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A Beginning is a Delicate Time

I was born into a family with devout Mormon parents. They were married in the beautiful Mormon temple atop a hill in Manti, Utah. Their ceremony promised the creation of an everlasting family relationship which would continue after death.

The teachings of the Mormon prophets were the bedrock of their world view and their teachings to me. I do not doubt their sincerity and I am grateful for the moral foundation that they gave to me. My heart fills with gratitude for the love and support that they gave me through the years. I treasure the lessons of compassion and truth they passed on to me. I honor the legacy of integrity and honesty that they left me.

Despite my parent’s faith, I was a natural skeptic as a child. I probably took my parents’ teachings as a matter of fact when I was very young—I don’t remember—but I began to doubt their teachings even in childhood.

Early on, I struggled with the idea of believing in a God whom I couldn’t see. I remember staring up at the speakers on the ceiling of my childhood chapel during sacrament meeting and pondering in confusion how faith worked. I looked around and wondered why I was different from everyone else seated in the pews who seemed to have such certainty in His existence. I couldn’t feel the presence of God or his Son and didn’t know why I should be so different. Hearing others speak about their love for God baffled me. I could not relate. God always seemed a distant, unknowable character. He never introduced himself to me. I could love my mother, but God was a stranger to me.

In Sunday School, the lessons about Joseph Smith made me squirm in my seat. I couldn’t shake the impression that he was just making up stories, like I did as a child to impress my friends. I often exaggerated the truth or made things up so friends would think that I was more exciting or knowledgeable than I truly was. Hearing about Joseph’s angelic visitations and his visions of God made me wonder why I had never seen such things. What made me different? The stories were as fabulous to me as Santa Claus and Pinocchio, but I knew that the adults wanted me to believe them.

I remember having a discussion with my older sister questioning to her why we—meaning Mormons—could be so certain that we were right and everyone else was mistaken, that we were members of God’s one True Church. Every Sunday, I would hear people proclaiming that we were members of the only true church on the face of the earth. Most of our meetings seemed designed to reassure each other that this was a fact. I couldn’t find a good reason to believe this. I came to the uncharitable conclusion that everyone who professed to know that the teachings of the Church were the absolute truth was either lying or deceived.

When it came time to become a member of the Mormon Church through baptism at the age of eight, I remember being more concerned that if I didn’t get baptized that it would jeopardize my chance of becoming a Cub Scout. I loved reading through my father’s old Boy Scout manuals and fantasizing about all the fun they had camping and hiking. I was baptized one month after turning eight.

The adults in my life all promised that I would feel clean and pure after my baptism. The baptism rite was symbolic of God cleansing the initiate of all sins through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Even though this baptism is symbolic, it is still expected to have a literal effect on our conscience. I don’t remember feeling especially clean. The same guilt followed me as before my baptism.

At least I wasn’t delayed in joining the Cub Scouts.



  1. Anonymous said,

    January 19, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

    Obviously I don’t agree with your decision, but some of your comments concern me. Unfortunately you have based your understanding on only things you can see, but being a smart man you are aware of many things that are true that we cannot see. I have not seen God or Jesus, but I have faith that if I continue down my path, it will pay off in the end. It’s like an investment so to speak. You can make a risky investment in a large company, and that investment can pay off in large amounts. That’s how I approach faith sometimes. I am putting all my money in my religion, in hopes that the payoff will be huge. And my dealing with my own mediocrity as you put it, and not giving up is what will bring me the big rewards. What con cerns me about this blog is people who don’t want to give up but struggle with their own faith may read this and justify themselves as to why they should give up too. Perhaps notes of your decision that you want to hand down to your prosperity (what a gift!) should be written and kept in private.

  2. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 19, 2007 @ 3:46 pm

    Thank you for your comment. There’s a lot packed into that small space. :)

    I agree that there are many things which are not seen which are indeed true. I’ve never seen Australia, for example, but I believe that it exists. I’ve never seen an atom, but I believe that they exist as well. I haven’t seen God, but I don’t believe that He exists. Why the difference?

    My difficulty arises when I try to discern which unseen things are true. Let me borrow a page from Betrand Russell. If I came to you and claimed that there was a teapot orbiting the sun beyond the vision of the most powerful telescope, what would you do? I imagine that you, a reasonable person, would demand evidence of some sort before believing me. We can go visit Australia. We can detect atoms through experimentation. We couldn’t easily find this teapot, and I could always claim that the teapot was somewhere we hadn’t searched yet.

    I haven’t received any evidence for God which can’t be explained some other, more verifiable way. I haven’t received a personal revelation of God either despite years of trying, so it seems that I’m left out of the game.

    Speaking of games, there was a time when I played the same wager as you describe here. Hey, I’m from Vegas. Why not, right?! I figured living a good life wasn’t such a high price to pay for the infinite treasures of heaven. This is known as Pascal’s Wager.

    There are a number of assumptions behind this theological bet. The first is that God would reward such scheming faith. An omniscient God would see through the façade. Would He mercifully reward someone for going through the motions? Or would He require real belief?

    The second assumption is that {insert your religion here} is the only game in town. Actually there are many religions which would claim our devotion: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Shintoism, etc. Though they differ on the details (pork or beef, which one is forbidden?) they all help their adherents lead good lives. Which should I choose? Why should I choose Mormonism, for example, over all these others? If I pick the wrong one, will I receive a reward anyway? Where should I place my faith?

    The third assumption is that there are no real costs associated with placing your bet. I don’t think you make this assumption, by the way, since you clearly indicate that all your money is on the table. I did make this assumption, however. If I stayed with Mormonism despite my lack of belief and put my chips on the table, to name just two costs, I would have 1) spent less time with my family (We believe in meetings, all that have been scheduled, all that are now scheduled, and we believe that there will yet be many great and important meetings scheduled…), and 2) been perpetrating a fraud on everyone around me, including my daughters.

    There are other problems with Pascal’s Wager, but I’ll stop here.

    Regarding those who struggle with their faith, I hope that they find happiness. I hope that they don’t give up their struggle to find it wherever they may. My heart goes out to those who walk in confusion.

    I am a believer in the power of the truth. The more we speak about the truth, the more we seek after it, the better off we will all be. I refer the Hugh B. Brown’s quote in my recent post The Truth. Our beliefs must be shaped and tested in the “marketplace of thought” where truth will emerge from the confusion of superstition and fear. If what I believe is false, then the truth will overcome it. As Joseph Smith said, “truth will cut its own way”.

    Please know that this change in my life is not a surrender. I am not giving up. I am more invigorated to do good. I am standing up publicly for what I believe. I am living more honestly and with greater purpose.

    I am giving my posterity the only gift I can: me as I am, in honesty. May they do the best that they can with what little I give them.

    Thank you again for your thoughts.

  3. Anonymous said,

    January 19, 2007 @ 8:27 pm

    You obviously have studied a lot, and I’m sure for every quote or example I give you, you will come up with some other form of persuasion. However what you have failed to see, is the evidence that God has supplied you with. Just because you didn’t see his toes poking through a cloud. For example take your family. You have the family you have because at the time you met your wife, you were following God’s precepts. Without the Church in your life you could very well be in a different place. Come on, you grew up in Vegas, how can you not see that you were given gifts from God? Is not the difference you have from those who live in your city not proof enough?
    As far as us claiming that the church is true and no other, that’s not to say that all churches are bad. And those from other church’s in due time can receive the fullness of the truth, without being cast out, in that sense they still receive a reward. We are not conceited that way, or should not be, if you have seen bad examples of this from people in the church, surprise, we are human.
    Using your example of a teapot orbiting space, if I did not believe it existed, even if you brought me photos, or debris, or one heck of a cup of tea, I would believe it was a fraud. This sounds like the point you are at. I could probably show you the golden plates right now and you would not believe. Such is the way of sign seekers, as the scriptures tell us. I think back to your quote about Joseph Smith and how he could have been a boy telling stories to impress his friends. I don’t know about you but I did not write any 531 page books that have silenced scholars the world around, when I was a young kid telling stories. You served a mission, and I know you felt that the Joseph Smith story was real, even if for just a second. I fear for you Jonathan, because you may lose everything you hold dear. Your family, wife, kids. All for going against the evidence you have received of God’s existense. And in so losing them, you may have to experience the evidence of God in a very negative way.
    P.S. I am sure you have lot’s of good quotes from athiest literature to quote me. And I’m sure I could quote my own sources. I would not put a chair in front of the door just yet.

  4. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 20, 2007 @ 10:11 am

    I know it seems like I am trying to persuade everyone who reads my blog to believe as I do, but the truth is that at this point I just want to be understood. I just want to show that I have come to this point carefully with much study and prayer, with the best intentions. After I have told my story, I will switch modes and begin advocating for the truth as I see it, primarily for those who already share some of my views. I will give good warning before I switch modes.

    When I taught Gospel Principles class, I assured the class that without the church, my life would be hopeless, empty, and pathetic. I tried to motivate the students to stay close to the Church by pointing to the sad state of affairs outside the Church. I assumed that, without the influence of the Church and its members, I would personally be addicted to drugs, sex, gambling, or something else. I had been taught to see the world in a deepening crisis preceding the Second Coming of Christ. I was afraid that leaving the Church would mean losing all hope and being at the mercy of Satan’s influence in this time of turmoil.

    What I have come to realize is that the difference between me and those around me who lead those hopeless lives that I feared wasn’t Mormonism or any other religion. There are many people who lead happy lives without being particularly religious. The world is not in a period of deepening crisis. The exact opposite is true. The world has never been better. Improving science, technology, and ethics are bettering the lives of humanity. We are, on average, better fed, better educated, and healthier. War is relatively rare. Indeed the world is experiencing a Golden Age. Our time is cause for hope, not fear.

    I acknowledge that we in the U.S. are experiencing a coarsening of our culture. The irony of that is that we are more deeply religious than most other industrialized nations. Religion isn’t preventing the spread of divorce, pornography, unwed pregnancy, consumerism, and other evils of our culture. These are problems for those within the Church as well as those outside. Membership in the Church doesn’t seem to be a shield against those influences. If temple marriages, for example, last longer on average than other marriages, it is only by a small margin and the statistics are tracking the trends of the larger population just a few years behind.

    Yes, my life would be different if I hadn’t been a member of the Church. I probably wouldn’t have married Lacey and had my beautiful daughters. If you knew me before my marriage, then I won’t blame you for thinking that it was a miracle. :) For that reason, I wouldn’t change any part of my past.

    If I must play the what-if game, I would hope that I would have met another sweet, capable, loving wife with whom to share my life. I wouldn’t trade Lacey for the world, but my life without her (and the Church) wouldn’t necessarily have been completely hopeless. I may have been completely happy, if only because I was ignorant of what I was missing in Lacey.

    I’ll write more on this later in my story.

    Regarding claiming that the Mormon church is the one wholly true church, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. As a missionary, I met some Catholic priests who invited us to dinner. We discussed religion, obviously, but they were reluctant to claim that the Roman Catholic church was God’s true church. That seemed a little odd to me. Later, we knowingly knocked on the door of a retired Monseigneur of that same parish. I was curious what he would say. My missionary companion basically said “He’s all yours.” When I started my spiel, he interrupted me and told us that we were going to hell and chased us off his doorstep. I respected Monseigneur LaGreene much more than the other priests who hedged about their church’s claims.

    My problem is in evaluating all of these claims to the truth. If I’m going to make Pascal’s Wager, I need to find out which one is actually true from among all those who merely claim to be. This wager is not as simple as choosing to act as though I believed in God. Whose God?

    Actually, since I can’t be certain that God doesn’t exist, I’m making a different kind of wager. I hope that a benevolent God will have a better reward for me for being honest about my disbelief than the reward I would gain by making everyone falsely think that I believe.

    Regarding the teapot, I’m actually trying to show that you, as a reasonable person, wouldn’t believe my claim about the teapot without some corroborating evidence. You would be even more suspicious about my claim if you had no reasonable hope of ever finding the teapot. For me, God is like that teapot.

    I’ve never had a profound experience of the Holy Ghost leading me to a belief in God. I was satisfied with feelings of peace and warmth that I felt from time to time in connection with the teachings of the Church. Those feelings reassured me that what I was doing was good. The strange part of it, the part that makes me a little leery of trusting those feelings, is that I have recently had similar feelings regarding atheism. Indeed, atheism has enlarged my soul, enlightened my understanding, and begun to be delicious to me. (Alma 32:28) It seems like those feelings have said contradictory things at different times in my life.

    I don’t want to address what you say about the Book of Mormon right now, beyond saying that it is unfair to characterize it as having “silenced scholars the world around”. I might take up this issue later in the blog, after I’ve told my story.

    I thank you for your concern for my happiness. If I am wrong, I hope that I will find out quickly so that I can return to following the truth. I’ll even invite you to give me a well deserved “I told you so”. ;)

  5. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 20, 2007 @ 1:39 pm

    Let me hasten to add that I don’t think you are speaking up just so you can gloat later.

  6. Brien said,

    January 24, 2007 @ 2:50 pm

    It has been interesting reading your thoughts on your journey. I will not hinder your search nor will I debase you for it. Much of what has been written has undergone much thought and mental debate before it was written. Thank you.
    My comment has nothing to do with your journey. It does have to do with the state of the world.
    “The world has never been better. Improving science, technology, and ethics are bettering the lives of humanity. We are, on average, better fed, better educated, and healthier. War is relatively rare. Indeed the world is experiencing a Golden Age. Our time is cause for hope, not fear”.
    This comment is tainted with a strictly American view of the world. Much is better in the world and much is worse with our introduction of technology and the placement of ethics. It is all based on the glasses we use to look at that around us. It is difficult, almost impossible to see how others see the world but I do believe if we are aware, we are shown how others view the world’s situation if for only a moment. I would not go as far as to say that everything is “rosy” nor, would I say that “now is the time for fear”. I would say that as our personal lives have ups and downs so does the world population as a whole. As we progress as a people we better one thing and somehow, no matter how we try, we let something else go for the worse. It is the way it is. For every good change we make as a society, somehow we inadvertently allow something else less savory to prosper. Again, that is the way it is. Yet, we keep pushing forward. How ironic.
    See you later Jon

  7. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 24, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

    Thank you, Brien for your thoughtful comment.

    I agree that the world’s situation is not so rosy as I made it seem. There are grave challenges which threaten humanity’s continued existence. Many wonderful new technologies come with a dark side (e.g. nuclear weapons’ Mr. Hyde to nuclear medicine’s Doctor Jekyll) There are many people who live much like their ancestors did. We may be headed toward climatic disaster. Traditional family structures are breaking down. Global access and demand for pornography is increasing. There is much work to be done to make the world a more equitable place to live.

    Even so, the world is not descending into a chaos of immorality and decadence preceding the end of the world, as some would have us believe. Teen pregnancy is down, even globally. Abortion is down. Serious crime is down. Warfare is down, especially since the end of the Cold War. Poverty is down.

    To find these studies, I did an unscientific Google search for neutral terms like “teen pregnancy global trend” and looked for the first likely search result. In no case did I fail to cite a study that contradicted my view that things are getting better in these areas. There is a lot of reason to hope for the future, despite the other things that may worry us.

    I suppose that I just went too far in trying to counteract the apocalyptic view of the world in my previous comment. I agree that humanity’s lot is a mixed bag and that how we perceive the world depends a lot on how we want to see it. It is not clear that the world is headed for calamity.

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