? Are they trying to convince me, or themselves?

October 15, 2009

Confirmation Bias

While on my mission in Southern Germany, I was juggling dozens of responsibilities as well as dealing with the stresses of being away from home, living with a person from a very different culture, and so on. At this same time, I was very concerned about a young woman back home. She had earlier told me that she felt we were meant to be together, which I also believed at the time very deeply. However, as anyone would in that situation, I worried very much about opening up a letter from her one day to find that she had met someone far better than I (and I knew there were plenty of opportunities).

In my wrestle between trying to stay focused on my tasks at hand and trying to find comfort and reassurance over the young woman's intentions, I constantly prayed to feel peace over the matter. I remember multiple times receiving a very strong emotional confirmation that she and I would be together, and that things would turn out fine with her.

As the reader may have guessed, things did not turn out well at all. Upon returning home, I was hit with the worst emotional bombshell of my life, and then the suffering about the relationship was drawn out for several months thereafter as she varied between warm and cold.

So how do I explain my prayerful confirmations that things would be alright? Of course, true believers will argue that the confirmations were that things would eventually turn out alright. I would eventually be able to get over the pain, etc. It is clear to me now, however, that those confirmations were not from God at all, but from somewhere within me. I asked if things would be okay with this young woman, and I wanted so badly to receive the answer I wanted that that is exactly what I got: the answer I wanted.

I wonder if I had asked the question while being willing to accept an answer of "She's just messing with you", that maybe I would have received such an answer: whether it was my own mind putting the clues together, or God actually communicating with me.

My point is that when a person asks a question, but is not willing to receive an answer unless it's the one he expects, it probably doesn't matter what the real answer is. He'll just go on believing what he wants.

Similarly, I find that the LDS church refuses to take "no" as an answer, or even no answer as an answer. Their advice is to keep asking until you get a "yes", or to act as if you have a "yes" and eventually you will get one (quotes and discussion).

And so, in the end, it doesn't really matter what the right answer is.

October 8, 2009

Father in Heaven

I always enjoyed the description of God as a father: that He views us and reacts to us as a parent might view and react to his children. That explains why sometimes we don't get what we want in life - because it isn't really what's best for us, why sometimes we stumble and have to pick ourselves up - because we need to learn to solve our own problems first, etc. I always thought that was a nice description of how the creator of the human race might respond to us. As a father myself, I have come to see the application of that description in several more areas. If one believes in a god, I think it makes sense that he would be a father figure.

On the other hand, that is also very much part of the reason I left the LDS church. The god worshiped by the LDS has apparently done things that I cannot imagine any loving, righteous father doing.

Huntington. If the Polygamy, for example; as a father who loves his daughter more than anything on this planet, I cannot even fathom telling my daughter to become a polygamous wife. Take the instance of ZinaLDS church is true, then translating what transpired there into a father-daughter relationship would look something like this:

Father: "Dear Zina, I know you are happy with your husband and children, but now I want you to marry another man as well. I think he's great and you will too."

Zina: "But Dad, I don't care how great he is, I love my husband and children. I couldn't do that to them and I don't want to do that to them."

Father: "You will do as I say. If you do not marry this man, I will strike him down. If you refuse him, your husband and children will suffer. I can do it. You know I can."

Zina: "But why? Why would you do something like this? How can you ask this of me?"

Father: "You were never supposed to marry your husband. You belong to this other man."

Zina: "But I don't love this other man. I love my husband and children."

Father: "Your happiness and that of your husband and children is inconsequential. I have spoken and you will obey or else!" (source to compare).

What kind of monstrous and abusive, uncaring father would ask such a thing of his daughter?

Another example: denial of priesthood to persons of African descent. Again, if the LDS church is true, then the actual events resemble this Earthly scenario:

Father fills up a humongous tub with candy and gives two of his children full access. But he denies the third child. He tells the first two children, "Little Jimmy does not get any candy now or ever."

1st Child: "Why is that, Dad?"

Father: "He pooped in his diaper when he was first born."

nd Child: "Didn't we too?"

Father: "He pooped more. He will never get any candy."

Jimmy: "I'm very sorry father. I love you and if you'll just tell me what I can do to make
amends for all the pooping, I'll do whatever you ask of me."

Father: "No good. You will not have candy now, nor will you ever get any candy."

Then when Jimmy turns 40 years old, father says, "Hey, here's your key to the candy tub. Enjoy."

Jimmy: "But Dad, you said I could never have any."

Father: "Yeah, I know what I said. Good job obeying."

Jimmy: "But why would you do something like that?"

Father: "I might have a reason, but nobody needs to know. Just be glad that you have the key now. I'm done talking about this" (source for comparison).

And so if the LDS church is true, and its god truly is our heavenly father, I refuse to model my parenting after his abuse. And what's more, I cannot worship him. It seems very clear to me that what really happened was these things were all man-made and that God had nothing to do with them at all.

October 1, 2009

Burden of Proof

In the legal system of the United States, persons accused of committing a crime are supposedly considered innocent until they are proven guilty. That is, it is up to the prosecution to convince everybody on the jury that their assumption of innocence is incorrect. The evidence must be overwhelming beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is truly guilty. Essentially, the defense could just sit there and do nothing, and if the prosecution does not make it absolutely clear that the accused is guilty, he or she walks free. The reason for this is that it is generally felt that it is better to allow 100 guilty persons go free than to wrongfully convict just one innocent person.

The system in religion is an interesting one regarding upon whom the burden of proof lies. The LDS church, for example, insists that if there is any way at all that it could explain itself, it is the default correct position. Any opposing evidence must absolutely and in every possible way overpower their position before they are willing to yield, and sometimes not even then.
In other words, the tactic of the Church is to keep instilling a tiny shadow of reasonable doubt so that it can remain the default.

Consider the debate about the origin of Native Americans. Genetic, linguistic, and archaeological research has essentially proven that the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the American continent descended from Asia, and there is little to no reason to believe that they came from anywhere else (for references, see links section as well as the outline of my concerns). This, of course, contradicts the most basic premise of the Book of Mormon that Native Americans came from Israel. However, the Church has cleverly come up with several unlikely (if not impossible) explanations for why this may be so. While there is little agreement among apologists, the main consensus is that the Book of Mormon must have taken place in a very remote and isolated area of the Americas, where the peoples mentioned would never have made contact with any of the other original inhabitants (this notion is even contradicted by the text of the Book of Mormon, but let's not go on that tangent).

For a person who feels that the default is that the Church is true, this fragile explanation is all that is needed. "Okay, it's still remotely possible that the Church is true, so that's what I'm going with." they say.

On the one hand, I suppose that it might make sense to err on the side of the Church. After all, if you follow the evidence against the Church, but upon your death find the Church was actually true, you've got some explaining to do. I, for one, feel that those things covered in my outline of concerns and this blog make my decision blameless, especially before the God worshiped by the Church (I'm happy to discuss that with anyone interested). But if you're on the other side, clinging to the religion that is ultimately a lie, some would argue that you are robbing yourself of an authentic life. In any case, I think it is a position everyone should reconsider, whether a believer, skeptic, or whatever else.

For me, I think back to long before I knew any of the things in my outline of concerns. I think my default really was that the Church was the truth. How could I have thought otherwise? Why would I want to think otherwise? The burden of proof lay upon logic and reason to convince me that the default was wrong. It's obvious which side won my vote. That is because, for me, all of the Church's attempts to make its case stronger ended up being excuses, when what I wanted were explanations. All of these apologist theories of why Black persons were denied the priesthood, why there is overwhelming evidence that Native Americans came from Asia, why polygamy was justified, why there are so many historical errors in the Book of Mormon, and on and on and on were just not enough to keep a reasonable doubt in my mind, and suggest that in some dimension of reality the Church might still be true. Instead of an excuse for these, logic and reason gave me one huge, convincing explanation; the whole thing is man-made.

Believers will say that I looked for anything that would give me an excuse to leave. I just didn't want to repent of my sins, or whatever. They are welcome to believe that. The reality is that I got sick of letting guilty men go day after day, week after week, generation after generation.

September 24, 2009

Protection or Confinement

Since my decision to leave the Church, I have struggled to find a healthy position to take relating to active members. While many have agreed to disagree, and others have vaporized me from existence in their minds, there are still those who choose to make this about something other than religion. I feel that I began with a very defensive stance, but recently I have come to a realization about active members who cannot tolerate intense discussion of the doctrines of the Church; they don't really have any other choice.

There is a large part of me that wants everyone to really examine the Church and deal with the hard truth about Joseph Smith and the controversial history and doctrines. One could say that I crave it. I think this is because I worry that so many millions of people have signed up for something that they do not really understand. So many are born into something that is near impossible to leave. In a very general sense, I feel that so many people in the Church are enslaved: stuck in a position that they might not necessarily want to be in if they knew what it really was. And the most difficult part is that they do not want to know what it really is; many of them want so badly for it to be what they believe it is that it does not and will never matter what it really is. We typically see what we want to see, and changing this habit is very difficult.

In many ways it is like being born in a cage, and your entire life being told that the cage is there for your protection. You are free to leave at any time, but leaving will cause you only pain, death, and ultimately damnation. We each hold the key to this cage at some point. We can choose to lock ourselves in, or let ourselves out. Many people lock the cage and throw the key far out of reach. That way, even if they felt tempted to get out of the cage someday, they are absolutely committed to it. Some step in and out of the cage, never really sure which they prefer. Some step out of the cage and realize that it was not for protection, but confinement.

I find that many members of the Church do not realize or care that they are in a cage. They like the cage and trust that it is there for their protection. They have made the cage comfortable for them; it is all they have ever known, and it truly is what they want. In that case, who am I to unlock it and shove them out for a breath of fresh air?

After slavery was finally abolished in the United States, many former slaves had no idea what to do with themselves. Many had no idea where to go, had no skills to work in anything other than what they had done as slaves. They had never had the responsibility of making their own decisions, so many found that being in charge of their own destiny was overwhelming. I wonder if it is similar religiously. Members are provided with what to believe for their spiritual well-being, and would not know how to provide for themselves if it weren't for their leaders' direction. Their chains and bars are comforting, for they know that it means someone is taking care of them.

But at some point, we all must decide if the chains and bars are there for keeping us safe, or keeping us from leaving and finding something better.

This blog is directed at those who wonder what the cage looks like from the outside. If you stumble onto this site and have no desire to know if the cage is really confining, I invite you to leave. If you truly want to know, I invite open and honest discussion and, most of all, sincere study and soul-searching.

September 18, 2009

The Family as a Weapon

One of the very clever pitfalls of the LDS church is the eternal family. Please do not misunderstand; I love the principle itself, but what I find disturbing is the lingering threat of the impending separation of the family, unless all principles of the LDS church are accepted.

What I mean is that the LDS missionaries make a wonderful promise to investigators - they can be with their families forever - but then they explain that for this wonderful promise to come to pass, investigators must do whatever the Church commands (see page 53 of Preach My Gospel). In other words, they indirectly threaten that one's family will be taken from him or her if one fails to accept their teachings. Few put it that way, but it is the inevitable consequence of the doctrine. And since announcing my decision to leave the Church, more than one person has told me that I will lose my family for following my conscience. If that is God's way, He is not a god I can worship.

Imagine a realtor showing you a house. It's absolutely beautiful from the outside. She lets you peek through the windows and see the yard from the sidewalk, and it looks fantastic. She tells you that if you buy the home, you and your family can live there forever. But if you don't buy the home or ever sell the home, you will have to live alone for the rest of your life. Every other dwelling in the world is a single bedroom apartment. Your wife and children will love you, but will never be able to live with you. If you want to be with them, this is the only option.

You'd buy the house, right? You'd move in and say, "Wow! Look at those vaulted ceilings! The kitchen is huge!" But what if you noticed the foundation was cracked? You can't sell the house, because then your family would never be able to live together. You would ignore the crack, patch it up superficially to make you feel better, etc., because the alternative is to lose your family forever.

So while the LDS church makes great promises about the family, it also very much uses the family as a weapon against questioning, rational thought, and the conscience. For a very concrete example in its history, consider this quote from Helen Mar Kimball:
I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it. (quoted in Van Wagoner, 1992, p. 81)
In other words, young Ms. Kimball was bullied into denying her conscience because of the lingering threat to her family. Joseph Smith might as well have said, "Marry me, or God will separate you from everyone you love forever!" He chose different words, but the message was the same.

Incidentally, I've never really understood what it actually means to be "sealed" to one's family. If I am sealed to my family, but my siblings are sealed to their spouses and children, and my children are sealed to their spouses and children, what does it mean to be with them forever? We all live in some massive celestial hotel, taking turns with each individual to whom we're sealed? Perhaps even more mind boggling for me is what does it mean exactly to not be sealed, and how is that different from sharing sealed family members with everyone else sealed to them? Do I never get to see those to whom I could have been sealed, but spend lots of time with people to whom I never wanted to be sealed?

Isn't it more likely that the eternal family, as the LDS church preaches, is just a very attractive way to lure people into something they do not understand and then keep them from leaving when they discover the truth behind it all?

Van Wagoner, R. S. (1992). Mormon polygamy: A history. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

September 12, 2009

Deal Breaker

It's no secret that the final straw in my decision to leave the LDS church was the doctrine of plural marriage (most of my posts surround it in some way). More specifically, it was the exact form of plural marriage as practiced by Joseph Smith that broke the back of the camel that was my trust in the Church and its leaders. Of all of the reasons to leave a religion, particularly the LDS church, many have wondered why that was the deal breaker.

The answer is that family is the most important thing in the world to me. My ultimate goal in this life is to raise a happy, healthy family, where my children grow up surrounded by love, my wife remains my best friend and I hers, and my children eventually grow to be productive, content members of society whose existence has benefited those around them.

Anything that hinders me from this goal is to be overcome. Plural marriage, especially as practiced by Joseph Smith, not only obstructs my goal, but stands in direct conflict with it. I cannot allow polygamy to have any place in my life, even the afterlife, if it directly contradicts what I hold most sacred. Hence, I am compelled to fully reject it and anything that advocates its practice and calls it righteous.

I cannot reconcile the practices of Smith, Young, Kimball, and others with what I feel and want for my wife and daughter. I refuse to let my daughter grow up believing that she does not have the God-given right to complete emotional and physical fidelity from her husband. I refuse to let her believe that she would not be entitled to the joy that comes from equal partnership between a husband and wife when both are fully dedicated to each other and the family above all else. I refuse to let her believe that God would frown upon her for defending her virtue (see D&C 132:54; and this example of "God" threatening a young girl and her entire family if she refused to marry Smith).

If God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (Alma 45:16; D&C 1:31), maybe the LDS church needs to stop trying to justify the evil doctrines and practices of its leaders. Either (a) the family is the central unit in God's plan (source), or (b) polygamy is an eternal principle, marrying other men's wives is righteousness, and coercing 14-year-olds into marriage with men 3 times their age is justifiable. As far as I can tell, these two are incompatible.

And I have chosen my family.

September 7, 2009

On Milk and Meat

A classic response to each of my concerns about the Church's leaders and doctrine is that the answers are so far beyond our capability of understanding at this point, that... well, I'm not sure exactly. Will my brain explode if I hear the ultimate answer? That's never been very clear to me; why am I incapable of understanding principles of plural marriage, why God commanded The Bretheren to deny priesthood blessings to people of African descent, etc.? D&C 19:22 states that I would perish if I knew the answers. So does that mean I am wrong to ask? I shouldn't wonder about these things?

A phrase often used is that milk comes before meat (see 1 Cor. 3:2; Hebrews 5:12). I like this metaphor because it applies to so much. To understand complicated things, one must first understand the building blocks and fundamentals. In an introductory statistics class, one does not start out with multiple regression; it begins with some vocabulary and a few t-tests. Even before that, algebra is required: before that, simple math.

I suppose the red flag with the Church is that nobody seems to know. You don't get to the meat in this life. Whereas in that statistics class they tell you what week you're going to learn about multiple regression (it's printed right there on the syllabus, and if you have some pressing questions, you can read books on it or sit down with the professor until it slowly begins to make sense), in the Church, not even the prophet himself has answers (source). Members and investigators are never told by teachers and leaders that there was even a problem so complex that no one on Earth knows the answer. I suppose it's possible that Thomas Monson knows the answer now, but can't tell anyone else because it would blow our minds. I say, "Try me." If I perish because I know why God denied blessings to people based on skin color, I'll perish. If the alternative is to blindly accept such a huge flaw, I'll risk my life. But it seems to me that it would go the other way. If I understood why God would do such a thing and it would be justified, I think a whole lot of other things would fall into place with my understanding.

So how much milk does a person have to suck down before realizing that the meat probably isn't coming?

September 1, 2009

Division of Principles

There is an excellent article in this month's Ensign, with which I whole-heartedly agree. In fact, I actually sat down with the author a few years ago in his office on BYU campus and had a wonderful discussion. He is a man I very much respect and admire.

The article is on complete fidelity in marriage, including aversion of what he terms "spiritual infidelity": something one can commit as easily as thinking about a person of the opposite sex (who is not your spouse) for amounts of time that seem inappropriate. Or, for example, if I were to find myself dressing nicer on days where I knew I would spend more time near an attractive classmate or coworker, or looking for excuses to speak to her, that is probably not quite playing with fire, but it's getting the matches and fuel together.

Dr. Matheson's point, as I understand it, is that a healthy marriage exists when a person gives his entire heart to his spouse: not dishing out little bits to others too, or reserving pieces to give out later. By definition, one cannot love his spouse exclusively, while at the same time having similar feelings for another.

I think it's great advice. Once a man starts unconsciously courting other women, it's a very short step to consciously cheating on his spouse.

Now, what I'm confused about is how this excellent advice fits into the eternal, celestial law of plural wives.

I suppose that if Zina Diantha Huntington were right, it could work.
She said a successful polygamous wife “must regard her husband with indifference, and wits no other feeling than that of reverence, for love we regard as a false sentiment; a feeling which should have no existence in polygamy” (quoted in Compton, 2001, p. 108).
So if the purpose of plurality of wives were simply to produce children, maybe the husband could be spiritually faithful to only one wife. Seems awfully cruel to the other wives, though, to just be impregnated repeatedly by a man who is little more than a reverent acquaintance. Maybe I'm just a romantic and God isn't.

But this draws my attention to the problem of Joseph Smith producing no children from his plural wives (some sources suggest he may have fathered 3 at most; see Embry, 2007). What confusing doctrine! If complete spiritual fidelity and polygamy are compatible, please enlighten me as to how.

Compton, T. (2001). In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.
Embry, J. L. (2007). Setting the record straight: Mormons and polygamy. Orem, UT: Millennial Press, Inc.

August 26, 2009

The Human Condition

Throughout history, humankind has struggled to find the societal balance between anarchy and tyranny. With anarchy there is no structure, no predictability, no law. With tyranny, everything is controlled; there is no freedom. This eternal struggle is sometimes called "the human condition".

What I find very interesting about the human condition is that societies typically spend much more time under tyranny than anarchy. Historically, anarchy has been very brief, while tyranny can prevail for centuries. In fact, often when anarchy exists, it is quickly taken advantage of by a tyrannical power. One need only look to Africa for several prime examples of one tyranny being taken over by another, with brief periods of anarchy in between.

Perhaps it is that human beings tend to want structure (even absolute) when the alternative is chaos.

I am certain that it is the same with religion; people desire any structure when they feel otherwise threatened with chaos. In other words, people desire some sort of answers to their existence, no matter how flawed, dictatorial, or exclusive, if they believe that the alternative is to have no answers. For example, I repeatedly find that members of the Church feel that if it is not true, if it does not have the answers to life, then there are no answers and life is meaningless.

It may be that deep within these individuals, the faith in a flawed system is at least partially driven by the fear that there may be no system at all. Certainly we all want to believe that life has meaning: that we are useful, valuable beings in a meaningful universe. Unfortunately, throughout history humankind has accepted tyrannical, extremist religious systems to avoid existential chaos. Scarred into history are incidents of human sacrifice, holy wars, slavery, elitism, genocide, and all sorts of oppression and misery brought about by religious tyranny, overzealous leaders, and impressionable followers.

If it is possible to have structure and freedom in society, though, is it not possible to have meaning in our existence while not having all the answers?

I do not know who God is. I have never seen Him (or Her, It, or Them, as the case may be). I do not know what happens after we die. But I believe everyone can have a meaningful life, and not only in terms of what happens after we die, but in terms of life right now, in our specific circumstances. Rich, poor, genius, mentally ill, strong, weak, bond, and free are all capable of discovering this meaning (see an excellent book by Frankl here on the subject). Rather than requiring meaning to come from the top (God) down, what is so wrong with meaning beginning with us?

Just as we do not have to choose between anarchy and tyranny, we do not have to choose between chaos and fantasy. We can explore truth to the best of our ability, and find meaning within the true structure as we examine it.

And so, although it may appear that our only options are meaninglessness or complete acceptance of a flawed structure, I suggest to you that there is much more to this life.

August 20, 2009

A Burning Question

For years, as I've been wrestling with what I was raised to believe and my own conscience, I've had a question I wished I could ask every member of the Church:
If you somehow knew with absolute certainty that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was not true, would you leave it?
First of all, I think a great deal of members could not even answer the question. They would not even be able to wrap their heads around the concept. Even entertaining the possibility of the Church being anything other than God's one, true church would be beyond comprehension.
Of the rest, I would predict that about half of the members would stay with the Church and the other half would leave. The reasons behind the decision would vary. Some would leave because they felt betrayed and lied to, some would leave because the Church demands absolute faith. Some would stay for pure social reasons, some would stay because they feel that the Church is an organization through which they can do some good.

I chose to leave for many reasons, some of which I have outlined in previous posts. Among these, however, is that I concluded that the world in which I was raised, which I had served and defended, was built upon a lie.

I am no movie critic (and I have no intention of becoming one on this blog), yet I can't help but be reminded of a film that parallels this feeling very well for me. If the reader is unfamiliar with The Truman Show, the storyline goes like this:

Truman's entire reality has been fabricated since shortly after birth. The island upon which he lives is actually the world's largest TV set. His family, friends, and wife are all actors. Everything he has believed, and worked and cared for is a carefully structured lie. One day, Truman begins to find that something isn't quite right. He finds it puzzling, but pays little attention to it. He blows it off and then hears an explanation for it later, which he gladly accepts. But then he notices more things that are incompatible with his perception of reality. Everyone he has loved does all within his or her power to keep Truman in the dark: to keep him from questioning the world they fabricated. Eventually, Truman discovers for certain that the world he had known was built upon a lie. He literally stands at the exit, when the man responsible for the chain of lies begins to speak with him. Truman asks, "Was nothing real?" He tells Truman that, although his world is built upon a lie, leaving it will only cause him pain: that even though his world is man-made, it is a good, decent world. He explains how he was always mindful of Truman: how he took care of him for his entire life. He tells Truman that he can't really leave. But still, it isn't real.

Truman finally does make the hard decision and leaves the world that was based upon lie after lie after lie. He had no idea what he was stepping into, but he knew that what he was stepping out of wasn't real, wasn't authentic.

While it is only a movie, the parallels with my experience with the Church are astounding to me.
I wonder how many people in the Church would want something real, no matter how frightening or uncomfortable, and how many people would insist that ignorance is bliss: that comfort and reassurance are more important than reality and authenticity.

As for me, I've been promised several times that leaving the Church would cause me only pain. I've been accused of being ungrateful for the morals I've learned from it. I've been asked, "Wouldn't you want to believe it, though?".

In the end, I am compelled to respond, "But it isn't real."

August 14, 2009


I have found that one can usually tell how strong a person's argument is by how willing he or she is to enter into debate about it. If an individual is absolutely certain that his position is right, he usually has no fear of discussing the topic, and often seeks out someone to debate with. On the other hand, if a person's argument is very weak, he will usually avoid any form of debate or discussion.

Consider this quote by George A. Smith:
If faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak. (Journal of Discourses, 1871, Vol 14, pg. 216)
And yet, click here for warnings from The Brethren about actually examining things from an objective position.

The point I wish to make is that the truth should welcome debate as much as possible, because after all, it is the truth isn't it? Debate cannot possibly harm the truth because any attacks of the truth will be weak in comparison to the supports. Debate can, therefore, harm only untruth. And yet so few members seem willing or able to enter into discussion about their Church. They want to guard their testimonies above all.

Imagine if the legal system were similar. You're sitting in the juror's box and the judge announces, "In the case of the truthfulness of the LDS church, we're just going to listen to the defense. The prosecution is allowed to sit in the courtroom, just so that we know they're there, but will not be permitted to speak because anything they say might cause us to question the defense."

I, for one, would ask myself why? Is it that the defense's argument is stronger? But if it really is, wouldn't I find out the same thing by listening to the prosecution? Shouldn't I, the juror, get to decide?

Think about this: I just decided that the Earth is shaped like a cube. It's not spherical, and it's not flat. It's shaped like a cube. But I'm unwilling to examine satellite photos, I don't want to hear about the curve of the horizon, I won't even look into geology or astronomy. I refuse to see or hear any evidence that might discredit my belief that the Earth is a cube. I'll talk to you if you're willing to listen to my side, but I will walk away as soon as you show a dissenting opinion.

When someone is unwilling to put his position up against another's, it really makes no difference what his position is, whether correct or ludicrous.

August 8, 2009

Weakest Link

As an extension of a previous post, I'd like to continue along the lines of all-or-nothing thinking.
I stated earlier how the Church gives the people of the world an ultimatum to accept everything it teaches as God's absolute truth, or to treat it as a fraud.
Each of us has to face the matter-either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing. (Hinckley, 2003).
An analogy for this ultimatum may compare the Church's doctrines to links in a chain.

The old saying goes, "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link." Once a single link in a chain breaks, the whole chain is unable to do what it is intended to do. It no longer functions. It doesn't matter how strong any other link in the chain is. All that matters is the weakest link.

Similarly, the truthfulness of the LDS church is dependent upon several "links". If any one of these links breaks, the only conclusion left is that the Church is not true. For example, if the Book of Mormon is not a record written by the prophets of the American Continent, then Joseph Smith must not have translated it from gold plates, and he couldn't, therefore, have done so by the power of God, making him a false prophet. And if he was a false prophet, then the things he taught are not direction from God on how to return to Him.

If Joseph Smith was a prophet, that also means that every single doctrine he preached as being from God truly was from God. But the reverse is also true; if one single doctrine he taught was not from God, or one translation he made was not inspired though he said it was, the link is broken.

To give a concrete example, the LDS are doctrinally committed to the notion that the languages of the Earth stemmed from a historical event surrounding the tower of Babel, and that the story of the great flood is actual (source). That means that if either of these things did not happen exactly as the Bible would have us believe, then the chain is broken; Joseph Smith was not a prophet, the Book of Mormon was fabricated by men, and the entire truthfulness of the Church collapses.

So one can go in either direction: Joseph Smith must have been a prophet, so everything that is required to make him a prophet must be upheld, or Joseph Smith's deeds appear to be those of either a prophet or a fraud, and the actions are evidence of either one. For example, if polygamy as practiced and preached by Smith was immoral, then the Church is a fraud. One needs no further discussion. If it was immoral but he said it was godly, then he was never called of God, so he must have fabricated the Book of Mormon, constructed his First Vision story, and lied to thousands of people. That means that Thomas Monson is not a prophet either, that the priesthood is man-made and not the power of God, and so on.

This doesn't mean that everything he did had to be a weak link. If what Smith preached about charity is in line with God, then that is a very strong link. He may have dozens of very sturdy, almost unbreakable links in his chain of authority. But all it takes is one single broken link to destroy the chain.

If God did not command Brigham Young and 9 subsequent prophets to refuse temple blessings to persons of African descent, then the entire Church is a fraud because they all said exactly that. If Joseph Smith said he was translating the Kinderhook plates by the power of God, then he was a fraud and/or certifiably delusional.

I think most members don't worry about the chain, though. They focus on the few links they find to be strongest, and ignore what is absolutely necessary to connect them all. Unfortunately, the remaining chain they hold onto may not connect to anything at all if they ever put any weight on it. That's probably why so few members have been willing to honestly address my concerns. If one suspects a defect in a chain, though, shouldn't all his attention go to inspect the faulty link?

Hinckley, G. B. (2003, May). Loyalty. Ensign, 58-60.

July 31, 2009


I'd like to revisit the topic of what, if anything, is wrong with polygamy in general.

For the sake of argument, let's imagine for a moment that the practice of polygyny, or polygamy in any form for that matter, had no religious consequences whatsoever. Imagine that it was never a matter of obedience to God and never a sin. No threat of damnation either way. God creates the Earth and says, "It's up to you; you can have as many or as few wives as you want, I really don't care either way."

I think we can find out a lot about the rightness or wrongness of polygamy by considering it in this way. The question is, what kind of people would choose monogamy or polygamy and for what reasons?

I read an article a while ago written by a woman who was in a polyamorous relationship. She had met a man and they had fallen in love, but somehow also met a woman who was attracted to her boyfriend. The women became friends and the boyfriend had feelings for both, so they all agreed that they would not compete for affection. They eventually all met some other people, got along very well, and all moved into the same house, some married others, but only for legal benefits. They all dated amongst each other and some had children with one or several of the partners. These people all loved the setup. They had consciously made the decision to share those they loved with their friends.

Maybe what worked about this scenario and makes it seem okay to me is that they all made a choice. No one was threatened with damnation if they didn't do it, but it was what they wanted, so they sought it out and it worked for them.

I suppose if this had been the situation in the early days of the Church, I might feel differently about polygamy. If the choice had been up to the members, with no promises of eternal punishment either way, I would hesitate to condemn the practice. After all, just because it's not my cup of tea doesn't mean I am the ultimate moral judge.

Naturally, each member still had a choice. No one put a gun to Helen Kimball's head to marry Joseph Smith. But where I must make a moral criticism is the fact that her ability to make a safe choice with equal consequences was all but robbed from her when Smith told her that the salvation of her entire family depended upon her decision. So it could be argued that she did choose to be his 26th (give or take) wife, but I would counter that her actual choice was severely diminished.

Now, back to the question; What kind of person would choose polygamy if it were not a commandment from God? Historically it has been men who are rich, who treat women more as property than people, who desire several sexual partners more than emotionally intimate relationships, whose first wives cannot produce children, whose first wives are not as sexually interesting anymore, who want to spread their kinship ties to several other families by means other than betrothing their children, and sometimes who feel it necessary to support women who would otherwise not have the option of monogamy (click here and here for some interesting views on polygyny and economics). A woman might also choose polygyny over monogamy if she preferred her privacy, wanted children but not necessarily her husband too close to her, had no issues with jealousy, could not have children otherwise, or who needed financial support she could not otherwise have, and perhaps who decided that fidelity was not a requirement for trust.

Imagine then, what kind of person would choose monogamy over polygyny? Naturally, a man who could not afford more than one wife. But let us consider the pros and cons of one over the other when all things are made financially and religiously equal. A woman might choose monogamy who wanted equal partnership between husband and wife, a husband dedicated to her and her children more than anyone else's, emotional and physical intimacy from the same individual, who desired a strong and present father figure for her children. In short, a woman who does not want to share her spouse (call it selfish or self-respect, however you interpret). A man might choose one wife over several because he wants no one else - his first wife is maybe not perfect but at least close enough, he is too shy of other women, his first wife is the only woman who could love him, he wants children to whom he can be emotionally and proximally close as much as possible, he wants to invest his romantic and companionate love in one single individual, he respects his wife's feelings, wants her happiness above his own, and he would do nothing to harm her self-esteem.

Admittedly, these are my own thoughts about plural marriage and monogamy. Anyone reading this who disagrees is welcome to argue their case. In brief, it seems to me that polygyny has more to do with sex and money while diminishing love and respect. Monogamy has more to do with unity and trust.

Of course, the end argument from the LDS church is that "God commanded it, so any discussion is irrelevant". That is not fact, however; it is only interpretation. The fact is that Joseph Smith said God commanded it. That does not make it so; that only should focus the attention on Joseph Smith's credibility. I argue that while a perfect god may ask us to do things we do not want to do, he would never ask us to do things that are contrary to conscience and destructive of human relations with no clear benefit.

Could it be that the threat of damnation from God was the only thing that got most of these women to consent to become plural wives? What an odd act from the most perfectly loving being in the universe!

July 26, 2009

Realities Collide

I am terrified of spiders. I have been for as long as I can remember. Just the other day I was loading the dishwasher when a small spider surprised me on the dishwasher's edge. It got away and I was almost unable to go into the kitchen for a couple of hours for fear of it.

The emotion was very real. I cannot deny the feeling I had. My heart was racing and I was irritable, agitated, and anxious long after the encounter with the little arachnid. Nothing on this Earth could convince me that I did not experience what I did. I felt it with every fiber of my being without a doubt.

But while the emotion was absolutely real, the fear was groundless. The spider was absolutely harmless. I had no rational reason at all to be afraid.
Yet I was.

Realities collide when I see spiders. I have no reason to be afraid, and yet I am. The feeling contradicts reason, yet I cannot keep from feeling it. The fear is absolutely real, but it does not make the spider any more of a threat.

Perhaps there is a parallel here with the LDS church's methodology in obtaining absolute truth. The only reason I have to behave the way I do is my emotional state, no matter how ridiculous and unsupported by other realities (i.e., factual knowledge that spiders are not a threat to my safety).

Similarly, the feeling that believers have when hearing/praying about Joseph Smith's final version of the First Vision is no doubt a real feeling. I do not wish to argue that it is pretense or exaggerated. What I do suggest is that, just like my fear of spiders does not make them more of a threat, a love of Joseph Smith does not make his final version of the First Vision any more of a factual event occurring anywhere other than in his mind.

You may ask, "If it is not true, why would I feel so strongly about it?" Fiction moves us emotionally/spiritually all the time. How many of us have literally cried when reading a book or seeing a good movie? After the final chapters of a trilogy I read years ago, I became depressed for several days because I had become so attached to the characters and I felt their pain very literally as they were separated forever. It was not the words printed on the page that moved me, but becoming so involved in the story that it felt real. The emotions were real, no doubt, but they did not make the characters in the book any more alive physically. They lived in my mind, certainly, but nowhere else. In this case, I bought the book, so was invested in it; I wanted to be consumed by the emotion of it. I wanted it to feel real, and it did. Just because not a word of it was true, it didn't mean that I couldn't feel like it was.

I'm not suggesting that emotions are only detractors from reality and truth. I feel that they certainly have their place. But as I have stated before, if one is to make very serious judgments, the reality of emotion should also be supported by the reality of fact and vice versa. For example, if one falls in love over the Internet, the love and desire are certainly real emotions. But if it is to become a healthy, companionate relationship, it must be supported by real interaction, chemistry, time, proximity, etc. To ignore discrepancies and rely only on the feeling could have serious consequences.

Can you imagine someone knocking at my door and telling me to ignore the facts about spiders, and instead to cling onto that terror every time I see one; if I ever start to doubt that spiders are dangerous, I need only let one crawl on my hand, and that fear I have will confirm that spiders truly are dangerous killers? Yet the Church would have everyone ignore the problematic history and doctrine of the early leaders and cling onto the emotion. In other words, the Church insists that emotion dictates the rest of reality. But if we are to get to the actual truth, shouldn't fact confirm feeling?

Regarding my decision about the Church, I have been accused of reasoning my way out of a testimony because I don't want to believe it is true (for whatever reason). But if I were able to reason my way out of the one truth in the universe, why am I unable to reason my way out of arachnophobia?

July 20, 2009

Letter or Spirit of the Law

Whether or not Joseph Smith, Jr. can be called an adulterer is entirely dependent upon one's definition. I'd like to herewith give my two cents:

The argument that he did not commit adultery is supported only by the belief that his extramonogamous unions were legitimate marriages (the idea that he did not have intercourse with them has since long been debunked). Joseph Smith did not admit to adultery perhaps because he felt that he was actually married to these women (Bushman, 2005) and thus, only acting within his rights. After all, they had (however reluctantly) agreed to the union (often misunderstanding its nature), and made the vows in the ceremony (under the promise of familial salvation). So it could reasonably be argued that they were married, at least according to the letter of the law.

But what about the spirit of the law? I think most people would argue that there is more to marriage than a ceremony, a piece of paper, and a sexual act. As a husband of 4 years, I certainly feel that marriage consists of emotional attachment, commitment, time, and effort, at the very least. But it appears that Smith fell short of basically all of these. He did not put much, if any, effort into courting most of his plural wives; romance had very little to do with the unions (Bushman, 2005; Compton, 2001); he cohabited with them infrequently; showed no commitment to them other than the ceremony and consummation (evidenced mostly by his growing circle of wives); spent very little time with them; gave no or minimal support to them financially or emotionally; and gave little regard to their needs overall. I need not mention the complete lack of physical and emotional fidelity he displayed.

Of course, a lot of these were complicated even more because of the large number of wives he had. 34 total wives (at a minimum, at the end of his life) left about 42 minutes for each wife every 24 hours if my math is correct. Of course, Smith was at least human enough to sleep, was in and out of prison, and had dozens of other projects going on. That left him very little time to be a husband to any one of his wives.

Lucky for these women, at least 11 of them had their first husbands (some also had staged husbands; see Compton, 2001) to be in some proximity to them, help with the chores, provide financially, listen to their woes, mend the roof, laugh and play with, protect the family, and so on. But somehow Smith was the one sealed to them for eternity. Their first husbands had no claim to them in the afterlife. They, who had actually worked on their relationships with their wives, would ultimately lose them. In what way was Smith more of a husband than these men?
Perhaps the more appropriate question is "In what way was he more than an adulterer?".
Or maybe the final decision should be up to the scripture Smith dictated with his own lips; D&C 132:61 clearly states that a polygamous wife must be a virgin and belong to no one else, for "he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth to him and to no one else." If 11 of his wives did belong to their first husbands, then it appears Smith was an adulterer by his very own scripture.


Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough stone rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Compton, T. (2001). In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

July 15, 2009

Means, Ends, and Agency

Imagine this scenario: a person with whom you're acquainted professes his or her love to you. You're not interested. He or she tricks you into drinking some magical potion that casts a spell on you, making you fall desperately in love with him or her. Did this person do something wrong? At this point you want nothing more than to stay with him or her, because you're desperately in love, so what's the problem? Is there a problem?

The question is centuries old. Moral judgment could be broken into 2 schools of thinking: deontology, and consequentialism. A consequentialist would say that it didn't matter how the person did it, but now you're in love and very happy, so the act was not immoral. The ends justified the means. A deontologist would say that this was a horrible thing, because the means robbed you of your choice in the matter. Even if rejection ended in the person feeling horrible and worthless, he or she must let you make your choices. It makes no difference whether you are happy in the end, it was the method in which it was carried out that violated ethical action. The means are how the morality is measured.

The way most people lean tends to depend upon the situation, but I like this illustration of the importance of agency. Most people respond to this scenario by saying that it doesn't matter how much in love you ended up, the immoral thing was robbing you of the choice. Most healthy people, when they love another, at least want that person to have his or her agency.

It is for this reason that I find so many of Joseph Smith's proposals to be troubling. Consider the following from Helen Mar Kimball and decide if this young woman's agency is being manipulated:
Without any preliminaries, my father asked me if I would believe him if he told me that it was right for married men to take other wives. The first impulse was anger... My sensibilities were painfully touched. I felt such a sense of personal injury and displeasure; for to mention such a thing to me I thought altogether unworthy of my father, and as quick he spoke , I replied to him, short and emphatically, NO I WOULDN'T! This is the first time that I ever openly manifested anger towards him. Then he (my father) commenced talking seriously and reasoned and explained the principle (of polygamy) and why it was again established upon the earth, etc. This first interview had a similar effect to a sudden shock of a small earthquake. When he found (after the first outburst of displeasure for supposed injury) and I received it meekly, he took the first opportunity to introduce Sarah Ann to me as Joseph's Wife. This astonished me beyond measure. Having a great desire to be connected with the Prophet, Joseph, he (my father) offered me to him; this I afterward learned from the Prophet's own mouth. My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the altar: how cruel this seemed to my mother whose heartstrings were already stretched until they were ready to snap asunder, for she had already taken Sarah Noon to wife and she thought she had made sufficient sacrifice but the Lord required more. (source)
She later expressed the following: "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it." (quoted in Van Wagoner, 1992, p. 82)
And so how does this reflect upon Smith's respect for this young woman's agency? Is he justified because her entire family was now guaranteed eternal salvation: the benefits outweighing any negative feelings she had? Or is the method in which he convinced her to marry him a very real violation of Christlike morality and respect for agency?

This is also compounded by the fact that she was 14 years old (source)! If agency is what Christ died for, how could it be righteous and godly to coerce this young woman into marriage with a 37-year-old man? Is that how a perfect, merciful, loving god acts?

Post script: If Satan's goal is to have all of us be miserable (2 Nephi 2:27), it sure seems like Joseph Smith did a lot of his footwork in this instance.

Van Wagoner, R. S. (1992). Mormon polygamy: A history. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

July 10, 2009


Regarding the massive changes in practice and doctrine (e.g., women performing priesthood ordinances, speaking in tongues, polygamy, racial status, etc.) in the LDS church over the years, many apologists argue that it is only necessary that any church should adapt to the modern cultural climate.

I agree to a point. That's why General Conference is televised and broadcast all over the world. That's why leaders have started shaving their faces, why missionaries are no longer required to have a part in their hair (I looked like a nerd my whole mission), why temples have elevators, why nursery leaders are no longer allowed to change diapers, etc.

But I see a huge difference between adaptation to the modern cultural climate and changing the most fundamental principles of doctrine in order to become more mainstream. I really have a hard time imagining a perfect, unchangeable god who lets cultural norms push around his infallible doctrine.

For example, in 1842, Joseph Smith announced that he had the endowment in its fullness. It originally lasted 6-9 hours (Buerger, 1994). These days it lasts less than 2 hours, because the Church has a hard enough time getting patrons to commit to that much every now and then. There's no way people would do 6-9 hours these days. Significant material has been cut out of the full endowment over the years. So if we can cut down the temple ceremony, why can't we sprinkle water on heads to baptize? I thought it was a sin to change around the original doctrine of God. Consider this quote from Glenn L. Pace of the Seventy:
The members of many churches in the world have been putting pressure on their leaders to change doctrine to fit the changing lifestyle of the members. Many have been successful, and more and more we see churches made up of the doctrines of men. There are absolute truths of eternity. They do not change as a society drifts from them. No popular vote can change an absolute, eternal truth. Legalizing an act does not make it moral. (source)
...And yet the LDS church has fallen prey to exactly the same thing - letting the progression of society dictate its doctrine! For instance, the U.S. government made races legally equal in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. Legally requiring nondiscrimination does not make it God's will either, but the Church sure followed suit when it ran into all sorts of PR problems in the following years! Are we seriously to believe that God trailed 14 years behind to make races equal in His eyes when He knew it all along? Shouldn't it have gone in the other order? Who's really in the driver's seat of the LDS church? Isn't it much more likely that at least in this case, God knew all races were equal, but the cultural norms of the day got in the way? Isn't that exactly an example of culture dictating doctrine?

I could give a dozen more examples. As one last huge example, several presidents and general authorities of the Church stated that polygamy would never be taken out of practice (source). Did these leaders all roll over in their graves when the Manifesto was read over the pulpit so that Utah could become a state? According to all of them, the FLDS church has it more right than the LDS church. What's a believer to do with such dissonance?

If the original LDS doctrine is the true, perfect doctrine, why not fight to keep it from changing? If the LDS church is so against homosexual marriage, why don't they spend just as much, if not more, time and resources on reinstating the eternal doctrine of plural wives (click here for "prophets" calling monogamy destructive)? If animal sacrifice is to be restored, why is the Church not doing anything to get rid of PETA?

And so who's really in charge of the doctrine of the LDS church? Is it God, or is it the culture of the day?


Buerger, D. J. (1994). The mysteries of godliness: A history of Mormon temple worship. San Fransisco: Smith Research Associates.

July 6, 2009


It occurred to me recently that perhaps where I differ from some believers revolves around the question "Why?" In other words, how entitled are we, as human beings, to answers from the Almighty?

Helaman 12 states that man is lower than the dust of the earth. This is because the dust obeys all commands of God without question, whereas we humans tend to want to know the purpose before acting. And yet, it was God who supposedly granted us the ability to reason.

The message I hear from some LDS is that we don't need to know the answers to my concerns. Some seem to suggest that it is a sin to even ask such questions; "His ways are not our ways," etc. The answers are apparently so far beyond our capability of understanding that to even attempt to know is detrimental to our souls, because we show God our lack of faith by asking why.

I'd like to present the exact opposite position. I believe that our ability and desire to know why is an absolutely essential part of our salvation. In fact, it stands to reason that God would demand that we ask why. If our greatest enemy is Satan, and he has dedicated his existence to making us all miserable (2 Nephi 2:27), and he is able to entice us, we must ask for reasons before following anything. If we did not ask why, wouldn't we all be easily led astray by the devil? Joseph Smith warned his followers about fraudulent angels (e.g., Bushman, 2005, p. 438; see also D&C 129), and at one point (at least) was deceived by a revelation that had come from the devil (Roberts, Vol. 1, 1965), so it seems appropriate that one should question every "prompting," teaching, doctrine, and commandment to know if it truly were from God, even if it were supposedly from a prophet.

So when I am told that plural marriage is a requirement to enter the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 132: 4; Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 266), and it contradicts the scriptures (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; 1 Corinthians 7:2; Jacob 1:15, 2:24, 26-27, 3:5; D&C 49:16; Mosiah 11:2; Ether 10:5; Mark 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:17) and my conscience, it seems very important that I ask why.

God seems very willing to give answers about His other doctrines. We should forgive others because we are not without sin (John 8:7). We should not baptize little children because they are covered under the atonement (Moroni 8), and so on. So why are we not allowed to have answers about the very disturbing doctrine of plural wives? Maybe the fact that there simply are no answers is evidence that this doctrine came from a fraudulent angel, or a false prophet (Matthew 7:15), and those who look upon it with any allowance are evidence that the very elect are being deceived (Matthew 24:24).

And so, repeating what I have stated several times on this blog, we should not allow emotion to drive our actions more than reason. There must be balance. If something is true and righteous, it will have sound reasons behind it and feel intuitively correct.

Bushman, R. L. (2005). Joseph Smith: Rough stone rolling. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Journal of Discourses (1860). A. Lyman (Ed.), London: Latter-Day Saints’ Book Depot.
Roberts, B. H. (1965). Comprehensive history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press.