May 31, 2009


In July 1984, a young woman was raped inside of her home. I want to clearly emphasize how horrible this must have been for her, and how no one on Earth should ever have to suffer such a thing. It should never have happened in the first place.

Unfortunately it did. The events that transpired afterward changed the way many people look at truth and personal conviction. The victim identified a suspect and swore under oath that he was the man that had raped her. Although the man's family swore that his alibi was legitimate, the victim continued to insist that he was the guilty man. There was some evidence that could link him to the crime, but it was nothing more than circumstantial.

What convinced the jury that he was the offender was the victim's testimony. She was absolutely certain that he was the man who had raped her on that horrible night. Because of her certainty, another victim of a very similar crime on the same night became convinced that he was also the one who had raped her. The strength of the testimonies convicted him of this and another rape, and he ended up sentenced to life plus 54 years for these two crimes.

Nearly 11 years later, however, DNA evidence proved beyond a doubt that he was innocent of the crimes. He was exonerated, and quickly forgave his accuser. The real rapist was then identified - an inmate who had confessed to the crimes years earlier (details).

What do we learn from this series of tragic events? The angle I would like to take for the purposes of this blog is to stress that emotional conviction alone is never enough to accept something as truth. As certain as the victim was of the identity of her rapist, it cannot (or should not) nullify the evidence.

This is not to say that emotional conviction is irrelevant. If there had been a DNA match with the suspect, it would be expected that the victim would also recognize him and swear that he was the right man. On the other hand, if she swore that he was the right man even after the DNA showed no match, would a jury be justified in disregarding the facts because she was "just so sure?"

Regarding the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, so many insist that they know the legitimacy of the Church because of their emotional/spiritual conviction. They just know. They don't need anything else. They ignore or explain away the evidence that the Book of Mormon was authored by Joseph Smith (see my outline for references), the fact that DNA and linguistic evidence points to Asia, not Israel, as the origin of the Native Americans. They excuse somehow that Joseph Smith wrote a book on Egyptian grammar that has nothing to do with Egyptian grammar, and that his interpretations of the facsimiles on the papyri have not been supported by respected Egyptologists. They somehow justify the facts that he married teenagers, married other men's wives without consent, lied to his own wife about the nature of these marriages, and had zero justification for doing so. They insist that there are perfectly good reasons that The Book of Mormon contains countless inaccuracies, impossibilities, and contradictions.

So many individuals continue to ignore or attempt to excuse these facts for the sake of their emotional conviction. So many do mental acrobatics to make these facts somehow explainable to fit their emotional conviction. Again, I argue that if the emotional conviction is right, the evidence should support the conviction. If the evidence does not support the conviction, maybe we, like the unfortunate rape victim, would be wise to rethink the validity thereof.

May 24, 2009


I have to apologize; I was just today made aware that some have been unable to post comments on this blog. It is probably due to the new background changes I made. I believe I have now fixed the problem, but please contact me if there are any more problems.
I am very sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you for your patience.

Trials of Faith

If God feels that it is necessary to try the faith of His children, I wonder why He would have missed so many opportunities, while taking others. For example, regarding people of African descent, what a perfect trial of faith it would have been to reveal to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young that individuals with black skin are no worse sinners than people with white skin. Such a truth would have been terribly unpopular in the culture of the 1800s and would have made the LDS church a beacon of God's truth in the ignorance and darkness of racial politics and views of the time.

But the fact that the LDS church believed and preached that African blood was inferior to others and cursed by God (source) tells me something quite different. We are asked to believe that that very fact is our trial of faith; that we cannot understand why God waited for so long to admit that races are equal in His eyes. We just don't have answers. "His ways are not our ways."

...Which is my point exactly; would it not have made so much more sense for God to try the believers' faith with the unpopular but correct doctrine at the beginning, rather than ask them to ignore that the false doctrine was preached in His church for over a century?

May 18, 2009


I gave the following lesson in a couple of Elders' Quorums over the past three years. I think it raises some interesting and necessary questions.

There's a cognitive phenomenon that is sometimes called goal-subgoal processing. It's called some other things in different disciplines, but it's pretty much the same thing. Most people don't know what it is by name, but are experts at it anyway. Here's an example I once heard that explains it very well; I went and bought a replacement ink cartridge yesterday because my printer had run out of ink. I needed ink to print off a paper I had written for a class. I needed to print off the paper to turn it in, because I wanted a good grade in the class. I wanted a good grade in the class so that I could graduate, and I wanted to graduate so that I could get a good job, to make good money, so that I could support a family. I want, above all, to raise a happy, healthy family.

Now, when I go to the store looking for the ink cartridge I don't even think about how that will help me raise a happy family. The farthest I think ahead is that I want to graduate. And yet, each of the higher goals comes down to those smaller, seemingly insignificant goals.

What is it each of us wants? Think of the largest, ultimate goal you have. The typical LDS answer is exaltation/salvation. My next question is, what are the subgoals to obtain that end goal? Invariably, the answers came back: (a) baptism, (b) the gift of the Holy Ghost, (c) receive the priesthood if male, (d) marry in the temple, and (e) endure to the end. Some others were thrown in a couple of times like going on a mission, etc.

That is when I would add in some of the other requirements as given in the New Testament, like (a) being humble, (b) loving your neighbor, (c) praying for your enemies, and so on. The difference between the two lists is that the first are essentially quantifiable: things you could check off a list. The second are things that are not quantifiable, but are character changes and, I would argue, much more difficult to achieve.

My next question usually raised some eyebrows. I asked which was more essential.

Who is more likely to obtain exaltation: one who gets 100% home teaching every month, or one who genuinely loves his enemies?
...One who reads his scriptures for half an hour every day, or one who serves his spouse selflessly?
...One who went on a mission, or one who is kind and polite to everyone he meets?

Of course, the answer usually came back that they are both equally important. So I would then ask the question in a different way; "Can one obtain salvation without 100% home teaching?" I sure hope so. "Can one obtain salvation without being humble?" Seems more difficult anyway.

I would end my lessons not undermining the importance of the checklist items, but stressing very much the importance of the character changes. I got mixed reactions to such suggestions.

Reflecting on this lesson after the recent changes in my life, it strikes me that for some people, it no longer matters what kind of person I am - it matters only whether or not I have a temple recommend in my wallet. It doesn't matter to some people what kind of husband or father I am, how I treat others, what other character traits I have. I am labeled forever now as a deserter. It matters only that I have unchecked boxes.

It seems as if some of these people still think I'm worse than an active member who lies to his customers, or an active member who is verbally abusive to his spouse and children. It doesn't matter how honest I have been about religion, it only matters that what I have found is different from what they want to believe. It doesn't matter who I am; it only matters what I am.

Is that how God sees me? Is that how He sees all of us?

May 14, 2009


In the LDS community, the word "know" is thrown around a lot. It has a different application in the LDS community than in the rest of the world. For example, members of the LDS church are expected to use the word "knowledge" whenever referring to their beliefs. That is, when what they really mean is that they very strongly believe and hope in something, they are supposed to say that they "know" it.

The unfortunate thing is that they don't really know if they are right. Nobody really knows until it's all over. When people tell me that they know that it is true, what they are really saying is that they hope and very strongly believe that it is true. But belief and hope do not equal knowledge. Most claim to "know" because they have had an emotional/spiritual experience that has confirmed the truth of these things to them. I think what is interesting is that these individuals feel that their spiritual experiences are unique to their own religion (contrasts).

Surely suicide bombers know that what they do is right and good. Surely the 7th-Day Adventists know that their interpretation of Christ's teachings is the correct one.
Yet members of the LDS church discount these individuals' knowledge. "Oh, they can't really know. They just think they do. But I know. I'm different."

It's interesting to study the history of the Church and see just how many of those in Joseph Smith's elite inner circle left the Church or denied Smith's prophetic calling at some point. Didn't they also "know?" Didn't they also have experiences that they felt they couldn't deny? Why did so many choose to follow apparently false prophets after Smith's death (e.g., James Strang)? Didn't they use the same spiritual confirmations with Strang as they did with Smith? Was one confirmation from God and the other from the Devil, but they were too similar to tell apart? The crux of the problem here is that these individuals used the same source (i.e., the Holy Ghost) to reach incompatible conclusions (i.e., both Smith and Strang were inspired prophets).

The Church asks every investigator to step back for a moment and consider the possibility that the core beliefs they hold are not 100% accurate. They ask each person to be like a child; submissive, meek, humble, willing to submit... (Mosiah 3:19). Yet it seems that so many are unwilling to do the same when presented with questions regarding their own faith. So many are unwilling to take a humble stance about their "knowledge" of the Church, but choose and are encouraged to follow only the initial feelings they have when hearing about the positive side of Joseph Smith and the Church, and then to insist that that means they know that all evidence to the contrary is a lie, usually without becoming familiar with it.

Albert Einstein said something to the effect of "How we see things determines what we see." And so perhaps what we know is more determined by the way we choose to look, or choose not to look, at the world. Perhaps what we know is not knowledge at all, but only our best understanding of the information we have so far. Maybe if we are willing to change how we look at things, we can see them for what they really are.

May 9, 2009

Knowledge and Action

I know of only two members of the Church who have actually read the entire outline of my concerns. Yet, I have been told by dozens that my concerns, and essentially any concerns, are unfounded.

I wonder how these people feel qualified to tell me that my concerns are groundless, while not knowing what my concerns are. It resembles calling the fire department to report seeing smoke coming from a building across the street, and being met with, "I don't see any."

And I ask these people entirely hypothetically, what would be a good concern? What would be a valid concern? Imagine something, no matter how ridiculous, that would cause you to question the validity of the Church's claims.

I can think of a whole lot of stupid reasons to leave the LDS Church, or any church for that matter. Some leave because they get bored. Some feel they don't have time. Others leave because they were offended by something another member said. Some just really want to drink coffee, or watch rated "R" movies, or sleep in on Sundays. Some claim to believe in God, but only up to the point where he tells them how to live their lives. I think these reasons to leave are all mere excuses, and not enough to warrant such a decision. If the LDS Church's claims are true, then we are obligated to follow its doctrine. The only reason one can reasonably leave a church is if its claims are false, its foundation a fraud.

But on the other hand, it seems to me that active members think there could be no good reason to leave the Church. Or perhaps they don't want to know that there really might be good reasons.

On my mission, I remember a particular person upon whose door we knocked. He was very polite and listened to our introduction of the Book of Mormon, but when we asked if he would like to find out if it were true, his answer puzzled me greatly. He said, "Oh no. I don't want to know if it's true. If it's true, then I have to do something about it!"

So maybe ignorance is bliss for some people. They are comfortable where they are, and learning something new could force them to see that their view and interpretation of existence is flawed. Maybe some of those who don't want to know exactly why I left the Church are afraid that I do have very good reasons for doing so. Maybe they don't want to know that my criticisms of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon might be true, because then they might have to do something about it.

May 1, 2009


A few weeks ago I met with a high-ranking member of the Church. He gave an example attempting to illustrate how I might solve the problem of not believing that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Our discussion was very interesting, and I would like to share some of the content.

Martin Luther was a reformist who had decided early on that it was his job on Earth to reform the Catholic church. He felt that it had fallen from the correct and godly ways upon which it was originally founded. What he essentially did was say, "God, I'm going to reform the Church. Help me do that." That is, he had set his mind to something, and then did whatever it took to bring it about. Rather than explore what God wanted him to do, he decided what God wanted him to do.

He contrasted Martin Luther with Joseph Smith, Jr. who, we are told, went into the woods one Spring morning with no preconceived notions. He merely wanted to know God's will for him. He apparently asked, "Which church is true?" (source).

While not the speaker's intention, I thought that was a great example of the difference between what I have done and what believers want me to do. What I feel that I have done is exactly what Joseph Smith says he did; I merely wanted to know whether the Church is true or not. I wanted the answer for what I should do. I did not simply want confirmation that what I had decided to do on my own was okay with Him, but to know what was right. I felt that honest, intense investigation would lead me to the appropriate conclusion.

Yet the message I get from those who think I have erred is that I need to take Martin Luther's approach; I need to say, "God, tell me what's true, so long as it's the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." The message seems to be, "We want you to get to know God, as long as it's the god we know," or "God will answer you, but only if it's the answer we say He will give you. Anything else must not be God answering you."

A few people have suggested that I just need to try harder - I need to decide that the Church must be true, then start my investigation and not vice versa. The problem I see with that is that one could use it to reach any conclusion at all. If I decided that Muhammad was a prophet and then prayed for days and days, I would probably eventually come to believe it. If I tried hard enough to believe that I was a member of the French Legion, eventually I could actually believe it. But that doesn't make it any truer.

How influential is a predisposition then? And how strong of a predisposition is healthy? Certainly it would not be healthy for me to say, "I know the Church is man-made" and then seek evidence to confirm that and only that. By the same token, it would not be healthy for me to say, "I want to believe Joseph Smith was a prophet" and then pray until I believed it.

Rather, what I feel is most healthy is to learn as much as one can and then say, "Is it true?"

To use an analogy; if I spent my whole life reading books by John Steinbeck and never read another author, I would probably feel that Steinbeck was the best author who ever lived. But if I read books by Steinbeck, Updike, Crichton, Orwell, Locke, Dickens, and dozens of others, I would probably be in a better position to say who was the best author of all time. That doesn't mean Steinbeck was a mediocre writer, but it gives me more by which to judge his works. If Steinbeck truly was the greatest writer in history, reading the other authors would only confirm that.

And so, if I grow up under the assumption that Joseph Smith was God's instrument, never really questioning that, never facing the possibility that he wasn't, am I really in a position to say he was?