March 31, 2009

At What Point is it Too Much?

I saw a special last night on PBS about Jim Jones and the People's Temple (watch it here). It really got me thinking; I wonder at what point his followers would have said it was too much. I wonder why so many of them waited until the last second to flee, and why even more (over 900) stayed with him to the very end and drank the punch that they knew would end their lives.

Certainly these people had clues earlier that something was not right. Jones humiliated them publicly, guilted them into working for days without sleep, even coerced some of the men and women to have sex with him. Yet hundreds followed him to their deaths. What is it that keeps people blind to the obvious clues about a man's true character? They see in him only what they want to see. They overlook his obvious character flaws and horrible acts and deny their discomfort. At what point would Jones' followers all have said, "This is just too much. I cannot follow you any further"? The sad truth is that more than 900 never reached that point. Men and women murdered for him in cold blood and many killed their own children because he said to.
Long before the congressman came to visit, Jones asked his followers to drink some punch. After they had all drunk, he told them they had just drunk poison. After seeing their reactions he told them that it was merely a test; they hadn't actually drunk poison, but he wanted to test their loyalty.

It was suggested on the special that it wasn't at all a test of loyalty; Jones knew they were loyal. They came every day, worked hard every day, turned in their paychecks every week, etc. Jones had no reason to question their loyalty. That test was not for them, but it was for Jones. He wanted to see if he had absolute power over these people. And he got his answer.

I couldn't help but be reminded of a few incidents in Joseph Smith's life. In order to "test" some of his followers (e.g., John Taylor and Heber C. Kimball), he informed them that he had been commanded to marry their wives. After some anguishing soul-searching, they gave him their submission. Only after they relented did Smith tell them it was only a test of their loyalty.
Or perhaps it was Smith's test to make sure he did have absolute power over these men.

And so, at what point would some no longer believe Smith was a prophet? How far is he allowed to go?

References
Kimball, S. J. (1986). Heber C. Kimball: Mormon patriarch and pioneer. Champaigne, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Prophet Wilford Woodruff, John Mills Whitaker Journal, Nov. 1 1890

March 29, 2009

Responsibility

I feel that an important question one must ask is, "If Joseph Smith, Jr. were a false prophet, how would I know that?"

We are not given a whole lot of information by Christ except for a few warnings in the Bible that there would be many false prophets (see Matt. 24:11, 24; Matt. 7:15; Mark 13:22; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1).

So how can we discern a true prophet from these many false ones who are so convincing that they may deceive even the elect?

I believe in God. Because I believe in God, I believe that He created me. He, therefore, must have created me for a purpose. May I suggest to all of you, then, that it is my greatest responsibility in life to do all within my power to discover that purpose? If that means discovering that Jihad is His will, I must be willing to accept that. If that means researching whether Joseph Smith, Jr. was what my parents believe, I must be willing to accept what I find and feel in regards to him. I owe this to my creator. I do believe in God, and I feel that I owe it to Him to learn everything I can about Joseph Smith, Jr. and his claims. I was born with a brain, and I feel that He wants me to use it just as much as my heart.

Some of you may ask, "Where is your faith?"

I feel that the role of faith is to get me from the facts and my conscience to God. The role of faith should not be to overlook the facts and betray conscience for the sake of comfort. I learned the facts, followed conscience, and now I rely on my faith in God.

We all were born with intelligence, and I believe God expects us to use all of our resources, not just those we're fed, to discover what we can about Him.

March 25, 2009

Marriage

A question has arisen twice in the past two days that I believe is a fair and legitimate one. I feel it deserves addressing. Most of you have probably noticed that at the very core of my disagreements with Church doctrine is that of plural marriage. The question has been asked, "What's so wrong with polygamy?" Here is my response.

I believe that the family is the most important institution we human beings have. In no other setting can a person be more intimate with another in so many ways, on so many levels. Monogamous marriage is a dedication to another individual, free of reservation, accepting of his or her weaknesses, willing to support and love unwaveringly. It is only in monogamous marriage that a person can feel the deepest unconditional regard for his or her own thoughts and feelings, hopes and desires, etc. from his or her spouse. A therapist can express this regard, but receives payment for services and the relationship is not intended to last. Friends can do these same things, but at the end of the day do not have to deal with each other, and do not have to consult each other on any decision to see how the other feels about it. A romantic interest has little firm commitment, with no promise of the future. A parent typically does not choose which child to raise and which not to raise. When two people choose each other, promise to love one another and no other in these ways, true unity can exist. To know that even when I am at my worst and feel that I have nothing to give, that my wife chose me over every other man in the world gives meaning to my existence, and tells me that I am worthwhile; I am not perfect, but this person accepts my efforts to fulfill my potential.

Of course, in real life it doesn't always work out that way, but that is (or probably should be) the mindset with which two people enter marriage. Marriages aren't perfect, but the formula has the potential for heaven on Earth.

Polygamy works directly against this purpose of marriage and lowers it to function as little more than a baby manufacturing union. I do not suggest that there have never been successful polygamous marriages, just as there have been several monogamous failures. I do firmly believe that monogamy is the prime environment for the best type of happiness, and that polygamy is a prime environment for jealousy, resentment, and low self-worth. When a husband takes a second wife, the first can only naturally feel that she is not fulfilling her husband's needs - that she is not good enough. One wife may be a better cook, a better mother, a better lover. The husband may pick and choose parts of wives to love, and must never accept one for all that she is anymore. Even if he did, the husband cannot divide his attention and affection equally between the two (or 3 or 4 dozen in the cases of Joseph Smith and Heber C. Kimball), and thus hurt feelings thrive. While the wives sometimes became very close friends, rivalries were rampant, and the friendships were often to replace what their relationships with the husband lacked. Polygamy is less than monogamy, and I do not believe that God Himself would command a practice that worked directly against companionate love.

While plural wives may have been more for the men, the system was clearly less for the women and the marital relationship.

Consider a brief example; Emmeline B. Wells was the editor of a pro-polygamist paper. She openly advocated polygamy, and she was a seventh wife of Daniel H. Wells, with whom she had 3 daughters. However, she wrote in her journal in 1874,

Oh, if my husband could love me even a little and not seem so perfectly indifferent to any sensation of that kind. He cannot know the craving of my nature, he is surrounded with love on every side, and I am cast out. Oh my poor aching heart. Where shall it rest its burden, only on the Lord, only to Him can I look. Every other avenue seems closed against me... I have no one to go to for comfort or shelter, no strong arm to lean upon, no bosom bared for me, no protection or comfort in my husband. (quoted in Embry, 2007, pp. 95-96)

Of course, this case is not descriptive of every single case of polygamy, but her feelings were shared among plural wives.

March 24, 2009

Anonimity

Due to the frequency of hateful comments some individuals have left on both of my blogs (I have deleted only one that insisted I am homosexual), some have suggested that I disable such individuals from being able to leave said comments anonymously. I have done so on our family blog because that is no place for such things. But I have decided to leave the ability on this blog for a few reasons:

1. I have given full disclosure of my reasons for what I'm doing and invite all to understand them, whether they choose to or not. I want to keep an open dialogue, but find that many want to talk about it but not talk about it. I want all to feel safe with whatever they want to say.

2. I find that people show their true colors when they cannot receive any consequences for their actions. I want to leave the hateful comments for all the world to see, so that they may judge for themselves who writes in the spirit of seeking truth and who writes in the spirit of intolerance. I think leaving them also proves to everyone that I am willing to accept all the consequences for my beliefs. I will stand for what I know and feel to be true, and I will not hide who I am, though others may choose to hide who they are. All are invited to contact me to have a mature discussion of any of these topics. Choosing not to says a lot to me and the rest of the world.

3. I have balanced sources in my list of links. Please check them for yourselves. If you want to know how I feel about it, you can click to see. If you want to know how the Church feels about it, you can click those links to see as well. I also want to allow all sides of the discussion to thrive in my comments.

4. Guilt is not my motivator - the truth is my motivator. If an anonymous individual has something to say that is motivated by the truth and not the noise of guilt, he or she is free to do so.

I respectfully ask that any comments be free of profanity and groundless attacks on my character (although I will respond to those as well) for the sake of the free exchange of ideas. It is, of course, as I have stated, up to you.

March 22, 2009

Fathers and Husbands

In the past two days I have been accused several times of being a bad husband and father because of my decision. I find it peculiar that no one felt this way a week ago. My response to those individuals is simple:

My wife and daughter go to bed every single night knowing that I love them more than anything in this world. Ask them what kind of father and husband I am. They will answer honestly.

In fact, I have not courted and married one woman since my wife. Joseph Smith, Jr. courted and married at least 18 before his first wife had any input (Brodie, 1945; Embry, 2007), or at best before she knew the truth about the function of these unions. He lied to her about his extramonogamous affairs for years. She went to bed every night wondering with whom Joseph was going to bed.

So just how do you define a bad husband?

Absolutes

There are some people in this world (I met a lot on my mission in Germany) who will absolutely never, under any circumstances imagined or real, believe that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet of God. It wouldn't matter what anybody said or found or showed them, they are incapable of the thought, or unwilling to consider it. If they discovered the Gold Plates in the attic of some old building somewhere and showed it to some Egyptologists who confirmed that every single word of the Book of Mormon was an exact translation of the plates, these people would say, "Aw, it was a lucky guess," or "The devil must have forged those plates in hell, and whispered the lies in Joseph's ear."

On the other hand, there are people in this world who would never, could never, consider the possibility that Joseph Smith was a fraud. It doesn't matter what evidence they see or what facts they find out about him. There could be video of him burning puppies alive, eating the flesh of non-believers, absolutely anything imaginable, and these people would insist that he did these things because God commanded him to, or would say, "Well, he wasn't perfect."

Then there are the seekers of truth. There are those who may even desire to believe, but who are not immune to the truth. They do whatever they can to actually know if he was what he said he was. They do not close their ears and minds when they hear any word spoken for or against this man. They are not afraid to know who he truly was, whether prophet or devil, for they desire only to know who he really was, whether he was good or bad, as long as it is correct and true. They know that the truth is the truth no matter what. No matter how much one hopes that something is true or not true, it does not change what it is. It either is true and correct or it isn't. And rather than seeking any kind of justification they can to make it still believable or deniable, these reasonable people continue on their search for reality.

March 20, 2009

A Brief History

My concerns with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints began as early as I can remember. I cannot, in honesty, say that I ever believed without a doubt that the Church is true. Before I ever knew about polygamy or the denial of priesthood to anyone with African ancestry, I had sincere doubts that the Church is what it claims to be. That does not mean, however, that I never wanted the Church to be true. I remember as a child when we would read the scriptures as a family, and how they sounded so similar to my other storybooks. Of course, I knew that my storybooks and fairy tales were just make-believe. And although I felt that the stories in the scriptures were just as incredible (e.g., animals can't talk, except for the one time it happened in the Bible: Numbers 22), I also knew that to say so would be taboo. It was clear to me that, for some reason, I was expected to believe the scriptures literally, but similarly unrealistic stories as merely figurative.

As I grew older and learned more about the teachings of the Church, my questions and doubts grew stronger. They were unwanted, however, as I desired to belong, and the Church was the only social and familial environment I had ever known. It started with things as simple as the mythological sense of the Old Testament. I found it extremely difficult to accept that God would literally speak to Adam and his children as if over a loudspeaker, but that He did not do so now; or that people with black skin would be white except that God cursed their ancestor; or that people speak different languages because God confused everybody when they were trying to build a tower to Him. My questions continued to grow until I was a teenager, probably about 14. I distinctly remember being in a bookstore and seeing a book with an image of Joseph Smith which caught my attention. On the cover were five paintings of women. The title read something to the effect of “The Wives of Joseph Smith”. It was at that moment that I first learned about the hidden side of the Church. I discovered that what I had been taught and raised to believe as true was only part of the story, with a great deal more tucked away or only half explained. But I denied it at first. That could not be true. Why would any reasonable person be a member if that kind of thing had gone on? It must be one of the lies I had been taught to avoid like the plague. But after hearing about it again several times, I felt that I should find out for myself if there was any truth to it. In searching history to make sure it was a lie, I found that it is actually true, and that polygamy is just the surface of practices and doctrine that past "prophets" have preached as God's will that the current leaders now attempt to keep quiet.

Thus, my desire to believe that the Church is true slowly became a desire to know if the Church is true. When I understood that not everyone was born into an LDS family, I looked at religion in a new light; we are all born into this world having no preconceived notions about its purpose or where we came from or who brought us here, etc. The answers we are given to these questions are largely provided by our parents which were provided by their parents, and so on. In other words, we are given a choice; we can believe the one option they give us, or we can search other explanations. The natural tendency is to want to know, then, that they are right, not if they are right. But for some reason, that has never been enough for me. I cannot simply accept things that others say are true. I want to really know if they are true. I have taken J. Reuben Clark’s advice to heart and decided that real investigation of the Church is the most earnest route to know if it is true. By earnest investigation, I do not mean using the limited information given by the Church, as that is one-sided and only a fraction of the story. I want the full story so that I can make an honest judgment. To ignore the full story would open me to deception, misleading me with half-truths and biased history.

This is why, as a teenager, I began to look at other explanations for our existence and contrasted them to the doctrine I had been taught since birth, allowing my conscience to guide me. I began to look for answers to my questions about the Church. To my surprise, by wanting to know if the Church was true, I met opposition from everyone I knew. Almost no one cared what my questions were, what I did believe; they were simply angry that it wasn’t what they had told me and what they believed. I clearly received the message that it was not okay to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith as a prophet and the Book of Mormon as Holy Scripture. Church leaders discourage any investigation that involves evidence they do not provide. But I knew that if the Church was actually the one organization with God’s truth on Earth, that He would want me to know that, and would help me to know that. As J. Reuben Clark stated, if the Church is true, then investigation should lead me to that conclusion. But if it is not true, then conscience allows me to do nothing else but to leave it and seek out what is true.

When my father finally “allowed” me to make my own religious decisions, I felt closer to God than I ever had previously in my life. I felt as if I were seeking Him with my own eyes, rather than trying to distort what was there to fit the Church's image of what is real. I felt comfort and peace, and was happier than I had been in a very long time. My joy was short-lived, however. A young woman with whom I had fallen in love told me she felt that we were meant to marry. I felt the same way, but the Church made it clear that a union would be full of obstacles unless I disregarded my concerns and took it on faith that the Church was what it claimed to be. Once again, I wanted to believe. She told me that her patriarchal blessing prophesied she would marry a returned missionary (a prophecy that was never fulfilled), and so I went on a mission. My reason for going was very much for her, but also very much to serve my investigation. I knew that if I was ever to gain a testimony that the LDS church truly is of God, it would be on a mission where all of my time would be focused on the study of it. And I also knew that my hope with this woman depended on my gaining of a testimony. So at this point, I wanted to believe more than ever.

Once I was on the mission, she continued to point out the spiritual obstacles to our being together. I felt the desperate need to deliver something. I began writing letters about how well I was doing, how I had felt the Holy Ghost, how I was beginning to believe. But as much as I tried to believe, my reports of the results were all exaggerated. I felt good about what I was doing for the mere fact that it was an adventure, I was living in Europe, learning a new language, and felt I was helping some people. However, the more I studied, the more questions arose, leading to more doubt. As time was running out, I decided that I could do nothing but live my life as a Latter-Day Saint. My relationships with my parents and siblings were finally on the mend, for no reason other than I was doing what was expected of me. The possibility of marrying my alleged soul mate was finally within reach because I had paved the path. And it was mostly comfortable to me; I knew the drill, I spoke the jargon, I could live like that. I believed and still believe that the Church teaches good values, most of which I wanted in my family, so I decided that the questions I had were either not important, or I could live my life ignoring them. I would just keep my mouth shut for the sake of comfort.

When it turned out the young woman had been playing a reactivation game with me from the beginning, I considered coming clean and being honest about my feelings about the truthfulness of the Church. But I knew that that would just make her even more certain that she had made the right decision in slowly and painfully cutting me out of her life. So instead, I remained faithful in action and served as best I could, staying as active as I could in the hope that she would regret what she did to me, and fearing the social consequences that my honesty might produce. I continued on, insisting that it had all happened for some purpose I did not yet understand.

Eventually I fell in love with my wife, and one of the most attractive things about her was her unwavering faith. I thought perhaps I could lean on her in my most difficult times. I thought that I could borrow strength from her in the times I doubted. I had been taught my entire life that to give in to doubt was one of the worst mistakes a member could make, and I had accepted my fate of living in the LDS world, so I was naturally attracted to a woman who I hoped could help cover my doubts.

I remained in that pattern until March 10, 2009. I played the part of a true believer for the sake of my family’s peace of mind and status in the Church, to maintain my relationships with siblings and parents, and most recently to save my dear wife and precious daughter any heartache. Unfortunately, my conscience has been active this entire time. And I have been dying inside, knowing that I am living inauthentically. As I have continued to search for answers to my deepest questions, I have found only more questions and ended up with answers with which I fundamentally disagree. I am at the point where I cannot believe that Joseph Smith did the things he did under the direction of God.

An important catalyst to this decision was my daughter's birth. Family is more important to me than anything on Earth, and I felt more deeply than ever how important these questions are. I began to wonder if I would be comfortable with her growing up obligated to believe some of that doctrine that I feel is fundamentally contrary to the values I hold most deeply and dearly. I feared that she would one day learn the disturbing things that I have learned about the Church, and ask me why I never told her, and how I could possibly justify them. While I still leave it up to her to decide, I refuse to let her think I believe that I will be married to more women than her mother in heaven, or that she will have to share her husband with other women in heaven (D&C 132: 3-4, 6) and that God or I would be okay with that. I will not coax her to silence the little voice inside of her that says that is wrong for the sake of fitting in to the LDS world.

I believe that the Church is a good organization that attempts to create hope and love and peace. It does so much good in the world, and gives people a sense of belonging and community. I have felt a lot of that. The best friends I have ever had are LDS. The best people I have ever known are LDS. I love being among such people and witnessing the selflessness and charity and genuineness most of them show for the rest of humanity. It is unfortunate that what separates me from them is that I do not and cannot believe some of the things many of them do not realize they are obligated to believe. For the sake of understanding, and in the hope of preserving relationships with those I love, I have outlined my concerns in what I hope is a clear and plain way (see link on the right sidebar). I hope and pray that in reading the following posts and the outline of my concerns, others will be able to respect my decision.

Peace and Truth

I've been given a lot of advice lately as to what I can do to go about feeling better about what Joseph Smith did (see my outline). People usually offer me some steps they took after learning of polygamy, etc. which helped to ease their minds. Usually the end result is that they decided they were incapable of understanding the principle and so would just stop thinking about it.

There is another key issue here I feel I must address: the difference between peace and the truth. If I were seeking peace about the purpose of my existence here on Earth, I could find dozens of answers that would provide it. Certainly, a Buddhist feels peace about his existence and the purpose of life. Certainly so does one who believes in reincarnation, nirvana, who worships Vishnu, or who practices paganism. Peace is one of the main things people seek in life: peace about their existence.

However, while there are several paths to and forms of peace, there can be only one truth in the end. And while that one truth will hopefully provide peace, simply feeling peace does not mean one has obtained the truth. Very often, the truth shakes up the entire world. Very often, the truth hurts a lot. And very often, the truth is very hard to swallow.

Peace without truth is artificial, and while it may make the journey through life easier at times, it is still not necessarily the truth. Thus, if one is a seeker of truth in all honesty and desires above all to obtain truth, he must be prepared to abandon his comfort.

My experience has been that some people desire peace, assuming that it is the truth, and others desire truth, no matter what the consequences. Socrates and Galileo, for example; had they sought peace and comfort for themselves, they would never have come any closer to the truth. Yet they had the courage to stand against all opposition for the sake of truth.

March 19, 2009

Ignorance is Bliss?

I've noticed an interesting pattern since the news of my decision has spread. Most people seem to want to know why, but not want to know why. The response seems to be something to the effect of, "I don't know what research you've done..." or "I don't want to know what research you've done..." or "I don't have to know what research you've done... but I know that the Church is true anyway."

I suppose what is most interesting to me is the fact that these individuals would still rather not know. I wonder, if they are so certain that the Church is true, how could any research I or anyone else has done harm that? Why shouldn't earnest research about something true only help to confirm its truth? Some have said, "I don't need to know, because I already know it's true."

I wonder how well Einstein's theory of relativity would have been accepted had he simply stated his theory and then said, "I know it's true" without providing any evidence to back it up or engaging in any discussion about it. Einstein probably felt that his theory of relativity was true, yet for the sake of his theory, he engaged in and encouraged research of it. I'm sure that, had the evidence not supported the theory, he would have revised the theory instead of simply bashing the evidence.

The question is, which is more important: the theory or the truth? Of course we hope that they are the same, but is it worth sacrificing the truth for the theory? If all of the evidence had failed to support Einstein's theory, but he held onto it like a child holds onto his blanky, he would have never come closer to the actual truth. No matter how intensely one believes in a theory, it is still a theory. If it is the truth, sincere investigation cannot harm it, but will only help it.

Now, on the one hand I can't really blame them; I know that my daughter is the most perfect child on the planet, and I don't care what evidence anybody gives me against that, because it absolutely cannot change my opinion.

But on the other hand, my opinion about how perfect my daughter is has no eternal consequences. I can be wrong about my daughter and it won't harm me. I cannot be wrong about religion without eternal consequences.

Questions You're Probably Asking

1. How is my wife handling this?
While I can't answer for her adequately, I will summarize that she is understandably shocked and hurt, but grateful that I am being honest with her. She has been very supportive to me and stayed by my side during the hardest moments.

2. What will you do now?
As far as religion is concerned, I have no real interest in joining another church at this time. I still believe in God and I think my time will be best spent coming to know Him without being distracted by the noise of the Church's doctrine with which I disagree.

3. What about your daughter?
I support her attending Church, and whatever decisions she makes regarding religion for the rest of her life, as long as they are her decisions. I will not discourage her from doing anything that she feels is right. If and when she asks me spiritual or religious questions, I will answer as honestly as I know how and let her decide.

4. Do you regret going on a mission?
No. I truly feel that if I were ever to gain a testimony of Joseph Smith, Jr. as a prophet, it would have been on the mission. I tried as hard as I could to silence my questions during those two years, and several years after, but it didn't happen. I learned more about myself, the world, and spirituality in that time than any other time in my life. It was an invaluable time to me.

5. Do you support your wife in attending church?
Of course. I will continue to treat her as I always have, and support her in her interests and calling just as I always have. I have never said that the Church is a bad organization or that it needs to be opposed, I just do not believe that it is what it claims to be. I support anyone who chooses to follow it out of love and hope rather than fear and guilt.

I'm sure there are a lot more questions out there. As I have said before, I am happy to answer any. If you haven't already noticed, probably a good place to start is the top link to the right. My main sources are LDS historians and I make every attempt to state a fact, give a reference for the fact, then what that fact means to me.

Feelings

Unfortunately, I think that most believers assume I have a lot of animosity towards them or the Church. That is exactly what I am trying to avoid. I ask those to remember that I am still the same person, I am just being honest about my religious feelings now. I think all (including me) would do well to follow the 11th Article of Faith and allow each person to worship God as he or she sees fit. While we may disagree about the specifics, we do agree that charity, service, kindness, love, ethic, morality, hope, and family are all essential to a happy and full life. I am happy to discuss the religious differences or my road to this decision, but only if we can both be mature and respectful of one another.

March 18, 2009

To Approach a Prophet

Joseph Smith, Jr. made a remarkable claim; that God and Jesus Christ had appeared to him in the flesh and called him as a prophet, to be God’s instrument and restore His church and authority to the Earth. There are essentially 3 approaches to evaluating this claim: (a) immediate disbelief that such a thing is possible, concluding Smith must be a liar or psychotic; (b) immediate belief that Smith is exactly what he claims, so all his actions and teachings must be correct and godly; or (c) a cautious stance, exploring Smith’s teachings and actions and deciding if these confirm or disconfirm his claims to divine calling and authority. Either of the first two approaches is an extreme and, therefore, dangerous. I have chosen the latter approach, for I know no other way to avoid being mislead by the cunning and craftiness of men (Ephesians 4:14; 1 John 4:1; Matt. 7:16, 20).

March 17, 2009

Groundwork for Truth

Elder J. Reuben Clark, when he was a counselor in the First Presidency, stated, "If we have the truth, [it] cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed." (quoted in Quinn, 1983, p. 24)

I think the basic difference between those I love who are members of the Church and me is how we approach celestial knowledge. For example, the Church encourages missionaries to commit investigators to baptism after their first hearing of the story of Joseph Smith as given in Preach My Gospel. In other words, the Church encourages one to accept that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and, therefore, anything that he did as God's will. I, on the other hand, hear the claim that Joseph Smith was a prophet and I look at everything he did and taught in order to evaluate that claim. I know the Church's side of things, but what is the whole story?

Many members of the Church would say that I am over-intellectualizing spiritual matters or that I am not taking the necessary leap of faith. I have always found these arguments troubling for two reasons:

1. If Joseph Smith, Jr. truly was a prophet of God, shouldn't earnest investigation of his life and teachings work to confirm that?

2. Elevating anyone to the status of unquestioning faith can be only dangerous, for that is how all dictators and tyrants have been born. Some of the worst crimes committed by humanity were due to a failure to question leaders.

Therefore, the route a seeker of truth must take is to proceed with caution; evaluate the claim as objectively as possible, and then make judgment when adequate investigation has happened.

Again, members of the Church would argue that what matters most is the source of their spiritual witness that Joseph Smith is a prophet: the feeling they experienced when they prayed to know if it was true (e.g., D&C 6). Such a procedure troubles me in a few ways:

1. To make such a huge commitment (i.e., life-long and life-changing) based only on the information provided by the Church in such a short time is anything but objective. Allow me to use an extreme example; if a couple dressed very nicely, knocked on your door, and asked for a few minutes of your time to speak about a remarkable man, you might let them in. They ask, "Have you ever heard of Adolf Hitler?" For argument's sake, let's say you hadn't. They tell you of a bright, ambitious artist, who had a passion for politics and wanted to change the world. He improved his entire country's economy, made it a superpower, established one of the world's best automobile manufacturers, and also started the world's largest anti-smoking campaign in history. If they were to then ask if you would commit yourself to his cause, you would probably feel pretty good about it based on the information you were given.

Now I want to make perfectly clear that I am not suggesting Joseph Smith, Jr. is comparable to Adolf Hitler in any way other than that the context in which a man is presented can have a huge impact on how one views him. One difference with Joseph Smith is how well the Church has edited his doctrine and history. Look anywhere on the sites of the Church or in any of the manuals and try to find out information about polygamy beyond admission that it took place. To obtain objective information one must look for it, for the Church will not provide it.

2. There has been quite a bit of research demonstrating that once a person makes a decision, he or she thereafter justifies that decision to reassure his or herself that it was the right one (e.g., Steele, 1988). In other words, we all believe that we are reasonable people, so we wouldn't decide that Joseph Smith was a prophet unless that were true, right?

I do not wish to demean emotional or spiritual experiences. All I wish to suggest is that these probably aren't enough to establish that something is true. The absolute truth will be confirmed by several types of evidence: physical, cognitive, as well as emotional. If I felt great about the idea of the Earth being flat, it still would not outweigh actually seeing photographs of the spherical Earth from space. On the other hand, if I felt great about the Earth being spherical, I would feel only better by seeing the photos from space. For something to be true, it continues to be confirmed, and is supported by angle after angle.

Thus, if Joseph Smith was a prophet, I would expect not only to feel good about that, but to see confirming evidence. For example, I would expect to see that he actually did make some accurate translations of the artifacts he professed to have translated. Unfortunately, there is no such evidence (Larson, 1992; Palmer, 2002). I would expect to eventually learn why he was justified in his practice of polygamy, get reasonable explanations about God's alleged decree that persons with African heritage could not access the priesthood for over a century (source), and so on. But when there simply are no explanations that make sense, I am left to conclude that Joseph Smith was not what he claimed.

References

Quinn, D. M. (1983). J. Reuben Clark: The church years. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press.

Larson, C. M. (1992). ...By his own hand upon papyrus: A new look at the Joseph Smith papyri. Grand Rapids, MI: Institute for Religious Research.

Palmer, G. H. (2002). An insider's view of Mormon origins. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

Steele, C. M. (1988). The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 21, 261-302.

March 10, 2009

The Purpose of This Blog

When one leaves the fold of the LDS church, others can be quick to judge and make assumptions as to why. This blog exists to make my reasons for leaving very clear. Some may misunderstand my criticisms of the Church to mean that I hate it, that I disrespect believers, that I see no good in it, that all I want to do is destroy something that so many love and upon which so many depend.

Such is not my intention. If the reader feels the need for a support to lean upon on every path in life, I have no desire to kick it out from under him or her. Thus, this blog is not intended for anyone who absolutely loves the Church, is comfortable with all of its teachings, feels that without it life would lose all meaning. If you have stumbled upon this blog and anything you see makes you uncomfortable, I invite you to either leave and go on your way, or be prepared to question some things that you take for granted.

This blog is intended for those who attend Church because they are afraid, feel guilty, pressured or threatened; it is for members who have become uncomfortable in Sacrament Meeting, who find themselves disagreeing with General Conference talks, and so forth. To these, I extend an invitation to abandon fear and embrace reason and truth. Others will frown upon you, accuse you of weakness and sin, and even possession by demons. But finally, you will know for yourself what you really believe. If all that I write honestly sounds unreasonable and silly to you, then I admire your convictions. I am glad that they work for you, and that you draw strength from them. But if any of these things bothers you to any degree, perhaps it is time to take a closer look at why you do what you do.

This blog is also intended for any believers who feel that I have erred, and insist that I have left the Church for any reasons other than being compelled by conscience to do so. Anyone who presumes to know my journey better than I is invited to learn for his or herself what I know and how I feel about it. If I am wrong, then for the sake of us both, tell me how.