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Brace yourselves. I need to make an announcement:

I have a brain and I know how to use it. (No compliments, please.) Sometimes that entails already having the answer immediately at hand. Other times it just means I can find an answer with a little work and sweat.  For example: If my life depended on rebuilding a carburetor, I would be able to research it in order to survive. If I were forced to play Jeopardy at gunpoint, I would hold my own depending on who I was playing against. I have a good memory

The point being that there are areas in my life where answers exist.

However, to help balance things out, there are some areas that I don’t have a good handle on. Those are areas in which not enough facts exist or in areas that are unverifiable. Fortunately, if an authority makes truth claims that are testable, we can evaluate them and reach probable conclusions.

Religion is one of those unique areas that spans both verifiable and unverifiable claims.

I feel pretty solid in my knowledge of the core verifiable elements of the Mormon church and gospel. I don’t consider myself ignorant in this arena. More specifically, I am convinced that …

Joseph Smith was an untrustworthy man.

Jesus Christ is an archetype of several different mythological Gods before him.

Joseph Smith couldn’t translate anything…

Joseph Smith’s gospel revealed through the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants & The Pearl of Great Price is unreliable, plagiarized and void of any historical content.

The authority of Prophets who leads the LDS church today only exists in the minds of its adherents, and their prophetic power is entirely dependent upon what followers conjure it up to be. They are otherwise impotent.

These core truths enabled me to search elsewhere for better meaning, purpose and perspective in my life. It brings me joy. I have this part down.

But…also please know this:

There are elements of the LDS gospel and the church that I do not understand, or comprehend or sometimes even like.

There are things that have happened to me and my family that I don’t like, and don’t understand.

Yes, I am human.

Don’t stop reading … I will explain. First, let me give you a partial list of all the things I don’t like or understand. Ready?

Read my series “Why I left Mormonism

Why would I do that? Because my questions might help you recognize why you have legitimate stumbling blocks.

You see, I learned in Primary, Sunday School and Seminary that:

“Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21).

What, then, is it to have faith and hope in things which ARE seen, or which are untrue?

That is called delusion.

What kind of brother would turn a blind eye, or even benefit while his brethren persisted in clear delusion? Exactly! THAT kind of brother.

So that is my grand confession: I have found answers. So what? I imagine you have too. Are you afraid to admit it? It is a little scary. Perhaps your fear is amplified when those with more supposed authority encourage you to ignore the answers to your questions, or to disregard the answers to other people’s questions that you would feel more comfortable ignoring.

“Gullibility kills.”
― Carl SaganThe Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

I was so glad to discover I can think for myself. It reinforces that it is OK to find answers. Actually, I do not see how it would be possible to make a study of the LDS gospel, and be an intelligent human being and NOT find any answers that contradict LDS conventional thought. But that’s just me.

Do you have a box? I did. Well, it wasn’t actually a box of questions; mine was more of a list of WTF moments. I called it “My List of Things That Don’t Make Any Sense, Especially If I Say Them Out Loud.” Some of the things on my list were deep and important, others more trivial, like, “Why is it OK to drink hot chocolate but not iced coffee?”

One of the key takeaways in Carl Sagan’s quote is that when there are answers that contradict your faith, having an unshaken testimony is nothing to brag about. It’s the definition of delusion to persist. Not being tormented by questions to which there are clear answers isn’t admirable. When LDS Leader Jeffrey Holland  said, “Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes,” he surely couldn’t have been encouraging willful disdain for knowledge that is arriving daily and piling up on your doorstep! 

That knowledge does come and has come — through searching and pondering. The list (or box) of questions changes only because answers are uncovered. Sure, there are some questions that have been gathering dust for a long time and might never be resolved in mortality, but I am OK with that. But those are not mine to choose. When an answer reveals itself and holds up under the scrutiny of research and peer review, I must accept it.

If those answers become stumbling blocks to my faith, that is a good thing! My realm of knowledge will have increased and my newly uncovered answers will surely reveal even more questions to either enthusiastically pursue or to box up for a later date.

Obsessing about answers that I did not really want right now is a toxic endeavor. It can canker a mind and diminish knowledge.

I am content to let answers reveal themselves and to accept the truths that they present regardless of my predisposition. Eventually, they will be even more thrilling and exciting than my darkened and hopeful but unfounded faith. I feel compelled to share them with others and to move forward  to even more impressive and spiritually rewarding quests.

That is where I part ways with a lot of my brothers and sisters in the church. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. To try and explain, I isolated six principles that keep me sharing what I have learned.

1) Truth inherently lifts and strengthens others. Some minor historical character once said, “And ye shall aknow the btruth, and the ctruth shall make youdfree.”

2) A testimony is only as good as the truth it bears witness of. A testimony of falsehood is a false witness. The LDS prophets and apostles have consistently born false witness and unreliably prophesied.

3) I am smart enough. I don’t consider anyone else more able to evaluate or discern truth than I am. If I don’t know a truth, I can discover it. Even though I didn’t like it when it became clear that Native Americans have zero DNA, cultural, linguistic or historical connection to the middle east, I have never presumed myself too dumb to understand it.

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
― Carl SaganThe Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

I got it.

Being a member of the church was a lot like having a front row seat in a kindergarten class, where you lap up the teacher’s words and teachings wholesale. Fortunately, life is a lot like school and one can progress and advance into higher classes and advanced education where the responsibility for higher learning falls directly on the students’ shoulders, not the teachers’. Questioning is the path that leads to significant answers.

4) I have faith in truth. Ironically, I actually learned that pathway in church and yet it is the one that led me out of it. I believe that there’s a lot more to learn. I have been trying to stay faithful to truth all my life. Sometimes it has been incredibly rewarding and sometimes I have suffered for it. Every 6 months, as I see Facebook posts about the counsel in LDS general conference, I am uplifted and my faith in truth is bolstered. For it becomes clearer and clearer to me that those men and women who speak don’t know what they are talking about. Or, they a liars.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: If your local leader is lying to you or doesn’t know what he is talking about, please get out. Don’t keep quiet just to get along or out of fear. Don’t be afraid to shine light on darkness.

Finally, the grand prize of this entire structure is that you are just as smart as I am. Thinking works for everyone! You are just as entitled to search, and ponder as anyone up in Salt Lake City, or in the scriptures or as any imaginary characters you might still believe in. It works in any direction!

A simple test:

  • Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts.
  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  • Arguments from authority carry little weight.
  • Spin more than one hypothesis – don’t simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy or that was taught over the pulpit.
  • Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours.
  • Quantify, wherever possible.
  • If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.
  • Occam’s razor – if there are two hypothesis that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.
  • Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?

And finally …

6) I am grateful. Thinking is much more exciting than I ever imagined it could be. Sometimes I drive by a Mormon Church on Sunday and feel even more grateful still (that I am no longer inside). Yes, I even feel grateful that I had that kindergarten education. Being focused on what I have gained by learning to think for myself does indeed make me happy.

I will admit that I lack a certain empathy with those who would sit and allow someone else to do their thinking for them. Personally, I have never felt so little about my own personal state as when I was willing to have complete faith in LDS Doctrine, practices and Leadership. Thinking for oneself and recognizing truth isn’t leapfrogging any line of authority that  deserves your respect and passion. I know from my experience that good does not come from ignoring the truth.

And so you see, I’m not going to be giving President Monson or the rest of the prophets any of my time this weekend. I have enough faith in myself and in my brain that I can leave those men alone and let them fulfill their imaginary stewardships.

But rest assured, I will be glued to a good book.

Why? Precisely because I’m smart enough to want to learn more!

“Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? … No other human institution comes close.”
― Carl SaganThe Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.”
― Carl SaganThe Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

A response to: Middle-aged Mormon Man: I am a Mormon, and I have questions as published on Deseretnews.com and on middleagedmormonman

See Also:

 Kirby: Scrutiny of LDS Church history serves up surprises