Saturday, January 29, 2011

Quick! Change the channel

When I watch TV, I'll admit, I am a channel changer. I am not the obnoxious kind (in my opinion anyway) that will change the channel while the show is still in progress, no, I hate commercials and will change the channel whenever commercials come on. When I realize commercials are on, I will flip through the guide and see if there is something else on that I want to watch while the commercials are on. After a little while, when I think my previous show might be back on, I will flip back to continue watching what I was before. Of course, DVR has helped with this quite a bit.

I have two thoughts about this. 1. When I watch TV sometimes (well, OK, usually) I am not fully present (however, this occurs much less now than it used to). I know that I am not fully present when I do not even realize that commercials have come on. I originally did not want to focus on not being fully present in this post, but my thought about it is that many people spend much of their lives not being fully present. I know when I was at church I was not usually fully present. If someone were to ask me what all was said in a sacrament meeting, I usually would not be able to tell you very much. I might be able to just convey the basic ideas I got out of it, but, by and large, I could not give a full account of what was said. After all, it is the same old stuff, all the time. Sound bite after sound bite of faithful blather is all you ever get at church. Deep thinking and discovery seem, to me, to be discouraged. Since I have awakened to the reality of what the church did to me, I am more present than ever. Words now mean things to me and I can recall with much more clarity everything that is said. I am more present because I am allowed to freely think about things, process them and draw my own conclusions. It sounds terrible, but I really didn't think very much for myself as a believing member of the church. In the church, the thinking has been done for you. Thinking was not required, so, I always had an excuse for not thinking. And, even though I was not fully aware of it, I liberally applied that excuse.

My second thought is about about channel changing. 2. When I change the channel, I am looking for something else. Something else that is more interesting than a commercial. I think there is something similar in our cognitive process, which we experience when we think, to changing the channel. The difference is that when I change the channel on TV to avoid the commercials, this is a passive process and I am only doing so to avoid a little discomfort (the subjecting of myself to advertising messages or poor quality television). When it is done in the mind concerning perceptions of reality, it is to avoid very real discomfort that the mind actually can not handle if the thought is dwelt on for too long. The signs of this are depression and a feeling of helplessness - at least unless and until the contradictory thought can be fully dealt with or dispelled. Sometimes we are under the illusion that we have dispelled all of our cognitive discomfort (or dissonance) but usually, at least in my opinion, if we are seeking to maintain a paradigm of thought at all costs, regardless of the discomfort it causes, we will only experience further symptoms.

Examples of changing the channel when cognitive dissonance is encountered in the church or its teachings include;

- Doing more of the stuff you think you are supposed to be doing to help dispel contradictory thoughts (e.g. home/visiting teaching, reading scriptures or conference addresses, saying prayers, devoting more time to callings, etc.) The thinking goes along the lines of; Satan must be putting these thoughts in my head to lead me astray, so I should do more to make sure I am holding fast to the iron rod so I can't be led astray.

- Personally attacking the person who is asking the question, or causing the uncomfortable thought to present itself. People who create cognitive dissonance in believing members of the church (and there are some of us who enjoy doing so ;), at least when they push the issue, are very frequently labeled as stirring up contention, being of the devil or angry. All of these essentially amount to personal attacks of the individual asking the questions of the believer. It is difficult for me to not be perceived as being angry when I am being personally attacked and put down, though.

- Thinking about something you have experienced in your life that you believe was proof of the principle in question (e.g. thinking about anytime something good happened when you paid your tithing or when you imagined that you felt the spirit really strong, etc.). Which leads to...

- Feeling the need to bear testimony of the topic or question. (Basically pronounce the truth of something without having to actually deal with the ramifications of it or think about it too much) This tactic is extremely popular in LDS circles.

I know there have been times that I have been engaged in a discussion (or a thought pattern) and will find myself jumping around in thought and argument looking for some place more comfortable. I know that when I believed in the church, and I actually was thinking, I did this quite a bit. The real awakening occurred for me when I had no where else to jump to for comfort (or to ease the cognitive dissonance) when thinking about what the church taught and what it must mean.

The problem is, many people do not recognize when they are doing this. If you had attempted to point out my jumping ways when I was a believer, I would have attacked you for accusing me of doing such a thing (usually via an ad hominem - or personal attack) because to point out such a thing would have been perceived to be a personal attack on me. However, anyone who accused me of doing such a thing would have been correct, I was just not ready or willing to hear it. To respond, I would have said things to point out some weakness in the character of the person that I have observed. I might have accused a person of being mentally unstable, or of being possessed by the adversary. I would have probably attacked something they have said that they believe or bring up some past action that was obviously a mistake and dwell on that to discount any point you may be making as having credibility. I might have even made such a personal attack out loud, but I would definitely be thinking it, which is another form of jumping away from the uncomfortable thought. I am much less inclined to engage in such personal attacks now, but it causes me to wonder how to prevent people from seeing such an observation (as mentally changing the channel on an idea) as a personal attack. I don't know if it is possible in many cases.

An example of changing the channel for me was when I encountered the question I asked myself, "Why does the Book of Mormon directly contradict statements found in the Doctrine and Covenants? (Like the teaching on Polygamy: The Book of Mormon says that David and Solomon's polygamy was abominable, but D&C 132 says it was condoned by The Lord) When I first endeavored to answer this question, I would not stay on point with an answer to address the contradiction directly. To do so would have been to say that either the Book of Mormon or Doctrine & Covenants must be wrong (or that God or Joseph Smith changed their mind). Rather, I would change the channel and jump to some excuse or try to find some loophole that could possibly explain the discrepancy.

One response to this particular question is that the Book of Mormon goes on to say that if the Lord decides polygamy is the way to go, he'll then condone it. Even though this point could possibly be considered, it declares that polygamy is definitely an eternal principle with God (and all that this means) and, it begs the question, does the Lord change his mind on polygamy then and what is it that causes him to say it's ok for some but not ok for others? Answers to these questions needed to be answered for me to experience congruence on the question of polygamy (and the apparent contradiction), but neither can be answered with any certainty by church leaders or correlated publications. I had to say "I don't know" the answer to either question. This either meant it was not important (if it was not important then why am I giving so much of my time to the group that is proclaiming such things?) or not necessary for me to know. Neither conclusion satisfied me.

It is rather easy to jump away from a specific question at hand (and not deal with the particular ramifications of it), when you have trained yourself to do it, but, I do not think it is healthy. I think, done too much, this sort of jumping around to find something to latch on to, to preserve our foregone conclusion (or faith), only creates dis-ease or neglect in other areas of our mental lives. However, I am not prepared to say that believers are unhealthy, because I think this is impossible to say for certain in all cases, but I can point to findings that make it easy to conclude that Utahns are more depressed than the rest of the country and commit suicide in larger numbers than anywhere else in the country.

So what is it that causes us to jump away from things, or change the channel of thought in our mind, and why is it so hard for some to recognize that they are engaging in this behavior?

I think what causes us to jump in thought from one thing to another is mental conditioning that we perfect throughout our lives to maintain our belief structure. We become experts at avoiding having to address the question at hand (that contradicts our belief structure in some way) in our thoughts, by jumping to the next topic. This is actually kind of amusing to witness, when one is aware of what is going on. It happens with frequency in LDS sunday school. The teacher or participant may pose a question that could be considered a contradiction to doctrine or difficult thing to answer because it would require speculation in addition to what is actually printed in the correlated manual.

I experienced this first hand one time when, during a lesson on early church history, the teacher asked why Joseph might have experienced so much persecution. Of course, I was thinking that all his persecution was mostly made up when he claimed to experience it early on, but, if he did actually experience any real persecution, maybe it was because he was generally regarded by his community as a charlatan, and was even convicted in a court of law for scamming people. I decided to actually voice my thought in class that perhaps the reason Joseph claimed to experience such persecution is because he was convicted in a court of law for being who people claimed he was. The channel changing that ensued after I made my comment was incredible to behold. One person claimed that everybody that accused Joseph of such activities was falsely accusing him. One person claimed that his good works far outweighed anything bad that people perceived he might have done and another went on to say that it was his treasure seeking that enabled to him to believe that he could be led to the golden plates.

All of these answers were a form of changing the channel to deal with my comment. Nobody wants to dwell too long on the fact that after Joseph Smith claimed to have seen God and Jesus that he engaged in the practice of acting as a seer for people who were seeking buried treasure. This thought is just too painful because it might call into question the kind of person Joseph Smith was and might cause us to ask, did he really see what he claimed to see or was he a confidence man (or con artist)? This question is much too painful, so we need to quickly change the channel and either bear our testimony of the divinity of Joseph's calling as prophet of the restoration or move on in some other way.

I have gone on long enough. Go ahead and change the channel now. May we all find comfort in our thoughts and may they be cognitively congruent. In the name of cheese and rice, Amen.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Judge Not

I have been thinking recently about the concept of judging others. It seems we hear very often that we should love the sinner and hate the sin. My question is, how is this possible? I know that I can be very judgmental. However, now that I have come to see things the way that I do, I am much more considerate and lenient when it comes to judging those outside the church, but I am more harsh than ever in judging those in the church.

I think I have a hard time being able to judge a behavior as bad while not simultaneously, in some far reaching place in my mind, also judge the person engaging in the behavior as bad. For example, I don't think I could sit in front of a person who had earned some form of recognition, who I know had also killed a person, and not think of them as anything other than a murderer, no matter how great the accomplishment. Supposedly, I am told, I must look not on the behavior, but I must look at the individual, somehow, as separate from the behavior that I have come to identify as being what that person represents.

We can only form opinions (judgments) about people based on their behavior. Even if we hold as a core value that everyone is pure and wholesome and perfect in their nature, until their behavior proves to us that they are otherwise, the behavior will inevitably lead us to a determination of the kind of person we think they are. Character is a word that comes to mind. A person's character is not determined by what they aspire to be or intend to be, but rather what they actually do. Character cannot be changed by simply wishing it were so. Character can only be changed based on behavior over time. It is also important to note that a person's character cannot be adequately determined by one action alone, but it can only be fairly gaged by consistent behavior over time.

This is what is known as giving people the benefit of the doubt. The doubt that is created when we only have one action to base a judgment of someone's character on is fair and justified, but extremely difficult to rely on when it is all we have. I can't be expected to be able to say that someone is not a liar if they have only told me one thing and it was a lie. The reality is, I don't think I can ever think of that person as anything other than a liar.

It seems to me that those that believe the bible, and what religions teach people nowadays, are stuck between a figurative rock and hard place when it comes to judging others. On the one hand we are told that we should judge not, but on the other hand we are told that God will judge everyone for their behavior (because God is somehow entitled where we are not) and that judgment will be swift, powerful and final. It's a way of saying that I can't judge you but just wait until my sky daddy gets his hands on're gonna get it! (spoken in my best childlike tattle-tale voice)

So, when I was in grade school I remember the conversations children had about how they may not be able to beat someone up, but they would follow up that acknowledgment with some veiled threat about how their dad (or older brother) could beat them up, or that their dad could beat up the other kid's dad. I'm sure I engaged in some of this myself, and I'm pretty sure that there was no way I was not judging what the other person was doing as wrong (that made me want to beat them up) even though I acknowledged that I wasn't capable of carrying out my judgment myself. My point is that it is literally impossible to not be judging someone when you know someone else will, at some point, be that person's judge. Especially when you believe that their perfect judgment will be right in line with how you would judge. How is this not judging again? I literally think it is impossible to on one hand claim that there will be a judgment (that will be perfectly aligned with your judgment of the person) and at the same time honestly acknowledge that you are not judging. I'm sorry, but anytime we honestly feel that someone will be judged by another party (whether it be a judge in a court of law or the final judgment bar in heaven) it is because we have already judged them ourselves. In fact, some people can't ever overcome their judgment of people even when a court of law sees things differently than they do. We are human and judgment is part of our least I used to think so.

When I believed in a final judgment and execution of God's law upon mankind for their misdeeds (whenever that could take place), I felt like things could ultimately be made right in the world and my feelings, knowledge, beliefs would one day be vindicated. Those suckas gonna get that cap popped in tha shiz so they betta watch out mutha shukka, my sky daddy gonna be the poppa and youz gonna get pwned! Even though I obviously wouldn't say that (cuz I don't talk like that) I am most certainly thinking it. How can I be thinking this on the one hand and on the other hand actually be living the commandment to not judge again? I literally think it is impossible.

Thinking about that, let's contrast to how I feel now. If I remove the belief in a final judgment and God's execution of it. How do I now see others? Especially if I have taken off the pair of spectacles, I used to see the world through, that said I had all of those laws and rules that the judgment was going to be based on in my understanding. If there is no judgment in the next life, the only judgment is my judgment right here, right now. I realize that I am certainly not qualified to be a lawgiver or adequate judge, so I understand that my judgment may not be just. Everybody has the benefit of the doubt, because I am not as certain as I used to be in the existence of the final judgment and that I have all the knowledge of what behavior will be judged favorably or harshly. Then the only question I need to ask is, "What is my judgment based on?" My judgment is only based on what I perceive to be best based on my situation and understanding. If I don't have a full understanding of all the circumstances surrounding a person's behavior, they are always entitled to the benefit of the doubt. It is much easier to give knowing that I am not absolutely 100% correct in my beliefs about what God has said everyone should and should not do. Taking that away makes me much more patient and understanding with those who do things I may disagree with.

The problem I now face is that I am pretty harsh on people who continue to profess belief in the church. I think it is because I used to be where they are and I have come to despise the person I used to be. I was a good person, sure, but I saw everyone else as evil to one degree or another. I do not like that I felt that way. Of course, I understand that I may have just been brought up with some crazy ideas about how to look on others, but I do not see how I could have come to any different conclusion being convinced that God is real, that God has given us laws to keep, and that God will ultimately judge us for breaking those laws. How could I have come to any different conclusion based on those teachings being my reality? Sure, I was given a commandment as part of that set of teachings to not judge others, but it is a contradiction. I could not possibly avoid judging others (for doing what I knew to be wrong) knowing that it IS wrong and God will judge for it.

I guess someone could say, "Well, you are forgetting about the atonement." My responses are, 1) The atonement and repentance does not negate the fact that the behavior is wrong and 2) Since repentance is a personal thing, I have no idea whether or not the necessary steps have been accomplished (to fully satisfy God's requirements) and that the repentance has actually taken place. Not knowing this puts me back in a place of not knowing anything except what I know to be wrong. I propose that no amount of commandments to judge not or principles of correct judgment (such as the golden rule) can ever make up for the tainting of my ability to judge by the purported knowledge that a judgment will take place. As long as that belief is in place (that I have God's laws of judgment in my possession),

As long as belief in God, and judgment, is maintained, as an absolute, I am not truly capable of removing judgment of others from my mind. No matter how hard I try to forget or ignore or deny it, the laws are still there and they have still been broken. Even though I am not the final judge, I can only assume that a perfect judge would have to see things according to the laws I have been given (which I "know" are God's perfect laws). Absent a doubt in my belief that I have God's perfect laws of judgment in my possession, I cannot fully live the commandment to not judge others. The only way to possibly not be able to judge others is to allow the doubt about my awareness of God's perfect laws to creep in. Only then can I be fully capable of withholding judgment of others. The problem is, doubt is discouraged with almost as equal vigor that the commandment to not judge is proclaimed. This creates cognitive discomfort (dissonance) because it is not possible to hold both ideas as true simultaneously. It is either the case that God's law is known absolutely (and we must keep it and those that don't are in violation and will reap His judgment) or that we must not judge because God's laws (rules) are not fully known to us.

Of course, we have to give the benefit of the doubt to those that are not fully aware of God's laws, but two facts remain. 1) They are still breaking the laws. Ignorance of the law is no excuse when it comes being judged for breaking the law and 2) They, at some point will be fully made aware of the laws they have broken and will have to be held accountable at that time. A scripture about sin and God looking at it with the least degree of allowance comes to mind.

I really can't think of any way to get around the tendency to judge being directly correlated to one's certainty of their knowledge of the truth that they claim to have. If anyone has any thoughts on how to overcome this correlation directly I am all ears. Just try not to judge me and what I stand for unless and until you have walked a mile in my shoes, regardless of what you claim to know about what is absolutely right and wrong for people to do in this life. That's the problem, you can't have it both ways. And that is why a civil conversation is not possible with some people...because they keep thinking the whole time you are talking..."My sky daddy's gonna get you good sooner or later so you betta watch out sucka". I think this clouds peoples' ability to judge (or not judge).

Rocket man

It is funny, and sad, to me that all sorts of labels about the kind of person I must be, get applied to me by those inside the church because I am perceived to be a person who is breaking God's rules. These labels are often applied in secret, in the mind of the believer, but every once in a while they bubble to the surface and come out. Because these labels are in the form of metaphors that have been created by the church leaders (and scriptures) that people have been told should be applied to those that seriously question or leave the church, these labels and metaphors are believed to be absolutely true regardless how much the non-believer says it is not so. These metaphors were created and designed to keep people from exploring alternative paths or explanations for things we know about the world around us. These metaphorical labels are supposed to be applied to the ones who break the rules.

For example, the result of these metaphorical labels cause people in the church, who are made aware of where I am at, that read the stuff I write (if any ever do) to think that I am trying to recruit them to worship Satan (or some hidden leader of some cult), or pull them into the mists of darkness since I have let go of the iron rod, or that I am possessed by demons and don't realize it, that I am in chains and enslaved by the darkness, bound by Satan's flaxen cords, or that I am treading water, just about to drown in the depths of despair. None of these is accurate and I cannot relate to any of them. The amazing thing is, no matter how much I tell these people, that say or believe such things, that they are not true, they never believe me and insist that I am wrong no matter how vehemently I deny that what they are describing is true. It is all according to their paradigm that I cannot persuade them to change.

On the contrary, I do not feel the need to worship anything nor do I really (except maybe all of life around me and the wonder of the natural world). I am not in darkness, but basking in the light of objective truth. I am not possessed, but feel more in control of my thoughts and feelings than I have ever been. I do not feel enslaved in the least bit, but am freer than I have ever been to pursue whatever path I desire, without fear that I will somehow become someone's tool...because I am not gullible (not as much as I used to be anyway) and do not fall for things so easily any more. I do not feel like I am treading water, but I feel more aware of my surroundings and circumstances and know that I am in charge of where I stand. I am not in some ocean or imaginary depth of darkness that I am hanging on the edge of just about to fall and drown in the abyss, but I am standing on solid earth and see my actual circumstances based on the real world, not an imaginary hereafter.

No matter how much believers will tell you otherwise, I am sincere in my questions and believe in what I actually KNOW to be true now (on the basis of evidence that can be proven that can stand up to any scrutiny). These include the fact that I am alive. I have situations I encounter on a daily basis that I can identify with because of my senses, and I am aware of them. All indications are that I am an individual being surrounded by other beings like me who also find themselves in a similar situation. I am a being that enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the world around me. I must breath oxygen in order to be able to survive. Oxygen that is produced by the plants I live amongst. I must drink water which is found in abundance only here on this planet (at least that is reachable via present means of travel). I must eat food that can only be obtained from plants or the animals around me.

To the contrary, the only evidence people can offer for the hereafter is that some ancient book(s) say so or because they think they feel it or someone claims they know. Not only that, but the ultimate test of truthfulness of the book(s), that tell us about the hereafter, is encouraged to be determined by a means that cannot be shown to be relied on 100% of the time (i.e. emotional feeling, burning in the bosom or whatever you want to call it).

For example, you may say that you feel that feeling (that you have come to identify for yourself as the evidence of the truth of what you believe to be true) when you hear or read something that stirs this emotion/feeling in you. If one person who has heard or read the exact same thing does not feel the exact same way when reading or hearing that teaching, then there is doubt about either the truthfulness of the thing claimed to be true or doubt in the test being used to determine truth. End of story. If it is not a universal experience, meaning that everyone experiences the same thing every single time the true thing is read or heard, it cannot be a valid test of truth. It can only be according to your personal experience and nothing more. This kind of test is a subjective measurement and cannot be proven to be true in anything other than a subjective circumstance.

An example for this comes to me from Disneyland. I love Disneyland. Disneyland used to have an attraction called "Mission to Mars". Just like Mission to Mars, if I claimed to have built a rocket ship that could take people to the moon and back in a very short time, people may actually have to decide at some point if I was for real. Once people entered my rocket ship they would be introduced to a screen that showed them what is happening outside so they can see how far they are traveling and get their bearings as to where they are on the journey. The people in the rocket ship would feel the force exerted from the launch, and even feel weightless while they think they are in space (something that even the Disney imagineers were not able to accomplish). When the journey is over, people would exit the craft convinced that they have actually traveled to the moon and back in about 5 minutes. It would be quite an astounding thing. The traveler would be amazed at their fortune of having experienced such an incredible journey.

Unfortunately, if you were to ask someone who was standing outside the craft what they saw, they would tell you that you never left the ground. What are we to believe? We should obviously believe that the person actually went to the moon and back, right? Nope, sorry. No matter how strong the conviction of the person who says they went to the moon and how strong their feeling was of belief in the reality of the journey, it simply did not not happen for real. It was all a show made possible because of theatrical and special effects designed to trick the senses into believing the journey actually took place.

So someone comes to me who has been on my rocket ship ride and wants to nominate me for the Nobel prize for science for creating such a marvelous transport vehicle. How should the Nobel committee respond? I think they should only listen to all the people who went on the journey and take their word for it that it was real. They would believe it was real, so we should just accept that the journey actually took place. What if those people who had been on the journey got together and formed a society of fast space travelers? What if they held weekly meetings and got up in these meetings to tell of their experiences and were encouraged to say that they "know" the journey was real (while ignoring anyone who "claims" that they didn't see the rocket ever leave the ground)?

What if everyone was encouraged to include details about how it was so real for them? Others, who had never been on the journey, would be encouraged to come to their meetings if they couldn't yet go on the journey themselves. Newcomers would be told to come and listen about the journey but, until they could experience it first hand, they would just have to settle for relying on the testimony of those who had been on the journey. Eventually, however, newcomers who could not afford to travel to take my amazing rocket ship ride, would be encouraged to bear their testimony since, after all, one can only know the truth of the journey through sharing details of the journey with others. Eventually it all gets out of hand.

Fortunately, we have the ability as humans to deduce (to varying degrees, of course) what is real and what is imaginary or fake. The rocket ship ride is really a fake, but what about things that are not so easy to determine the reality of? What if evidence has been systematically hidden over time or covered up to create an illusion that is declared to be reality. How could we discover what it really is? I guess we would start by looking at what witnesses to the events have to say. Was there anyone standing outside the rocket ship to see if it really left the ground? Are there scientists who have utilized scientific methods and peer review to come to relatively objective conclusions (that are independent of, and objective about, what the rocket ship travelers are claiming)?

What do scholars say about the Egyptian symbols printed in the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham (where actual Egyptian hieroglyphs are shown in the picture itself)? Do they agree with Joseph Smith's interpretation? Why not? Who is to be believed? One man who looked at a rock in his hat to "divine" the truth of all these things or a large group of scholars who have labored many years to be able to piece together the meaning of the Egyptian language based on numerous archaeological digs, papyrus discoveries and thorough diligent research that is constantly being updated and shown to give a more accurate picture of life in Egypt a few thousand years ago? I don't know about you, but I choose to place much more faith and reliance in the findings of credible scientists and researchers and scholars than one man who claimed to be able to see things via a stone in his hat.

How would I be regarded if I got up to announce to the world that my rocket ship was a "real" journey and there was nothing fake about it? What if I charged a $1000 per person to ride because I said the fuel was very expensive for the journey? No matter how much I labored to convince people that my ship was taking them on an actual journey, the fact would remain that it was not. I'm sorry to say to all of my friends who are believers in the complete truthfulness of the LDS church, it is not what they have told you it is. I am a witness of this. Will you listen to what I have to say?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Why I don't believe in God (Long Answer)

Someone recently asked me why I consider the possibility that there is no God. Here is my answer;

I consider the possibility that there is no God because I do not believe He has ever spoken to me. I suppose a little background information is in order. I had an experience that taught me an important lesson in discerning least I thought that's what the lesson was. When I was 18 years old I was extremely devout. I was working framing houses to earn money for my mission. I prayed every night and routinely sought answers to my prayers. I would spend much time on my knees pouring out my heart to God. As everyone experiences, I'm sure, I struggled with trying to come up with new things to say to God and trying to not get in any ruts. Of course, as hard as I tried, I still failed at this. However, I had learned to take time after I finished my prayers and really listen for what God wanted me to know. When I didn't really get anything clear that I could count as an answer, I started just speaking what I thought God would be saying to me if He were answering my prayers. I figured it was like being the voice in a priesthood blessing, where if you just start speaking, the Lord would fill me with what needed to be said/heard. I became pretty adept at thinking of all these answers that God was giving me, through my created thoughts of words in my mind. Usually the words came through as messages of love and support and reminders about how special I was. Then I might receive some counsel or instruction on something that was weighing on my mind. Usually these answers were pretty ambiguous and didn't really mean much (it seems God had a problem with avoiding the ruts in coming up with things to tell me as well). These answers really made me feel better about myself and the time that I had spent on my knees.

Well, one time I was going through the usual routine of saying my prayers and just beginning to start speaking the words I thought God wanted me to hear in my mind, when I really desired to know something that I didn't already know. I wanted to test out this ability of mine to hear the words the Lord had for me and receive an unambiguous confirmation that these words were coming from an outside source that was not just my imagination. Then the answer came. The revelation I received on one night in particular was something that I did not already know that was pretty definitely true or not true. The answer I got was that the living president of the LDS church (Ezra Taft Benson at the time) had passed away that evening. It was pretty common knowledge that he was getting pretty old and frail, but this was special knowledge given just to me. I went on to enjoy the most spiritual experience as I thought that the Spirit went on to elaborate for me how the prophet had a special message to me from him (Ezra) and the Lord. I was told that I was being given this information because of my faithfulness and because I truly desired to know. I felt like the prophet spoke directly to me that night and even though it was a sad event, I was very comforted by the touching gesture of communicating directly to me and I felt very special and it was a very moving and emotional experience for me.

Well, I'm sure you can probably guess what happened. The next day I was riding with my boss to work and I asked him if he had heard anything about the prophet recently passing away (my boss was LDS as well). He said he hadn't heard anything but would turn on the news to see if any announcement was made (usually the passing of the leader of the LDS church is pretty newsworthy - even in Oregon). Then he inquired of me why I asked. I went on to tell him that I had a very special experience the night before wherein I was comforted after I was made aware the prophet had recently passed away.

Just to be clear, this experience was like every other session after my prayers wherein I truly believed I was getting answers from my Father in Heaven about things that were important and that I believed I needed to hear and was receiving from the Spirit directly from Him to me.

Days passed and still no word on the prophet's passing. I think it was almost a year and a half later before President Benson actually did pass away. He spoke in at least a few general conferences after I had that experience.

Needless to say, I was very concerned about this experience that I had. I asked God what was up and I never really did receive a clear answer. The best I could come up with was that sometimes God tests us for possibly unknown reasons or that, like some have said, sometimes the devil can come to us as an angel of light and deceive us. The problems I had with both of those explanations (which have now become absolutely clear to me) is that in the first case God deliberately deceived me and if the second explanation is correct, then God allowed me to be deceived by the adversary (and not just through tempting thoughts, but directly through communication I believed I was having with God). Neither conclusion is at all comforting.

Anyway, reflecting on that experience was one of the straws that broke the camels back as far as my belief in God is concerned (at least that he actually answers my prayers or endeavors to speak to me. However, that realization did not come until 20 years after it happened).

Another reason I don't believe in God is really pretty simple. I can't relate to Him. I just don't understand how a God who we are taught loves us and is mindful of all of his children allows so much pain and suffering in this world. We are very fortunate to live in a country with so much prosperity and modern convenience, but much of the world is not so lucky. In Africa there are routine raids of tribal villages wherein the inhabitants are subject to having their hands cut off, women raped and children abducted to be drafted into the invading militia’s army. They teach these young boys to wield guns and actually brutally kill others while getting them addicted to drugs and alcohol and whatever.

How can God stand for this? I'll tell you what, if I were God, I'd be constantly causing those that committed such atrocities to always have their vehicles breaking down or getting sick with weird diseases or something....anything to prevent such atrocious behavior. However, God doesn't stop it. Apparently He is racking up all their bad deeds (which are mostly committed by those that just go along with what they know to get along in the world and survive) so that at some point He can take great pleasure in casting them into some pit where the sun doesn’t shine. Meanwhile, those people that are the victims continue to suffer and, in some cases, starve because they can't even produce enough food to survive.

Not only that, but, how can 19 hijackers actually believe that they are doing God's will when they fly commercial airliners into buildings? Their persistence in believing that they are truly doing the will of God causes me to wonder how people can become so divided (enough to be willing to take their own lives along with as many others as possible) over such a question. I'll tell you how. It's because the question of the reality of God's existence is not a trivial one. Many people are willing to base their entire life's work on the answer to the question of God's existence. There are many people who are so convinced that they have found the correct answer to that question and they are so convinced that they are right and everyone else (outside of their view) is wrong. They sincerely believe that God has called them to manifest His "truth" to the world through the sacrifice of their lives. Radical Islam does this through strapping bombs to themselves and blowing themselves up in populated areas and we in the US do this (at least many in the LDS church) by working our tails off for the "building up of the kingdom of God on the earth and the establishment of Zion.", paying our tithing and going to church. I do not think that we are really so different, them and us.

We profess the truthfulness of our beliefs and emphasize it with much zeal and gusto every chance we get as, I'm sure, do the terrorists with equal zeal and gusto. Is one side right and one wrong? It apparently depends on who you ask. If you ask many in the LDS church they will tell you they definitely have "all" the truth and all the other religions in the world are lacking in some way or another. If you ask that question of a Muslim they will tell you exactly the same thing. They will tell you that they have "all" the truth and all the other religions are lacking in some way or another. Have both studied both sides of the question and believe that they are honestly right? You betcha! The only difference is one party is ready and willing (and feels the need) to die for their religious views (on behalf of God) and the other feels it necessary to wear out their life in the service of their God.

So, if we could objectively ask, which is actually right? What would we come up with? Well, I suppose we could start looking for indicators. We might look for miracles, scriptures, prophecies, growth, the number of adherents or whatever else. All of which occur plentifully on both sides. If we ask God about the matter, everyone only seems to hold to their previous predominant religious persuasion. God seems to give people the answer they are most "comfortable" with. He continues to tell the Muslim he is right and the Mormon that they are right. The Mormons believe that if they could only just have an audience with the Muslim they could get them to convert to Mormonism (because, after all, we have the "fullness" of the gospel and it is the only true and living gospel/church on the face of the planet) and the Muslim believes exactly the same thing of their teaching. They just might resort to killing you first if God wills it to be so. The problem is, in my mind, there really is no objectivity. There is no possible way to get any objectivity because as long as we all have lived on this planet there have been people divided on the question of God and religion.

I just don't understand how God could be the genuine author of such confusion. I don’t understand it, especially when that author appears to not really have any serious regard for the value of human life.

I have considered the possibility that maybe human life isn't really that important to God. Especially since, if there is an afterlife with Him, we are all going to return to him no matter what happens here. So it is possible that He just doesn't see things the way we do. But if that is the case, why not be more clear in the 10 commandments and say something like, "Thou shalt not kill...unless I tell you it's OK...because I do that when I feel like it...and it is not really a big deal to me when people die...but it should be a big deal to you because I can't have you killing each other off since that would frustrate my work a little."

Anyway, the lack of clarity has gotten a little maddening for me because I wonder things like, "if this life is really NOT that important to God, should it be important for me? Why is it important? What is the purpose of life anyway?" I know LDS feel they have all the answers to these questions, but do they really? The traditional LDS response to my last question is that the purpose of life is to get a body. Is that it? No, also to be tried and tested to see if we will do all things whatsoever the Lord commands us.

So what will it be like when I am hanging out in the afterlife mingling with all the souls there and chatting about earth life? I'll likely run into some people that lived long, productive, fulfilling and happy lives. That got married, had kids, had grandkids and even got to see some of their great grandkids before they passed on. Life was obviously a blessing to that person. They learned much, experienced much joy and really got something out of it. As for the test of obedience, they might have done really well (Like if mortality is given an SAT score, they got near the top of the curve).

Then, as I wander around and encounter another soul hanging out there in the afterlife, I find out that this person feels kind of jipped. They were still-born. They don't even remember their mortal experience, but, hey, they got a body and they get an automatic ticket to the celestial kingdom and they may even get a chance to experience some alternate mortality somehow to kind of make up for the fact that they weren't really tested at all while they lived for 2 seconds on earth. Not seeing the whole picture to explain the reasons behind all these different experiences, I obviously don't know what the whole grand design is. But the more I think about it, the more I think maybe there isn't a grand design. Maybe it is all just random and our being is completely up to chance.

Of course, I naturally object to this because the one thing I cannot deny is that I am me and I am not anyone else. Why am I me and not anyone else? This question I cannot adequately answer. However, deep down I believe that there is some significance to my being who I am and I truly hope that there is more to this life than what I experience while mortal, but I just don't have enough information to make an informed judgment on that question. I can only wait and see what happens. In the meantime, I believe I should do the best I can with the information that I’ve got in front of me that seems the most important or will bring me the most happiness.

However, I don't believe that when it is all said and done that, if there is a God in heaven that presides over the universe that I meet in the afterlife, that He is going to interview me and then judge me on how well I lived my religion. I don't even think there will necessarily be an interview. What would be the purpose of the interview? To share stuff He already knows? To issue my grade and assign me to my kingdom? Will there be a division between the possible kingdoms we are assigned to? Joseph Smith taught that there is. Families are going to be split up in that day because the believing family members will go to a high kingdom and the non-believing "black sheep" will go to a lower kingdom. The bad family members get a shack (relatively speaking) and the good ones get a mansion. If I don't make it and don’t earn eternity with my wife she will be "given" to another man to make eternal babies with while I remain single in my shack. Sure she can come visit me, but why would she? She'll have some stud husband god who takes way better care of her than I ever could and I'm sure she'll be wayyy more happy without me in her life. Is that something I can honestly look forward to with joy and happiness? I’m not so sure.

So, if God is truly come to divide father and mother and child and brother and sister, why do I want to pursue that? If the end result is happiness for some and eternal torment and misery for others (who are members of the same family) how can anyone take comfort in that? I guess I could put on blinders and say that I’ll just be happier and provided for in the eternities and I don’t need to concern myself with such questions, but I just can’t help myself (besides, aren’t I kind of already in that place at this point?).

I guess it is also possible that we will have another veil passed over our minds so we can’t remember this life. That is one possible way to explain being able to deal with an assignment to a lower kingdom, we just won’t know why we are where we are or that there was a better one we missed out on. But, if that is true, it doesn’t really matter what we actually do in this life because it will all be wiped from our mind anyway. I can’t believe that God is playing a game like that with something as lasting as our eternal existence and path to Godhood. How could we be a god if we couldn’t remember something anyway? That just seems contradictory. Are we supposed to forever suppress some knowledge, that we have, from everyone that could ever possibly find out something that could make us less than god in the presence of others?…If so, could we truly be a god while keeping something important from those that honor us as a god (i.e. our spirit children)?

I guess the answer to that question is a big perhaps. However, I just don’t think speculating on the circumstances we will all find ourselves in during an afterlife and progression to godhood is really a worthwhile activity since there is so much I do not know (and cannot know with any certainty while living now) about the question.

Your answers to my questions can carry just as much weight as ones that I make up. We could both be right, sorta, and/or we could both be totally wrong. The problem I see is, should we endeavor to earnestly answer a question we cannot reliably get a solid, objective answer to while we are here? At this point in my life, I am inclined to say no.

I think attempting to answer questions that have universal implications (meaning that they are questions of monumental significance and truth to the entire population of the earth) need some pretty extraordinary evidence to maintain credibility and stand up to scrutiny. Because, I believe, we must scrutinize such questions. We need to scrutinize questions of adherence to prescribed religious behaviors to avoid being deceived by any one party who has some ulterior motive of exercising control over the population or promoting a personal agenda. We need to thoroughly scrutinize such questions (and the answers provided) to avoid the blood shed that is the result of the inevitable adherence that is demanded by those claiming to have the answers to the questions we inwardly crave an answer to and can pretty easily be convinced of.

The funny thing is, we humans are pretty unsteady creatures. We desire someone to give us answers to questions we didn’t really know we had (or were not that important to us previously) and tell us what we need to do about it. We like being told what to do. Things are so much easier for us when that happens. When people give us answers, we don’t have to think and we would really rather not think if we don’t have to. I think we are inherently lazy unless we are motivated by the demands of others that we desire to provide us all the answers we seek (or have become convinced we should find important).

I could be dead wrong on all of this and I will be the first to admit that. The problem is, the more I think about these things the more I realize that it is OK to not be completely preoccupied with the answers I have been given, let alone the truthfulness or untruthfulness of them. Unfortunately, I believe that is what those in the LDS church are encouraged to do. Members are constantly reminded of the importance of holding to the rod or enduring to the end, in spite of any doubts that may be had, and are further encouraged to bear their testimony and pronounce the truthfulness of things they really don’t know that much about (with objective or absolute certainty, that is). I believe that is self delusional behavior.

I believe being encouraged to say “I know…” when there really is no way to obtain knowledge (that is objective) of such things in this life is not healthy. After all, what do we know? We know what we have objective evidence of and that’s about it. Spiritual knowledge that is claimed is not really knowledge in an objective sense, it is completely subjective. It is individual and that is all. Well, in my opinion, if something is personal, perhaps it should remain that way unless you can point to something that the entire world can agree on as something to aspire to (based on truly objective evidence) because we have, and can point to, actual experience concerning the goodness or rightness of the principle being advocated. Unless one can provide such objective evidence, you may as well be an Islamic fundamentalist telling me to strap a bomb to my chest…because it is the will of Allah.

I think that there ARE things like this that exist, though. I think the promotion of life and punishment for killing innocents is something just about everybody in the world could get behind. Rights to have clean water to drink and enough food to survive and not be subject to continual violence are other things I think the world could get behind as universal principles of rightness. The continual struggle, however, is that self-interest always gets in the way. People who think they can make a buck off of the suffering of others will always be around and are ready to take advantage of those who desire to sincerely help those in need. So we put checks and balances in place and make things as transparent as possible to avoid such things, knowing that they will still happen, but, as long as we learn from the pitfalls and graft that occurs, we can make things better for everyone.

I honestly don’t think religion is doing enough to get us there. If anything, religion has been a stumbling block to that kind of progress by its continual insistence on being right rather than being just plain good. (I realize not all churches are like that, but my views are tainted by my experience, what can I say?) Why do we advertise which church we belong to? Why don’t people just say, “I go to a worship service in my community where the betterment of human kind is preached and our sole devotion is to furthering that end”? It shouldn’t matter what sect one belongs to, it should matter that we are all attempting to continually reconcile our differences and work toward a common, unifying goal which will help us all enjoy more on this planet in the long run.

We should be encouraged to be devoted to figuring out how to aid people in those parts of the world that don’t enjoy clean water or enough food to survive or are racked with conflict, not how much better the afterlife will be for us than all those “other” sinners that God will take delight in punishing for not keeping his commandments. We should be preoccupied with the question of proper utilization of our planet’s natural resources to achieve that goal rather than preoccupied about whether or not I did my home or visiting teaching last month. I think religion causes us to focus on the trees of our eternal self interest and lose sight of the forest of humanity.

Of course, we can only do what we can do within our sphere of influence. I really don’t have the means to be out traveling the world like a super hero fighting injustice wherever it is found, but I can certainly teach my children how to live a happy and productive life (as much as I know about doing so anyway…which could always stand room for improvement, by the way) and try to instill the vision of this in them as much as I am able. Doesn’t mean they will agree with me, but I can make my case and hope for the best. Above all, I hope my children find their best kind of happiness. I want for them to find the joy that brings them the most fulfillment's possible. I think this is what we should all stand up for and promote…as long as that happiness doesn’t result in the taking away of anothers' happiness, we should all be entitled.

Another thing I am mindful of is that I think (and I may be somewhat presumptuous on this point) I am somewhat mature in my conclusions. I realize that we, as a society, recognize the importance of icons in our upbringing and maturity continuum. We use tales of wonder (which are indeed fictional) to illustrate certain character traits that we desire to instill in our children or lessons we hope they learn. We tell them that Santa Claus is real, not because we desire, and intend, to deceive, but because we want to instill in our children a love of giving to others. We have created a character that epitomizes the spirit of giving that we blame for the giving of presents to them on Christmas that we might impart to them the joy and wonder of giving by passing that tradition on to their children. Levels of maturity in children determine when parents feel children are ready to learn the “truth” of Santa Claus.

I think it is also true of religion. Some people may never be prepared to learn the truth of the question of God’s existence. Many, many people never can or will accept the possibility that there is no God in this life (at least not the one that is preached by most religions). But that’s OK. Most God fearing people do what they think is right within their sphere of influence and, for the most part, do a wonderful job of it.

I think it is unfortunate, on the other hand, that many people are taken advantage of because of their hope and faith in the existence of God as interpreted through their religious tradition. People can waste so much valuable time, effort and money attempting to seek something that may never be truly found by giving all of it to their religious organization only to find out that the preacher was taking advantage of them the whole time for the preacher's personal benefit. Again, hopefully wiser heads prevail on this and these sorts of things can be exorcised through checks and balances and transparency as we learn from our mistakes in this regard.

The frustrating thing is, however, that many people do not seem to learn from the mistakes of others. The D&C says that we have learned from sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of all men that when they get a little authority they think they are wise and begin to seek for their own personal gain. I am paraphrasing here, but I think Joseph Smith was actually on to something with this idea. He was trying to tell us to watch out. It is inherent in man’s nature to seek out their own personal gain at every opportunity. You have to somehow temper this with reminders that it is more important to be devoted to the cause and the greater well being of the whole to counteract this tendency towards self interest. And, when it becomes clear that this is not working, you have to resort to more severe measures. In the case of the LDS church, I am not sure what this means. What I am clear of, though, is that the leaders of the LDS church have violated the trust of their members in many areas.

One area of concern is disclosure of income and expenses for the church. Why does the president of the church feel it is necessary to withhold certain vital pieces of information, related to the financial decisions made by the church, from the body of the church? This is a lack of transparency that only invites corruption. I am not accusing the leaders of the LDS church of being corrupt, however, I am saying that the practice of withholding disclosure demonstrates a lack of accountability that is arrogant and could potentially be an invitation to corrupt influences down the road.

Another area of concern is accuracy in conveying the historicity of the events surrounding the founding of the church. So what if there is much to possibly be embarrassed about regarding the actions of early leaders of the church? Why not put it all out there and let the chips fall where they may? If it is truly God’s church on the earth, God will tell people it is right (as it teaches people that He will) regardless of what the founders did, right? Why are leaders not so confident of this? I propose it is because the church is attempting to pursue what is in its own self interest. That is, withholding certain damaging pieces of information surrounding the behavior of the founders of the church makes it all the more likely that people will join the church and start paying tithing and serving, whereas, if the information were fully disclosed up front, the church may not enjoy such benefits.

This is my perspective and the only way I was able to enjoy it is by studying my way out of the church and coming to the realization that the church may not be all that it claims to be. Since the day I came to that realization, a whole new world has opened up for me. I am in a new world where I am allowed to seek out and learn whatever I want without fear that certain subjects or information will cause damnation to my soul. I now have permission to think for myself and make decisions that are right for me and for me alone and not because some old white guy says so (no matter how much I am told how important obedience is, this is not a message appropriate for me as a thinking individual.). Obedience to parents is the message I give my children, but only until they are able to understand the reasons I am asking them to obey. Once they can understand why I ask them to do what is asked of them, I don’t have to focus on the principle of obedience as much as the reasons – in my best estimation – why it is in their best interest to obey. The church seems to do the opposite. When people crave real answers and the reasons to be obedient to commandments and all they get in response is, “because I said so” or “because God says so”, I think people feel empty and long for more. People can only survive on milk for so long before they just have to have some meat.

What it all boils down to is that, for me, God may actually exist, but the question is an unimportant one. I’m pretty sure that if God does exist He is way different than many of us are taught that He is and the afterlife, while possibly being a place for all of us to re-unite and regale our earthly experiences is not a known. Besides some common Near Death Experiences we can use to somewhat piece together the possible events that might occur for us when we die, we don’t know much else (at least not objectively, anyway).

This is where I am at now. Obviously my whole outlook could change due to the discovery of some important piece of information that I have not yet encountered or adequately considered, but that is what the journey is for. Discovery of truth, I believe, is a lifelong journey that I hope does not end at death, but very likely could and, honestly, I am OK with that possibility. Ignorance may be bliss, and may even be longed for, but knowledgeable contentment with oneself is priceless.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Love me Jesus

I was recently found guilty in a court of law for committing a crime. Once the jury pronounced the verdict, the reality of the guilt all came crashing down on me, but I knew that I had done what the authorities had said I had done and there was no use in denying it. I became resigned to my fate. I awaited the sentencing, hoping that I wouldn't be cut off from my family and friends for a completely unbearable amount of time by the judge.

The judge began, "You are hereby sentenced to a prison sentence of 25 years in a maximum security penitentiary. However, your sentence has already been carried out. You see, you are qualified to participate in a new prison sentence recovery program. Because we have several prisoners who have been found to be not guilty after serving nearly all of their sentences, we will apply the time that they served (in their innocence) to your time that you have been sentenced to. Because of this program, your effective days in prison equal zero for this crime."

WOW! How awesome is that?! I ran out of the courthouse jumping for joy. Justice was served! Or was it? I, essentially, was able to get off scot-free, even though I was actually guilty as charged. I began to feel some remorse. I began to wonder about whether or not I could go on knowing that I was guilty of a crime and yet received no real consequence. I began to wonder if this treatment was tenable as a long term solution to crimes committed in society. What would be the deterrent to committing crime if nobody ever served any jail time? Sure I was happy to be free, but I didn't deserve to be. Can I live with knowing that someone innocent paid for my mistake and I am powerless to do anything about it.

Then my mind was drawn to that poor fella who basically served out my prison sentence for me. Do I owe him a debt of gratitude? What would possibly be sufficient to pay back something that really never could be paid back? I tried to forget about the poor sap, but I couldn't help but wonder why things had to go down the way they did.

How do I really feel about this scenario? I don't really like it. It seems to encourage crime because when there is little to no perceived consequence for doing something wrong, that seems to be an invitation to repeat the unacceptable behavior. Something deep down tells me this would just not work.

At this point I should say that I have not really been convicted of any crime (other than traffic court), but I wanted to explore the possibility of this scenario with you. The other reason I am writing this imaginary tale is because this is exactly what Christians ask anyone who believes in Jesus to do.

Christians say that because we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (not sure why this is, by the way, or how, as a child of God, I could immediately be cut off from his presence due to someone's behavior over 6,000 years ago - which was a no win situation since there were supposedly two conflicting commandments given for Adam and Eve to keep) we are basically convicted eternally for this "crime". The punishment for which is that we are all forever banished from the presence of God.

So we are all guilty of some crime (perhaps of being an enemy to God, which still begs the question, why would God create enemies for children?) and are told that we are not even capable of carrying out the punishment for such apparent wrongdoing ourselves (which to me is extremely frustrating...I hate being told I am not capable and I would never tell my children that. Can you imagine, "Oh sorry son, you're just not capable...") so we need a perfect, innocent savior to pay our price (serve our sentence) for us. This is the perfect plan of an all-knowing God of the universe? What happens when God realizes, what we all know deep down, that if you pay people's punishment's for them, you end up encouraging the behavior you are trying to avoid? Everybody likes being given things they don't expect, but when people are given salvation from punishment there is no lesson learned and the behavior really doesn't change.

Of course, all this redemption must have a price. So God says, the price is set by Jesus, after all, He is the one we are all supposed to be paying back. So, in my parable above, if I go to the prisoner who effectively served my time for me, what would he want? I would think he would want to just forget about the whole thing and move on with life. So is that what Jesus wants? Apparently there is some confusion among the Christians about exactly what Jesus wants specifically from all of us. The LDS church teaches that Jesus wants all your good works (which are really never enough and requires everything you have or will ever receive and all your time and talents and 10% of your gross income, etc., etc.) and he'll make up the difference (what little is left after all we can do). Wow! What difference? It seems like LDS believers that do all that is asked of them will have more than paid their price and earned their way to heaven. I think many LDS secretly believe that the more they do in the way of good works, the less Jesus has to suffer for our wrongdoing. So they are really noble creatures at heart, they just have to accept the whole Jesus paying my price thing because of this barrier that was built up because of Adam and Eve's screwup.

Anyway, this is all making my head hurt (must be those terrible demons), but it is my ongoing reaction to the question of whether or not I think God exists. There is so much lacking in common sense that people have to swallow in order to believe in God. I will try to outline more in the future.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Why I don't believe

What started it for me was the Book of Abraham. I sat and pondered the facsimiles (especially number 3 and whether it was a scene that could represent Abraham on Pharaoh's throne or something else) and wondered whether or not the symbols on the hieroglyphs had ever been actually translated to vindicate Joseph's claim. When I read up on the question, it turns out they had and Joseph Smith was wrong. The papyrus scrolls contained nothing more than funerary prayers for the departed. It was then that I began to ask the question, If Joseph was wrong in his translation of some Egyptian papyrus, what else could he have been wrong about? This opened everything up for me.

I read and grappled with all the apologetic responses, but they all came out sounding like excuses to me. I also discovered a pattern in the method of LDS apologists. The responses I found tended to fall into the pattern of 1) Deny the questions' relevance 2) Deflect attention away from the question at hand and if those two methods don't work 3) Overwhelm with information. This, of course, called into question all of Joseph's ability to translate for me.

Once I came to the realization that Joseph probably did not have all the answers, I began to see things throughout the scriptures that didn't add up. I am amazed at how much I did not see before. For example D&C 132:54 tells Emma that she will be destroyed if she doesn't go along with Joseph's polygamy. Why did God feel the need to threaten her with destruction? Then there is the story surrounding D&C 111. Basically Joseph was told there was treasure to be obtained in Salem, MA. He went there on a treasure hunt and found nothing. Did God lie to Joseph or was he just mistaken? There are many others that began to stick out as glaring examples of outright deception at the worst to confusion about what God meant at the best. I concluded (from these and many, many other examples from church history) that maybe Joseph wasn't a prophet at all, but merely a man who was either actively deceiving everyone or truly believed in his calling and was just doing what he thought was best. It became apparent to me that regardless of his intent (both conclusions can be well supported) he wasn't anything spectacular in the overall scheme of history as far as what he claimed compared to others in his day. In fact, I believe if it weren't for the saints' migration to Utah, the church would probably be an insignificant movement today.

My conclusions didn't happen overnight. It took me literally a solid year of reading and studying different things until I finally drew the conclusions that I did. I was a serious student of Joseph Smith and the origins of Mormonism. I read Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History, I perused Robert Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling, I read Charles Larson's book, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, I read the different accounts of Josephs first vision, I read a biography of Sidney Rigdon, I read Michael D. Quinn's Mormonism and the magic world view, I read up on the Solomon Spaulding controversy, I read from the Journal of Discourses, etc., etc.

Then one night, about a year and a half ago, in a hotel room in Kansas City Missouri I knelt and prayed for a truly objective answer to prayer. The only answer I have ever received since that day is silence. God has apparently forsaken me in my desire to obtain a faithful explanation for all the questions and concerns I had.

Now things jump out at me and I am continually facing new realizations about how things just don't make sense about what I used to believe. Things that are said in church really bother me. Things in the scriptures bother me. When you say, "Like what?" I could do a commentary on all the standard works and point out example after example of things that just don't add up for me.

I am at a point now, where I am struggling to re-orient myself and re-establish a basis for my moral code. So far the best I have come up with is that life and it's preservation is of utmost importance to me. I can't explain or even begin to guess what will happen in the hereafter, but I don't worry about it anymore (and that is such a relief!).

I feel truly free to live my life as I desire, no longer in fear of what the church thinks or wants me to be doing. I have taken back my power and can say no to callings, etc. One thing I remember saying when I got to the point I am at is "Thankfully, now I can get off the merry-go-round". That was what the church had become for me, a merry-go-round that just never stopped. I used to think of the body of the church as a train, that I had to make sure I stayed on so I didn't get left behind. Now I realize that, if it is a train, it is moving in a small circle. Never arriving, just coming around again and again and rather than trying to get aboard and make sure I stay on, it took getting off to have things make sense again.