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Archive for November, 2008

Mormon Epistemology and Faith

Posted by nebula0 on November 29, 2008

Anyone who has encountered Mormon missionaries for any length of time is familiar with Mormon epistemology, that is, the Mormon way of knowing.  In one sense it is an advanced epistemology comparative to the conservative Christian world.  The core of it is simply this: it is not possible to prove empirically or analytically “spiritual truths” (theological claims), these can only be known by a witness through the Spirit and they can be known, not just believed.  One of the first things that Mormon missionaries are likely to do will be to attempt to teach you how to recognize the Spirit witnessing a truth to you.  This is accomplished by linking together a theological claim that they make to some kind of feeling of peace of comfort on your part.  Likewise, if you happen to feel unease they may teach you that Lucifer is active in the world and trying to keep you from the truth.

Through this means a Mormon convert receives their testimony, that is, their grounding belief that Mormon theological claims are true.  From there, it is through experimentation with these beliefs that leads to knowledge through obedience to the obligations that these beliefs carry.  For example, Mormon converts are taught that they are to tithe (give 10% of their income) as a commandment and they must accept this as a precondition to baptism into the Mormon church.  They are told that if they are unsure about this move, to try it out a few times as God promises to rain blessings down on those who are faithful to it.  From here follows stories about those barely scraping by who nonetheless make the sacrifice to tithe and find unexpected checks in the mail.  These sort of blessing experiences combined with many experiences with the Spirit testifying of truths leads to Mormon testimonies that begin “I know this church is true”.

I started out this post with the claim that Mormon epistemology is more advanced than that of the conservative Christian way.  Conservative Christians often think that the existence of God can be proven, as an example, through well worn philosophical arguments such as the Argument from Design.  Most of these amateur apologists (and here I do speak specifically of the non professional) are not aware of the devastating counter arguments to this argument.  They may also be creationists and argue against evolution only for you to find out through the conversation that the Christian in question doesn’t really understand the theory of evolution at all (for instance, how many times have you run into someone who argues that if evolution were true there should be no monkeys?).  The problem is that these conservative Christians have a naive faith in the provability of a myriad of empirical claims that are on very shakey empirical grounds.

Mormons, on the other hand, for the most part have realized long ago that their empirical claims are highly problematic and so have fully retreated into a subjective epistemology because there are so very many empirical Mormon claims that have little to no empirical evidence as a support.  For instance, what solid undeniable evidence is there to support the Book of Mormon claims?  If all you have is an inscription in Yemen and chiasm you aren’t exactly on the warpath to converting thousands.  Similarly, sometimes the empirical evidence is directly contrary, as in the case of the Book of Abraham.

For most Mormons this stuff isn’t a problem because most aren’t aware of the problems in part because they accept Mormon epistemology so don’t bother with things that might possibly disturb their witness of the Spirit.  For those who are familiar and indeed engage in apologetics a dangerous game is entered into.  Such an individual needs to carefully craft apologetic answers in such a way to neutralize the immediate dangers quickly.  Personally, I never could.  To some extent I bought Mormon epistemology knowing as I did that the existence of God, for one thing, could never be thoroughly proven.  I cast the problem as an either or issue- either the matter could be conclusively proven or there was nothing.  It was only later that I realized that exiling my intellect in the matters of faith lead to a tepid and stinking sort of faith, a rot which prevented my whole will from embracing God.

Now I would recommend to all the following thoughts: It is true, theological claims cannot be conclusively proven, however, unless you demonstrate the basic reasonableness of such a claim your religion and therefore commitment to God will be a facade.  If God didn’t want us to use our intellects, obviously we wouldn’t have them and God wouldn’t try to reason with us through scriptures and spokespeople.  If you aren’t sure if a theological claim makes sense, suspend it and investigate the matter.  Receiving a feeling of peace is not an answer since it has no content to show the intellect.  Feelings, emotions have a place in the religious life, yes, but when they are all that you rely on you have put to sleep that part of you which is especially made in the image of God.


Posted in Theological Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Why would anyone leave the one true church on the face of the planet?

Posted by nebula0 on November 21, 2008

In light of the debate going on in my “Should I Write the Letter” post I’ve decided to draw this issue out to a new post entirely.  Why would anyone leave Mormonism?  Let me preface this with the fact that hit happens quite often and with so many ex Mormons running around out there there is bound to be a lot of reasons.  Here are some I can think of:

Ones the Mormons tend to emphasize:

– Some kind of bad experience with a member.  Sure, this happens.  Someone treats someone badly and the person becomes bitter and decides to leave Mormonism altogether.

– Inability or unwillingness to obey the Mormon commandments.  I suppose this happens as well but I have yet to actually see it in action.  My guess is that this might be common with Born in the Covenant kids who never believed much to begin with.  Does that really count as apostasy?

– Getting hit up by anti Mormon lies.  It’s true, Mormonism does a bad job of teaching its new members and  then the leadership wonders why it is that so many Mormons are susceptible to “anti Mormon lies”.  I agree, a lot of what is out there does consist of lies, or at least gross exaggerations, but there is usually a kernel of truth to almost all of these anti Mormon ‘lies’ that might cause a Mormon legitimate pause.  I agree, some Mormons jump off the bandwagon rather quickly when they find out that the church history as taught by the Church History Institute manual isn’t exactly, dare I say, honest itself, without bothering to get into scholarly works on the topic to get a balanced understanding.

– Simple obstinance when it comes to obeying the priesthood hierarchy.  This may be legitimate concern for abuse of power or a flat out unwillingness to accept spiritual authority (which may have legitimate theological reasons for future Protestants).

Reasons that may disquiet true believing Mormons:

– Theological disagreement.  Since Mormonism is believed by true believing Mormons to be the one true church on the face of the planet, this may be literally impossible for some to truly understand this motive.   All that I can really do is say- it’s true, some people have legitimate, deep, theological disagreements with Mormonism that have developed.

– Those anti-Mormon lies again, but this time I talk about those Mormons who took the time to carefully assess the arguments in question and came to the conclusion that the Mormon side of things just isn’t right.  One easy example of this is the historicity of the Book of Abraham.

– Social reasons, such as, not giving the blacks the priesthood until 1978 combined with the once widespread belief of the inferiority of the spirituality of blacks; or not giving the priesthood to women, or…  People in this category often have a difficult relationship with the LDS church as they often still in a core way see themselves as Mormons but unable to fully connect with the Mormon community.

What was it for me, you may wonder?  While I had reservations about issues such as the historicity of the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, concerns about Joseph Smith’s power trip by the end of his life, concerns about flat out racism in the church, concerns about the role of women… you name it… I still considered myself a Mormon in a basic way and retained some amount of activity.  It was a deep theological disagreement which severed me from Mormonism forever.

Posted in Controversial Topics, Reflections | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Should I Write the Letter?

Posted by nebula0 on November 19, 2008

I’m beginning to think that the time may come that I may actually write The Exit Letter to my Stake President.  The reason I’m contemplating this turn of events is because I’m also considering “joining” (I’m already a Catholic according to Catholics by virtue of my infant baptism) Catholicism.  It seems appropriate to combine a step like that with an official declaration of my leaving Mormonism.  I don’t feel like I need to make a point or give my former Mormonism the finger or anything like that, in fact, I’m feeling more positive about Mormonism than I have in a couple of years.  At this point I could easily attend a Sacrament meeting with my spouse oh, say, monthly without getting that inner cringing feeling, because I would not equivocate if people asked about my religious status.  I would tell them non Mormon and leave it there.  I’d let them try to convert me with polite quietness on my part.  I wouldn’t try to prove anything.  So I would write the letter to further solidify that position of pleasant neutrality and cut off any remaining reason for which I would have to explain my situation as an ex Mormon.  I want to be simply a ‘non’ Mormon who happens to know a lot about Mormonism and disagrees with the theology.  That’s how I feel these days.

Then again, if writing a letter works against that purpose for an unforseen reason I would want to know that.  I have no desire to cause problems for my family-in-law who are all active Mormons.  They know at the very least I’m an inactive coffee and alcohol drinker and are polite enough not to ask why.  If they did I’m fairly sure I would be nonchalant about it and unless they were interested in a serious discussion quickly move the topic.

So to write the letter or not.  For the first time since declaring myself an ex Mormon I’ve felt the impulse the past month or so to write the letter.  If I do it, it won’t be for many months still.

Posted in My Experiences, Reflections | Tagged: , , , | 49 Comments »

Baptisms for Holocaust Victims

Posted by nebula0 on November 14, 2008

For background on this issue, check out: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27647809/.  I want to add to the article that it’s individual Mormons, not the hierarchy, who are adding the names.

Here are some thoughts that I have about this issue.  Many Mormons I know from experience are willing to go along with such requests to avoid offense but if you were to ask them their personal opinions on the matter they’d think it’s, well, stupid.  That is, most Mormons imagine that if Jews think that Mormonism is wrong, then what possible harm is there in a Mormon doing by proxy work for a dead relative?  Who cares?  To some extent I still agree with this view.  But, that is to misunderstand the importance that words and names have in other religions and cultures.  The words carry meaning and power, and the thought of someone doing all kinds of rituals in the name of a dead loved one is too much for some to accept gracefully.  Imagine for a moment that you discovered that someone has a voodoo doll of you and enjoys tormenting it.  Even if you don’t believe in voodoo dolls, wouldn’t you still feel a little, well, creeped out? 

Explaining to the people involved that relatives will have a choice about whether or not to accept the by proxy works really doesn’t help.  Nothing is going to help.  Mormons aren’t going to give up their religious obligations to the dead and outsiders are going to continue to be offended and creeped out.  That’s just the way it’s going to be.  You can’t be liked by everyone if you claim to believe in the one and only true church on the face of the planet with the only true authority to act in the name of God.

Posted in Controversial Topics | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Now That It Has Passed, prop 8

Posted by nebula0 on November 12, 2008

I must admit to you, this post would have much more moral authority if I considered myself a Mormon so I want to start it off by reiterating that I am no longer a Mormon.  That should make it easier to consider or ignore my opinion, whichever way you choose.  Also, as to my position on gay marriage in general?  Uncertain.

Here are some rather disturbing and disappointing things that have come out of this campaign:

– Orson Scott Card is a whack job.  I am very disappointed as I greatly enjoy his writing, but his commentary about how the government might have to get overthrown over this issue and the way he said it is insane.  Unfortunately it has tainted his writings for me (don’t you hate it when that happens?).  Whether or not you agree with prop 8, I think you can agree he went over the nutso line.

– The LDS church got way too involved in a political matter.  Whether or not the state of California decides to recognize gay marriages is a political issue, and the LDS church by having statements read during sacrament meetings and instructing various local leaders to get members to pledge sums of money (see my earlier posts on this matter).  They crossed the line.  Members shouldn’t be expected to toe the line when it comes to their private votes- there is something for Card to get upset about

– By getting itself so dirty in the campaign on all levels, from SLC hierarchy to local CA leadership, the LDS church has set a terrible precedent that could easily expand into other issues. 

–  Also, it has garnered for itself what I would consider a negative reputation in CA for being those ultra conservatives who all vote in a bloc.  Mormons never did do well with a reputation for bloc voting…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Family Togetherness

Posted by nebula0 on November 7, 2008

I must critique my former brother and sisters in the Mormon faith (perhaps my cousins through my family ties?).  Over the course of my time in Mormonism I began to pick up on a grand underlying assumption about the world: those outside of Mormonism are not truly happy.  More specifically: those outside of The Gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not have truly happy families.  It is this assumption which has allowed the LDS church to see itself as the protector of family values against those cultural mutants, the homosexuals, who would pervert, because the Gentiles (now the ‘non members’)  cannot truly fathom the consequences of the battle which is raging.  This attitude underlies many assumptions about the state of the mission field- dysfunctional families, single mothers, divorces, drugs, premarital sex prevails.  Mormons see themselves as sheltered by wise leaders instituting programs such as Family Home Evening, preaching eternal families and issuing the Proclamation on the Family defining the roles of the traditional family.  All this translates into very real attitudes by Mormons that I encountered, until finally offended.

I wasn’t raised with any religious belief.  Period.  We didn’t talk about God.  I never saw my parents pray.  We didn’t attend church.  The only times I attended church as a child were if my grandparents lured me to mass with promises of candy and toys and that was a rare event.  Take a moment, my Mormon readers, and imagine what my upbringing might have been like.  Be honest, as honest as possible.  Are my parents divorced?  Did I experiment with drugs?  Did I experiment with sex?  How about my siblings?  Did we have terrible fights? 

As I’m sure you could guess by my above line of questioning, my family life was and is unusually happy.  I say all this as a tribute to my parents.  I never saw my parents fight, and I didn’t fight with them.  I never tried drugs despite the temptation and I said my wedding vows as a virgin.  I got good grades, as did my siblings, and I’m the owner of a BS and an MA.  I still talk to my parents frequently and enjoy seeing them.  And all of this was accomplished without Family Home Evening, without family prayer, without church attendance.  This was accomplished because I knew my parents loved and cared about me unselfishly, not only because they said so, but because they proved it through their actions, over and over again.

I write this to honor my parents, above all and to warn Mormons against the too easy temptation to assume that the safety nets of the LDS church provide the happiest possible families.  There are happy families everywhere, without any church.  I do not think the LDS church can claim a corner on the market of families.  Mormon readers, if this idea threatens you, perhaps you ought to reassess what your faith is all about.  If anything I hope this post causes my Mormon readers to think twice before carelessly making statements about who families that do not accept Mormon values are not truly, really happy lest you offend someone with non Mormon, non religious parents (or those parents themselves).

I also offer the thought that just as Mormonism can provide a focus by which families can cohere, the cleaving goes both ways.  Families can be together forever, but only if all the family members are worthy members of the LDS church.  If individual conscience leads a child to another path, the vision of that family unity is fragile and can be easily shattered.  How many of you have sat through a Fast and Testimony meeting to this effect, some family member out of the LDS church, a mother in tears that her vision of family unity could so easily be broken?  If family togetherness and wholeness is so predicated on something as stringent as activity in the LDS church, perhaps that togetherness is a superficial illusion.  I call Mormons everywhere to expand and deepen their conceptions of what a happy family looks like.

Posted in Controversial Topics, Reflections | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

When to call it quits… and when to stick around

Posted by nebula0 on November 1, 2008

Since I’ve dropped my Mormon identity, I’ve gone through a lot of moods.  Sometimes I have been close to anti-Mormonism, feeling within me a burning resentment of the religion I once embraced.  I’ve gone through nostalgia and moments that I longed to be back but knowing it cannot be.  I suppose it’s that way with every major break up.  Now I’ve moved on to the stage that I’m ready to court new suitors and feel that I can honestly be friends with my ex.  So what advice would I give to someone considering breaking up?

1.  Assess your differences.  Make a list of the things that are driving a wedge between you and Mormonism, item by item.

2.  Rate the importance of each item to you.  Which ones are mere annoyances (such as, boring sacrament meetings) and which ones are potential deal breakers, and which ones somewhere inbetween?

3.  Ignore the annoyances, for now.  Make a new list, this time, only with potential deal breakers.  No matter how you live or who you live with, there will be annoyances.  You can manage those. 

4.  Assess the deal breaking items, are they really deal breakers?  For instance, say that you put down “women in the priesthood” as one of those items.  Even if women never get the priesthood, do you still accept the priesthood authority in the LDS church as valid?  If you do, this is not really a deal breaking item for you.  On the other hand, if you believe that unless women get the priesthood, the priesthood authority of the LDS church is invalidated or incomplete, this is a potential deal breaker.

5.  Try to be as honest as possible.  This is tougher than it sounds.  When you have LDS family and friends, when you’ve learned Mormon lingo and ways of life, you may be tempted to try to brush deal breaking issues under the rug.  It won’t work.  Life is way too short to live a lie.  You may find that you realize that you need to break up with Mormonism late in life, after you have established your children and grandchildren as Mormons.  You may not want to officially, publically leave.  That’s okay.  Do what you can to explore your options and deepen an authentic relationship with God.

In short, don’t expect Mormonism to be perfect.  It’s a church run by humans on every level, fallible people.  If you are honest, there are going to be things that you dislike, even dislike strongly, but being annoyed at Home Teaching is not a reason to call it quits- unless you didn’t really believe in the first place.  If you believe that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and the Son that day in the grove of trees, if you believe that the LDS church is the restored church of Christ, then the LDS church is where you belong, with its blemishes, boring Sacrament Meetings, and all.  If you doubt those grounding principles, then no matter how much you may like and enjoy other aspects of Mormonism, for your own sanity and growth, you may need to disassociate, even if not publicly.

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