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Archive for September, 2008

The Best Things About Mormon Life

Posted by nebula0 on September 30, 2008


One of the things that I hope to do with this site is provide insight for outsiders as to why rational, intelligent, well adjusted people might become, or stay Mormons.  There really are many benefits to Mormon life.  Here are some:

– tight, instant community.  If you move, you know that wherever you go, there will be people waiting for you, to befriend you, and help you out.

– real, meaningful identity.  All of those rules that Mormons have to follow has the end effect of giving you a specific identity as a part of a peculiar people, and you remember that everytime you turn down a drink or a coffee or you put on garments in the morning.

– specific goals.  One difficult thing about modern life in America is the number of choices we face.  College kids and do and be so many things, it can sometimes stop them in their tracks, it’s overwhelming.  Mormonism provides a specific life path for both genders, with concrete daily, weekly and monthly goals.

– interesting theology.  There really isn’t anything quite like Mormon theology.  It is truly unique and provides a rich opportunity for those with an interest in philosophy and theology to develop it and debate it.

– an instant pool of potential mates.  Singles wards provide single Mormons with an easy dating pool to test out potential mates who share similar values and goals.

– stability of values.  In a society where daily values can change rapidly, over decades, Mormonism provides a sense of solidity and direction and justification for a specific moral code.

Can you think of other elements to add to this list?

Posted in Basic Background | Tagged: , , , | 13 Comments »

The Strangeness of Mormon Deity

Posted by nebula0 on September 27, 2008


Mormons forget how odd (i.e. very unusual) their theology and ritual is.  That’s to be expected; the longer someone is involved in something, the more normative it becomes.  A case in point is my experience.  The very first Gospel Principles class (the Sunday School class oriented to new members) I attended went over exaltation.  Now, keep in mind that I was familiar with this doctrine before I went to the class, and yet, that didn’t stop my reaction when I heard quotes from the manual about how God was once a man like us on another earth who progressed to godhood.  Hearing this spoken and taken for granted by class members was a truly otherworldly experience.  It is extremely odd.

Even in ancient pagan polytheistic theologies, gods were always different from the mortals.  Gods were immortal, a different sort of species of being than were mere mortal humans.  If mortals were to become at all like the gods, it was because the gods helped them, not because humans were like nascent gods with the difference between the gods and mortals simply being one of time and experience.  Yet, the latter is exactly what Mormonism teaches.  It is alien not only to traditional/orthodox Christianity and Judaism and Islam in that, but also to the kinds of paganism we are familiar with, such as the Greek pantheon.

So it is that Joseph Smith was truly a great innovator.  Combining what he knew about Christianity with an American sense of inherent rights (= eternal intelligences) and equal economic opportunity he opened the pathway for any ordinary Joe to reach the highest heights.  Not even God is beyond this American can-do attitude, as attaining Heavenly Father’s station is the ultimate purpose of the Mormon gospel.

Posted in Reflections, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Nicety Niceness

Posted by nebula0 on September 26, 2008


Let me state from the outset that my purpose here is not to argue that Mormons are meaner than anyone else.  I don’t think that.  What I am going to argue though is that Mormons aren’t nicer than anyone else either.  I’d say if you could get into the heads of Mormons you’d discover that they are thoroughly human, no nicer or meaner than any other large group of people.

Now if you don’t know about Mormonism, the above might seem trivial to you, but consider this, when people talk about knowing Mormons, what is one of the things they are bound to share?  Probably something like: oh, they are so nice!  Now this was my reaction when I first got involved with the Mormon community, first as an investigator then as a new member.  It wasn’t the primary reason I got involved, but I thought they were some of the nicest people on the planet.  So what changed my mind?  Experience, that’s all, and not even bad, traumatic experience or anything like that.  Just everyday experience with lots of Mormons all over.  This is my discovery: what I call nicety niceness is a cultural element.  It’s like saying please and thank you if you are a polite person.  Mormon culture obligates people to avoid conflict (because, contention is of the devil, after all), and just be nice.  The Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints take this to an extreme with their women whose motto is “keep sweet”, a phrase which helps illuminate the larger Mormon culture.  So, smiling, avoiding contentious topics, a sense of eagerness, all of that are a part of what it is to be polite in Mormonism, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the inner attitudes of those speaking.  Why would I say this, you might ask.  The reason is because I’ve seen people be nicety nice to someone, and whether male or female, turn around and immediately gossip about them.  Actually this happened, well, a lot.  At first it was discouraging to me to realize that Mormons weren’t as nice as I thought, but then it was something of a relief to know that they weren’t robots after all.  Another thing I observed is that if one Mormon wanted to get someone else to do something, or find out why they are inactive, or cover some other potentially contentious ground, they tend to go round and round but never actually touch the topic they wanted to get to or only get there after ten minutes of nicety.  As you can imagine, this tends to lead to plenty of passive aggressiveness.  Mormons who have a problem bottle it up and take it out in bizarre ways, such as the cold shoulder.

In short, if you are going to become a Mormon, one of the best things you can do is be someone not afraid of a little conflict because then you can get away with doing whatever you want.  Chances are, no one will quite know how to deal with that.  I much prefer just coming out and saying whatever it is you mean, even if it isn’t nicety.  I’m certain that this is one of the major reasons Mormons think everyone else is so darned mean because in other Christian cultures (especially the reformed, I’ve noticed) it isn’t considered rude at all to “state things as you see them”.  So you’ll see Mormons and some kind of other Christian apologists going back and forth, the Mormons aghast that someone would be so darned mean, and why are they trying to pull other people down and and… while the Christian apologist starts to accuse the Mormon of being brainwashed because why else would they avoid the topic?  and both sides don’t get it.  In Mormon culture you have to be nicety nice to have effective communication, no matter how distasteful or simply annoying you may personally find it.  If you don’t, the other person assumes you are a rude brute, that doesn’t mean that they are brainwashed or anything else, it means that you are ineffectively communicating with Mormonism.

How did this all come about?  A few things: Mormons are supposed to be really, really happy.  It’s part of the gospel in Mormonism, man is that he might have joy.  If you are not happy, then you aren’t doing something right.  Hence, act happy, all of the time (and plenty of Mormons are not afraid of taking anti depressants either, however you want to interpret the fact, Utah is the anti depressant capital of the country– I don’t think Mormons are any more, or less happy than the average outside person either).  For example, take the saying that goes something like “no outside success can compensate for failure at home”- family harmony and happiness is considered in the complete control of the parents, particularly the father and so if it lacking it is all his fault, so darn it, act happy.   Another element is that there ought to be total harmony amongst the Saints, after all, they are part of the one true church on the face of the planet led by a living prophet.  Contention, any contention, is from Satan.

hmm, if I think of anymore background elements I will add them, feel free to add your input too.

Posted in Reflections, sociological thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Paradoxes of Authority in Mormonism

Posted by nebula0 on September 25, 2008


Mormonism has at its heart a tension between the concept of free agency and that of authority.  This tension plays itself out in Mormon life on all levels, between a democratic impulse and an authoritarian one, between personal revelation and the strict levels of the priesthood with their respective domains.  What makes any tension like this interesting is the fact that the practitioners are not consciously aware of it playing out, they hold fast to the notion of freedom and authority simultaneously, privileging one element or the other as the situation demands.  How did such a tension of opposites come about in a single religious system?  What is the theology which supports these ideas in a single system? What are the implications?

Mormonism was born in a colorful time of American history, and more specifically, a turbulent time of American Christianity.  As any beginning student of Mormonism is aware, it was a product of the Second Great Awakening in American religious life, a time of large revivals, a time of itinerant preachers, a time of anxiety of one’s salvation.  Joseph Smith’s account of his seeking religious guidance in his First Vision accounts all point to the confusion that this could have on Americans involved (check out the canonized version of his story here: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/js_h/contents).  The area Joseph grew up in in upper New York was known as the Burnt Out District because of the all of the revivals that had come through.  Joseph, having been exposed to the views of many preachers, became concerned about the state of his own salvation and that concern led directly to his First Vision.  These revivals were directly influenced by American values such as freedom and individual rights which preachers on the vanguard of the movement had internalized and used to rebel against Puritan Calvinism which was once so influential.  This in turn influenced the church Joseph was to form, evidenced in terms such as “President of the church” and the practice of the body of members to sustain leadership.  Joseph’s environment leaves a deep mark in Mormonism’s basic theological notion of free agency and the American value of free enterprise and ability for anyone to rise in the system finds its most exuberant expression in Mormonism’s eternal progression which allows for any person to become a god or goddess.

Joseph soon found that this impulse to freedom and rising in the ranks would have a negative effect on the cohesion of the church he founded.  Soon, not only Joseph was getting revelation, but many others in the early Mormon community were as well, and their revelations undermined the authority of Joseph.  It was at this moment that the notion of priesthood authority was refined and its proper domains categorized.  So it was that only the Prophet, Seer and Revelator of the church, Joseph Smith, could have revelation pertaining to the entire church (as well as the globe, incidentally).  Other church authorities could have more circumscribed authority, patriarchs could have revelation pertaining to their family, and women revelation pertaining to their own limited spheres.  Not only was this priesthood authority conceptualized to order life on mortal earth, but also to extent to the eternities and order the life of the gods. So it is that our heavenly father will always have authority over us, even if we attain godhood ourselves and women are said to become priestesses and queens to their husbands, while the men become priests and kings to God.  The domains of the priesthood find their most unit in the family structure, which is envisioned to be the fundamental order of intelligent beings throughout all eternity.

The implications of these two elements in tension, personal revelation for all on one hand, rigid church authority on the other; free agency on one hand, the necessity to enter into binding covenants to progress on the other plays itself out in interesting ways in ordinary Mormon life.  Take for instance the practice of sustaining leaders.  Mormons are asked at various meetings to show their support for their leadership and also show support for sundry callings that every active Mormon will accept. The opportunity is also available for any member to express opposition to any leader or calling during these occasions.  The interesting thing is, it is culturally taboo to express dissent to what is understood to be an inspired decision.  So it is that in all my years as a Mormon I have never seen anyone dissent, and if you ask around, many other Mormons active all their lives have never seen anyone dissent and of those who have, it is usually just once or twice that they have seen it.  The notion of personal revelation is satisfied through going through the motions of sustaining and at least hypothetically allowing for dissent, while the reality of rigid church structure through which inspired bishops and stake presidents make their personnel choices is played out in the reality that opposition by other members is very rarely expressed.

Perhaps you, readers, have other examples.  Anyone care to share?

Posted in Historical Thoughts, sociological thoughts, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Orthodoxy vs Orthopraxy

Posted by nebula0 on September 23, 2008


If you start to explore religious studies, chances are you’ll run into this supposed divide between religions which emphasize orthodoxy (right belief) with those that emphasize orthopraxy (right practice).  For instance, Judaism is often touted as a religious focused on orthopraxy, whereas Christianity traditionally focused on orthodoxy.  I’m bringing this up here because I think you’ll find some well educated Mormons embracing this supposed divide in order to promote Mormonism as a religion that is focused on orthopraxy and through so doing escape difficulties.  First I’ll discuss why Mormons would find this approach useful. Next I’ll discuss why this does not work for the Mormon case  I’ll close by generalizing my critique of this classification technique.

So, what might Mormon apologists gain by classifying Mormonism under the orthopraxy heading?  Mormonism lacks a solid, systematic theology by which a serious scholar could pinpoint beliefs.  Those of you who have been in many debates with Mormons no doubt have run into this frustration.  How many times has a Mormon claimed something you thought to be a central piece of Mormon theology to not be ‘official doctrine’?  It’s happened to me often, even when I pull that doctrine in question right out of officially published manuals used to teach Sunday school class.  Ultimately this confusion stems from the fact that the LDS leadership is uneducated in religion or philosophy, generally, and therefore avoids clarifying important doctrines, leaving individual Mormons interested in the topic to their own devices.  Many Mormons embrace this challenge as a freedom and an outgrowth of the initial meeting Joseph Smith had in the grove with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ when he was told that creeds are an abomination to God- they are a result of the Great Apostasy.  But, if things really are so fluid on the level of beliefs, what makes a Mormon a Mormon exactly?  This is where the notion of orthopraxy and orthopraxic religions helps the Mormon apologist, who now claims that being a good Mormon is mostly an issue of right practice, such as obeying the law of chastity, tithing, obeying the Word of Wisdom, activity in the church, holding a calling, and the like.  Furthermore, he may argue, privileging orthodoxy disproportionately privileges the scholar over and above the average Joe, so the Mormon system truly is a superior one on a moral level as well.

On the face of it this seems compelling.  After all, American culture tends to have an anti-intellectual streak and this no doubt resonates with many people.  Here’s the problem though. Mormonism is interested in orthodoxy, at least as much as orthopraxy.  Go to any fast and testimony meeting and one thing you’ll hear from almost all participants who speak is something akin to “I know this church is true, I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, I know that Jesus is the Christ,” and so on.  “I know” is rather strong phrasing of a statement of Mormon orthodoxy.  Or, how about meet with some Mormon missionaries and allow them to run through the standard missionary discussions.  One of the first things they will do is teach you how to ‘recognize the witness of the Spirit’ which consists of associating good feelings with statements that they argue are true.  From the very beginning the potential convert is encouraged to form an orthodoxy grounded in an epistemology consisting of the formula “good feelings about things which authorities claim to be true= witness of the Spirit of the truthfulness of the said claims”.  In order to be baptized, you have to agree to a set of belief claims, not just promises to obey the Word of Wisdom, the law of chastity and the law of tithing.  Likewise, to go through the temple the Mormon must affirm core doctrines which in practice constitute a sort of Mormon creed.  I argue the only reason this isn’t systemized, is as I said before, due to the Mormon aversion to theological learning, but that doesn’t mean that Mormonism isn’t a religion obsessed with orthodoxy.  It surely is.  It’s just a sloppy theology, which does have the effect of allowing the few to take their belief system in unique directions but remain Mormons in good standing.

Alright, that being said, I further argue that the whole distinction between orthodoxic and orthopraxic religions is a false dichotomy.  Take the example of Judaism again.  It’s true, you can be considered a Jew and an atheist at the same time– but not a good Jew!  There is no way to untangle beliefs from practices and experiences, they are intimately associated for human beings.  Every person claiming a religion has a theology that he or she embraces, it’s inescapable.  As soon as a person begins to think about the divine, theological opinions are formed.  Some are more thought out than others, but they are there.

Posted in Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 24 Comments »

The Exclusivism of Mormon Truth Claims

Posted by nebula0 on September 22, 2008


All this talk about whether or not Mormonism is a part of Christianity, or whether or not Mormons can be Christians got me thinking about this from another angle.  This goes back to my original question: why are Mormons so concerned about whether or not the conservative Christian community accepts them as Christians?  This question is quickly complicated when you take into account the fact that Mormons proclaim themselves to be members of the one and only true church on the face of the planet, the only church with the authority to baptize, the church to which one must belong and be a faithful member of if you want to have eternal life.  Given the exclusivism of those truth claims, is it so surprising that the conservative Christian community reacts?  -particularly given that Mormon theology is truly different.  Are Mormons really passive victims of a smear campaign, or is it time that they own up to their complicity in this problem?  I vote for the latter. 

Mormons, acknowledge that you preach exclusivist truth claims, truth claims which are truly unique as compared to normative/traditional Christianity.  By putting that forth on the table from the start, perhaps a fruitful discussion about where and how Mormonism fits into the Christian world can begin.

Posted in Basic Background, Controversial Topics, sociological thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Are Mormons Christians?

Posted by nebula0 on September 21, 2008


I argue that this question is a very different one thannit asking if Mormonism is a part of Christianity.  Asking if particular Mormons are Christians, or if Mormons can be Christians is an easier topic if anything.  I propose that if you were to go around and ask a random sampling of say, one hundred Mormons what they believed in depth, you’d find great divergences in beliefs between them and to what you might see as Mormonism proper.  I’d suspect that you’d find a majority sincerely believe themselves to be monotheists, not seeing at all that Mormonism posits the existence of more than one God (and more fundamentally, that Heavenly Father is not the creator of the cosmic laws, but is a product of them).  I also argue that you’d see a disproportionate number of Mormons, of the younger generation and especially young converts, speaking in evangelical terms about salvation, were you ask them about that.  This is possible because Mormon theology is nebulous and ill defined.

That is, you’d find a number of Mormons agreeing to basic Protestant propositions about God and Christ’s soteriological role.  Their Mormon-ness would be a product of their acceptance of the Mormon canon and embrace of the basic Joseph Smith story (sanitized, of course), as well as acceptance of Mormon authority as expressed in the priesthood.  The question is, to you readers, are the elements in the last sentence enough to bar them from Christianity?  If you are evangelical, let me pose it this way, can someone sincerely believe that Christ has saved them from their sins through grace, believe in one God and be saved regardless of whether or not they also happen to believe that the Book of Mormon is scripture?  I leave this as an open question.

I would like to comment on another element in the opening paragraph however, on a different note, concerning the nebulous nature of Mormon theology.  Many educated Mormons would probably agree with that diagnosis, but would construe it as a boon rather than a problem.  They may argue that Mormonism is a religion that emphasizes orthopraxis over and above orthodoxy, leaving room for individual members to construct their own theology within certain malleable limits as long as they toe the line with their behavior.  It all sounds so good on paper… is it really though?  The lack of well defined theology is not a product of something inherent in Mormonism that really, from its groundwork, emphasizes good works more than correct belief.  You need only sit through a temple recommend interview to understand that fallacy: do you have faith in Christ?  Do you sustain the leaders?  Do you have a testimony of the restoration?  Having a testimony of the truthfulness of the Mormon story is the cornerstone to being a Mormon.  Sit through any fast and testimony meeting, and you’ll hear member after member testify that they have knowledge, not just belief, that ‘the church is true’.  In fact one of the first things missionaries will try to teach potential converts is to recognize the Spirit testifying of truth.  All this talk about knowledge and truth clearly reveals an obsession with some kind of orthodoxy.  The reason it is ill defined is because Mormonism shuns a professional clergy who could have the training necessary to untangle it all in a clear, and meaningful fashion.

The other tidbit I want to mention is this talk about ‘following Christ’ making someone a Christian.  What does that mean?  There are good people in all religions, including plenty of great atheists who are out to love their neighbors.  That doesn’t make them Christians so why should some vague set of good deeds make anyone else a Christian alone?  It doesn’t work that way.

Posted in Controversial Topics, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

More Thoughts on Mormonism as a Rational Choice

Posted by nebula0 on September 20, 2008


My original post on this topic created a big debate, so I wanted to expand the discussion.  This issue isn’t restricted to whether or not someone can rationally become a Mormon, no the issue is a much bigger one, which is, how much responsibility do we have for our choices?  Our entire judicial system depends on the notion that we are rational agents making choices that we can be held accountable for.  When “anti-cult ministries” label groups they have deep disagreements with as brainwashing cults, what they are doing is setting a precedence that undermines our entire way of life.  That’s right, I said it.  If someone can be so easily malleable as to have their ability to make choices stripped from them by a couple of teenagers dressed up in cheap suits running the standard “commitment pattern” on them, how can that same person be trusted to be a rational member of society?  Such a person, with their rationality so easily suppressed, ought to be locked up, because next thing you’ll know they’ll go on a murdering spree because the latest movie they saw glorified it.  As to Mormon “love bombing”, the same thing happens in churches across the nation.  I’ve seen it first hand, people notice a newcomer, they often go out of their way to make that person feel welcome with the ulterior motive of converting that person.  Once I showed up at a BBQ only to find out it was a church sponsored event that included prayer and plenty of befriending.  The same thing happened to my roommate at the university who was personally befriended by a woman only for her to try to get her saved.  I suppose every church that encourages its members to reach out and be nice to people while at the same time maintaining the ultimate goal of converting whoever seems open to the possibility is now a brainwashing cult.  Is that right?  How far do we want to go?

I argue that we are becoming a nation of softies.  It’s not enough to make alcoholism a disease, now people can be addicted to food, or addicted to shopping, and claim they have no control over their actions.  “It wasn’t my fault, I had PMS, I was on a sugar rush, I was drunk,…”  This way of thinking has directly influenced those “Christian anti-cult ministries” who label Mormons as brainwashed, they literally think that people are that easy to control.  I say enough of this nonsense.  We all make bad choices, wrong choices, choices that we look back on them and think “that was so stupid, why did I do that?”  It’s part of being human, but that doesn’t excuse us either.  I say, take responsibility for your choices and learn from them.

I know that trying to leave Mormonism is more difficult for others than, for example, me.  But there are plenty of ‘mes’ out there, converts who stick around for 7 years or so, some who go so far as to serve a mission, get married in the temple, some who never even make it through the temple, who are leaving.  Mormonism isn’t alone in this, this is common to all religions, including Christianity.  People fall away once they fully taste what they’ve gotten themselves into.  Likewise, I see plenty of people who left once they passed 18 or so, having been raised in the church, deeply bitter.  Why?  Really, why waste time and energy, particularly if you happen to be 38 now?  Twenty years is a long time to ‘get over it’ (what exactly are you getting over, anyway?).  But then again, there are people born and raised, who have served missions, married in the temples, and raised families in the church, who have come to the sad conclusion that the whole thing is traceable to a series of lies told by a single  person.  Yes, I know individuals in this category too, and I agree that this is much harder.  Even so, this is a condition that anyone can find themselves in, in any group.  Mormonism, I suppose, makes this condition more likely by its emphasis on family ties and its concentrations of members in the Mormon corridor.  Even so, should we call such people victims?  They could leave, no one would shoot them, it’s just hard.  Even really hard.  They are not victims.

What I am saying is that Mormonism is just another religion.  There are lots of them out there, you know.

Posted in Controversial Topics, sociological thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 27 Comments »

Back from Vacation…

Posted by nebula0 on September 19, 2008


Hello everyone, I’m happy to be back from vacation.  We all had a great time.  En route to our destination we drove past the Portland temple.  A year ago I would’ve felt a little nostalgic seeing it, a little regret, as my growing inactivity was rapidly spiraling into complete apostasy.  Now I didn’t feel anything at all.  I commented on the architecture and overall impression with the feeling of an outsider with no vested interest in it.  This trip I felt truly non Mormon, truly disconnected from the fold, and it’s a great feeling.  For me, being a Mormon was a little frantic, always using up mental energy trying to keep up my identity.  Maybe I never really was fully converted, not fully into the culture, and now I feel free to be myself all of the time.  I don’t police my thoughts, though I try to be reflective and become a better person, I don’t feel a need to fit the Mormon mold.  I don’t have to apologize for my Mormonism, try to explain to others just exactly how I fit in.  I believe what I believe and feel what I feel.  I am open to correction and improvement.  I am not open to be told how to be by an aged group of men in Utah trying to preserve their Mormon culture by recasting it as part of “the Gospel”.

Here are some of the things I felt apologetic about as a Mormon, things that I found deeply disturbing but nonetheless felt constrained to defend:

– the emphasis on obedience to leaders, or ‘sustaining our leaders’ as receiving inspired counsel from the Holy Ghost that we need to heed (can anyone say Animal Farm, how about 1984?)  Sure, get a confirmation for yourself, but you won’t get a ‘no’ answer, how convenient is that?

– Joseph Smith’s character- yes, he married already married women, married 14 year olds, and was an egomaniac who was Prophet, Seer, Revelator of the church, mayor of Nauvoo, Liutenant-General of the Nauvoo legion, presidential candidate, among other things

– The quality of the Book of Mormon.  It sucks, but I tried very hard to find deep meaning in it.  By “it sucks” I mean more specifically that it was all too obvious to me that it was the work of a single 19th C author and not the work of multiple ancient authors and as the work of that single, later author, it isn’t very good.

– Lack of evidence in general.  I know, I know, you can’t prove God exists in the first place, but you can at least provide evidence to chew on.  Mormonism is surprisingly devoid of evidence considering how many physical claims it makes.

– Calling teenaged boys ‘elders’, am I the only one to find this distasteful?

Well, there’s more, but those are the first few things to pop to mind today.

Posted in My Experiences, Reflections | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Thoughts on My Story

Posted by nebula0 on September 11, 2008


Well, tomorrow we’re going on a big road trip and I’ll be gone for a week and a half.  I know, I know, get out the tissues right?  I’m sure you’ll all miss my posts greatly…

Seriously though, I wanted to leave a sort of open post so that you all can use the opportunity to share ideas and debate and whatever else.  Do you have critiques of my site?  Are there posts that you’d like to see?  Pages that you’d like to see?  I have lists of ideas, and believe me, I’ll be bringing a notebook along with me to pen ideas as they come to me, but if there are things that people would like to read and debate about I’d be pleased as punch to be accommodating.

Religion is a tricky topic, and I find myself tempted to always slip back into the postmodernist mode of “well, we can’t really know anything about it can we?  I mean, aren’t all opinions on the topic really as good as any others?”   The great revelation that I’ve had in the past several months is that there really is a Reality out there, I mean, there really is, and that frankly some religions are better at reflecting that Reality than others. 

Let me share the moment with you that I realized that I am no longer a Mormon.  I was about doing my ordinary tasks, I remember it was evening time, and it suddenly just hit me.  It was very sudden and surprising, I just said to myself “I believe in God”.  This probably seems trite to you, I mean, as a Mormon didn’t I believe in God?  Here’s something that may be surprising to you: no, I didn’t really believe in God as a Mormon.  I wanted to believe in God, I hoped it was true, sometimes I came closer to belief than other times, but at the core, if you got to the deepest layer of my being you’d find there a deep skepticism.  Really it was my fundamental skepticism that allowed me to be a Mormon because I figured I didn’t know, and could never know even if I wanted to, the ultimate structure of Reality, so why not engage in whatever religion I wanted to?  Life was short, I said, might as well make the most of it, and if I think religious engagement enhances my life, why not?  Since I can’t know truth anyway, might as well.  So yes, I was surprised when I realized that I really do believe that God exists, at the core of my being.  I knew this because I acted as if the proposition “God exists” were true, that is, my automatic reaction to the good things in my life was to thank God.  More than this, I knew that I believe GOD exists, not heavenly father.  I’ve covered the significance of this distinction elsewhere (see: “Why does anything exist?”) so I won’t retread that ground this time, but when I knew I believed that the truly infinite and eternal God existed, that I was no longer a Mormon.  That was it.

Let me share some further reflections on my story.  As a Mormon I got engaged in lots of apologetics.  I loved defending Mormonism.  I went online to do it, I did it in real life with the missionaries, I did it participating with on campus events, and from an academic standpoint I gave lectures on it and did research papers on it.  I had a great time.  But, learning what I needed to learn to do all these things lead me to a few conclusions that I held as a faithful, active Mormon including: the Book of Mormon is only true in a non literal sense, that is, maybe Joseph Smith were inspired by God, but the Book of Mormon isn’t what it claims to be; Joseph wasn’t really visited by Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, Moroni and the rest, but, that’s okay, what he said was true in some kind of loose, spiritual sense, not literal; the Book of Abraham was definitely not what it claimed to be; and so on.  Now it would seem to some of you that these conclusions would be enough to sever my ties with Mormonism, but consider what I said about my state of mind earlier- I didn’t think I could ever really believe in an absolute truth, so I might as well go with what seemed attractive or fun and for me, Mormonism was those things.

I believe that it is a gift from God that I am able to truly, and really, believe that He exists, I mean, really, whether I want Him to or not, whether I think about Him or not.  And, that means there is a Truth out there that matters, whether I like it or not.  The kind of belief I have now is so stable… it’s always there!  When I was a Mormon I went through periods of more or less belief in the system, I’d have these experiences which would increase my belief (not even sure what my belief was in exactly, even then) only to have severe doubts the very next day.  It was always fluctuating.  One day I’d be completely agnostic, the next I’d have moderate faith, and I figured that was as good as it could get.  But now, I believe in God every day.  How is this possible??  I believe God has given me the gift of faith, but has also illuminated my mind, so that even when I don’t ‘feel like it’ I still believe rationally.  This is why I advocate a whole person approach to religion: body, mind and spirit.  All of these must be in harmony together if we are to worship God with our whole person.  I could not embrace God with everything that I have in Mormonism, it just didn’t make sense, my mind revolted no matter how many times I felt the electricity running through me from a blessing or weightlessness or warmth come over me.  It could not engage my mind no matter how interesting I thought it was because in my heart of hearts I knew Joseph was a big fat liar.

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