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Burning Bosoms

I’ve been spending a good chunk of time at Clark Goble’s blog, Mormon Metaphysics. He posted about the problem of evil. I spent a little time over the past month challenging and examining some ideas that people proposed to overcome the problem of evil.

Things got more interesting (and more verbose all around) when Blake entered the fray (I believe this is Blake Ostler). The discussion has veered to the topic of the validity of “spiritual” experiences as a foundation for knowledge and a philosophical attack on naturalism.

Interesting, wide-ranging discussion.

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Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

I was assigned to babysit my little brother one day when I was a teenager. All was well until I got distracted by a neighborhood girl. While I was talking to her, my little brother had somehow gotten up the street and was playing with a neighbor’s dalmatian. The dalmatian jumped up on my brother and ripped open his cheek.

I don’t remember seeing him until he had already come back from the emergency room. I had been so oblivious of the situation that my parents found out before I did and managed to take him to the hospital without me knowing. My brother still has the scars to prove it. I still regret that I was derelict in my duty, and that my brother payed the price instead of me.

I often hear that I should leave religious beliefs alone, that I should just live and let live. I’ve already highlighted one reason why I choose not to do that. My desire to do right by my brothers and sisters is another. My love and sense of responsibility push me to share what I’ve learned.

It is strange to me that some of my religious friends would prefer that I keep to myself and allow everyone to find their own way. The Judeo-Christian scriptures are replete with injunctions against this attitude.

Cain the murderer who was cursed from the earth which received his brother’s blood was the first to espouse this callous live and let die attitude when he uttered “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Jesus gave us the parable of the good Samaritan who succored his neighbor instead of leaving him in the ditch like two pious passersby had done. Jesus also esteemed the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves as the second greatest. From the tenor of Jesus’ teachings, I’m confident that his idea of love was not a passive, warm-fuzzy feeling of endearment, but an action which demonstrated our concern for our neighbor’s wellbeing.

The Mormon scriptures tell us “it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.” (D&C 88:81)

So why shouldn’t I warn my neighbors?

To be fair, I think most who tell me to leave well enough alone see what I say as destructive, not constructive. To them it seems that I am tearing down something good and dear to the believer. I see it differently. I must be completely honest about how I feel in order to show why I feel the need to warn my brothers and sisters.

Religion is a vapor of darkness which blinds our eyes and binds us down to the foolish traditions of our ancestors. It is a collection of the ideas of fallible men mingled with ancient scripture. It is a collection of half-truths and obfuscated wisdom which has outlived the peak of its usefulness. It feels good, so we don’t question its foundations. It is often the tool of the powerful to control the powerless, to lull them into complacency. Promises of rewards in heaven keep us from acting against the injustices in the only life we know that we have. It destroys our natural propensity to think and ask questions. It causes good people to do evil things. It diverts our energy and our resources from more useful efforts. Whatever benefits we derive from religion can be replaced by less destructive methods.

You may disagree, but if you try to step into my shoes for a moment, I think you’ll agree. If this is how I truly feel, then I would be a schmuck if I kept to myself.

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This Penn Believes

[Believing there is no God] informs every moment of my life. I’m not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I’m raising now is enough that I don’t need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day. (This I Believe by Penn Jillette)

I heard this essay on NPR months ago and enjoyed Penn’s clear, straightforward explanation of humanism (even though he never uses that word). It’s a good Sunday sermon to remind me why it’s good to be godless.

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Mormon Missionary: Brother Blake, I testify to you that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, that he translated the Book of Mormon from the records of the ancient Americans—

Me: Wait, wait. How do you know that?

Missionary: I studied the Book of Mormon, and I asked God in prayer whether it was true. Heavenly Father answered my prayers through the Holy Ghost. I felt a great peace that assured me that the Book of Mormon was true.

Me: How do you know that your feelings of peace were God telling you about the Book of Mormon?

Missionary: In D&C 9:8 and Alma 32:28, God tells us that he will enlighten our understanding and cause our hearts to burn when we learn the truth. I have felt that peace.

Me: How do you know that those verses are telling you the truth, that feelings of peace and elevation are the Holy Spirit communicating with you?

Missionary: Well, I prayed about it and—

Me: You’re going in circles.

Missionary: I just know that what I’m teaching you is true. If you pray as I did, you can know, too.

Me: You’re avoiding my question. How do you know? If it’s just a matter of feeling that something is true, then how do you know that your feelings are more reliable than another person’s feelings? If I too feel that I know the truth, how do you know that I’m wrong?

Missionary: The Holy Spirit may testify of the portion of the truth that you have. If someone honestly listens to the Gospel’s message and the Spirit testifies to them, they will know that Mormonism contains the full truth, not just a portion of the truth. When the Holy Spirit testified to me, it removed all of my doubts. I am certain that the Gospel as restored by Joseph Smith is true.

Me: You’re still just saying that you know something because you feel like it’s true, and you’re still avoiding the question. How do you know that others’ religious experiences which lead them to follow Islam or Buddhism are less valid than yours?

Missionary: The Gospel is a matter of faith. You have to place your trust in God and he will tell you the truth.

Me: So you don’t really know then. You have faith. You have a belief, a belief that isn’t fully justified by objective evidence. Your belief is based on a wholly private, subjective experience. Why don’t you just say that you believe then? Wouldn’t that be more honest? Stop saying that you know something when you don’t.

Missionary: If you take the leap of faith, then you can later come to have knowledge of the Gospel’s truth. It wouldn’t be faith anymore.

Me: How would I know? Feelings?

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Oasis Mailbag: How Do I Tell My Wife That I Don’t Believe Anymore?

The following message (along with the others that I’ve received) makes me really happy that I created the contact form. Can you help Eric out? I think it would help to hear from both sides of this situation. He writes:


I recently stumbled across the link to your blog on the Letters From a Broad site. I immediately paid attention because your philosophical musings and search for meaning post-Mormonism almost exactly mirror my own. You also have a wonderful talent for writing about them, which makes your posts a real joy to read.

Another way in which we are similar is the family heartache our recent ”change of mind“ causes our families. The difference is, I haven’t told my family yet, not even my wife. I realized about two years ago that Mormonism is not true and went through a gradual process of redefining my beliefs, first as a deist, then a hopeful agnostic, and finally (as of this writing!) an agnostic atheist. I was at BYU earning a degree in geology and could not rationalize my religion to make room for the scientific method. Like you, I find inspiration and solace in science and philosophy, and in the innumerable spontaneous moments of joy spent with my children or in nature.

The reason I am writing is because I just read your wife’s post about when you broke the news to her, and the lengthly comments that followed. You see, sooner or later I have to break the news to my own faithful, believing wife. I want this experience to be as painless as possible and am concerned, as you were, of the possibility of divorce or lasting anger. I seriously believe our relationship and her compassion are strong enough to survive, but I need to choose the right time and place.

We are living with our two children in [Outer Darkness] right now and will be here for another 3 1/2 months. Before coming, I told myself I would tell her after we returned home. I didn’t want to make an already difficult ordeal even more difficult, especially since she would be cut off from her support network (mother, sister, and ward family). Lately, however, I have been overwhelmed with a desire to finally come out of the closet and stop hiding the most real part of me of me from the people that matter most. I have so many thoughts I want to share on my blog, but I need them to hear it from me before they stumble across it on my blog. (I briefly—for about 1.5 seconds—considered making another blog for these thoughts and not sharing it with them, but that reeks of the same “double life” crap I am trying to leave behind now.)

I was contemplating telling her a couple of weeks from now (while still in [Outer Darkness]), but when I read your wife’s post I stopped. If her pain and anger will be anything like those your wife experienced, I would rather her be home with her support group—as I will likely not be part of it for a while. The flip side of this is that if the support group is persuasive, it could lead her away from me and even closer to orthodoxy. In [Outer Darkness], at least, there is a chance we could rebuild our relationship from the ground up in love and trust, together.

After all you have been through with Lacey, do either of you have any advice for me at this stage in my journey away from Mormonism? I need to know how to minimize the suffering of my wife (and our possibility of estrangement or divorce), while at the same time allowing for my own freedom and growth.

Feel free to post any or all of this letter on your site, if you like. I am not interested in remaining anonymous. I can’t post these thoughts on my own blog just yet, so I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.


Eric, I hope you won’t mind that I have redacted your message slightly to preserve your anonymity just a while longer. If you really want to out yourself, you can do so in the comments.

Let me gather my thoughts which I’ll post in the comments later. Actual employment is calling. Have to pay the bills somehow! :)

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