I am 40 years old, a returned missionary, a BYU graduate, have served in numerous stake and ward positions, and am a survivor of cognitive dissonance caused by LDS Church doctrine, speculation and folklore. The following is a description of how I've dealt with that noise as well as a discussion of my wife's and my own somewhat lengthy personal odyssey out of the LDS Church. Along the way, I'll make a few random observations and discuss just a few of the tactics used by the church to obfuscate the truth on a variety of topics - from the size of its faithful membership to specific doctrines that bothered me.
First, I've read with interest many of the letters posted by Mormon apologists on this web site. One of the more intriguing is the assertion that only deadbeats - "those who can't find a job" are those that leave the church. I've essentially left the church, am a father of four well adjusted, achieving, loving children, have a great marriage with a wonderful lady, and otherwise live a successful life employed as a regional sales manager of a widely recognized Fortune 500 company. I don't believe my associates would describe me as a deadbeat. Another assertion made in one of these letters is that they all seem to have a common thread - they come from either converts of the church or from members of less than active Mormon families. While that may or may not possibly be true with some of the stories posted, I don't believe in any way that the largest number of disaffected Mormons are converts or from inactive families. I believe the silent majority are from multi-generational Mormon families. I see the very visible fringes of a huge religious movement of both converts and multi-generational Mormons alike away from Mormonism despite the claims of the LDS Church's PR machine that membership rolls are swelling which Mormon doctrine position as the fulfillment of prophesy. As both foreign and domestic former missionaries will readily admit, there is in fact a fairly rapid growth rate of Mormonism - particularly in 3rd world nations through the baptism of individuals of lower socio/economic strata. This growth rate however is offset by a high degree of inactivity. The church rarely addresses this issue. It doesn't fit with the folklore of the gospel pervasively marching across the earth like a storm of locusts. I firmly believe that there are 10s of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised multi generational Mormons people who describe themselves variously as 'inactive', 'social Mormons', 'fringe Mormons' and the like. From the church's perspective, these are folks that just seem to drop off the map and are simply categorized as 'inactive' by the church census takers. Not a lot of effort is made by the Mormon hierarchy to understand much about them once they tell their home teachers to not bother coming by.
I number my own immediate family as being among this group who no longer want visits from the home teachers. Between my wife and I, we have eleven brothers and sisters-all 'active' in the church. We however no longer consider the church to be what it represents itself to be and general apathy, or better, lack of recognition of the authority of the church, prevent us from requesting either excommunication or having my family members' names permanently removed from the church rolls. We simply fall into the amorphous category of 'inactive' Mormons. It's kind of like being a member of a record club you joined a decade ago, where you satisfied the obligations by buying the obligatory 20 albums, and are now only bothered perhaps by an annual piece of junk mail of the ilk, "It's been a long time since we heard from you." So goes the annual exercise of telling the unfortunate new comer to the Elders Quorum who is assigned inactive members, that you would just as soon not receive his visit. Perhaps one day, we'll do the responsible thing and get off the rolls once and for all, but for now the annual 'encounter' is a minor irritation and quite frankly there is a certain satisfaction in subtly communicating that you consider your LDS Church membership to be the equivalent of a troublesome record company membership. Observers should remember that at any given point, something less than 30% of the LDS membership worldwide is 'active.' Of those that are, many of these are the aforementioned 'social Mormons' living in Utah and other strongholds of Mormonism, who have real problems with the faith. They occasionally express their cognitive dissonance to one another in hushed tones, usually out of a desire to protect and maintain social and familial harmony. Their lives have a high degree of connectedness to their Mormon families and members of their Mormon social circle. They consequently rarely wander outside the fence preferring instead to swallow the three weekly hours of church attendance, and live with all the idiosyncrasies of Mormon life - particularly in Utah, where Mormonism isn't so much a religion, but a way of life. Deep down inside, they are miserable. They believe strongly in their heart of hearts, that the foundation of Mormonism is flawed and based on folklore, fancy, fallacy, and error. These same people use a whole variety of defense mechanisms to deal with their cognitive dissonance. I've had numerous discussions with folks in these circumstances and usually the discussion comes full circle and concludes with a fairly predictable admission:
"Well, I really don't have that strong a testimony . . . in fact I have serious doubts, but if I continue to live the religion - even if it's wrong, what have I really lost? And if it's right, I'll be in the Celestial kingdom. And by the way, are there really that many bad fruits of Mormonism? The church does a lot of good." I've not seen the Church's budget so I can't objectively state whether it really does a lot of good other than toss a few crumbs here and there to its Welfare members (several of whom from my personal experience are pretty adept at working the system), but my gut tells me that a disproportionate percentage of the Church's investment in its membership takes the form of the construction of monuments to its greatness - those silly cookie cutter buildings that aspire to Frank Lloyd Wright design, called "Ward Houses" and "Stake Centers." In the meantime, like any large enterprise with a large cash position, the Portfolio Management team of this extremely profitable tax exempt corporation, responsible for reinvesting its huge cash reserves in the stock market and other outside investments, is most assuredly one of the more important groups of people in Church Headquarters. I wonder how it might work ? . . . Get a 35% annual return and have your calling and election made sure, get a 20% return and get a blessing that you'll at least make it to the bottom rung of the Celestial Kingdom. Get a passbook rate return, and . . . well I digress.
Being one of these multi generational non practicing Mormon's-a member of the other 70% of the Church populace, I am a fourth generation Mormon as is my wife. Both of us are returned missionaries responsible for many souls having been saved from the clutches of Catholicism in our respective European and Latin American missions - I in the 1975-77 time frame and my wife, 1974-1976. After completing our missions, and after I graduated with a business degree from Brigham Young University, we went about fulfilling our LDS destinies - having four children and building our Celestial Kingdom bank accounts through numerous church callings. My wife served as President and councilor in numerous Primary and Relief Society presidencies and I served as Scoutmaster and in various Elder's quorum presidencies.
>From the time that I can remember going to Primary while growing up in Provo, Utah, I always felt the effects of the social aspect of Mormonism (and in all honesty, they were mostly good) but I nonetheless, always wondered what all the religious devotion was all about. In latter years, it became clear that the depth of doctrinal and church history understanding by the church populace was a mile wide and an inch deep - and only explored insofar as an Elders Quorum lesson plan contained in 2-3 small notebook sized pages would allow in the 10 minutes left over from a quorum meeting where the more important topics dealt with home teaching statistics and assignments for the Saturday morning ward building cleanup projects.
So though I felt doubts about the doctrinal elements of Mormonism from the time I was very young, the full realization of how empty it was didn't really hit me until after my mission, temple marriage, and a few years into my career with a large multinational computer company. Sometime after the birth of our last child, I obtained a copy of the "Changing World of Mormonism", by those famous servants of Satan - "The Tanners." I had my entire Mormon life been warned of "anti-Mormon" literature but nonetheless read quite a lot of different pieces authored by the likes of Dr. Walter Martin and members of various born again Christian groups when I entered BYU. Emerson's observation 'the unexamined life is not worth living' along with the challenges issued with a high degree of smugness by various LDS Leaders (Legrand Richards and Heber C. Kimball come immediately to mind) to just try and disprove the bulletproof LDS doctrines, were all the encouragement I needed to embark on a study to validate my beliefs. My initial study failed to derail me during my college years and during my mission. If anything, it strengthened the persecution complex that the church uses to its advantage ('If it weren't true, why would so many people be attacking it?') and I found most of the arguments generally supported by contradictions documented in the bible to be fairly unconvincing. After all, like all Mormons I only believed the bible as far as it was translated correctly. I even suspected at one point, that many of these "Anti" authors were possibly hired by the SLC hierarchy in some conspiratorial plot to strengthen testimonies and otherwise fuel the persecution complex. Martin and certain others were just plain goofy to me. The Tanners' book on the other hand had quite another effect on me. I had previously been exposed to many of the dialogues dealing with Mormon problems, albeit perfunctorily, such as: Blacks and the Priesthood, Polygamy, Adam God Theory, etc . . . and my collective impression was "sure, there may be some problems, but God's ways aren't Man's ways and with time, I'll understand some of these mysteries/apparent contradictions. But for now, I have that still small voice telling me the Church is true". To not have that still small voice was to admit candidacy for something other than the Celestial Kingdom, and I certainly did not want that. Therefore, I always had the still small voice telling me what the brethren wanted me to believe. The seeds of doubt withered simply because I was too afraid to approach the door of a philosophical or doctrinal LDS problem, for fear that the more important door to the Celestial kingdom would close on me.
Back to my apostasy-a term with such a nasty connotation! -- but used pejoratively by the LDS faithful to identify a person who is either to be condemned, shunned, pitied, or fellowshipped - sometimes, all of the above. Other than the scriptures, I rarely read a book, unless it is fiction, from front to back - choosing instead to read a book with more of a specific research approach. When I picked up the Tanner's book, I wanted to bypass all the peripheral discussions of Adam-God, Black and Priesthood and the like. I (inaccurately at the time) thought the church apologists had done an adequate job of explaining these away. What I really wanted to focus on was the very premise of Mormonism, i.e., "How plausible was it really, that a 14 years old would really be visited by not one, but a myriad of Heavenly beings (John the Baptist, Peter and other of the twelve apostles, Moroni, and the list goes on and on and on) , over the course of his prophetly career, in order to restore through him the fullness of ancient truths and authority of God's will. I read and reread the Tanner's arguments. During my mission, I knew there were quite a few problems with Joseph Smith's reputation. He was positioned by the Church however as an innocent product of his times - a young man, not unlike others around him, given to folk magic and a reputation for looking through magic glasses and stones, digging for buried treasure, and engaging in other questionable activities. Nonetheless, though difficult to understand how God could put his credibility on the line by dealing with this flaky kid, he was my flaky kid, and I initially accepted these idiosyncrasies as normal behavior for a youngster growing up in New England. In short, I cut Joseph Smith a lot of slack. What I didn't really understand until I started to feast on the Tanner's book as much as I feasted on the Mormon scriptures, was that the pivotal event that purportedly changed his life, and on which the rest of the empire of Mormonism is constructed - the 1st Vision - the story that I recited in my sleep during the proverbial 'best two years of my life,' had gone through quite a bit of modification. Particularly disturbing was the discovery that the officially canonized version that I recited during my mission was recorded a full 18 years after the purported visit by Eloheim and Jehovah to the young fourteen year old (or was it 15? a point of fact still under contention by Church historians) and that it varied rather substantially from earlier versions - especially the one authored earlier by Joseph Smith himself. That version had him seeing disembodied angels/spirits, and hearing a message that was quite different from that covered in the Pearl of Great Price version. What was wrong? Surely the most important event in human history next to Christ's resurrection ( and among some Mormons, even this is debatable) would at least be consistent in its main points. Joseph after all saw two glorious, separate and distinct members of the Godhead. He asked a specific question. He got a specific answer. This was supposed to be an actual VIVID event, not something he dreamt up in a trance while pondering the nature of God. In the canonized version, he described seeing two personages whom introduced themselves as God and his son Jesus-whose glory defied all description. I marveled at how the test of reason failed with the multiple earlier accounts of this incident, i.e., if a normal human saw two glorified, resurrected beings who identified themselves as God the Father and Jesus Christ, and who gave young Joseph a crystal clear message . . . how reasonable would it be to claim in some other recounting of that event that he saw angels (whose implied identity was not known) and fail to be consistent in the main messages of such a visitation? In short, if such an event really happened, would not at least the top 3 or 4 elements be burned into the brain of any normal human being? Would there not be very, very little variance in the main elements of each successive telling of this story? After I thoughtfully considered this dilemma, I began cutting Joseph Smith less and less slack but I was still numbered among the elect of God. My faith was only being tested. I would overcome though the echoes of cognitive dissonance were getting more noisy.
Eventually - and I can't pinpoint any one particular watershed event that changed my thinking in a binary way - it eventually all started to make sense. Smith's early views of Monotheism, fully supported by the Book of Mormon and early accounts of the 1st Vision, evolved into the polytheistic view as supported by successive Mormon scripture, the 1938 version of the 1st Vision, and Mormonism of today. The not so insignificant early renditions of the 1st Vision clearly needed fixing. This understanding was very disturbing, and several months went by before I picked the Tanners book up again. As I read other sections - particularly the chapter dealing with the Book of Abraham, I became very agitated when I considered the spin doctoring that took place as a result of the egg on the face discovery that the text of the Papyrus that Hugh Nibley tried to 'translate', had nothing at all to do with Abraham nor the Creation. Aside from this, I just couldn't figure out how the Church hierarchy could rationalize why the prophet, seer, and revelator at the time did not do any prophesying, foreseeing or revealing. After all, a Prophet of God is intended not only to be an administrator, he is supposed to speak for God and one of his gifts is the gift of translation. Instead, in this particular case he was either too busy administrating (how busy could he really be, given the magnitude of the opportunity to once and for all demonstrate in a rather dramatic way that Joseph Smith did in fact translate with the gift and power of God?), or he temporarily lost his gift. Instead, David O. McKay left it to the supposed resident church academician/expert on Egyptology at BYU to validate the premise that Joseph Smith translated from a fragment of papyrus which was undisputedly the same fragment that had come into possession of the church again in 1967. Once that academician discovered the problem he had on his hands, the spin doctoring machine went into full tilt. Contrary to Smith's documented claims that he translated from the fragment of papyrus, the papyrus all of a sudden became the source of inspiration from which Smith received revelation of what Abraham somehow intended- all this from Pagan funeral texts. I went on to read the Tanners book with great relish, and upon its completion, I read additional works that convinced me that Mormonism was a very opportunistic religion. A very strong restorationist movement of the 1800s in upstate New York. Viola!! A church fully restored by a cast of thousands (OK, at least dozens) of heavenly visitors. Numerous contemporaries of Joseph Smith in upstate New York having celestial visitations! Voila! Joseph has not just ONE but does them one better - he has numerous visitations, from John the Baptist to all the apostles and other stars of the Old and New Testaments. Joseph became a pretty pivotal chum to all the religious stars. A pervasive temperance movement. Viola!! No smoking or strong drinks (meaning Coffee and tea. I've always found it interesting that Cola soft drinks - whose caffeine content is much greater than most coffees are OK (even if discouraged) for temple recommend qualification. My last Bishop was a five can a day man . . . but I digress again), Severe social pressure on the Church due to the Blacks and the Priesthood issue that make it very difficult for the fighting Cougar machine to keep on trouncing other members of the WAC, the embarrassing baptisms of white skinned Negroes in South America in the '70s. Voila!! Inspiration that gives blacks the priesthood. An informal survey of temple recommend holders on their attitudes towards the temple ceremony that reveal that they are disturbed by the hand across the throat gesture. Voila!! Special revelation. No more offending gesture. The list goes on and on and on and on . . . A lot of screwed up revelation that gets fixed. What ever happened to God being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow? This was certainly the argument that got me into many a Catholic household during my mission.
Increasingly, there were just too many doctrinal, historical and philosophical conundrums that I could no longer rationally deal with. Like layers of an onion, as I peeled away at Mormonism with the knife that the Tanner's book initially provided me, I went on to discover many successive problems in these layers as I read other works and discussed additional contradictions with others. I then started thinking about the nature of what I believed God to be, influenced of course by Mormon doctrines. For a perfect eternal being - our God to restore truth to the earth, and surround that truth with soooooooo much obfuscation, was a cruel act - but not inconsistent with his reputed behavior of trying the faith, patience and confidence of those he loves(?) In the background, there was the constant badgering of the brethren to live close to the spirit, pray for them, obey them and not be influenced by the self righteous members of the pseudo intelligentsia. After all "Evil Speaking of the Lord's Annointed" earns a very special punishment in the temple ceremony. At this point, I really started to question the nature of the Mormon God(s). The righteous, benevolent, serene, friendly, approachable and caring God (the one whose Son was represented in the Primary picture as having that beatific, serene, kind smile while gathering numerous children around him at story telling time) seemed to take a nasty turn for the worse for me. He was becoming worse than the vicious and vindictive God of the Old Testament. He DEMANDED my faith, worship, and respect for his power. He was evidently the same god who tried Job, who asked Abraham to sacrifice Issac, and all of a sudden he was asking me to believe in a myriad of inconsistent, unholy, and problematic doctrines for no other reason than to test my faith. I struggled with this dilemma for months. He became to me little more than a Cosmic terrorist-who in exchange for the promise of exalted eternal life, wanted to hold hostage my intellect and sense of reason.
As I further contemplated the nature of "Worship", I could no longer reconcile my image of a loving being who was supposed to operate on an eternal level according to the earthly father/child model. Unlike a loving, caring father, he was doing nothing to earn my love, respect, and admiration, but instead was extracting through dark suited, somber, repetitive, retired businessmen in SLC, my trust and faith in the face of too many irreconcilable doctrinal and historical problems. In the harsh light of day, as I determined that I either needed to reconcile my doubts or get out of the church - at least metaphorically, I reflected on my heartfelt impressions of my first visit to the temple at age 19 and the assault that experience had on my sense of reason and sensibility. It was both funny, bizarre and quite frankly, a bit scary. My overall impression was of the Flintstones cartoon of Fred and Barney's membership in the local Lodge - the men's club headed by the Grand Phooba (spoof on the Shriners organization complete with the Fezzes and special handshakes.) Later reflections of these memories caused me to ponder the new information that I had acquired. I considered the rapid rise in Masonic circles that Joseph Smith enjoyed in his early exposure to Masonry and the more than coincidental introduction of the plagiarized Masonic temple ceremony positioned as new revelation from God. This ceremony seemed to me to be far from inspiring, holy, and uplifting to me. When I first donned the silly little apron and hat, I felt pangs of guilt and unworthiness for wondering why nobody else recognized that the king had no clothes. I just couldn't figure it out, and determined that with enough repetition and worthy living, I would eventually come to understand the secrets of the temple ceremony but very serious seeds of doubt had been planted, repressed and now were again uncovered causing me great discomfort. I eventually came to the conclusion that the king really wasn't wearing any clothes and that you could just as easily gain great eternal insight from repeated viewings of Laverne and Shirley reruns while wearing a bathrobe. It started to get clearer to me that somehow, some way, there was a huge empire built around these fabulous claims of the early to mid 1800s that somehow mutated sociologically so that very few people continued to associate the church's culture with Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, but rather with the wholesome image of today as an organization with warm, touchy feelings, and a lot of great 'programs' for its members. It is interesting to observe that when these doctrinal and historical problems surface, there are numerous homilies and alibis that are used by the Mormon faith to bully its members from crossing the line from faith to rational thought. The following two are especially convenient: "God's ways are not Mans Ways" and "In the last days, even the very elect will be deceived" and they are extremely effective. At least they were for me as they succeeded in cowering me into submission for the majority of my life.
As I discussed my concerns with more and more people, I discovered that the church seemed to want to scuttle a lot of history under the carpet, with other homilies like "God wants his children to drink milk before they eat meat", "doctrinal and historical problems are intended to be tests of faith", etc...., etc ... I found it very curious, that dead Mormon prophets were best interpreted by living Mormon prophets, and that many of the silly, incomprehensible musings of Brigham Young, were not revelation at all, but rather 'speculation' of what may be truth. In the meantime, all the feelings that were stirred up in my young childhood psyche, came rushing back. As a child, I could remember going to Primary, MIA, and all the other meetings, and having the impression that biting into the Mormon religion was the equivalent of eating angel food cake - nice and sugary tasting, but pretty hollow and without a lot of substance. Did I ever experience deep feelings of religiosity? Yes, whenever I'd hear the strains of "Oh how lovely was the morning" and whenever I'd look at the large stained glass wall of the young Joseph Smith kneeling in the grove of trees in the chapel of my sister's ward in SLC that I would visit quite frequently. They never failed to stir up such great feelings of warmth. That is why my initial focus on the first vision, yielded such a shock when I discovered that the two white haired beings standing in mid air above the kneeling Joseph Smith, were likely fabrications that grew, mutated and evolved somehow between 1820 and 1838. In all my years of either sitting in the tabernacle or watching "the Brethren" on TV twice each year at General Conference time, there certainly didn't seem to be a lot of revelation and Godly direction coming out of their mouths. Neither did "I get it" in the all-day Sunday marathons of my youth. Instead, I remember these very emotional once a month testimonies of people testifying that they knew this or that was 'true' on the foundation of how they felt, not on what they thought and even as a kid, this made me uncomfortable. The people who most emotionally expressed these feelings always struck me as being those who had the most difficulty in dealing with everyday life. Most of these testimonies were like recordings. They were silly and even at age 6, I grew irritated at the testimonies of these people who knew the church was true, that "Joseph Smith was true, that their bishop was a holy man and 'true' and other of the dozens of other wrote testimonies. It all seemed silly and contrived. To these observations, Mormon pundits are likely to predictably observe, "Well, this just proves he never did have a testimony . . . he never was fully grounded, didn't have the spirit, wasn't 'really' foreordained, etc . . ." Such a reaction is to be expected of those that view me as a fallen soul. Notwithstanding their pity - sincere or not, I thank the Heavenly Being, the Universal Spirit within us, the power of Karma (I still believe a higher power exists, though I believe he/she/it manifests itself differently to different people according to their spiritual needs) for blessing me with just enough synaptic connections to help me eventually make sense of all this. After several years of careful reflection, I simply decided that my intellect - what my head told me, was more important than what the whisperings of autosuggestion created through several years of Mormon indoctrination were trying to tell me. I stumbled recently upon a brilliant assessment of the problem of religious truth, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." In the absence of such evidence, where religious truth is granted as a gift to those who exercise extraordinary faith - particularly when that faith collides so violently with reason, the almighty is reduced to simply being a Cosmic Terrorist. I fundamentally believe that he/she/it is more than that, a caring and loving being or power and not an extortionist.
My wife's exit out of the church was slightly different. She had none of these kinds of issues in her youth. She grew up in a family of seven children and was the model Mormon. Her doubts started only after she returned from her mission and in an effort to keep that Missionary 'spirit', found herself reading only 'uplifting' and 'inspiring' books coming out of Deseret and Beehive Books - all having pretty interchangeable titles along the lines of "Recipe for Salvation", "Live Righteously and Rejoice", etc . . . She discovered after reading several dozen of these books, that there was nothing new and that many of the authors seemed to plagiarize each other. The failure of the LDS scriptures, and the books intended to interpret them, to shed any new real illumination on the human condition, was the beginning of the end of her beliefs. Her thoughtful consideration of the premise of the Celestial law of Eternal Marriage, was the final straw. That premise is, if a man is faithful to his priesthood vows and responsibilities and is loyal to his wife in the earthly sphere, he earns the right to copulate with as many multiple wives as he wants/can handle for the rest of eternity. A little sacrifice now, in exchange for a big reward later. This just didn't seem to ring of truth, and further investigation into Smith's character and the origins of polygamy and crimes against the US government, did little to inspire her that the foundation of Mormonism was too terribly stable.
The event that capped my own growing sense of discontent with the premise of divine revelation coming through the pyramid of the dark suited prophets and apostles in SLC, was the behavior of many of them in their dealings with Mark Hofman. When I realize how the little curmudgeon whom Mormons currently call their prophet, manipulated the Utah legal system and otherwise obstructed justice, I grow incredulous that such violations of morality do not go unrecognized by the world at large. As I thought further about this incident, the passage from 1st Nephi, "It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle in disbelief" took on special significance. From all appearances, Hinkley (or more accurately, the SLC prosecuting attorney, a Celestial Kingdom bound Mormon, who couldn't help but take a specific course of action through implied pressure from the first presidency - few people in SLC believe there is anything that closely resembles separation of church and state) took this quite literally. Metaphorically, the deaths of two faithful Mormons were allowed to pass unpunished so that the Mormon nation might not dwindle in disbelief. The SLC prosecuting attorney brought about the virtual acquittal through plea bargaining of the most serious of Hofman's charges, and in the process, sent Hofman to prison with the possibility of Parole, rather than to death row which he rightfully deserved. The SLC prosecuting attorney's plea bargain was tantamount to being down three points in the final seconds of a key game, and on the third down while on the opponents two yard line, deciding to kick a field goal to tie the game. As a tough prosecuting attorney, there clearly was only one decision to be made. Send Hofman to the gas chambers, the gallows, the firing squad, or whatever the method of execution was in Utah at the time. As a practicing Mormon with Celestial Kingdom ambitions, the prosecuting attorney was much less motivated to execute well on his earthly professional charter. What was the risk? By putting Hofman on the stand in a court trial, certain pandemonium within Mormondom would erupt if the whole sordid story broke about how the Lord's inspired "Prophet in Training", Gordon Hinkley was successfully duped through his numerous one on one meetings with Hofman into sponsoring the Church's purchase of forged documents-all out of a desire to secret these 'non faith promoting' documents away so that they would not see the light of day. Hinkley had the audacity after these repeated meetings with Hofman to tell police investigators that he really couldn't remember Hofman. After all, he was a very important and busy executive and Hofman was a bit player on the stage of his life. It seemed to me that before Hofman started planting his bombs in SLC, just a few moments alone with the Lord would have told Hinkley that these funds which contributed to Hofman's sense of invincibility, could have best been spent towards helping some new members in Guatemala. I still wonder how Hinkley sleeps at night knowing of his contribution to the miscarriage of justice.
When asked by my Mormon friends why I've quit the church, I feel compelled to share with them my observations in an effort to get them to just use what the Almighty purportedly gave them - their sense of reason and intellect. Our discussions usually start with the Hofman bombings!
So today, though some would describe my wife and I for our beliefs (or at least our lack of beliefs in Mormonism) as Anti-Mormons, we prefer instead to think of ourselves as advocates of rational thought. We are not militant in the sense that we are actively searching out Mormons in an effort to undo the evangelism that we did during our missions, but we do in fact share our observations when asked. Most rational human beings are truth seeking. We really feel we are somewhat like a bunch of rats dropped into a maze and it is certainly nice when one of the rats ahead of who has bumped into a dead end just a few too many times, yells back to the other rats to try a different route. It is the sense of humanity that causes us to want to help each other through the maze of life. Thank you Jerald and Sandra Tanner for telling me about the dead-end in the maze!!
In past years, one of the observations that is often made by those Mormon friends of ours, still 'active' but usually doubtful, is: "My, my, you must have been offended by someone" (a common indictment of someone who no longer attends church) to which my wife promptly replies, "Nobody ever offended me, . . . don't think so little of me to believe that I would forsake a set of beliefs because of some personal squabble" whereupon she goes on to explain that if anything, she is offended by LDS doctrine and history and that she chooses to live by reason rather than emotion.
It's funny what time and perspective will do. During my youthful Mormon days, Joseph Smith was a man of God - one of the most important prophets in the history of mankind and despite the angel food cake taste in my mouth about the whole Mormon experience, even in my early 20s, I still held Joseph Smith in awe as I thought about the 1st Vision stained glass chapel of my youth and the warm feeling of convincing others in the mission field to my set of beliefs. What a fortunate thing it was to be a member of this wonderful church that had all the keys, knowledge and power necessary to get me into heaven. Even after I learned as a young teenager about Polygamy, . . . er Celestial Marriage, I accepted it without a lot of thinking (after all that happened in the 1800s - a million years ago) and I considered it to be a bit odd - but a gospel principle nonetheless. I was one of the elect. The elect are subject to different laws.
Today, I view things quite differently. I view Joseph Smith much the same way I view other charismatic religious leaders who with the acquisition of power, come to believe their own press, and go on to take heavenly liberties. The pattern is all too predictable. A charismatic religious leader discovers that a bunch of people really do depend upon him for their psychological well being and he comes to believe that God really does wants him to live according to different standards. One of those differing standards allows sexual promiscuity since the elect of God are somehow above earthly law. After all, what is marriage? what is monogamy? They are only earthly traditions. To understand heavenly law - ah, that is the special gift. Uh, huh. Today, I view Smith no differently than I view the likes of David Korresh or Jim Jones. I'm entirely convinced, given Smith's belief that the Kingdom of God was above earthly law, which manifested itself with a strong secessionist movement from the U.S., the creation of a special currency, and evil speaking of the U.S. government, that had AK-47s existed in the 1800s, there would have been quite an arsenal built up in Nauvoo and Missouri. Its doubtful that Mormonism would have grown from its small beginnings to its hugely metamorphosed state of today, had there been comprehensive CNN coverage of its cult like activities - which were despised just as much in the 1800s as cult activities are despised by reasoned people today. After all, today, Mormonism, is exactly that - a cult, and despite its respectable veneer of today, it is an organization with some very subtle elements of mind control and programming. With the benefit of an unclouded mind, I truly have an objective perspective and I can see Mormonism for what it is.
A logical question at this point. Am I bitter? In all honesty, there is an element of bitterness. I think that is normal given the claims that the church is the Lord's ONLY vehicle for exaltation. It is like loosing a bunch of money through a pyramid scheme as the result of putting trust in a close friend who ultimately defrauds you. Certainly if you're asked, you're going to warn all the other rats in the maze to not invest their money with the evil guy who stole your money. Fortunately, I didn't loose too much money in this maze during my tithing paying years (after all, what's 10% among friends?), but I did lose faith and confidence in human nature - a very painful experience, which is a million times more costly and traumatic than losing money. Discovering that the Mormon religion was the proverbial king with no clothes, was infinitely more stressful on me psychologically than being told as a youngster that Santa Claus did not exist. After a period of mourning, I started to regain that trust, but it has been difficult. Life is a series of opportunity costs. When you do one thing, it means you're not doing some other alternative thing. I resent that I spent two years engaged in pretty mundane activity in my European mission. No, these weren't the best two years of my life though that claim is absolutely mandatory for 'acceptable' Sacrament meeting talks, and certainly for admission into the Celestial Kingdom. Though successful (read, I baptized a lot of people), I came away from my missionary experiences with an impression that has similarly been made in another one of other letters in this website that the nature of a mission has more to do with salesmanship and effective organizational management, rather than anything having to do with truly helping people..
I also resent having attended Brigham Young University instead of attending another University where I'm confident I would have received a more balanced education and formed a better world view. I was intrigued last week to receive a solicitation in the form of a brochure, for a donation to my Alma Mater. With the background of smiling, clean cut faces (all of course from the four corners of the earth - the Church is very politically correct these days), was a "We are better than the World" type of quote of a past Prophet that pretty well typifies another Mormon attitude. By sending money to BYU, the brochure suggested I would help fulfill a prophesy that the Lord's university would far surpass other institutions of higher learning in all things temporal. Clearly, in addition to the persecution complex, Mormonism thrives on its feeling of superiority. I'm also still bitter about the dogmatic behavior of individuals who 'feel' and 'know', without thinking, and who constantly fail to apply the standards of logic to their religion that they apply in all other elements of their daily lives. The claims of Mormonism are serious. It is not a live and let live religion. It is dogmatic in its claims. Mormonism keeps its hold by suggesting that the elect will discount the assaults on logic, and remain faithful. Obedience, worship, and sublimation of will are the earthly tests for eternal companionship with the Cosmic terrorist known as Eloheim. Mormons are fighting for your eternal soul, and in the process, they cause many people to experience a loss in the richness of the here and now of this life.
Like a rat moving through the maze, I am concerned for other rats behind me. I've gone beyond my personal modus operandi in writing this letter (as previously stated, after the period of final discovery, I really haven't discussed my thoughts with others unless first asked) but I trust my observations might possibly give comfort to those who feel isolated as the result of living with the cognitive dissonance that I have lived with.
So what do I believe? As Steve Winwood (of "Traffic" and "Blind Faith" fame . . . yes, I still like the Tabernacle Choir although I like Eric Clapton better) sang in a song a few decades ago- articulating the essence of many of the beliefs of history's greatest thinkers, "Heaven is in your mind." It is all about living the fullness of life today - living heaven on earth. What is the true church and how will I get to heaven (after this life)? Hell if I know. Nor do I care any longer. After all, all we REALLY do KNOW is what we can perceive and learn on THIS earth, THIS day. What is important is loving and helping other people today, out of the right motivation and not engaging in service to your fellow man as if it were a means to accumulate credit points towards earning a celestial reward. Getting out of Mormonism has much more greatly helped me appreciate the concept of fully enjoying the here and now rather than frantically working towards a possible reward so I can join Eloheim, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, et. al. in the Celestial Kingdom, practice eternally sanctioned adultery and otherwise terrorize my own eternal offspring living in worlds without measure. The price of such an eternal reward is apparently quite easy - many weekends of boring Priesthood meeting lessons, working at the Ward meeting house every now and then, paying 10% of your income, pretend the king is in fact fully clothed while donning the funny little costume in the heavily marbled and chandeliered palace called the house of the Lord, standing up in Sacrament meetings a couple of times a year to parrot the thoughts and admonitions of the brethren, testifying in Fast and Testimony meetings every couple of months that you know your leaders are 'true', and making obligatory 10 minute monthly visits to other Eternally aspiring families. The other part of the price of working towards such a reward is not at all easy - the general sublimation of your will to a Cosmic Terrorist who expects you to Obey, Follow and Worship rather than Think - with all the tremendous cognitive dissonance this creates.
In the spirit of contrived, stilted Victorian English affected speech that has found its way into Mormon scripture, conjecture, and folklore from the days of Joseph and Brigham to the present day speeches of the likes of Hinkley, Monson and Maxwell- uttered of course, AFTER that deep sanctimonious humble sounding sigh (that connotes "I'm a holy man and I've got the world's burdens on my shoulders"), let me summarize my position and in the process, coin some new scripture: "(santimonious sigh) I know not what others may do, but for me and my household, we will serve the God of common sense according to the gospel of logic."
Best of luck to you all in your journey through life and try to remember the rats behind you in the maze.
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