June 28, 2009


I typically dislike black-and-white thinking. It has been my experience that there's at least some gray in just about everything. Not always, but usually. The Church allows for very little gray, and presents us with an all-or-nothing choice exactly (see a talk by Jeffery Holland here; and Revelations 3:15-16).We must either believe all of it, or none of it. No middle ground.

For example, when I expressed my concerns about the truthfulness of the Church to the ward bishop, he accused me of being hypocritical for wanting solid, reasonable answers from the Church when I am a student of the very abstract and subjective field of psychology.

I suppose the difference I see is that the field of psychology does not claim to be the one single truth in the universe, or even to have any final answers. It claims theories, but nothing more, whereas the LDS church claims precisely to have the one truth in all the universe.

I might find myself in a different position today should the leaders of the Church talk about their doctrine as open for discussion, subject to interpretation, admit that Joseph Smith made mistakes about polygamy, that his translations of ancient documents were fabrications for the sake of providing faith and hope in others, that he probably got the ideas for the Book of Mormon from View of the Hebrews, that skin color was never a mark of a curse but the man-made justification for the ethnocentric white-supremacy doctrine, etc. But the Church forces its members to believe all or nothing.

I think if the Church were to admit that it is merely an organization trying to create a sense of community and faith, and to do some good on this Earth, I would hop right on. But instead, it demands that we take the radical stance that it is, indeed, the one truth in the universe, red flags and all. Similarly, it seems that members expect everyone to either love or hate the Church and its leaders. That is, if I don't love Joseph Smith, I must hate him.

But if it's possible that Islam is not evil, that Catholicism has some good in it, and so on, isn't it just as possible that the LDS church can do a lot of good while not being God's one living truth?

June 19, 2009

Good vs. Evil

A very intriguing scripture in the Old Testament is Isaiah 5:20. The KJV translates it as such:
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
This scripture sums up the overall theme of this blog; the question of what is actually correct and right over what is merely being portrayed or interpreted as such while actually leading away from truth.

The LDS church would, of course, use such a scripture to stress the momentum of the gay rights movement, pointing out how homosexuality is slowly being passed off as okay, when from the LDS perspective it is evil. They would also point out how things like modesty are getting unpopular, drinking is portrayed as cool, sexual abstinence is frowned upon, etc.

I wonder how such intelligent people miss the application of that scripture into their very own history, however. For example:
  • In the LDS world, it was put forth as God's will to forbid interracial marriages, and was a grave sin for a "pure blood" to marry anyone with a drop of African blood (source).
  • Joseph Smith married several teenagers, including two 14-year-olds (source; see also Compton, 2001).
  • Joseph Smith married the wives of other men (same sources as preceding).

How can such things be praised as godliness? Intuitively these acts are evil, and yet the LDS church claims that they were righteous, or even beyond righteous; they were absolutely necessary. Not only did Joseph Smith claim that pressuring teenagers into marriage with him was not evil, but he would have the world believe that these things were of the utmost sanctity: that the form of polygamy he practiced was as divine a form of marriage as exists (Compton, 2001). I cannot help but feel that this is a prime example of an individual calling evil good.

Even more paradoxical, leaders of the Church outright condemned monogamous marriage. Consider this quote from Brigham Young:

Since the founding of the Roman empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious. (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 128)

Heber C. Kimball adds his thoughts:

I have noticed that a man who has but one wife, and is inclined to that doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into plurality [of wives] looks fresh, young, and sprightly. Why is this? Because God loves that man, and because he honors His work and word. (Journal of Discourses, Vol 5, p. 22)

I love this one from John Taylor:

...the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people. (source, p. 227)

That sounds an awful lot like presidents of the Church felt that monogamy was less than, and even worse than, polygamy. I fundamentally disagree with such statements, as I have stated in a previous post. I feel that the LDS church attempts to redefine what is fundamentally good or evil in order to explain its controversial history. I have a very hard time imagining a perfect, just, and merciful god who would esteem multiple wives above monogamy, and think it righteousness to let salvation hinge on participation in it, especially when unnecessary.

It seems to me that the Church's history contains several prime examples of individuals calling evil good, and good evil.


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

Journal of Discourses (1860). A. Lyman (Ed.), London: Latter-Day Saints’ Book Depot.

June 14, 2009

People & Perfection

In an earlier post, a reader saw my criticisms of Joseph Smith, Jr. and asked if that means that I expect a prophet of God to be perfect. Of course the answer is no, but it raises an even more interesting question about just how far from perfection a man of God is allowed to stray.

Symonds Ryder (1792-1870) was an early convert to the Church and apparently thought that a prophet of God should be absolutely infallible. After Joseph Smith had misspelled Mr. Ryder's name in a "revelation", he became convinced that Smith could not have written it through the power of God. He eventually left the Church.

Most reasonable people think that even if Smith were a prophet, such a minor mistake could be overlooked as mere human error. After all, Smith was not born a prophet, right? And even if he did more for the salvation of mankind than anyone other than Christ Himself (see D&C 135:3), that doesn't mean he was perfect, right?

There are several mistakes and behaviors of Smith and the early Church leaders that could be criticized. I don't think each of them is necessarily evidence of their fraudulence, but we must each draw our own boundaries for where human error goes too far, indicating that the individual is nothing more than human.

For example, John Taylor reported that while they were in Carthage Jail, Joseph Smith and the rest ordered and drank wine to lift their spirits. I can't really blame them for that. I probably would have done the same thing had I been imprisoned. While it contradicts the general expectation of an LDS prophet, I don't think that fact by itself should convince anyone that Smith was a fraud. Similarly, most members don't know that Smith also unloaded a six-shooter on the men who were coming to kill him (source). Again, while this doesn't sound like a "lamb going to the slaughter" (D&C 135:4), I would certainly have done the same thing. It was self-defense.

If I wanted to find any imperfection of Joseph Smith, Jr. I could also stress how his attempt at banking was a complete failure (source). In reality, though, I don't think that's too big of a mistake/imperfection to prove that he was a fraud. Notice that I don't mention any of these things in the outline of my concerns.

There are certain things Smith did, however, that go way beyond human imperfection in my mind. I feel that they not only were things a prophet of God would not do, but are clear evidence that Smith was nothing more than a mere man. I do not feel it necessary to address these here again, as they are clearly laid out in the outline of my concerns.

So each of us must carefully decide what limits we place on perfection. Where must it not waiver, and where is it given room to fluctuate? If it does waiver, how far can it go until we will take the hint?

June 11, 2009

Occam's Razor

One of the more basic principles of finding truth that is generally accepted is called Occam's razor. It states that "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity", or in very simplified terms, "the simplest explanation is probably the correct one."

Regarding the topic of this blog, the truthfulness of the LDS church, if we were to apply Occam's razor, we might boil all of the debate down to any one of several very simple questions that essentially ask whether or not the LDS church is, indeed, led by Christ. The answers should be simple and will reflect the answer to the overall question. We should not need excessive qualifiers. Here are a few examples I propose:

1. Would God threaten a teenager with death and damnation if she refused to marry a man three times her age whom she did not love?

2. Would God change the DNA structure of Native American ancestors so that they would not be linked to Israel after He cursed them with dark skin?

3. Would God command plural marriage that would contradict his commandment to follow the laws of the land?

4. Would the most perfect book on Earth find support of its claims in science and archaeology? If not, why were we given brains?

5. Would a man of God propose marriage to married women without their first husbands' knowledge or consent? If so, for what reasonable purpose?

6. Is a man of God required to live by the conditions he sets forth (i.e., Joseph Smith did not follow any of the conditions of polygamy set forth in D&C 132:61 or Jacob 2:30.)?

7. Is it mere coincidence that the Book of Mormon's content so closely matches that of another book that was published almost a decade before in the neighboring county?

8. If Joseph Smith's translations were correct, would the best minds of today find some support of that?

9. Would the most important prophet of the last days lie to his wife and followers for years about the existence/true nature of his extramonogamous marriages?

10. Did God once believe that skin color was a curse, but now He does not?

If the reasonable answer to any one of these would contradict what the Church insists to be true, then the conclusion, according to the razor, is that the Church has it wrong. Faithful believers have explanations/justifications for each of these. One can stretch his or her imagination enough to say that these aren't contradictions, or that there is an explanation that we just don't have yet, but I have always felt that the truth should not need so much explaining. The truth should feel intuitive and make sense.

Does it make sense that God contradicts Himself where he sees fit, changes His most fundamental doctrines when politically unavoidable, cannot support His claims with anything other than feelings, commands His prophets to do unspeakable acts of dishonesty, intolerance, and impropriety? Or does it make more sense that all of these things were the acts of men?

I find that LDS defenders answer each of these questions with hundreds of "if"s and "but"s. The razor proposes that the answer is either "yes" or "no" and should not need any qualifiers.

If you feel that Occam's razor has any application, it seems to me that the answer is obvious. Rather than saying, "I felt good about Joseph Smith before I knew he was sleeping with other men's wives, so I have to make myself feel good about that now too to make sure the first feeling wasn't a mistake" could one reasonably say, "Sleeping with other men's wives is not godly, so Joseph Smith must not have been what he claimed"?

Each must ask himself whether that fact is a reasonable trial of faith, or a red flag that Joseph Smith was a mere man.

And my final question is, "Would a just God condemn someone for finding these things troubling?"

June 8, 2009

Emotional Motivation

Earlier this year someone explained a testimony to me like this: "It's like being in love. No one needs to explain to you if you're in love: you just know it."

Certainly this is true regarding love. I'm not very old (ignoring how I feel sometimes), but I've had a few experiences with love in my life. I first fell in love in junior high. I felt things for an attractive young woman that I had never before experienced. I would have done anything to win her approval. But I was painfully shy. Long story short, I loved her from a distance until finally tracking her down in the later years of high school after I had gained some confidence and feelings of self-worth. We went on one date, and I just wasn't really interested in her much after that. I suppose I had built her up in my mind to be the perfect woman based on what I had seen and known of her. Although I sat next to her every single day in junior high, that date was the first time I had actually had a conversation with her. With just a little investigation, I quickly learned that she was not all I had made her up to be.

The thing is, I know I was in love with her before. I knew it at the time with so much conviction that I can't possibly deny it now either. I loved her. That was completely true all through junior high, and a good chunk of high school. But it was no longer true after that first date.

What is it that a feeling tells us? Did loving that girl tell me that we were meant to be together? Of course not. I sure wished it did at the time, but it didn't realistically tell me anything beyond that I loved her. That feeling of love did not mean she was the perfect young woman, that she would be a wonderful mother, that she would listen to me and respect me, that she cared more for others than herself, that she shared my same values and interests, and so on. All that feeling told me was that I felt very strongly for her.

Using this example in regards to the topic of this blog, what is it that an emotional conviction tells us about the truth of the Church? When feeling an answer to prayer, does this really tell us that the Church is true, or does it tell us that what we know so far sounds attractive? Does it really tell us that Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ and dozens of other heavenly beings, or does it tell us that such a message gives us hope?

In other words, the feeling of love for that girl did not mean much on a realistic level. That wasn't enough to make us truly compatible. A feeling that Joseph Smith was a prophet does not mean that he literally held golden plates and translated them. Learning more about the girl caused me to feel something different about her. Maybe understanding more about Joseph Smith and the kind of man he was can cause someone to feel different about him and his claims.

Here's the real issue, though, I think; it was not fun to fall out of love with this young woman. It was an amazing feeling, and it motivated me very much. It was a wonderful feeling to have pumping through me. But it would not have been useful or healthy to still feel that even though we were truly incompatible and a marriage would not have worked. Similarly, why would one want to lose that spiritual high that comes with the belief of being among the elite chosen of God, who hold the power to act in His name, who have communication directly from Him? But that feeling of comfort and bliss does not confirm that, in reality, paying your tithing month after month is going to keep you from getting burned (D&C 64:23). It may be that Joseph Smith's doctrine and actions are heading in a different direction than you want or thought you were.

In brief, love alone does not mean two people are meant to be together. Feelings of peace about the First Vision alone do not mean that marrying other men's wives is okay.