March 16, 2010


For the past 7 months I've been working at the state's prison for inmates who suffer from a severe mental illness. All of the worst male mental health cases in the state's criminal population are sent to this facility. Their diagnoses cover a wide range of disorders including developmental disabilities, somatoform disorders, trauma-related disorders, paraphilias, mood disorders, and so on. Approximately half of the inmates on my caseload suffer from psychotic disorders (i.e., involving delusions and/or hallucinations) of some sort, including schizophrenia.

For example, I spoke with one individual recently who told me some about his family history and his experiences in life. For a while the conversation appeared fairly typical. But after a few statements, it became clear that the inmate experiences the world in very different ways than I. He began to tell me about his special abilities to heal people simply by being in the room with them, no matter how severe (e.g., blindness, terminal cancer, etc.). I learned about his abilities to read people's minds, and how he had raised his sister from the dead before. He reported receiving messages from the television set or radio on a regular basis, explaining his earthly mission to him. At one point he stated that he not only has a special relationship with God, but that he actually is a god with divine powers.

The interesting and sad part of the conversation was that this man was absolutely convinced that all of these things were true. He even told me that he had doubted his abilities at several points in his life only to have them "clearly" proven again. He was passionate and gracious about his "powers," and in another setting he might have piqued my interest. But of course, my prior knowledge about the man colored my judgment about what he was saying. To name a few things that discredited his abilities, (a) he was in prison, (b) he had poor hygiene, (c) I had seen his very low IQ scores, (d) I knew he was on several psychotropic medications, and (e) I have been nearsighted since the 4th grade and my eyesight did not noticeably improve when I entered his presence.

While I did not leave convinced that the inmate had divine powers, here is part of what I took from our conversation: It seems that strength of conviction does not necessarily correlate with reality. This man knew, by his definition of the word, that he was capable of supernatural things. But nobody outside of him had ever seen evidence of that.

I do not wish to suggest that true believers are delusional or otherwise psychotic, but I do suggest that if all of the evidence supporting one's convictions is internal (i.e., is found inside the mind or spirit), and the majority of external evidence, where available, suggests different conclusions, then it would be wise to question the internal evidence. That is, if everything inside of you and other believers confirms that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet, but pretty much everything outside of you supports the suspicion that he was a fraud (e.g., significant problems with the Book of Mormon, unfulfilled prophecies, evidence of fabricating his translations, etc.), then it may be time to reconsider how accurate the internal evidence is.

In other areas of life, most individuals shift the focus when original convictions are continually contradicted, so why not in religion as well? If a man told me he had been divorced twice through no fault of his own, I might wonder what were his wives' problems. If he told me he had been divorced six times, I would probably shift the focus to him and ask myself what it is about him that keeps ending in divorce? Similarly, it strikes me as odd that the mountain of significant problems with the LDS church is disregarded. If there were two or three minor concerns about it, I could understand overlooking them. But after countless issues have been raised over hundreds of years about the legitimacy of the Church, and essentially nothing significant and tangible supporting it as God's one true and living church has emerged, is the locus of the dissonance with the skeptics who have been overcome by "the adversary", or are there real sincere problems with the Church?

March 10, 2010


Today marks the one year anniversary of the day I informed the ward bishop that I did not believe Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet, or that the LDS church held the truth about God and life. I admit that I felt and feel rather bad for the bishop. Our ward was being combined with another and the new bishop had asked me to come in to be extended a calling. We had never met before, but I felt that the time of transition would be less difficult for just about everybody if I informed the Church then of my decision rather than lying to him and accepting the calling only to ultimately inform him later. His reaction was about what I expected: shock, disappointment, subtle accusations, trying to induce guilt, etc. What surprised me about it was that I responded; I spoke up, and with very reasonable things to say. For most of my life before that point, I had been scared to speak up: often ashamed that I did not fit the expectations. I had felt that there was somehow something wrong with me because I did not believe with ease. But finally, at that moment, I had found my voice. I was no longer spewing out the expected answers, echoing the scripted responses, repeating with obedience the things that had always been rewarded. This time, I was saying what I truly, in my heart of hearts, felt about these things. I was finally being honest - with myself and with all who would hear me.

This is a change for which I have longed over the years. For far too long, I was torn between the fear of being wrongfully judged by those who would not or could not listen, and my own increasingly potent conscience. What a horrible battle it was! But now, finally, I can wake up knowing that if nothing else, and even if I have to stand alone at times, I am standing tall. The battle for me has ended the only way it could; I know that I am speaking and living authentically.

I find it a tragedy that the LDS church does not allow for difference of opinion in such matters. The members are taught that if an individual knows little of the Church and does not accept it, he or she "is not ready." And if a person knows of the Church and yet still cannot accept it, he or she must be deceived, must not love God, must be unwilling to show a little faith, or must be selfish and worldly. As near as I can tell, according to LDS doctrine, it is not possible for a person to be of sound mind, of reasonable spirituality, and of an honest nature and yet also disagree with the Church's claim to absolute divinity. It is impossible for one to simultaneously "know" he or she is right and also allow for someone else to dissent without attempting to cut down his or her capacity for seeking and finding unfiltered truth. The few active, believing members who do not look at me with condescending eyes are those who realize that they have chosen to believe what they do, but that they could also ultimately be wrong. Isn't that the more accepting stance? Isn't inclusion closer to Christlike charity than exclusion? Is it possible that I am not possessed by demons, that I have not been deceived, but that there might actually be some substance to my concerns?

Walking off the beaten path for the last year has not been easy, but I've gained new perspective on my surroundings, and seen things from angles that many LDS will never see. My biggest regret is that I did not step away sooner to find the path that I fit best, or to pave my own.

March 2, 2010

Ministry of Truth

Previously, I have used the writings of George Orwell to compare how the LDS church resembles The Party in his novel 1984. The Party is the ruling political body in the novel, which goes to great lengths to ensure that it will remain in power. For example, the main character is employed in The Party's "Ministry of Truth," which is actually a sophisticated system of literally rewriting the world's history. If the leader, "Big Brother," makes a prediction which turns out to be incorrect, the Ministry of Truth's duty is to go back to the records of the prediction and change it to match what actually happened. Thus, there is no contradiction on paper. The leader is maintained as accurate and infallible. And all the while, the governed consume the lies, either unknowing or uncaring that the reality upon which they feed has no substance.

How sad that the LDS church also falls prey to the temptation to change its own history. It is unfortunate that an organization that claims to have and promote truth in its purest form (I found the title of this talk laughable) continues to tell half-truths and allow its members to believe falsities about its history (examples here, here, and here). Naturally, the Church fears that people would be turned away from it if they knew the whole truth early on. That would be devastating to its membership (see related quotes here). But what about honesty, trust, and transparency?

Imagine you meet a beautiful woman. She seems flawless, like everything you ever wanted. When you're together, it just feels right. But for some reason, she won't talk about her past. She changes the subject whenever you ask where she grew up, or mention her family. She says she wants to just focus on the present. So you get married, and eventually you realize that she was concealing a criminal record, three divorces, and a small fortune worth of debt. Do you think you would have committed to her had you known the full story? Wouldn't you feel manipulated? Taken advantage of? Used? If she truly were an honest and trustworthy person who loved you, don't you think she would want to be upfront with you?

If the LDS church really loves its members and investigators, and strives to be a beacon of honesty and integrity, why does it continue to keep its history concealed, or allow the world to believe things that are not accurate? Doesn't it seem deceitful? Doesn't it seem self-serving?