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Archive for October, 2008

Taking Stock

Posted by nebula0 on October 30, 2008

I can’t remember the exact date that I gave up my Mormon faith for good.  I’m not good at that stuff.  What I do know is that it’s sometime a month or two from now.  So I am reflecting on where to go from here (see the previous post) and what I have learned from my experiences so far.  It’s harder than I thought it would be.  The thing is, I have more baggage from my trip through Mormonism than I wanted to admit to myself.  I harbored some ill feeling about Mormonism and figured I really hadn’t gained much from it.  Have I?  I’m sure I have and don’t even really know.  It forced me to be more social than I otherwise would have.  I met my spouse through being a Mormon, and nothing will take that away.  I got to practice giving speeches.  But what about in a spiritual sort of way?

What I gained most from Mormonism was, and is, a lense through which to focus my spiritual and intellectual curiosity in matters of faith.  I’ve learned the importance of intellect, not just the emotions, when it comes to embracing God- if the intellect isn’t on board, neither is the will, not really. I’ve learned that if I am to really, totally, and with my whole will intellect and otherwise embrace God and a way of approaching him, I am to be thoughtful, I am to be slow, I am not to be pressured.  I didn’t want to admit it, but I allowed myself to be led into Mormonism through eager missionaries and ‘friends’ who abandoned me as soon as my head hit the waters (see my previous posts about why I became a Mormon to see the sort of split mind I developed).  It’s human nature to want to belong to a group, it’s human nature to be excited by new things. I  want to be authentic in my spirituality and know that a group and new things will be a part of that, but they cannot be allowed to direct my path.

So I move forward, slow and steady.  One thing that I have noticed is that my opinion of Mormonism becomes more and more like that of a never-Mormon outsider, someone who can acknowledge the ‘odd’ aspects, the positive aspects, the negative aspects, without personal entanglement.  I suppose that is the strongest sign of my ex-Mormonhood.  I feel no longing, and neither revulsion, for things Mormon.


Posted in My Experiences, Reflections | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

what I believe, what should I believe?

Posted by nebula0 on October 28, 2008

Posted in Reflections, Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The Aesthetics of it all!

Posted by nebula0 on October 22, 2008

In my time discussing Mormonism over the years one of the biggest misconceptions that Mormons have about traditional Christianity isn’t so much over a particular doctrine or a ritual, but a whole feel that they have for the thing.  So many Mormons see traditional Christianity as oppressively bland.  You can tell if a Mormon harbors this bias by their overuse of the word ‘Platonic’ in describing Christianity.  By Platonic they don’t mean technically Platonic as much as they mean empty, vacuous, words cleverly hidden under more words crafted together in impossible creeds.  They may tell you that the Christian God sounds like a no-person and that Christian heaven sounds like a hell with its clouds and harps and unending hymn singing.  In fact, look at a recent Sunstone article, issue 150, “Of Time and all Eternitiy: God and Others in Mormonism and Heterdox Christainity” by James McLachlan- a well crafted, interesting article whose premise is just this very false notion.  Let’s face this bias head on.

After I finished my physics degree, I had the opportunity to work at CERN (yes, I knew I’d get to brag about that one day) and so lived in Switzerland/France for several months.  One thing that I quickly discovered would be a favorite pastime was looking at the glorious churches all around.  Even the smallest chapel was full of charm, usually stone, usually old, usually with stained glass.  The Mormon chapel I attended in Geneve on the other hand, was well, typically Mormon.  The biggest thing that sticks out in my memory is my visit to the cathedral at Milan.  What a truly awesome sight.  Not only is the exterior a monumental work of art to behold, but the inside… is the very definition of sacred.  I knew as soon as I stepped inside on an ordinary summer day why Catholicism has such a strong grip on the heart of humanity.  The space seeped with sacredness.

Or, I think of a more recent visit to a Presbyterian church (before I made my final decision to leave Mormonism, by the way).  The space is nice, large, with stained glass windows.  It sets the stage.  But that wasn’t what I was thinking of this time.  It was the music.  There is a giant pipe organ in that church, and it was played by a professional, and she played who else but Bach.  Unless you’ve listened to Bach played in a church with a good organ by a professional you can’t relate.  I highly suggest it.  The beauty of it is nothing short of sublime.

When I think of the richness of Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy in particular- the vestments, the decorated, large spaces, the music- and then I hear a Mormon complain about the emptiness of Christianity, I don’t know whether to laugh or wring my hands.  Really?  Have you never heard a Gregorian chant or listened to Bach?  Have you never stepped inside a Cathedral on Easter Mass and saw the candles lite up the darkness?

On the other hand, let’s look at Mormonism for a second.  The Salt Lake temple is an inspiring building.  There is not question about that.  But most temples feel like what a mansion would feel like if it were decorated by hillbillies who just won the lottery.  Most Mormon chapels feel sterile and popped out of a cookie cutter.  Sure, the Tabernacle Choir can do some great stuff, but the stuff Mormons are usually subjected to Sunday by Sunday is less than inspiring and I know as a fact I’m not the only one with that opinion.

You may say, hey nebula, that’s not what we’re talking about.  We’re talking about the belief system.  The theology.  In Mormonism we know all this stuff about the afterlife.  We’re married, we have families, we’re resurrected!  Well many Mormons don’t seem to be aware that orthodox Christianity teaches of the resurrection of the dead.  I agree, Mormonism does spend much more time thinking about the specifics of the afterlife, but a lot of that I don’t personally care for.  If the Celestial Kingdom really looks like an ostentatious living room in which we all have to whisper- no thanks.  If I really have to continue to be subjected to Home Teaching in the Spirit world- no thanks.  Frankly the orthodox Christian notion of glorious union with The Bridegroom sounds much more interesting.

The next time you feel the urge to paint traditional Christianity as vacuous, empty, Platonism, remember the cathedrals, the vestments, the music, the paintings, the sculptures, and ask yourself, would emptiness have the power to inspire such beauty?

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Can Mormonism ever be considered a Christian religion?

Posted by nebula0 on October 22, 2008

The answer is yes.  In fact, if things keep going as they are in the LDS church that is bound to happen at one point or another, and by the general public be embraced as a Christian religion.  Here’s why: the Mormon leadership seems very keen on downplaying distinctive differences. 

-Hinckley publicly stated that “I don’t know that we teach that” when asked about the exaltation (being made a god) of Heavenly Father.  That’s a biggy.  If Mormons can get that out of the way, that is one of the biggest hurdles.  It is essential that Mormonism comes to a ‘traditional’ view of God to really be considered Christian without great opposition (loony counter cultists don’t count, you know, the kind who say that Catholics aren’t Christians… yeah.)

– The temple ceremony is downplayed over time.  This matters because the temple ceremony is going to have to readapt and become more explicitly Christ centered than it is.  That is, for example, Celestial marriage (sealed for time and eternity with your spouse) cannot be considered the gateway to exaltation (eternal life).  It can only be the usual known elements, faith in Christ, baptism is okay, and so forth.  Eternal marriage will have to be reinterpreted as a peculiar Mormon bonus perhaps, but not as the capstone in the plan of salvation.

– Mormon history is severely watered down over time.  An example of this is the fact that it was not mentioned in the blurb talking about Brigham Young’s life in the manual used for Relief Society and Elder’s Quorum a couple of years ago that he had more than one wife.  That’s right.  Nor is the issue of plural marriage tackled in the latest Temple Square movie showed about Joseph Smith (which in my personal opinion sucks, but others like it, so what can you say).  This is important because it will allow those unique theological elements to be watered down with impunity.

– An emphasis of Christ and grace over and above traditional Mormon topics.  We see this happening easily; just look at the latest General Conferences.

Things that won’t have to change include:

the Word of Wisdom- health code, why not?,

garments- easily interpreted in a vestment sort of way, lots of established Christian churches use special clothing

some kind of temple ceremony- reinterpreted of course, it’s one of those things that will keep Mormon Christianity, Mormon

the unique Mormon canon- think about this, the emphasis given to the Book of Mormon since Benson’s time has gone hand in hand with an increasing talk of traditional Christian themes.  Why?  Because the Book of Mormon was written (translated, whatever) before Joseph Smith developed unique Mormon theology.  So it is that emphasis on the BoM actually brings Mormonism closer to the larger Christian fold.

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My Confirmation Story

Posted by nebula0 on October 21, 2008

This is as continuation of my “Why I became a Mormon” story.  When I left off I had just been baptized and had my first big Mormon spiritual experience.  My next one occurred when I got confirmed and received the gift of the Holy Ghost.  This activity happens the next Fast and Testimony meeting, the first Sunday of the month, after a new member is baptized and mine came up the next weekend.

The ceremony is simple enough.  You get to pick the men who you want to bless you, they must hold the Melchizedek priesthood and be in good standing.  I didn’t know many people so I had my new bishop and the elders bless me.  A chair is set up front, facing the congregation, and after the event is announced I go up and sit in it.  The men lay their hands on my heads, stacking them, and they feel heavy.  They start the spiel, one of the elders is speaking.  They say my full name, that by the power of their priesthood they are blessing me and they give me a blessing.  I’m sorry but I can’t remember a single word of it besides the standard “Receive the Holy Ghost!”.

What I do remember is feeling electricity run through my head from the hands.  It ran through my whole body.  I felt electrified.  When I stood up when they were done, I felt that weightlessness that I felt at my baptism.  I struggled to get back to my seat near the back.  People congratulated me, and that feeling of walking on air lasted the rest of the meeting.

By this point I felt that I could be a Mormon, with all reality, but I know I still had many doubts.  The experiences created in me a sense of desire to throw all my doubts in the air and join the community.  I still felt a lot of reservations about sharing this with my family, and a sense of discord between my ideal person (the dispassionate physicist) and this new Mormon person.  With the next year I worked those things out in an attempt to fully integrate my entire person into Mormonism.  I did succeed, for a few years, and when the doubts resurfaced they would be different.  But that’s for another post.

Posted in My Experiences | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

More on Proposition 8

Posted by nebula0 on October 19, 2008

The number of hits this site has gotten due to people searching for ‘prop 8’ is staggering.  Why people are frankly obsessed with this topic is something I am still pondering.  One thing I am sure about however is that the paranoia and fear that people have for this proposition is irrational.

Consider the argument, the main argument against the proposition really, that if it is passed then homosexual couples can sue any ecclesiastical figure who refuses to marry them.  This is akin to arguing that if a Mormon bishop refuses to marry a pair of Reformed Jews that the Jewish couple can then sue the bishop.  If Mormons are already allowed to deny temple marriages to other Mormons and get away with it, why wouldn’t they be able to discriminate against homosexual couples by virtue of their not being worthy Mormons, regardless of whether or not homosexual marriage is recognized by the state?

Sit back, breath deeply, the sky is not falling down.  Your ecclesiastical organization will still get to decide who to marry and isn’t that what really matters to you anyway?  Since when do you define your morality based on what the government decides it ought to be instead of what you believe through your religious convictions?

Posted in Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Why I Became a Mormon, Baptism story

Posted by nebula0 on October 18, 2008

When I left off the baptism was being planned.  Looking back on it, I wonder if I was really ready to be baptized.  By then I knew a lot about Mormonism, I read through all the scriptures, I was aware of most of the anti literature but I was still highly conflicted. 

But the day of the baptism I showed up early.  By the baptismal font in the stake center was a dressing room, and I was dressed in an all white jumper and was sure to wear white underwear and bring a change of clothes.  I was nervous partly because I hated any event to be about me.  I’m one of those people who tries to keep their birthdate a secret so that no one will get the bright idea of throwing a party.  Others tend to interpret that as a sly maneuver and can’t imagine anyone NOT wanting a party, but I sincerely don’t.  I’m one of those people who cannot fathom why anyone would want to be on TV.  So it was that I went to my baptism with an anxiety and a desire to get the thing over with.

Here’s how it went, hymns were sung, a little speech given, then I went to the font with the missionaries who I had selected to baptize me.  You get in the water, which is nice and warm, plug your nose, and you’re dropped under the water.  It’s important that every part of you goes under, if a toe pops up, for example, the whole thing must be done again.  Afterward, I got myself dried up while everyone sang hymns, then I bore my testimony, for the first time.  “Bearing your testimony” is a technical Mormon phrase, it’s a ritual with a particular format, utilized at particular moments.  Acceptable phrasing includes things like “I know this church is true, I know Joseph Smith is a prophet, I know Jesus is the Christ” followed with or preceded with a personal story.  The whole thing is always concluded with “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen”.

I really have no idea what I said, so I can’t share that here.  But standing up in front of those people assembled, in their Sunday clothes (it was Saturday but Sunday clothes are standard wear for a baptism) I felt taken out of myself.  The words flowed but I didn’t control them.  I said the correct phrases at the correct times so as to engage my Mormon audience.  That is, I was now a speaker of the Mormon language: I had converted without even fully realizing the fact.  Everyone was moved, and for the rest of the small party, (what baptism is complete without cookies?) I felt as if I were floating.

Upon retrospect I believe that I was forcing my mind to be split for too long.  On the one hand I had a secret longing to become a Mormon fully, but on the other, I didn’t really buy the whole package.  So it was, the day of my baptism, my mind forced a reconciliation and moved me into the Mormon community.  I adopted Mormon aspirations and ways of thinking and became fluent in Mormon-ese.  This was reinforced when I was confirmed that Sunday and I experienced the same sense of being out of my body, floating- with my decision to join I released my mind from the tension of investigation.  Finally I had chosen to give into my desires to join and shelve my questions and disbelief.

Obviously that didn’t work forever, but you get the idea.

Posted in My Experiences | Tagged: , , , , | 15 Comments »

Why I became a Mormon, part 2

Posted by nebula0 on October 17, 2008

When I left off I had agreed to meet with the missionaries, but I had no intention of doing so with the possibility of conversion. It was in the interest of learning alone and I made that clear to the pair of sisters I met with. We probably got together ten times, and went throug hte fourth discussion. For those who don’t know, missionaries go through a series of six discussions with potential converts, the six being reserved for those who have agreed to baptism. It used to be that missionaries would memorize these discussions and try to go through them word for word, but recently they have been allowed to paraphrase things in their own words. While I met with these sisters I started doing studying on my own, starting of course, with the internet. It was there that I met up with the barage of anti Mormon sites as well as apologetic sites such as Fair, FARMS, Mormon Fortress and others. I enjoyed meeting with the sisters but as some point felt there was no more I wished to learn. As I became increasingly exposed to Mormon theology and ritual I felt as though I were in a Twilight Zone episode, it was all so strange and they acted as if it were just as ordinary as their peanut butter.

So, when the sisters were transferred and I was to meet with a pair of elders I staged a grand exit from the scene with a debate. By the time the debate was over I was outnumbered 5 to 1 as we were meeting in the local Institute and there were plenty of instructors and other young Mormons around. I had a great time. I don’t remember what my points were so I can’t evaluate if they were real zingers or not.

That was it for a year. In the meantime, my experiences never left me and I think in large part because I found Mormonism so odd I felt compelled to continue to learn about it. I read through the Book of Mormon as well as re-read the Bible as well as kept up my learning from the internet. I kept thinking about my experience with the sister missionaries and how fun it was to have those meetings to look forward to. I thought about how nice the Mormons seemed. And, I felt that urge to pray harder than ever.

When I came back to the Institute I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. Part of me was just unbearably curious. I thought about doing a sort of anthropological experiment to really get a sense for what it’s like to be a convert’s shoes. Part of me wanted to sincerely join the community. Either way I walked into the Institute and asked to see a pair of missionaries and as we went through the discussions I decided that I wanted to be baptized. That sense of inner conflict remained with me straight through the baptism.

That inner conflict is extremely common with converts. When potential converts are interviewed and asked why they are involved in a new religious community prior to conversion they almost always respond that they are simply spending time with their new friends. After the conversion they reinterpret their motivations, all along they were actually really interested in the religion. My conflict was such that I kept the baptism quiet from my family though I told my work friends about it- who by the way, though it was odd. They were all of the extreme skeptical type. I was worried about what my parents would think and since I wasn’t even sure why I was doing it exactly I thought it prudent to downplay it until at least I knew what it was all about.

You may all be wondering about my experiences during this time (especially if you are a Mormon). The missionaries taught me to interpret feelings of peace as the spirit and feelings of disquiet as the workings of Lucifer. I didn’t really buy it but I went along with it. During this odd period I felt very compelled and allured by the Mormon religion itself. I thought it was endlessly fascinating. I felt compelled by the seemingly happy Mormon people, though I wasn’t able to really befriend any. But I was afraid to make any real concrete commitments mentally. I was afraid of feeling foolish. Despite my reservations I did feel compelled along by an unknown force.

All this leads up to my baptismal experience which was my first notable spiritual experience in Mormonism (besides those ‘peaceful feelings’ I had reservations as interpreting as the Spirit). That is coming up.

Posted in My Experiences | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Why I Became a Mormon, part 1

Posted by nebula0 on October 16, 2008

At this point it seems appropriate to share a little of my story.  Things are always so much more interesting when given in some kind of personal context, at least they are for me.

Sociologists tell us that people are most likely to convert when they are at some kind of boundary which disassociates them from their own social networks.  So, adolescents first leaving home, those who have just moved to a new city, those who have just been divorced are all prime candidates.  Also, conversion tends to go hand in hand with the building of a new social network, people tend to become the religion of their new friends.  So it was that I converted after the first year I attended university, as predicted, but I broke the mold in that I came into the Mormon fold with no Mormon friends.

Here is what happened.  I grew up with no religion.  My parents didn’t talk about God at all, neither pro nor con religious belief.  My interest in religion seemed to arise spontaneously, I’m still not sure where it came from, as a teenager.  Like many teenagers, I became intensely interested in those Ultimate Questions: what is the meaning to life?  why does anything exist? and so on.  My answer to that question took two forms, an interest in physics as the most basic of sciences and an interest in religious belief.  I figured that the real way to answer this question was through the most fundamental of sciences, in which I could understand and approve of every step and through which I could touch the deepest structures of reality.  I determined that I would become a physicist and answer my questions. 

On the other hand, I was intensely curious as to how others answered the Ultimate Questions and began to study religious beliefs.  I read through the Bhagavad Gita, Rig Veda, Tao te Ching, Qur’anand ultimately the Bible (among others)- in the limited way available to an adolescent just starting out the process of scholarship.  My initial curiosity then fed into my obsession with debate.  My interest in religion took another form too, that of a deep desire to talk to God.  I can’t explain where this came from without invoking the existence of God.  I didn’t want to believe in God, I thought it was foolish and weak, and yet I felt a physical pressure on my chest and in my hands to pray.  I had to fight it.  I remember finally giving into the temptation one night, on my hands and knees begging for forgiveness and having the most extraordinary experience.  I felt weightless and my whole body tingled.  I felt lifted off the ground as if the hand of God were wrapped around me.  The next day I was so embarrassed at myself, I vowed that I would not pray unless I actually, really believed.  So I suppressed my urges for years.

When I went to the university to study physics I brought with it my secret obsession with religion.  Every chance I got I would debate Christians, street preachers, students.   I would challenge them all to prove to me that God existed and I quickly learned the basic four proofs for the existence of God and the holes in them all.  In fact it was through an evangelical sponsored event that I first ran into the Mormons.  All week evangelicals on campus gathered to a certain location to talk to other students about their religion, and so I came, every day, for hours.  I challenged them all to prove to me God exists.  Finally, on the last day, as I was about to leave, Mormon missionaries showed up.  I made my way over to them, curious.  I didn’t know much about Mormonism then and wanted to learn.  I asked them to prove to me that God existed, and I remember being impressed that they told me that they couldn’t.  I agreed to take the lessons, just to see what Mormonism was all about.

part 2 is coming…

Posted in My Experiences, sociological thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Mormon Misconceptions about Traditional Ideas of Heaven

Posted by nebula0 on October 14, 2008

This isn’t meant to pick on anyone in particular, but it’s a widespread problem in Mormonism.  Mormons really don’t understand what normative Christian heaven is supposed to be about.  This is partly due to the fact that Mormonism is a religion which is in a way obsessed with the beyond mortal life realms.  Who hasn’t seen that elaborate diagram drawn which called a depiction of “The Plan of Salvation” which consists of demonstrating how a spirit child in the premortal realm moves through mortal earth to the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom?  And, think about this, Mormon temples are arranged around those same degrees of glory, and move participants through that same drama to the Celestial Kingdom.  There is talk about all the work that is to be done in the spirit world.  There is talk about all of the families sealed to be together for all eternity.  Yes, there is a lot of specific, embodied talk about the afterlife in Mormonism, which can make traditional Christian notions of heaven seem pale and thin. 

This is also partly due to the fact that traditional Christians aren’t very good about talking about heaven.  Many are so confused by their own theologies concerning the afterlife that they aren’t even sure if they are going to be resurrected.  All of this stems from the Western obsession with salvation from Sin and Death.  Once that is conquered, it is assumed all will be very good, but exactly what that means isn’t well explained.

These two items combine to in the unfortunate current state of affairs in which most Mormons assume traditional Christian heaven consists of disembodied spirits singing hymns to an invisible God- invisible even in heaven!  So here is misconception #1: traditional Christians deny the resurrection.  Not true.  Most orthodox Christian theologies affirm the resurrection.  Misconception #2: there will be no friends or family in heaven, just individual spirits praising for eternity an invisible God.  Why not?  Yes it’s true that the highest loyalty will go to God.  It should be to God right now on planet earth (remember, Jesus claims that one must ‘hate his mother, brother,’ and so on to be a disciple).  But that doesn’t then follow that we won’t recognize each other in heaven, I can’t imagine why not.  Misconception #3: it will be very boring.  What?  By definition heaven will be great, the greatest.  We will have fullness of joy. 

What this comes down to is faith.  Do you have faith that God knows you, better than you know you, and cares for you completely?  Children may not understand why their parents make them do boring things like learn to read or eat gross things like vegetables.  It isn’t until later that we find out what gifts they were preparing for us.  Similarly with God.  I imagine when we see face to face, with full reality before us, our God, that our relationships with those we knew will be richer and better than anything, literally, imaginable to us now.  Our existence will be the richest and fullest possible.  The real problem is that our finite imaginations are simply not capable of really understanding the joys that God has in store for us.

Posted in Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »