After having dedicated so much of my life to it, a hard pill to swallow for me was the fact that the church really isn’t anything unique or special in the big picture. As I’ve read and studied, I’ve learned that hundreds of organizations, religious and otherwise have been founded and promulgated based on the very same techniques that the Joseph Smith used and that the LDS church continues to use. It’s pretty much a textbook example of a religious leader gaining a following, the growth and development of a movement and its continued successes and failures.
Thousands of years ago, Plato described “Philosopher Kings” who control their followers by encouraging blind faith. They are the wise few who tell the people only what they think will do them some good. Isn’t that exactly what Boyd K. Packer articulated in his speech?
“What good fortune for governments (and religions) that people do not think”
While the LDS church claims on one hand to encourage scholarship and intellectual study, in practice it is another thing entirely. They really say…
“Seek the truth. But remember that truth is whatever the church leaders say it is. Trust them. Obey them. Do not question them.”
President David O. McKay taught that this is ungodly:
“Ours is the responsibility … to proclaim the truth that each individual is a child of God and important in his sight; that he is entitled to freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly; that he has the right to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. In this positive declaration, we imply that organizations or churches which deprive the individual of these inherent rights are not in harmony with God’s will nor with his revealed word.” (General Conference, April 1954)
The church, however, follows the same pattern described by many writers throughout human history as someone such as Mohammed, Buddha, Joseph Smith, David Koresh, Jim Jones and many, many more set themselves up as gurus. What follows is a pattern of strict obedience, blind faith based on emotional rather than rational experience. More often than not, that leader is a charismatic individual who develops a belief system, establishes oaths of secrecy and controls the beliefs of others. He sets up a theocracy. He falls under the spell of his newfound power and often misuses this power sexually with one or more of his followers. Then, power becomes the issue instead of truth.
Mormonism has left many good names destroyed in its wake. For example, since polygamy was illegal in Illinois, and directly contradicted LDS policy, those who accepted Smith’s secret, illegal, immoral practice (such as Young and Kimball) were of an immoral or criminal bent. But today Mormons ironically view William Law, William Marks, and others (the honest, moral men who opposed polygamy) as “sinners” and “mobocrats.” At least that’s how I was told to teach it in Seminary. And because Law opposed Smith’s illegal, immoral, secret, contradictory polygamy practice, Smith assassinated his character and excommunicated him in absentia; but Law, the honest man in the case, has become the “bad guy.” Others who left the church (such as Thomas Marsh, Joseph Wakefield, Simonds Ryder, Emma Smith, the three witnesses, etc) have had their character attacked in Sunday School and Seminary lessons for hundreds of years.
Innocent people, whose only crime was that they wanted to follow God, were shot at Haun’s Mill, spent their lives in sorrow and loneliness as plural wives, went bankrupt in Joseph’s Kirtland fiascos, and had their wives taken from them by Joseph so he could “marry” them. Financially strapped young couples are today giving ten per cent of their gross income right now because they want to obey their religion. Others neglect their families, refuse scholarships and delay personal relationships to devote time to callings or missions that they believe are from God.
If the church were held up to the same mediocre standards that public corporations are held too, what it does would be in violation of the law. A well-known rule of fair dealing with regard to securities basically says that if you misrepresent OR OMIT any material fact that would sway a decision maker who is contracting with you, you have violated the law.
So, if the church extracts:
- A promise of secrecy
- A promise that you will pay them of 10% of your gross
- A promise that your will devote all your time and talents for the rest of your life
- THEN, as a legally organized corporation that extracts these promises from you, should they not be legally bound to provide full disclosure to you regarding their claims to authority?
I think so.
In fact, I think the church should be held to a higher standard rather than a lower one given its claim to moral authority.
There is NO WAY, as a 19 year old drama student at New York University, that I would have sacrificed a scholarship and two years of my life to proselyte in South America had I known that the church had omitted to tell me that Joseph Smith in his 30’s had married 14-year olds, that he had married other men’s wives, that the Book of Mormon fails to describe any pre-Columbian civilization, that the Book of Abraham and Kinderhook plates provide strong evidence for Joseph’s preference for pretended translations, that there are several conflicting versions of significant events such as the First Vision, priesthood authority, and the “translation” of the Book of Mormon!
In fact I should have been told all of this before the age of 8 when they asked me to make that lifelong commitment. Investigators should be told both sides of the story before they get baptized.
The church is an amazing success story when it comes to image marketing and it’s a great social organization for those who find a place in it. I think it has done the greatest job at marketing itself for something it really isn’t. Upon closer inspection, I’ve come to believe the church’s primary interest is in maintaining authority and control rather than the welfare of my family or me. The needs of the organization far outweigh the needs of the individual and as Elder James Faust himself said, you have to swallow “all of it.”
There’s no place for “cafeteria Mormons” who have a difficult time with Mormonism’s cafeteria historians.
I’ve found that the “good stuff” of the church is just as available and abundant other places without the arrogance of being the only ones who are right. I don’t have to believe in “follow the prophet” to be a good father. I don’t have to participate in temple ceremonies to be a good neighbor and love my fellow man. I don’t have to be assigned to people in order to serve others.
The Church is preoccupied with exteriorities. It prizes righteousness over holiness, image over inspiration. The Church is an increasingly judgmental, puritanical, and authoritarian corporate entity. Mormonism, is no longer a mystery. It is a machine.
One of the main selling points of Mormonism is having “all the answers”. It’s the Cliff Claven of religions. But history tells us that this sort of belief system is not only unhealthy, it is dangerous.
If we’re absolutely sure that our beliefs are right, and those of others are wrong; that we are motivated by good, and others by evil; that the King of the Universe speaks to us, and not to adherents of very different faiths; that it is wicked to challenge conventional doctrines or to ask searching questions; that our main job is to believe and obey – then the witch mania will recur in its infinite variations down to the time of the last man. (Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World, Page 413)
The only thing I’m certain of is that Mormonism’s answers are essentially meaningless to me. I see no point in basing my life on illusions. Having the “answers” never made my life any better and I don’t believe it will make my children’s lives any better. I’m starting to think the only reason I ever cared at all was because “the church” told me to. I was never allowed to ask the questions in the first place.
Perhaps the church is useful for some or at some level of spiritual development just as the myth of Santa Claus is useful and pleasurable to children at a young age. But can we expect our children to behave as if they still believe in Santa once they uncover the truth? Is that desirable or even healthy? Is it healthy to expect them to never figure it out or to never question? Can God anticipate any less for His children to grow and develop?
Right now I believe I will never have all the answers. No religion or philosophy is capable of answering all the questions I might have. Yet recognizing that I will never have all the answers is no reason to stop looking for them. There’s joy in the hunt.
The most important questions to me are:
- Did I love?
- Did I help others with the talents, gifts and blessing I was born with and was fortunate enough to develop?
- Is the world a better place for my having lived here?
- What will benefit my family most in the long run?
While most of what I’ve mentioned is exposing the underbelly of the church, I don’t discount that there are benefits and good things to be harvested from my years of participation in the church. There are mostly good people in the church who sincerely believe and are committed to their belief, as I was. Nothing I’ve said discounts their personal spiritual experiences in any way. I just don’t agree with their interpretation of those experiences.
Still, knowing what I know, I find it morally difficult to be a party to the deceit and cover-up that has characterized “faithful” church history and doctrine. Even by the church’s own teachings, that is how the adversary operates. I think the benefits and good things pale in comparison to the truth once you discover the man behind the curtain.
It is the nature of most people to decide the truth of all things at a very young age. That was certainly true in my case. From then on life became a struggle to support and strengthen those “truths.” We preserve this view at all cost. We exaggerate supporting evidence; we belittle, discount and ignore detracting evidence. It is painful to shift a paradigm. It causes personal discomfort, even suffering to redraw the map that guides our lives. It is even harder to disappoint those we love should they choose to not go with us on that journey of personal and painful growth.
It is a shattering and devastating event to alter core beliefs. Mormonism was not just a way of life, but a set of core defining values taught to me from my earliest memories. I have fought for those beliefs, sacrificed greatly of my time, talents and money. I’ve put my family second as I devoted my all to the building up of Zion. I’ve followed leaders with all of my conviction, to find out they don’t really speak for deity, in fact they lie in the name of Jesus Christ.
I choose to actually live the 11th article of faith:
11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
While this is a fundamental teaching of the church, most Mormons would see it as applying only to worshippers of other faiths. When one of their own feels that the church has defrauded them, they are coerced into compliance in various ways. This is especially ironic in light of recent remarks made by Elder Russell M. Nelson:
“Each religion should be free to propagate itself among present and future generations, so long as it does not use coercive or fraudulent means. Its practices should not interfere with the peace of society. Each religion has a right to present its message in an orderly way to all who are interested. How can we have freedom of religion if we are not free to compare honestly, to choose wisely, and to worship according to the dictates of our own conscience? While searching for the truth, we must be free to change our mind—even to change our religion—in response to new information and inspiration. Freedom to change one’s religion has been emphasized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. One’s religion is not imposed by others. It is not predetermined. It is a very personal and sacred choice, nestled at the very core of human dignity.” (Freedom to Do and to Be, Russell M. Nelson, International Scientific and Practical Conference “Religious Freedom: Transition and Globalization”, Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, 27 May 2004) http://www.lds.org/newsroom/voice/display/0,18255,5004-1-121,00.html
The LDS church is dead in my heart. I’m exhausted with it and desire to become more connected with humanity than the LDS church allows. My family will deride and ridicule me and not recognize my leaving as my “personal and sacred” choice. I know none who will have the courage to search, ponder or pray about these things themselves.
One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back. So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new ones arise. (Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World, page 240)
Rare is the person who will look this monster in the face and say, “I will change my life, my paradigm, my life map. I’ll admit I was wrong all those years and I’ll face the consequences of those that will scorn and ridicule me”. I hope for the courage to become that sort of person.