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Temple Recommend Interview

Talking to God gave me the idea to conduct a temple recommend interview with myself. First I’ll answer them as my former self then as my present self.

1) Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?

Mormon Me: Yes. To myself: At least I’m pretty sure. I hope that counts. I mean I’ve never seen them, but maybe if I’m really righteous…

Awakened Me: No. I can’t see any reason to believe in God. If he does exist, he seems pretty truant. I never sensed anyone at the other end of all those prayers that I offered. In retrospect it seems like I was on my own the whole time. So, no I don’t believe in the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost.

2) Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?

Mormon Me: Yes. I’ve never really felt forgiven for anything, but I hope that if I go to the temple enough and do everything that’s expected of me I’ll be forgiven.

Awakened Me: No. Jesus seems like he was a great guy (if he isn’t just a myth). He had some interesting teachings, a lot like other moral teachers that came before him, but his followers took things too far. The Son of God? Seems like a religious power grab to me. Even if I could believe that he was God’s only begotten, why should I believe in him rather than the other messiahs of his time?

Oh, what was it that I need to be saved from again?

3) Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?

Mormon Me: Yes. Kind of, anyway. I haven’t made my mind up about Joseph Smith. He’s a hairbreadth from being just like all those cult leaders. Asking to marry someone else’s wife? That’s got “cult leader” all over it. But I guess he did a lot of good. The Book of Mormon and the Church are good, so he must have been alright.

Awakened Me: No. I haven’t made my mind up about Joseph Smith, though. He did some pretty awful things in his life and I don’t believe that he was called by a non-existent God. But did he really believe in his own calling or was he a charlatan? Did he start as a charlatan and start to believe his own lies? I just don’t know. He had some pretty innovative ideas about religion and I respect his willingness to go against the popular ideas of the day, but he was no prophet.

4) Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?

Mormon Me: Yes. I hope he doesn’t bring up home teaching.

Awakened Me: No. Why do you keep asking me these questions? It seems pretty obvious that I don’t believe in any of this, so why continue? Oh well, if you insist.

I think its too bad that they claim to be infallible. It’s even worse that people believe them. They’ve made a lot of mistakes and most of what they say just comes down to opinion. And what happened to all of those revelations? It seems like no one since Joseph Smith is willing to speak in the name of the Lord, on official record at least. The current leadership is more like the board of a corporation than prophets, seers, and revelators. Where’s all the new holy scripture?

5) Do you live the law of chastity?

Mormon Me: Yes. I wish that I felt forgiven for all that stuff I confessed before.

Awakened Me: Isn’t that a pretty personal question?! Who died and left you in charge of my sex life? Oh right, Him. I guess that makes something resembling sense.

No… Yes. Are you counting masturbation? Really?! I’d like some scriptural backup for that because I think that’s a bit too extreme. Seems like the church bought into all that masturbatory insanity nonsense.

6) Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?

Mormon Me: No.

Awakened Me: No, though I’m not actively following its teachings.

7) Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

Mormon Me: No.

Awakened Me: Yes. Some of them are even in the LDS church. The more I think about it, it would seem pretty difficult to do any of your missionary work without affiliating with someone whose practices are contrary to the Church’s teachings. You really should get out more often. There are some really nice people out there who disagree with some things the church teaches. Didn’t Jesus affiliate with some pretty vulgar people?

8 ) Do you strive to keep the covenants you have made, to attend your sacrament and other meetings, and to keep your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel?

Mormon Me: Yes. Strive being the operative word.

Awakened Me: No, not really. I don’t really care about covenants that I’ve made with a non-entity or obeying his commandments. All the same, I don’t think you would notice much difference between how I live my life and yours. My lifestyle hasn’t changed much since I left the church.

9) Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?

Mormon Me: Yes. Well mostly. I guess I could work harder at my job. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m giving an honest effort. Wait, does that mean I just lied about lying? Best to just keep quiet. What would it look like if I didn’t get a temple recommend?

Awakened Me: Not perfectly, no. But I feel a lot more honest now that I can talk about all of my doubts. I used to avoid investigating my doubts in case it might contradict the Church’s teachings. Truth and I weren’t on the best of terms. Now I do my best to find it even when it contradicts what I already believe. So, yes, I’m more honest than I was when I was Mormon.

10) Are you a full-tithe payer?

Mormon Me: Yes. Phew! At least there’s one question that I can answer without any reservation. I’ve been paying on the gross since I knew how to count my pennies.

Awakened Me: Not intentionally, no. What do you do with all that money anyway? Your church takes in a lot, but I don’t see as much coming back out. When was the last time you had an outside auditor look at your books? Don’t you think all those people giving you money deserve to know where it’s going? What do you have to hide?

11) Do your keep the Word of Wisdom?

Mormon Me: Yes.

Awakened Me: Mostly. I’ve heard green tea is pretty good for your health. You like Chai? You do know that’s made with black tea, right? Yeah, no. It’s tea. Um, maybe I should be asking the questions here.

Do you use meat sparingly, only in times of winter and famine? I see. Do you use mild barley drinks? Yeah that’s beer. Why not? It’s right there in D&C 89:17.

12) Do you have financial or other obligations to a former spouse or children?

Mormon Me: No. Another easy one.

Awakened Me: No.

13)Do you keep the covenants that you made in the temple?
Do you wear the garment both night and day as instructed in the endowment and in accordance with the covenant you made in the temple?

Mormon Me: Yes. I hope God isn’t too strict about that laughter thing.

Awakened Me: Let’s see if I can remember all of them. No. No. No. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Oh and assuming that there’s a covenant with that last sign and token, yes. I keep some of those covenants just because it would seem disrespectful to divulge someone’s sacred secrets.

And no, I don’t wear the garment anymore. Why do you think God would insist on keeping husbands and wives from feeling intimate skin to skin contact while they sleep? I never noticed before how much intimacy I was missing.

14) Have there been any sins or misdeeds in your life that should have been resolved with priesthood authorities but have not been?

Mormon Me: No. Not this time, thank goodness.

Awakened Me: I haven’t done anything against the priesthood holders of the LDS church, so I don’t know of anything I need to work out with them personally.

15) Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances?

Mormon Me: Yes, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Awakened Me: Do I meet your criteria for entrance? No. Do I feel unworthy of entering? No. Would I go if you let me? Probably not. It would feel like crashing someone’s party and pissing in their pool.

Now that that’s over, have you seen The Matrix? It’s pretty thought provoking. Better than a lot of the scriptures.…

[temple recommend interview questions courtesy]

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Why I Left

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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)
  4. 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)
  5. 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.

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Executive Summary

[This was originally part of an email that I sent on 18 Jan 2007 to my family to give in a nutshell my story of awakening.]

As my children grew and started to ask questions, I knew that I would be teaching them to believe in Mormonism. This reawakened old doubts that I had been hiding from for years. I decided that I had to know for myself. I couldn’t lie to them and say that I was sure when I wasn’t. So I studied and prayed like we’ve been taught to do. My studies took me outside of the comfortable mainstream of Mormonism to faithful LDS authors who reported Mormon history as it was, not as we might wish it to be. My doubts were being confirmed rather than quieted. In the midst of this, I began to hear about some recent atheist books published partially in reaction to the religious fundamentalism which motivated the 9/11 attacks. As I heard the authors’ arguments, I experienced a radical awakening where I suddenly realized that everything that I had believed about Mormonism was the product of self-deceit. This realization, while at times frightening, brought me unexpected peace and joy.

If I must label myself now, I would say that I am ultimately agnostic, because I believe that no one (including myself) can have true certainty about anything. However, the evidence—or lack thereof—forces me to believe that there is no supreme being, lovingly intervening in our lives.

This will terrify some, I think. I would have been very worried if I heard this about someone in our family just a couple of years ago. We have come to rely on God to protect us against many frightening things. What I didn’t realize before is that it is possible to live a perfectly happy, moral life without believing in God. I am happy, contrary to what I would have expected. I want to be moral (in the broad sense, not just sexually) because of my empathy for others and because it is the path to happiness.

If Mormonism is true, then I was doing it very, very wrong. It was the source of unnecessary anxiety in my life as I tried to be obedient. I constantly worried about reaching the Celestial Kingdom. Paradoxically, the less I worried about being obedient, the happier I was. The happier I was, the more I wanted to be good and help other people. The people who are the happiest in Mormonism must either have become supremely self-disciplined or have come to terms with their own mediocrity. I never managed to do either.

My conscience began to jab me in the ribs every time I participated in the Church in a way that falsely implied that I believed. But I didn’t want to leave until I had given it my best shot to get back on the bandwagon. So I kept this change of heart secret from April of last year in the hopes that I would return to sanity and that I wouldn’t need to hurt my family. As I studied and prayed, the separation between me and God only deepened. The Scriptures where full of ideas that I found unbelievable or even repugnant. I felt like my prayers were going no further than the inside of my own skull—like they always had, now that I thought about it.

So late last year I told my wife. Things still didn’t change. So last week, I decided that enough was enough. I sent in a letter of resignation from my church callings last week. I always hated when family members weren’t active in the Church for reasons that I couldn’t really figure out. Instead of asking them what their reasons were (which I thought might be impolite because I assumed that they were ashamed of whatever reasons they may have), I played a guessing game.

I didn’t want that to happen in my case. I plan to say it loud and proud, as they say. I don’t want that silence between me and any of my family any more. So I’m leaving the Church, those are my reasons, and no, I’m not ashamed.

[And you can ask me about my reasons for leaving, if you honestly want to know.]

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When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice, because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain.
(Lectures on Faith 6:7e)

I tried very hard over the better part of the year to rebuild what has been destroyed. I liken my experience to returning home to my parents’ house after years of absence. It looks smaller and duller than I remember it. The flaws and cracks that once faded into the background of childhood familiarity are now painfully apparent. In reading the scriptures and praying, I have noticed how little I get out of the exercise. The scriptures seem rife with contradictions, immorality, and dubious teachings. I notice how my conversations in prayer have always been so one-sided. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see things the same way again.

After trying the experiment on the word for over three decades without success, it now seems reasonable for me to move on. What started as a sincere seeking for a greater connection to God has ended in a different but unexpectedly wonderful place. I am ready for the sword to fall on the ties that bind me to God and the Mormon church that we may go our separate ways.

I was a liar and a fool for professing to the world an absolute belief I didn’t really hold. I must begin to live more honestly. I must follow the truth as I have seen it, even when that leads me out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as Joseph Smith’s experience led him out of the churches of his time.

My only regret about this change is the difficulty that it will bring into the lives of my family, especially my wife, children, and parents. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (3 John 1:4) I hope that they will see that I am walking in the truth as I see it and share my joy at being reborn.

Some loving, concerned Mormons in my life will consider this a large step in the wrong direction. They will not believe that I can be truly happy without the thing that has brought them so much happiness. They will recognize the teachings of the Anti-Christ Korihor in my beliefs. (Alma 30:13–17) They will see that my story has been told with a mélange of human philosophy and scripture. They may feel like I am turning my back on them, a traitor to my family and Church, leaving to kick against the pricks and fight against the kingdom of God. (D&C 121:38) They will worry for me.

I bear no ill will toward my family or the Church. I am who I am because of my family and the Church. They are the soil in which I grew. Admittedly, denying the divinity of the Church is an attack on its central dogma. It is an inherently violent act against the Church. For those who identify themselves very closely with the Church and its teachings, it may be impossible to see any difference between an attack on the Church and a personal attack against themselves. I can do very little to help that situation. It is up to those readers to determine to avoid taking personal offense at my words. I don’t think anyone would ask me to lie about what I believe, though they might prefer that I would remain silent.

I recognize many benefits to membership in the Mormon church. Many of those who join the Church will lead better, happier lives because of it. I am happy for them. I hope however that humanity will create ways to replicate the benefits of religion without requiring us to live in the darkness of superstition.

Some Mormons will try to fit my change of heart into their world view. They will want to explain my experience in a way that deflects the threat against their beliefs. I don’t think the fit is a natural one; that’s why I am standing here, godless. Some might suspect that I was ignorant of the Church’s teachings, offended by someone within the Church, didn’t have enough friends in the church, or that I was indifferent or lazy in my commitment to the gospel. None of those are the reasons that I leave.

Others may say that I allowed myself to be seduced by falsehoods. It feels more like I was seduced by the truth. Letting go of the bogeymen in my head led me to greater peace, greater clarity, more happiness, and more power to do good. This change of heart is delicious to me.

Still others may wonder if I had a secret sin which poisoned my relationship with God. I agree without hesitation that I have committed sins in my life. Jesus himself said that none were good but God. (Matthew 19:17) No one would be members of the Church if the price of admission was sinlessness. I did my best to repent of my sins. I struggled most of my life trying to understand what exactly was expected of me in repentance. If anything, I was guilty of repenting too zealously. I was too exacting of myself. I was waiting for that confirming peace, the divine reassurance that I was right before God. No matter how hard I tried, I never received it, so I assumed that I must not have truly repented even though I confessed and forsook my sins. So I tried even harder only to be disappointed again and again.

Only after these years of struggling to work out my salvation do I see the futility of it. I thought as a believer that the teachings of Jesus were the cure for my ailments. But for me, they deepened my wounds and then offered the cure. I had to stop imagining myself in a war against Satan and his forces and hoping for the Balm of Gilead before I could find peace.

Others may say that I misunderstood and misapplied the gospel teachings. Perhaps this is true. I cannot say. But it wasn’t for lack of trying to understand and pleading with God for wisdom. (James 1:5–6) I would agree that any relationship that I had with God wasn’t real. The only relationship that I remember was with a creation of my own mind.

For some, the strange part of my story will be that it no longer concerns me much whether there is a God or not. If He is up there, I imagine Him patiently shaking his head in parental concern. He would know my situation and extend mercy to me. That is unless He’s the petty, vengeful, Old Testament sort of God. If He is, I’m in for a world of hurt when I meet with him for that final interview in the sky.

Even though my framework has changed, what I hope to do with my life hasn’t changed much. I am still guided by the same internal moral compass. While I have doubted many of its teachings through my lifetime, I have constantly believed in the practical value of living according to the Mormon ideal. Ironically, I’m living it better now than ever. There is much of great worth within Mormonism which I hope to carry with me and pass on to my children.

I continue to admire many of those who call themselves Saints, who struggle to live lives of humility and strength. I do not doubt their sincerity nor their goodness. I respect their choices as I hope that they respect mine. I walked the same path for most of my life. I am powerless to blame anyone for choosing that path. I no longer share the theology, but I share many of their ideals. I look to many people within the Church as exemplars of the kind of life I wish to live. May I become so good.

Marriage and family are still my primary concerns. My love for my wife and children continues undiminished and ever expanding. That love has become a matter of personal choice unfettered by external obligations. I serve my family because I love them, because I hope to see them happy without the worries created by heaven and hell. I will continue to work with myself to become a better husband and father.

I choose to be where I am.

I have no good reason to believe that God exists. Most everything in the world works exactly as I expect it would if there were no supreme personality intervening in our lives. After all that I have written, that is the simple reason for my change of heart, the flash of lightning which has caused me to write this.

Perhaps God, if I am wrong and He is not just my imaginary friend, will someday have mercy on His wayward son who thinks too much and respond to my seeking for truth. Until that revelatory day, I must remain true to what I know and what I see. If there is a God, I feel now more than ever that I am right before Him. My relationship with Him is exactly as it should be, given what I know. I am confident that He will accept my offering of an honest life well-lived, and that I will not seek his face in vain when this life comes to a close.

If God exists, may He correct my error. Regardless, may I find the truth and live according my conscience. May I savor each passing moment knowing of my own impermanence. May I lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. May I love my family and do my utmost to serve them in humility and love. May we be happy in spite of the suffering which life brings to us all. May I do good with the time that I have. May the truth resound from every mountain and every hill, spoken from every mouth, finding a place in our opened hearts until ignorance and superstition are cast aside as worthless dross in the loving fervor of the perfect day. That is my hope and prayer.

In Honesty, Hope, and Love,

Jonathan Blake, Heretic

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