I'll get to the point. I don't believe Christianity, or organized religion for that matter. If there is a "god" (whatever that is), I don't believe "its" primary or driving concern is the welfare of people on the earth. I believe that the species Homo sapiens evolved from earlier living species. Homo sapiens are living things. Much of our culture and most of our lives are spent ignoring or rejecting the preceding sentence. We view ourselves as separate from other living things. Like all living things, we are born with certain strengths, but also with certain limits. Our bodies have certain limits. Our brains (sometimes called a mind) also have certain limits. I do not believe Homo sapiens are infinitely intelligent and can "know everything". It is very easy to pose difficult questions concerning the nature and meaning of life, the universe, etc., which humans can not answer. To put it another way, it is probably not possible for a dog to learn how to solve differential equations, and by the same token it might also not be possible for Homo sapiens to learn why, not how, the universe exists, no matter how much we wish it were so. These are some of the questions religions try to answer.
You may be asking yourself, how did someone with thoughts like these ever become a Mormon. If the above narrative did not scare you off, then continue reading below.
I was raised in a somewhat functional middle class baby boomer family. Dad worked, Mom stayed home. Neither parent smoked and hardly ever drank. I was taught to accept and love the many different people of the world. Our family did not attend any church. Christmas was about the extent of my exposure to Christianity. As a child I remember once seeing a portrait of Jesus in the hallway of my cousins home and thinking that this was a little bit strange, mystical, kind of weird. Soon after I finished high school my older brother "married into" the LDS church. I enjoy mountain recreation so I decided to move out of state and attend college in Ogden, Utah.
After finishing college I married an inactive Utah girl and moved to a very small rural Mormon community. At first we felt kind of lonely and isolated. The local towns folk made the initial feelers regarding our interest with their LDS church. By not rejecting the fellowship and inquiries of these members my wife and I were giving them passive approval to continue their activity. Soon the flood gates opened. The more we embraced the local ward, the more the doting church members went out of their way to make us feel right at home. It seemed that the whole town had an interest in our welfare. My older brother showed up for a few days and assisted the local members with their missionary efforts. I was baptized soon after. We bought a beautiful little home. Life was good in our corner of the world. In a way I was taking the path of least resistance. Sometimes it is not always clear when this is a good idea.
I don't remember now who made the statement, but one evening, several months later I was traveling in the car with some friends (i.e., fellow ward members) while someone in the front seat was describing some aspect of early LDS history. He mentioned in passing that some of the Book of Mormon "witnesses" fell away from the church (Oliver Cowdery and/or David Whitmer and/or Sidney Rigdon and/or Martin Harris - I can't remember now exactly which ones). I didn't listen to him after this, but he continued on, telling the rest of his story. I just sat their in the back seat, in stunned silence. Inside I felt sort of like the robot in the old (& bad) television series, Lost in Space. When this robot would sense something unusual approaching, it would flap its arms excitedly while calling out, WARNING WARNING DANGER APPROACHING. I was thinking to myself, how could someone that actually saw the golden plates, angels, God, and/or Jesus, turn away from the church. Something was not right? But I wanted to believe the LDS church was true and quickly pushed the issue aside.
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
The Boxer, Paul Simon
Soon after I was baptized, my wife and I began the process of "preparing" ourselves to go to the Temple. We attended about a dozen or so temple preparation classes, that as I would find out later really didn't provide much instruction to about what actually did go on in the Temple. These classes were more of a "feel good" social get together, with my wife and I being the center of attention. The day came and we finally went to the Temple. My brother and several friends (i.e., fellow ward members) were in attendance with us. As we began the Temple ordinances, things got strange rather quickly. It did not take me long to "dig in my heels" and start inwardly resisting the strange ordinances I was supposedly there to embrace. I felt like a zombie, and was just going through the motions. At the several stages throughout the "endowment" that participants are asked to say the word YES, I did in fact outwardly vocalize this word. I felt that the social pressure to do otherwise at this time was to great. But each and every time I said yes I also made it a deliberate point to silently recite in my head, the word NO. I was not ready to commit myself to something that seemed so strange, so weird, I might as well say it, so cult like. After the endowment, my wife and I were "sealed" to each other. That evening I went to bed in my strange new clothes and lay awake feeling very disappointed and misled. Something was not right. I would participate in 3 more endowment sessions after this. All were pre 1990, after which time the endowment was "toned down" somewhat.
A year or two later I happened upon a book about the Masons. I had very little knowledge about Masons or any other fraternal organization. I also had no prior knowledge about the similarities between their ordinances and the endowment. This book had detailed descriptions and illustrations of their secret rites. I was flabbergasted by the level of apparent endowment plagiarism. Something was not right.
A few years later I was in an elders quorum class when someone had a question about the structure and organization of multiple generations of families that happened to be sealed together in the Temple. He used the chalk board to graph his results. For conversations sake, let's say two people become the first LDS members in either of their respective families lineage to be sealed together. These newly weds we shall call generation A. Suppose this couple has several children, we shall call them generation B. This family unit, parents A and children B, will then be together forever as a family. But what happens when a boy from generation B gets married with a girl from another family and they have children whom they are sealed to, generation C. The wife of the generation B husband could have also been sealed to her parents. When she gets to heaven will she go with her parents, or be with her husband as a mother. When all of these people get to heaven who will they go to or be with. Almost everybody will be torn between being a heavenly parent or heavenly child and to which family they are to be with "forever". The graph quickly approaches the absurd as more children and generations become involved. What criteria is used and/or who decides how a person should be separated or united. Something was not right.
I moved out of "Mormon Country" several years ago and have been reducing my, and where possible, our children's activity in the local ward. I sometimes wonder how many more years and to what extent I would have been able to lie to myself and family if I had not moved? Could it or would it have been the rest of my life? I feel great empathy for someone that lives in a devout Mormon family/community and is still able to leave the church. A person that has done this has pulled off one serious accomplishment (e.g., Steve Benson). Extricating myself from the LDS church is made more difficult by the fact that my wife is still pretty active. The amount of indoctrination our children receive often requires negotiation and compromise. Since I don't see my relatives (both Mormon and non-Mormon) very frequently I have begun to a make a deliberate effort to let them slowly see and hear that I harbor some thoughts or believes outside of LDS teachings. I am not sure if this is the right approach, but some of these relatives actually look up to me and I feel that I would "floor them" if I dumped it on them all at once without first preparing them somewhat. Some day soon I should probably set a final "cut over" date and let the chips fall where they may beginning on that date. Eventually I also plan on becoming a non-member. To do this, I may use some of the procedures documented on this Web site. Maybe it's just me but I think I am beginning to puzzle some ward members, hey brother, are you in, or are you out? If you are in, start pulling your weight (i.e., take a calling). Maybe I should ask them to put me in a new category, Mormon light. I don't know much about other churches but it seems to me that the LDS church is a very difficult one to participate in on a part-time basis. It's either all (active) or nothing (inactive/non-member). Is this the sign of an authoritarian group? In order to gain wider acceptance this facet of the church will probably change also, a wider range of membership activity will need to be accepted.
This being said, I believe there is much good that has been done by the LDS church and many of its members. To put it another way, if we can look at deeds, not words, then much has been accomplished. Although I believe there is much of the LDS Church that is false and misleading, I agree with many of the ideas they (or should I have used the word it instead of they) espouse. For example, I believe that the level of violence and disgust in movies and television is abhorrent (although I seem to be among the small minority of the LDS people that I know that actually tries to avoid most R rated movies). I do not believe in same sex marriage. I believe a mother's primary responsibility is for the nurture of her children. I do not believe it is right to use foul language There are also aspects of the Mormon social scene I don't mind. I do have a social circle outside the LDS church, but sometimes I like socializing with Mormons.
Although I began this letter describing what sounds primarily like a physical existence, I do not doubt the need or benefit of the "spiritual" aspect to life also. It just seems that organized religion sometimes perverts or twists this aspect of human existence ("spirituality") so much that it detracts rather than adds to the life and benefit of all.
I would now like to make the following commentary regarding some of my perceptions about the Mormon Church.
The LDS church is packaged nicely, very nicely. It has a very homogeneous and hierarchical structure. Most of the chapels have a similar look and feel. Even the lettering used within the church must conform to standards specified by the headquarters office. It works hard on its image. I think it will be interesting to see how much and what content is incorporated in its Web Server (www.lds.org). They can't provide to much meat or detailed information and content, lest they someday accidentally open up a doctrinal contradiction or Pandora's box, right there in full view of everybody. You better believe what goes into their Web page will have undergone as much scrutiny as any big Madison avenue advertising campaign. The church has a desire to be viewed as an all-American mainstream religion, right up there with the other "big time" religions such as Catholicism, Judaism, etc. One American advantage that the LDS church has over most others was that it was born in the USA. I do not think it is to preposterous to see the LDS church someday becoming "the American religion". An indigenous institution that some people worship and others accept as part of our national landscape, sort of like baseball or the Grand Canyon. Slowly but surely the church is evolving in order to become more liked. Can you imagine the immense pressure and weight that would be brought to bear upon the church today had they still not removed the black priesthood prohibition. I wonder what the LDS church position/doctrine will be in the future regarding women (currently exclusionary) and "Lamanites" (currently racist). In order to become more popular, the church leaders will have to incorporate additional changes to the endowment ceremony, it still sounds to weird to me, even after the 1990 modifications. I do have one additional thing to say about my participation and experience with the endowment session. If I am still alive 50 years from now that pre 1990 experience might someday qualify me as something of a valuable historical witness. I can image it now, one of my great grandchildren or other interested young adult may have somehow learned about the strange elements of the "old" Mormon endowment and ask me something like, "How could you or all the other Mormons of that day actually have participated in and accepted something that was so weird!" or "Tell me what that experience felt like?" As for the 3 hour Sunday services, I bet you may see an hour or so shaved off that sometime in the future. Even though the LDS church claims to be a rock of stability in a sea of uncertainty, it too has a motivation to "give the people what they want" to a certain extent.
Eric, as I said in a message you posted previously, your Web site is a thing of beauty. It would be a tragedy if it (or something like it) were not continued. I commend you on the use of the Web to create a coalescence of ideas where none existed before. You appear to promote content of enlightenment, reason, and love more so than exaggeration, prejudice and hate which a site like this might easily fall into.
This site reeks of the fullness and glory inherent within the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
LONG LIVE THE WEB!
P.S. - I would also like to thank Jerald and Sandra Tanner and other researchers/writers for their efforts.