I’m going to tell a little bit about why I left the LDS church, but this time the gloves are off. I’m not going to be vicious, but I’m in a mood and I will be completely forthright. Don’t read it if you’re going to allow yourself to be offended (Elder Bednar’s got by back on this one). If you think that you will allow yourself to be offended, please content yourself with the more palatable recounting of my story. Be doubly forewarned.
As I sought a greater connection with God through study and prayer, I learned that the history of the Mormon church isn’t what it is portrayed to be. I have encountered anti-Mormon literature throughout my life like most members of the Church. It caused me some moments of panicked doubt, but through study and the help of others, I was able to see through the spiteful lies and return to faith.
Things were different when I read Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman, currently serving as a Stake Patriarch. This book wasn’t filled with lies from the anti-Mormon crowd. It presented what the historical evidence seems to say without bias for or against the LDS church.
It became clear from this book and others that the Mormon religion wasn’t founded by a heroic, almost god-like prophet of the last days, but by a deeply flawed human being. Brother Joseph may have had experiences which led him to feel a divine vocation, but I saw little evidence that the Church was actually led by the hand of God. Joseph lived as a human being, full of pride, anger, and lust. He fell victim to his own power. He seduced young women and other men’s wives into sexual relationships through charisma and the promise of eternal salvation for themselves and their families. Only after his first affair did he mention to anyone the doctrine of polygamy. In case it didn’t come through the first time I said it, Joseph Smith was married to other men’s wives while the men were still alive and married. In a handful of cases, Joseph Smith practiced polyandry. That was news to me.
There were missteps, blunders, and doctrinal reversals at every step of early Church history. Joseph’s inept leadership culminated in Joseph and Hyrum’s assassinations and the exile of most of the Saints into the Rocky Mountains. The Saints were not strictly innocent victims as we often see portrayed by the LDS church. They provoked some of their own troubles.
I next read Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 by Thomas G. Alexander. This was another scholarly work which presented a balanced history of the Mormons in Utah during this pivotal time. The book treated many themes, but the ones that stuck with me concern:
- the radical changes in doctrine during this time like the abandonment of the Adam-God theory which had been taught in the Temple Endowment for a time
- the continued, secret solemnization of polygamous marriages by members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve well into the twentieth century despite public avowals to the contrary
- the consolidation of centralized priesthood authority in the church which removed the autonomy of the Relief Society and the other auxiliary organizations (the Relief Society had been a parallel organization to the priesthood)
- the change in emphasis from worship centered around gifts of the Spirit to attendance at the temple (this change also further reduced the autonomy of the Sisters of the Church who were probably the most fervent practitioners of the Gifts, who for example, would often heal members of Church through their spiritual gifts)
- the nascent development of a literalist orthodoxy which changed the original, freeform, creedless Mormonism into the more authoritarian, exclusive religion we are familiar with today
I next read David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism by Gregory A Prince and Wm Robert Wright. This book tells the story of how Mormonism was transformed into something that is easily recognizable to modern members. It traces the continued consolidation of power and authority and the continued creation of an LDS orthodoxy. It also portrayed the machinations and politics at the highest levels of the Church which betrays the image of calm unanimity which is portrayed to the public. It only added another damning witness to the previous two books in my eyes.
At this point, I was on pretty shaky ground. I was a member of a church that I no longer recognized. I didn’t know whether to give up on Mormonism entirely or to become a fundamentalist Mormon in hopes of regaining something which was lost.
Enter the new crop of atheist authors, stage right. I never read any of Dawkins’, Harris’, or Dennet’s books, but I became familiar with their ideas through snippets of text and video on the internet.
I don’t think I’ve shared this anywhere else yet, but the following two sites were a central turning point when I became aware of how absurd a belief in God looked when observed objectively: Why Won’t God Heal Amputees and Kissing Hank’s Ass (video inspired by Kissing Hank’s Ass). The first asks a very provocative question. Had I ever heard of an amputee made whole through prayer? Why not? I thought I had a good answer to this challenging question, but as I read through that site, I realized that my answer was only a weak rationalization to preserve a belief which seemed more and more like simple superstition.
It all comes down to this: what the atheists said made sense on a level that all my religious training did not. My experiences, when I looked at them honestly, confirmed the atheists’ viewpoint much more than it confirmed the Mormon doctrines. I had never seen God or felt any special communion with Him. I never had a witness of the Holy Spirit that could be distinguished from a simple emotional response. I had never witnessed any miracles. Answers to my prayers had been sporadic and indistinguishable from natural phenomena. The leaders of the LDS church seemed like nothing more than sincere men who acted with no more insight than other intelligent managers in the business world.
My world under the burden of my religious faith had been filled with guilt, fear, and superstition. If you had told me this at the time, I would have denied it. The world was peachy keen from where I stood. I was a fish swimming in an ocean of water, ignorant of the true nature of my surroundings. I must say the following exactly as it is: the Mormon church laid a mighty awful mindfuck on me. It’s only now that I can see that.
Giving up on Mormonism, Satan, and God has made the world make sense. I was always struggling to reconcile my beliefs with what I saw in the world around me. I never dug too deeply into religious doctrines because it only ended in paradox and infinite regress. My mind is now unfettered by filial, cultural, or dogmatic constraints. I feel no obligation to believe anything that isn’t reasonable to me.
All the days of my life I had never known the pleasure of pure intellectual integrity. Now that I’ve tasted that fruit which is most precious and sweet above all that is sweet, I will not be easily persuaded to turn back to the pandemonium of the great and spacious houses of religious ignorance and pride.