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What Is Real?

When I was very young, not even in school, a recurring nightmare troubled my sleep. A wolf with demonic eyes would stand on its hind legs and chase me relentlessly. I still feel the shadow of fear to this day when I think about it.

I shared my nightmares with my mother. She suggested that I pray about it, asking Heavenly Father to remove the nightmares. I prayed as she suggested, and the nightmares went away. I felt comforted that God was answering my prayers.

I now sit in church meetings as an outside observer. I often ponder on what brings people to sit in church for three hours on a Sunday. There must be some real benefits to induce them. What is real about the religious experience despite the unreality of God?

Comfort is one answer. There is real comfort available in religion. I received comfort when I prayed that my nightmares would end. Mourners receive real comfort when they imagine their deceased loved ones received into a paradisaical afterlife where they in turn will meet their dead when their time comes. It is reassuring to believe that an all-powerful being is directing our lives for our good.

Community is another answer. We flock with birds of a feather. Religion brings like-minded people together on a regular basis and encourages them to become a community. Human beings are communal creatures, and religion helps to fulfill our need to feel connected with others.

Transcendent experiences are a third answer. Adherents of religions throughout the world have real experiences involving overwhelming peace and a sense of connection and transcendence. These experiences fulfill our innate need to find a greater meaning for our life than brute survival and reproduction.

Answers to our questions are yet another benefit of religion. Curious by nature, we hate not knowing the answer to a question. Real, truthful answers are hard to come by, but we can be sated with answers that have the semblance of reality. Why does the universe exist? No one rightly knows, but it’s nice to have an answer that assuages our curiosity as long as we don’t scrutinize it too closely.

Direction is the final answer that I will mention. Without goals to work toward, life becomes a tedium of recurring cycles without end. Without purpose, we languish in a meandering existence that goes nowhere in particular. If our life doesn’t serve a greater purpose, then why live at all? Religion gives us ready-made goals to work for. We don’t have to scrounge around for our own.

Religion provides real benefits irrespective of the truthfulness of its claims. The faithful often cite these benefits as evidence in favor of those claims. A placebo has no curative benefit beyond the patient’s belief therein. The benefits of religion cannot easily be ascribed to the existence of deity. Perhaps belief in something—any plausible lie—will do.

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The Love of God

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Thou Shalt Kill

Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood…
Matthew 26:26–28

Did Jesus not command us to kill him? To break his body and drink his blood? He commanded us to take and bind him, scourge him, and ultimately crucify him. He went to the cross willingly so that we could find nourishment in pieces of his rent flesh and spilt blood. His corpse was the bread of life and the fountain of living waters. We locked his body in the tomb of our churches, thinking to reverence it. His truth defied the sepulcher of our reverence. He rose on the third day, free from the prison of our pallid devotion. If we look for Jesus in the tomb of our faith, we should expect to hear the answer which mocks our pride “He is not here, for he is risen.”

It is only in his death that we find salvation from error and deceit. The truth is not in our books, doctrines, myths, sacraments, beliefs, ordinances, rites, dogmas, idols, commandments, or beliefs. The truth is too large for them to contain it. It is the sweet aroma which escapes from their dead bodies. Our Jesus-shaped idols will not answer our prayers. Jesus demands that we kill him that we may gain life. He that loves Jesus’ life shall lose it. He that hates Jesus’ life shall gain eternal life.

Only one Apostle had ears to hear His words. Only one Apostle had the courage to follow the commandments of his Lord. Only his most beloved Apostle loved Jesus enough to set him free.

Kill God. Lay him on the altar. Stay not the blade that ends the innocent life. Let the burnt offering send a sweet savor up to the empty heavens. Consume the offering of Jonah’s flesh and blood. Digest him in the depths of your belly bringing health to your navel and marrow to your bones. Make his carcass live again in the temple of your own body and blood. Bid all saints to come forth from the grave and walk among the living, rejoicing in the deliverance of the tyrant Jesus crucified. Proclaim to the world “God is dead! I am become God!”

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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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