I read a great talk today by Dr. Richard Bushman, a Mormon historian and the author of the moderately pro-Joseph Smith book “Rough Stone Rolling.” Dr. Bushman is a believing member (although, because he is an apologist, I would argue that he, too, may be an apostate). But he senses the problem the Mormon church faces, and is unusually honest about the reasons for the wave of apostasy washing some of us out into the sea of doubt.
I highly suggest reading it. It’s nothing really new to those of us who have left the Church, but it’s very good information for believing members. It won’t hurt their faith (hell, it’s given as a Church Educational System seminar introduction) and it will help them understand why people leave and stay away.
I thought this was a good segue into reflecting on the problems that caused me to leave the Church. These are all things I struggled with PRIOR to my decision to leave. After I decided to leave, and then did some additional research, my list grew to one roughly ten times the size of this, at least. Nevertheless, here is what bothered me, roughly in the order that they came up:
1. Scriptural inconsistency/integrity. I discussed this thoroughly in my first post. The scriptures are not internally consistent. The Book of Mormon was obviously not “the most correct of any book on the earth.”
2. God-endorsed Evil. For some reason (probably because I grew up with it), I initially didn’t react negatively to the God-endorsed murder of Laban. But as I read the Old Testament, the God-commanded murders, rapes, thefts, and genocides of the Books of Moses really started to pile up. But the one back-breaking incident that got me was the story of the prophet Elisha. Here is what happened in Second Kings:
|2:23And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.2:24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
Basically the Prophet of the Lord, using the Priesthood, murdered 42 children because they made fun of his male pattern baldness.
I thought, “well, this is Old Testament. None of it makes any sense, and it’s pretty much 95% theological garbage, and half of that atrocity.” Then I got to Acts, chapter 5. Here, the Apostles of the Lord (from whence come our own Apostles), confront a man who sold his own property, but didn’t give the apostles 100% of the money he made. So the apostles murder him, apparently with the Priesthood. (Acts 5:1-5.) His crime? Lying and not turning over all of his gain to the Church. Then his wife comes in, and they do the same thing to her. (Acts 5:7-10.) In fact, people heard about it and were so afraid of the apostles that they believed the apostles might do the same thing to them. (Acts 5:11-12.)
Revelations repeats the Old Testament pattern of God getting pissed off at a group of people, and then commanding (or being directly responsible for) the murder of the entire group. (Compare Exodus 13:15 and Numbers 31:15-19 with Revelations Chapters 9 through 19.)
3. The Book of Abraham. I detailed this in my second post. Flatly put, Joseph Smith’s translation of the Egyptian papyri was a farce. Apologists do a fair bit of hand-waving and brush off the argument, but the fact of the matter is that Joseph Smith was 100% wrong. His translation missed on every substantial point.
4. The Prophets that Do Nothing. Less than one month after the attacks of 9/11/2001, for the first time in a long time, I tuned into General Conference with eagerness. Surely President Hinckley would have something meaningful to say, as our world, even a month later, seemed turned upside down. If ever we needed the prophet to speak the will of the Lord, the words of the Lord, it was then.
And President Hinckley basically just said “well, I dunno. Bad stuff happens. Just have faith.” At least that was my impression of his talk.
The Apologists have drifted. It used to be that everything that came out of the Prophet’s mouth in any kind of official capacity (i.e. formal communications with the Church, whether at General Conference or not) were the WORDS OF THE LORD. Now we get this “speaking as a man / speaking for the Lord” rubbish. The problem with that rubbish is that the Prophets NEVER say “THUS SAYETH THE LORD.” How long has it been since they said that? I”ve never heard it in Conference, unless they were just quoting a scripture that said that.
The problem with the Church’s pride in its “living Prophets” is that these men do nothing. They don’t speak for the Lord. They don’t even talk face to face with the Lord. If they did, I’m pretty sure they’d tell us. “Guess what, I talked with Jesus Christ last week, and he’s pretty upset that the Home Teaching isn’t getting done. It’s a vital part of the Church, and he specifically told me that we’re under condemnation for not doing it.” No. We don’t get that.
Instead, we get boring, repetitive, condemn-the-members-but-never-admit-fault speeches for 10+ hours every six months. The talks lack substance or originality. If you’ve been in the church for a long time, you’ve already heard these things ad nauseum. The members rationalize this by saying “well, they must be repeating themselves because we’re just not getting it or not doing it.” IF THEIR METHOD OF TEACHING ISN’T MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN OUR LIVES, WHY DO THEY KEEP TEACHING LIKE THAT?!! Any High School teacher getting the same results would be fired on the spot, and they’re not even in charge of our eternal salvation!
The best doctrine of the church ever is that someday we can become gods. It’s probably the most positive, uplifting, and motivating doctrine the church has. It’s a beautiful doctrine that makes us feel like we’re *in essence and in fact* the children of God. But the church now denies this. Gordon B. Hinckley went on national television and said he wasn’t sure we taught it anymore. He wasn’t sure it was an essential doctrine. WHAT?!! If there is ANY essential doctrine of the church, THIS IS IT. Yet the leaders have no interest in developing it, speaking about it, and promoting it.
It seems to me that the only thing the prophets are good at doing (and by Prophets I mean the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, all of whom we sustain as “Prophets, Seers, and Revelators”) is managing the Church’s real estate holdings. They’re extremely good at that.
5. Inconsistent Local Authorities. Our local authorities handle punishment of minor sins in such a widely inconsistent way that it’s mind-baffling. For minor, run of the mill things, one might get a slap on the wrist or be disfellowshipped. Same person, same attitude of repentance, same sin, different result. I realize that these are “just men,” but they have been called of the Lord and given his mantle to lead the Ward/Stake. Is the Lord communicating and directing them, or is he not? If he is, he’s doing a very poor and inconsistent job of it. If the program is so broken, it should be changed.
6. Anti-Gay Fundamentalism. I’ll admit that this one didn’t bug me until recently, but still before I decided to leave. Last year (2010), a gay guy and his live-in partner joined the World of Warcraft guild that I used to lead. It was a competitive raiding guild. This will mean nothing to most people, but for those in the know, they’ll get that the guild was serious business. I devoted a lot of time and energy to it, and that means a lot of time with the 40+ people that were members of it.
This gay guy was really cool. I liked him a lot. He was open about his homosexuality, but not annoyingly persistent, defensive, or in-your-face about it like some militant gay types. I grew to appreciate his opinions enough that when I needed a new second-in-command, I asked him to step in. I did it because I valued the fact that he had a different outlook than I did, related to different people in the guild better than I did, and I wanted an alternate voice in the leadership group to keep me honest.
Within one week I had become very good friends with him. Like most people of my generation, as a teenager and even into my 20s, I made fun of gay people a lot. I kind of mellowed out about the issue in my 30s, but still found dudes kissing to be pretty gross, to the point where my wife, when watching Brothers and Sisters, would call my attention to the television whenever dudes were kissing to see my reaction. Well, in a moment of indiscretion, she shared my reaction with my newfound gay friend as an example of how my attitude had changed recently.
I became concerned that my past attitudes would severely harm my friendship with him. I didn’t get to talk to him for a couple of days, and I became sick to my stomach that I might have lost a very good, if new, friend. But when I talked to him and apologized for my behavior, he told me there was nothing to apologize for. He was totally cool about it. He instantly forgave me. Which is more Christlike than I’d ever been with anyone who ever criticized Mormonism in my guild — at one point I threatened a dude who was quoting South Park stuff about Mormons to cut it out or I was going to remove his speaking privileges in the guild.
I realized at that point that gay people are not evil, deluded, inherently immoral, or spiritually inferior to anyone else. And in further talking to him about it, I realized that his homosexuality didn’t come about as some conscious or unconscious “choice,” nor did some degree of sexual sin (on his part or an abusive other’s) play into who he was. He was who he was. I didn’t know exactly why, but I did know that the Church’s stance on why gay people are gay was wrong.
Dudes kissing still makes me uncomfortable, and maybe always will. But at least it doesn’t make me mad, or instill in me the desire to try to stop them from kissing. I developed the attitude that gay people should do what makes them happy. They didn’t try to stop me from being straight. So why should I stop them from being gay? And there’s no logical argument in the world that I’ve heard that somehow two people being gay together, married or unmarried to each other, somehow hurts me, my marriage, or my children.
7. Sunday Meetings are Horrible. I recently heard someone describe going to the Mormon church on Sunday as “eating styrofoam: it doesn’t taste good, and it doesn’t have any nutritional value.” This fit me to a T. I learned early on (more than 10 years ago) that people do not want deep doctrinal discussions or hard questions at Church. They quickly shoot out pat, preformulated responses intended to silence all doubt. “You just have to have Faith.” “That will be revealed to us later, so there’s no use thinking about it now.” “Questioning the Church is apostasy.” “Satan is trying to mislead the hearts of men.”
Every single answer ignores the actual question, and blames the questioner.
So for about 10 years, as much as I could stomach it, I sat in Sacrament Meeting, Gospel “Doctrine,” and Elder’s Quorum listening to the same boring, superficial garbage. It was mind numbing. Most of the time I fell asleep — it was like the droning of these people was an anesthetic in my brain, just knocking me out. And whenever anything uncomfortable came up, you could sense it in the room, and people would just rush past it and move on. Case in point: last year (maybe the year before) we were reading the D&C in Elder’s Quorum, and got to Section 132. We read like the first 8 verses, wherein people started getting uncomfortable. It is clear from D&C 132 that Polygamy is the New and Everlasting Covenant required to get into the Celestial Kingdom. The Church has never retracted it. People were visibly shifting in their seats, just getting uncomfortable. Someone weakly argued that the New and Everlasting Covenant no longer meant polygamy. Everyone nodded vigorously in agreement and we moved on. No discussion of Joseph Smith’s polygamy. None of Brigham Young’s, or the large portion of the Church Leadership’s involvement up until the 1890s (and after).
I wanted to scream “IS POLYGAMY REQUIRED TO GET INTO THE CELESTIAL KINGDOM OR NOT?!! AND IF SO, ARE WE ALL DAMNED TO THE TERRESTRIAL KINGDOM AT BEST?” But I didn’t. I knew where that road led. I wish I had, and considering my current outlook, I probably would have.
There are probably some other minor things that bugged me, but these were the primary building blocks that my apostasy was built on.