Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I've recently been digging through some old files and found a short paper I wrote for a Doctrine & Covenants class at BYU. The teacher had a special assignment he always gave to his class. The assignment was: write a four page paper on how the Doctrine & Covenants relates to your major. He seemed to enjoy giving this assignment because he felt that his students learned a special lesson on how we can apply the scriptures to our own lives.

When I finally sat down to write my paper, this is what came out instead:
When I first set out to try and discover what the teachings in the Doctrine and Covenants had to do with my major, I didn’t expect to be able to find anything. I thought to myself, what could the Doctrine and Covenants possibly have to do with computer science? I then began my search. You can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a few very good verses of scripture. I read them again and again, and finally it occurred to me: the Doctrine and Covenants really doesn’t have the slightest thing to do with computer science! I suddenly realized that to try and pull the subject of computer science out of the D&C would be a doctrinal stretch that would make the Nicene Creed look like simple mathematical truth. I knew then that it would be easier to justify the World Trade Center terrorist attacks using the Doctrine and Covenants than it would to apply the D&C to my major using four pages.

“There’s plenty of material in the D&C about computer science,” says my professor. “I’ve received plenty of papers about computer science.” He gives me a sickening smile that seems to say, “It’s your problem now, isn’t it?” Is there something wrong with the logic here? He’s received plenty of papers about computer science, he says. Of course he has. It’s surprising what students can come up with just to get a grade. It’s what most of us like to call “B.S.” Of course that is precisely what I need to come up with, and I’m sure that next week I will turn in a nice little paper that I’ll be glad to be rid of if only to get the stink out of my backpack. He will take it and think to himself, “Ah, so he has discovered the truth. He has found application to his major after all,” and he will merrily go about torturing other college students. I would much rather ponder an essay question such as: “How can some professors possibly stand themselves?” Of course, that wouldn’t get me a grade now, would it?

I was still a strong believer back then, but religion classes seemed to emphasize and increase my cognitive dissonance rather than sooth it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Defending Dogma

David Brooks wrote a piece in the NY Times in the defense of strict, dogmatic religions. He starts out by describing some themes he observed in the Book of Mormon Broadway play, namely the hope for more open-minded and tolerant religious perspectives. I haven't seen the Book of Mormon play, but I've heard descriptions of it and it does seem to me that Brooks has accurately described some of the themes. He makes the case that although many would prefer the non-literalistic, non-dogmatic approach to religion, it is those types of religions that have more staying power. I can agree with that point. However, he further argues that dogmatic religion has an additional number of advantages. He says 1) it motivates people to perform "heroic acts of service", 2) it provide humans with standards of good conduct that they wouldn't otherwise be able to provide for themselves, 3) its principles contain accumulated wisdom over centuries, 4) it provides concrete assertions upon which to construct a worldview using logic, 5) it anchors people to their principals, making them less vulnerable to fad ideologies, 6) it provides unparalleled insight into life's mysteries, and 7) its rigorous codes of conduct build self-discipline in its followers. Let's look at each of these points separately.

First let's start out by clarifying the point that whether it is good for people to have a literal belief in religious claims is a completely different question from whether those claims are true. Brooks makes an argument for the former, and does not address the latter point. Now on to the specifics.

1. Dogmatic religion motivates people to perform "heroic acts of service".

This is very optimistic. The other side of the coin is that dogmatic religion often motivates people to perform diabolical acts of terrorism. This isn't just the case for religions, but for any ideology that is accepted incontrovertibly. Nationalism, for example, can inspire both the very best and the very worst of people. This is a neutral point. I think people should be careful of any ideology that is inflexible and strongly believed. Especially if the source of the ideology comes from a centralized organization. Choose your ideologies carefully.

2. Dogmatic religion provides humans with standards of conduct that they wouldn't otherwise be able to provide for themselves.

Brooks says, "No matter how special some individuals may think they are, they don't have the ability to understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or avoid the temptations of laziness on their own." It would be unfortunate if Brooks believes that humans need their worldview and ethics given to them in an authoritarian manner in order for them to stick. If this is not what Brooks is implying, then this point needs further clarification. Clearly people need their parents to teach them good morals and a community that reinforces them, but this doesn't necessitate an autocratic religion. Laziness can easily be a part of dogmatic religion, because wherever there is a comprehensive and strict set of rules, legalism runs rampant. People no longer need to decide for themselves what is okay, because it has been decided for them. Those areas where the rules are not as comprehensive get very little attention, and people end up ignoring ethical questions in less regulated domains. Moral priorities correlate with the rulebook rather than with societal impact.

3. Dogmatic religion contains accumulated wisdom over centuries.

Religion does not have as good a track record of "out with the bad, in with the good" as Brooks wants to imply. If it contains accumulated wisdom over centuries, it typically also drags along with it outmoded and false ideas that stick around for no other reason than that they've been codified into doctrine. Where is the built-in self-correcting system in a dogmatic religion? How do false ideas get corrected and replaced with new wisdom to be "accumulated" as Brooks puts it? There is no such system in place. There is only the natural death and replacement of leaders to drive the progress. Each generation is trained to stick to what they have been told by the previous generation. New wisdom can only be accepted if it fits into the old worldview.

4. Dogmatic religion provides concrete assertions upon which to construct a worldview using logic.

It is true that a very strict religious creed makes the world simple and easy to reason about. Religion provides a nice package of answers to a lot of otherwise murky questions, allowing for one to build a logical structure on top of these underlying assumptions that can dazzle the imagination for sure. There's nothing wrong with using models to understand things that are complex. The problem occurs when the model is over-applied or does not fit the data. Does the model get updated? What if a better model comes along? In a dogmatic religion, the model is inflexible. The data must be reinterpreted to fit the model since the model cannot be updated to explain the data. This inflexible approach is not necessary in order to use models as an aid for understanding the world.

5. Dogmatic religion anchors people to their principals, making them less vulnerable to fad ideologies.

It is interesting that Brooks would use the phrase "mindless conformity" as an example of what dogma helps to avoid. Put in other words, conforming to a strict religion helps you not conform to society at large. One must conform, it seems, to something, and it may as well be a strict religion because those people out there are out of control with their sex, drugs, Rock 'n Roll, and Justin Bieber. How about instead of outwardly conforming with anyone, we look inside and figure out for ourselves what to stand for? I can stick to my principles without a literal belief that they are etched into the fabric of the universe and backed by a wild foundational story. My principles are informed by my upbringing and my community, and they have been and continue to be refined by my experiences and observations. They are my principles, and though they resonate and share a core with all good people in this world, they are my own.

6. Dogmatic religion provides unparalleled insights into life's mysteries.

Out of all the claims Brooks makes, this is the one I understand the least. He says:
Rigorous theology delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us. For example, in her essay, “Creed or Chaos,” Dorothy Sayers argues that Christianity’s advantage is that it gives value to evil and suffering. Christianity asserts that “perfection is attained through the active and positive effort to wrench real good out of a real evil.” This is a complicated thought most of us could not come up with (let alone unpack) outside of a rigorous theological tradition.

I confess I cannot see what special insight there is to the idea that good can come from evil. Often the point is made that affliction can provide experience, opportunity, growth, perspective, etc. but it escapes me how this idea is unreachable outside of religious tradition. If anything, religious tradition would add to that some language about holiness, purity, being refined in a fire, etc. but even those are simple metaphors. Maybe there is nuance here that I cannot grasp because of my ungodliness? Somebody explain to me how strict religious tradition adds a depth of meaning to art that cannot be had without it.

7. Dogmatic religion's rigorous codes of conduct build self-discipline in its followers.

The example Brooks gives is a Mormon choosing to abstain from coffee. I never found it especially difficult to abstain from the list of proscriptions as a Mormon, because I found those commandments to be the easiest to check off, but maybe that is just a testament to my incredible self-discipline. Out of all of Brooks points, however, I think agree with this one the most, but with some provisions. It really depends on how this self-control is encouraged. If conformity to the religion's standards of behavior is brought about through guilt and shame, then this can backfire badly. Pornography is an excellent example of this. Addictive behaviors are fueled by guilt and shame, not deterred by it. People in strict religious groups have a lot of social pressure, and this can lead to stress and depression. As long as people freely choose to adhere to the strict requirements set for them, they can benefit from a community that respects and encourages it. Projecting these same sets of rules onto people outside of the religion, however, can get really bad.

In closing, Brooks shared a quick observation about how he observed that a blunt, right-and-wrong approach seemed to work better on an AIDS-ridden village in Africa than what he described as "vague humanism". I chuckled as I pictured in my head a small, soft-spoken, bespectacled philosopher trying to reason with a wild-eyed native about what actions will lead to the most beneficial outcome, and then some big, bible-thumbing pastor shoving the philosopher aside and yelling at the native, "THOU SHALT NOT!" I can see why the latter approach would be more effective.

The Book of Mormon musical may have been overly optimistic about people's ability to take value from religious narrative without complete literal acceptance of the truth claims, or maybe it was just projecting a hope that the world could be more like that. We have all been children at some point in our lives, and in the beginning we need a lot of yes and no, right and wrong, do this and don't do that. If our parents raise us well, we are eventually able to decide for ourselves what we should and should not do, and hopefully we can do that without harming ourselves or others.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Carson's Guide to Keeping Your Testimony

Hello there! So you are still a believer in the LDS (Mormon) Church and you would like to know how you can avoid my fate and keep your beliefs intact? Well, if you stumbled onto this blog somehow then you're probably doing it wrong, but you may want to read on anyway, because this post is exactly what you need! I have intimate knowledge with the process of losing belief in the church and I made many mistakes in my attempt to salvage my faith. Since then I have learned a lot about the pitfalls leading to non-belief and how to avoid them. It's too late for me to take advantage of these tips, but you still have time! I can tell you what you need to do to hold on to that iron rod for all you're worth! I have compiled a list of dos and don'ts below that may not be immediately intuitive to you, but nevertheless are very important for keeping your testimony.

Do not read unbiased or brutally honest accounts of church history. Many people have fallen by the wayside into non-belief as a result of looking into church history. Any examination of church history should happen only through the lens of modern church publications. Not even all the books you'll find at Deseret Book are safe, but most of them are. I do not recommend reading Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman. I sincerely believe that book has caused more people to leave the church than any single book written by a non-believer, simply because Richard Bushman is an active, believing Mormon, and therefore the book is thought to be safe. You may be able to get through it with your testimony intact (as I know many have), but why risk it? Some things that are true are not very useful. If you want to feel a closer bond to Joseph Smith or some other church historical figure, there are plenty of books out there written by general authorities.

Stay away from the Bloggernacle and Internet Mormons. If you get bored with the Ensign, you might be tempted to search for faithful LDS blogs and articles that are intellectually stimulating yet still faith promoting. This is what happened to me. I wanted something more than the shallow fluffiness found in the Ensign and conference talks, and I wanted some stimulating conversation in a purely faithful (read: literal believing) context. Let me tell you right now that no such thing exists. If you want compelling, deeply-thought-out material, you have to give up some of your literal, orthodox beliefs. There are believing members out there writing plenty of blog posts, but the most interesting of them are the ones that pose the most questions, and those that pose the most questions attract the most liberal of believers: the Internet Mormons. They are wolves in sheep's clothing, whereas we non-believers are are just plain wolves. They believe differently than you do. They are more aware of church history and all the inconsistencies in widely believed Mormon doctrine. They lean a tad bit feminist, and they're slightly more empathetic with the gay movement. They make up their own minds about what is being said by the leaders of the church, and sometimes that means they have to diverge or re-contextualize what a leader has said. They have a more metaphorical understanding of the scriptures. You should be very careful about reading and engaging with Internet Mormons, because your testimony may not survive the step from being a solid conviction of the literal exclusive truth of the church's claims to being merely the love of a metaphor. The only other option is to go the apologist route, and that requires an obscene amount of mental acrobatics.

Use confirmation bias to shore up your beliefs. No, don't look up the term "confirmation bias", just do exactly what President Eyring says: count your blessings. Actively look for things that God has done for you in your life. Remember these things, and even write them down. Do not pay attention to the bad things that happen, or the things that don't make sense. Look at the flowers and the rainbows; ignore the eyeball-eating parasites and the starving children. Pray constantly for good things to happen, and whenever they occasionally do make sure to remember that God answered your prayers and thank him for it every day. Never forget how much you owe to God. Think of all the times in your life when you were financially stable and had enough food to eat; attribute that to God and make sure he gets his 10% cut. Think of all the times when you were injured or got sick but eventually became well again; attribute that to God and never forget it. Make sure you know how to point out all the little miracles that happen amidst any disaster. Keep a teleological perspective with you at all times. If something good happens to you, attribute it to God. If something bad happens to you, ask God for help and then when you get past it thank God for helping you. If you pray about something and it works out, attribute it to God. If it doesn't work out or you get no answer, attribute it to the wisdom of God in letting you figure it out for yourself or allowing you to go through hardship in order to grow.

Do not apply the the same critical thinking in church that you would apply at work or at school. When you step into the chapel or you transition from a normal conversation to talking about the gospel, make sure you also make the step into a ritualistic mindset as well. This should be like a switch in your brain. Don't analyze what is being said too much. Just participate in the ritual like everyone else. Learn the phrases and tone of voice to use, and the appropriate demeanor. Learn to appreciate the familiarity of it all and derive comfort from that. One of the problems I had was that I enjoy mental stimulation too much, so instead of zoning out for three hours, I decided that since I was there I might as well pay attention and give serious, critical thought to what was being said. Once I started paying close attention to what was being said in the meetings, it was all too easy to poke holes. People will get up and assert anything as long as it is said in the right format, and everyone will validate them. In truth, Sunday school is not a place to learn, but to promote the shared community narrative. If you try to critically examine topics in Sunday school with the purpose of getting to the truth of the matter, you will only become frustrated, and everyone else will be frustrated with you.

Forcefully reduce cognitive dissonance by continuously asserting the truth of your beliefs to others. If you outwardly declare the truth of your beliefs with no apparent external justification for doing so, a psychological process occurs in which you will internally justify your actions, thus reinforcing your own beliefs. Testimony meetings are a good way to artificially reinforce a set of beliefs in your mind with the help of the community.
As Mormons, we know well the monthly experience of sitting in fast and testimony and listening to speaker after speaker say basically the same thing in almost the same words. With no effort we can produce a list of the common phrases and topics. The repetition of them often gets boring and many wonder why we don’t vary our language and subjects. More than we realize, imbued in this tiresome treadmill of language and formality are vital processes which cement individuals and the congregation to the Church and its teachings. - David Knowlton, Sunstone Magazine

Internalize an us-versus-them mentality towards those who reject your beliefs. This is actually one of the easier ones to do. We humans do this so naturally, it takes some effort to not do this. Don't associate with people who outwardly disagree with you on items related to your beliefs. Block them from Facebook, ban their comments on your blog, and don't befriend them in real life. Especially gay people. Do not get too close to gay people. If you don't avoid them, you may be in danger of empathizing with them. The accusations that they are trying to destroy your religious freedom will fall flat. Remember that you are on a team. You are on God's side, and they are on the Devil's. Always keep in mind that you are constantly engaged in a spiritual battle against wicked people. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is one of the best ways of all to keep your beliefs intact. If you like to browse the web, be very careful of blogs such as this one you are reading now. Make sure to thoroughly vet any blog you subscribe to or any community you join.

Don't read FAIR articles. Not unless you've accidentally stumbled upon some disconcerting information about the church and need help putting it on your proverbial shelf. FAIR articles exist in order to ease your mind about all the pesky issues that critics keep bringing up. They do a really good job of cataloging all of the various questions and issues that critics have, and the articles themselves are calculated to make you feel as if the critics have been refuted. In actuality, many articles are a series of independent nitpicks of small factual errors that critics have made, with a lot of effort put into carving out an infinitesimally small realm of possibility that the church's claims are true. Kind of like how I could argue a small possibility that we can fly using our minds, but we just haven't learned how. The fact is that if you read FAIR articles too carefully you might not come away quite as assured of their arguments, and if you read too many FAIR articles, they will raise more questions in your mind than you had in the first place. It is best to only use FAIR in case of emergencies, and when you do use it, just stay on the site long enough to be comforted by the fact that they have addressed every one of the problems you have in mind, and don't stay long enough to find out exactly how they're being addressed.

Always remember that someone smarter than you believes. Don't think about the actual numbers or statistics, just focus on a few solid, smart, intellectual people that you know or have seen who still fully believe in the church. There are plenty of them out there. If you went to BYU, then you can probably name a few professors you admire. Remember that they are smarter than you and that they still believe in the church. Comfort yourself with that thought. After all, what problems could you possibly have that they haven't already thought of or addressed in their own minds? Surely they would have a very wise and well-thought-out response to any doubts you might have. Remember that this stuff that the critics bring up isn't new; it's been out there for a long time. Surely if these few people you admire still believe even knowing about all these issues, then it must be true. Tell yourself that if you were to stop believing in the church, then that essentially means you think you're smarter than they are. You wouldn't dare.

Don't set out to prove your non-believing friend or family member wrong. This has backfired countless times. You may have a close friend who stopped believing, and they may point out to you some problem with church history, like the Book of Abraham. You start out with the tragically naive notion that if the church is true then the evidence will bear it out, and you decide you're going to prove your friend wrong and help them see the error of their ways. Do not do this. The church has given you perfectly good reasons why your friend has stopped believing. They have either been offended, they've left to sin, or they've been tricked by Satan. It shouldn't be too hard to pick one. If they've been tricked by Satan, then remember that the tactic here is not to try to un-trick them by actually looking into the same thing they looked into. That's how they got tricked in the first place! Rather, Satan must be fought with prayer and testimony. Maybe skip a meal or two while you're at it. If that doesn't help your friend, then write them off as a lost cause, and keep conversation with them to a minimum.

These are some of the most important things you can do to avoid losing your belief in the church. I guarantee you that if you follow them they will work, and if they don't I promise you an 11.11% increase in your yearly income. You can't lose!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Discussion With My Parents

My parents called me on Sunday at 6:26pm. I didn't answer, of course. Our landlord was here to fix the bathroom fan. My dad left a message: "Hi [Carson], it's Mom and Dad. We'll... try to call you back later." He didn't sound very happy. I was not interested in talking to them over the phone, because I didn't know what kind of attitude they were going to take towards our coming out as unbelievers yet. Anything was liable to happen in a conversation like that. Just hearing his voice in the short message gave me the chills.

The next day while I was at work my mom sent out her weekly family email. At the beginning of it she wrote:
I want to let you know, [Carson] and [my wife], that your email did sadden me, as you knew it would. I look forward to a time when Dad and I can chat with you to understand your decision better. Of course, Dad and I will continue to love you both very much.

She then continued on with all the goings on of the week as usual. After I finally got home, I sent an email to both my parents saying: "Do you have any questions that we can answer via email?" I was hoping to avoid starting the discussion over the phone.

I got no answer from that email, but my parents called again yesterday evening (Tuesday) while I was at the gym, and my mom left a message asking if there was a time we could talk on the phone and that they'd be available the rest of the evening. They had not responded to my email asking if there were any questions we could answer via email, so we concluded that they just were not going to go that route. It had to be on the phone for them. So we called them last night.

After some initial small talk, my dad was like, "Okay let's cut to the chase." Yeesh! He said, "We would like to know what happened." A small awkward interval of silence ensued, and then I made myself start talking. I said that it was a long process. He said, "It usually is." I said that there wasn't one big reason, but a whole lot of reasons. I told them that it started over three years ago when we were living in Virginia, and that both my wife and I had our own doubts and concerns at the time, but didn't necessarily know about each other's concerns. I said that the questioning process started with a lot of prayer and scripture study and then lasted all the way through the time we spent in Indiana as I was going to graduate school. At one point while we were in Indiana, we opened up to each other about our doubts and disbelief, and the process continued until it stabilized while we were still in Indiana. They asked what I meant by "stabilized" and I told them it was when we were no longer wrestling with our doubts or questions and we had reached a fairly solid conclusion about it all. I told them that I didn't want to go into any of the specific reasons because I didn't want them to feel on the defensive or feel like we were attacking them. They seemed to accept that and didn't pry for any details as far as reasons are concerned.

They asked if we had had any contact in the ward here in Seattle, and we told them no. My dad wanted to clarify something he saw in our email about leaving the church, wanting to know if we formally resigned or not. We told him no. He wanted to know if we were going to. We told him that we had no current plans for doing so, but that in the future it could be a possibility. My mom wanted to know what we do believe in, like God, Jesus, etc. I said I believe in a whole lot of things, however I do not have a belief in a deity. My wife tried to explain that she still thinks that humans have a spiritual aspect, basically trying to dodge the god question, hehe. In the middle of this I realized that I should really explain to them that we still have values, morals, etc. so I interrupted and emphasized the living crap out of the fact that we still believe in all the good things we've been taught by them, that I consider them to be exceptional parents, and that this is not a rejection of them or the values they've instilled in me. Throughout all of this they never betrayed a reaction. They kept all of their feelings about our answers to themselves, and were just calmly asking questions, hearing the responses, and then moving on to other questions. I imagine they probably resolved to approach it this way, asking but not reacting. Although it would have been interesting to know what there inner reactions are, I think this suited us just fine.

My dad asked what we would do if two home teachers showed up at our door. It's like they had all their questions written down. I told them that we would probably explain to them that we don't need home teachers. My mom asked if we would be offended if she sent us books from Deseret Book or subscriptions to church magazines. We told them that we would not be offended, but that it would be unnecessary. They asked about my parents-in-law and if we'd talked to them yet. We told them no we haven't but that my mother-in-law had responded to a previous email she had sent about some gardening thing, so we assumed that perhaps they weren't as bothered by it. My dad said he was sure that they were just as distraught about it. He really doesn't know what he's talking about here, as I don't think he understands that my wife's parents don't share his hardline, orthodox perspective. My wife talked about how she felt her mom had seen some signs of it from talking on the phone (my wife has an inner raging feminist) and that she probably wasn't as surprised because of that. My parents then told us that they had also seen signs. We were both tempted to ask what exactly they had seen, but we decided not to because to us it is an amusing question and I don't think they'd join us in laughing about it. Basically, my wife couldn't keep her raging feminist from leaking during the Christmas break when we were with my family. I'm sure that's the biggest sign they had, but I'm awfully curious as to what signs they might have had from me. I kept my mouth shut pretty well.

My mom asked us if we were still committed to each other and to our son as a family. Ha! We assured her that we definitely were, and that we've grown even closer as a result of being honest with each other about our issues.

Towards the end, my dad told us that there had been a lot of tears over the weekend because of this. I was silent, and my wife filled the silence by saying that we knew it would probably make them sad but that we thought it was important to be authentic. I wanted to say: "I'm still waiting to hear what your point is. I'm sorry if the fact that I can't bring myself to believe in this has made you cry, but that is your problem." But I didn't say that, which I'm sure you'd agree was probably a good decision. We all exchanged "we love you", my dad told us that Heavenly Father has a plan for us, my mom said she really wants to visit us, and that was pretty much it. Overall I think it was a good conversation. It sounded like they were very careful to not react to our answers; they just wanted to run down a list of questions and let us do most of the talking. This is definitely better than all those worst-case scenarios that have been dancing around in my head for the past year. It certainly helps that my wife and I are both in this together, and also that we don't have a ward that we need to extricate ourselves from. I consider myself lucky.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Two Good Responses

We received two emails last night, one from my sister (which I'll call sister#1 -- the one who I talked with on the phone yesterday was sister#2) and one from my brother-in-law (BIL#1) and his wife (SIL#1). They were both good. They both showed understanding, love, and respect, and it made for a good ending to a day of emotional turmoil. Seriously, I couldn't eat as much or do as much weightlifting yesterday as I usually can because of all the anxiety.

Sister#1 said she wasn't surprised. I figured she probably wouldn't be surprised that my wife (DW) doesn't believe because DW never was quite able to keep her feminist opinions bottled up during the Christmas break. It is curious to me that sister#1 wasn't surprised about me (at least that's what I think was implied). She is rather observant, and I can't help wondering what she observed about me that made it so that it didn't surprise her. From the description that sister#2 gave me of the household yesterday we had completely knocked the socks off of everyone else. Maybe she felt an evil spirit about me? :-P

Sister#1 also said that she respects our intentions and our search for truth. That earns her a big thumbs up in my book. It feels good to know that our relationship with her is still intact.

BIL#1 also emphasized that they love us and value their relationship with us. They asked for forgiveness in case they unconsciously give offense during this transition.

Both emails expressed love and a desire to continue relationships despite our differences. I'm impressed with them both. I hope that the rest of the family can be as understanding as they have been. No doubt my dad is composing one of the hardest epistles he's ever had to write. I expect this will show up in the inbox within the next day or two.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

We Just Came Out

Today, March 26, 2011 on the anniversary of the day that the Book of Mormon first came out, so are we. We sent out our announcement email to the entire family:

Dear family,

We hope this letter finds you well. Unfortunately, we need to discuss something that will likely not be pleasant for you. We are telling you this because we value our relationship with you and want that relationship to be built on authenticity and mutual understanding. With that, we need to tell you that we no longer believe in the church.

This is not a sudden or recent event; it is a process that we've been going through for over three years. It was painful at the beginning because our belief in the church was something we both held dear and took very seriously. We deeply appreciate our upbringing and the values we have been taught, as well as the opportunities for growth that you and the church have provided us. Our decision to leave was not made lightly. We simply can no longer proclaim faith in good conscience. We love each of you and enjoy hearing about all aspects of your lives, including spiritual and church-related experiences. Hopefully this news will not cause you to draw away from us and we will be able to love each other in spite of our differences.

This email does not include a laundry list of reasons why we no longer believe, but we assure you that we have not been offended by anyone nor have we left out of a desire to sin or slacken our commitment to what we hold to be true. Our lives will continue much as they did before. If, by chance, you have any desire to discuss the "why" we are happy to do so, but hope that this can be done after any initial shock has subsided to some degree.


We sent it off around noon and went to run some errands. At about the time we were finished with our errands I got a call from my sister. We had decided to not take calls from our family, but this was the sister that we figured was the most likely to not be judgmental, so I answered it. I was not disappointed.

She came out to me that she had gone through her own tribulation-filled journey of faith and had finally come to a testimony of her own. From this experience she learned that everyone has to make that decision for themselves, and she did not fault us for our decision. It was a good call, and I felt that we connected in a closer way than ever before.

Unfortunately she described to me that the scene she had just left at home where the rest of my family is was a depressing sight. My dad was speechless and everyone was in shock. Not good. I knew this wasn't going to go very well. At this point I'm just glad that I have one dear sister who I can count on to be understanding and non-judgmental. Bless her heart.

I didn't go too much into the reasons why we don't believe over the phone, but I did some. I constantly emphasized that I had no intention or desire to stomp on anyone's testimony or to offend or personally attack anyone. I think she understands. When the conversation was over she had just gotten back home, and who knows what conversations are happening there now. I don't know if I'd even want to know. Mark my words, my dad is going to be pretty defensive about this at the start. I do not think it is a good idea to talk to my parents on the phone for a while.

At this point I don't yet feel the exhilaration of being free and out yet. I still feel nervousness and anticipation about how my family is reacting and will react. It's going to get worse before it gets better. I don't know how much of an influence my sister can have on the rest of them, but at this point I think she's the only one I'm willing to talk to over the phone. I really don't think anyone else in my family has had their own journey yet as she has, and I don't think any of them besides her are going to be capable of showing much understanding at this point.

Wow! To have everybody be in shock like that! She said that my brothers were in tears! My brothers! In tears! It's just so wrong. Have we really turned their lives upside down today? They're going to have to re-position their entire view of us in their minds. We go from being on the good list to the bad list. Suddenly we can't be their example of a righteous family or whatever. It's as if we'd died in an accident. I guess we'll see what comes of this after the shock has worn off.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Family Communications

Okay I'm going to go ahead and use some standard acronyms here. My wife (DW) and three-year-old son (DS) had a video chat with her mom (my mother-in-law - MIL) today while I was at work. At some point MIL asks DS what he did yesterday. Apparently even though the word "church" was never mentioned in the conversation beforehand, DS said that we went to church and he had fun there. He's so silly. DW neither confirmed nor denied this to MIL. Now MIL thinks we went to church yesterday, and nothing could be further from the truth. We haven't gone to church since we moved here and won't be going to church.

Later this evening we got a family spam email from my dad. This is extremely rare. In fact, he used an email address I haven't seen before so it must be new. He basically talked about some history books he was reading about war and tragedy, and he expressed his gratitude and humility for not having to go through such horror. He wonders why he has been so blessed. He believes that Jesus will comfort those who have suffered and help them accept the truth in the end. He exhorts us to live the gospel and ends his epistle. His written communications are always rare, but usually dramatic like that.

So now all we need to do is send off a letter saying "Hey guys we don't believe in any of this crap anymore! But we love you!" to top off the evening, eh?

I don't know how people can just happily go without telling their families of their disaffection. People will sometimes ask me, "Why do they need to know? Just don't tell them!" Some of these people are ex-mos and I just don't understand how they can pull that off. Do their families never ask them about church? Does the subject never come up? Do they censor themselves whenever they talk to family? Do they never get invited to weddings, temple trips, or to say a prayer, bear a testimony, or give a blessing? How can they cut themselves off from their families so cleanly like that? We live far away from our families yet there is no way we can go without them knowing without a ridiculous amount of hiding involved. I want to live authentically. I guess it's time to start drafting that announcement email.

Friday, March 18, 2011

No Response

It looks like we severely undershot the initial sting. If you don't remember, we sent a weekly family update email wherein we planted the sentence "We're not attending church right now, so we decided to take advantage of the continuing nice weather the next day and walk around the neighborhood a bit." It was right in the middle of a long paragraph, where it must have either gone unnoticed or unconsidered. There was literally no reaction whatsoever. My sister posted on my FB wall that she loves me, and when we saw that we were almost certain that it was a reaction, but then I looked at her FB wall and saw that she had done this to all the siblings with FB accounts.

My dad's birthday came up recently, so we gave him a call as is tradition. Needless to say, we were a bit apprehensive about it. We decided that if he directly asked questions about it that we would say we weren't going to church but that we'd rather discuss that over email. Well the call went pretty normally, and (luckily?) he didn't ask that question. It seemed to me like he hadn't noticed the hidden message in our previous email. In fact, at one point in the conversation he exhorted us to pay tithing and started going off on his tithing testimony in his usual way. It is very typical of him to do that -- definitely not out of the norm. At the first available pause I changed the topic of conversation. I didn't detect any unusual worries or curiosity about us.

I think that if anyone noticed the sentence in our last email they probably thought nothing of it. They probably just assumed we had some good reasons for not yet attending church because of the move we just made or whatever. It was too subtle and too temporary-sounding. It may have raised a few eyebrows, but it definitely didn't spark any open curiosity. We probably should have made it the start of a paragraph and left out the "right now".

It's somewhat difficult to figure out what to do next. We thought about making yet another sting but this time make it not as subtle or hidden. The problem with that is it potentially becomes a little tedious for them if they noticed the first time. I know if I were them I would have noticed the first one and would be annoyed at seeing yet another little hint. "Do they have something to tell us or what?" I'd think. Dropping all these stupid little hints everywhere would just confuse everybody.

We're potentially just one conversation away from coming out. All it takes is for someone to ask about how we like the ward or something, and I don't want to lie about it or play games to avoid answering directly. I think it may be time to draft a full on disaffection notice letter and send it to everyone. When the news comes out it is going to spread quickly through the family and it's going to be a Big Deal, so we can let it out on our terms or on theirs. I want to make the letter short and sweet. I don't want to go into our journey story or anything like that, because I don't want to make a big deal out of it. Just simply "we don't believe but we love you still" and tell them we're open to talking about it via email if they really want.

It'll be nice to have it all out on the table. This really shouldn't be a big deal, but it is.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Stage One Complete

We just hit send on the first email to our parents and all of our siblings. It is a rather long email about the various goings on of this past couple of weeks. Embedded in one of the longer paragraphs, there is this sentence:
The park and the community center are only a short walk away, so we'll be going there a lot. We're not attending church right now, so we decided to take advantage of the continuing nice weather the next day and walk around the neighborhood a bit.

We can see that my mom is currently online, so she may be reading it now. I don't know how many people are going to notice it, or think much of it. Many of them may just think we have some good temporary reasons that weren't mentioned. I'd be surprised if no one asks about it. I still think it was a good idea to do it this way, because it gets across the very true message that to us it's not a big deal. It hides our apprehension of course, but that's a good thing to hide. If this little tidbit doesn't spark any questions, then stage two will just have to wait. We can be at least a little bit more open now, because technically we have told them that we aren't attending church, so at the very least I hope they're not surprised if we can't tell them all about our new ward here.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Coming Out Plan

We've come up with a plan to come out to our families. It is going to be via email. It is going to be via email because it simply cannot be via the telephone, video chat, IM, in person, or snail mail.

There are two reasons why it cannot be over the phone, video chat, or in person. First, there is too much risk of emotions getting out of control. This is going to be a touchy subject, and it is difficult to be precise and careful with what is said. A situation like this is a minefield. Both sides are likely to say things that are very offensive to the recipients. It is better to have a buffer of time between the messages to keep things under control (on my side at the very least). The second reason why this can't be in real-time is that I actually do love my parents, a lot, and to see the horror on their faces or to hear it in their pause as a result of simply telling them that I don't believe would kill me. Horrified at me, and for what?! That they would feel such anguish just because I have the integrity to follow the truth wherever it leads me would make me very angry and sad. That very moment of hearing or watching their completely unjustified anguish wash over them would ignite something in me that I'd rather not experience. I do not want to be a witness to any kind of pathetic mourning, as though I had died. If they're going to mourn me like that, I'd rather they just got it over with on their own, and then they can get back to me when they finally realize I'm still right here and I'm still the same person. Even if they mourn at me in an email it will be easier to take than to watch them bawl in person.

This leaves snail mail, email, IM, blog, or Facebook. It's not going to be Facebook because Facebook is stupid. It's not going to be IM because we'd much rather broadcast it and have everyone hear it from us first. It won't be our public blog because, well, it's much too public. It won't be snail mail because then the suspense would kill us. Email it is.

Now the problem is: how do we bring up the subject via email? I don't want to give anyone the impression that they are entitled to know our religious status (or lack thereof). I'd quite like to give the impression that no we aren't going to church, but it's no big deal. It really isn't a big deal at all, and I want to convey to them that from our point of view it really isn't. This is why I dread coming out with some grand announcement, thereby giving credence to the notion that leaving the church represents some gigantic, fundamental shift in who we are and what we represent. I can't ignore that this will be quite shocking to them, but honestly our attitude is, "Yeah, so what? We haven't changed."

This is why we'd prefer to come out in response to some inevitable church queries. "So, how's the ward? Have any callings yet?" That sort of thing. We could say in response, "well, we're not going to church right now." Two problems with this: 1) unfortunately it is the case that these questions are much more likely to come by phone call or video chat than by email, and 2) even if that question did come via email, there isn't a clear, non-awkward way to respond to one query like that with a response that spams the entire family.

My mom always sends a email to the family about the goings on at home, and so does my sister. So we've decided to start writing our own weekly family email and casually bring up the subject ourselves as part of a future email update. My wife has been doing an excellent job at writing up an update email for a few weeks now, so we've been able to establish a precedent.

We've come up with a two-phase plan for release. The first phase will be a casual mention in an update email. The purpose of this phase is to be the initial shock preparing the way for the full coming out, and therefore it is softened a little. I do not want them to be happily reading a fun little email update from us and then to suddenly come face to face with "we don't believe in Mormonism anymore" or something to that effect. That would be a lot for them to handle in one shot, and they'd be completely unprepared for it. Rather, we'll include a sentence like, "Since we're not attending church right now, we spent Sunday afternoon taking a walk around the neighborhood and letting [our son] play in the park." This is a softer hit because it says nothing about our beliefs or our reasons for not attending church, and it is presented in a nice casual, matter-of-fact way that is (hopefully) slightly disarming. The phrase "not attending church right now" leaves open a sliver of hope for those who desperately need it in that moment. I want to provide that sliver of hope for them in the very beginning, because it very well may be the only thing keeping them from plunging into shock and despair for us at the time that they read it and double-take. I just want them to feel that preparatory sting first, to get them to mull it over in their minds, to get used to the idea. Carson and his wife aren't attending church right now. What could it mean? I want them to be prepared to hear what they are about to hear, because from their point of view it is about to get worse.

The second phase will be at least a day after the first, and if at all possible I'd like it to be in response to questions coming about as a result of the first phase. I think there will be plenty of questions. "Wait, why are you not attending church right now?" Surely they will be curious. I'd like to have some sort of critical mass of questions first, and then we will deliver the answer email to all. We haven't composed this email, but I'm thinking it will be similar to this one. It will clearly state that we no longer subscribe to Mormonism in diplomatic terms. I don't want to drag it out and make them think we're just struggling with our testimonies, as that was three years ago. I want to leave the door open for questions, and we'll handle those one by one. At this point the real fun will begin. For the first little while afterward I will refuse to talk about it over the phone or video chat, insisting that all conversations about this subject be had via email for the meantime. This is to give some time to calmly come to terms with each other before risking a real-time back-and-forth discussion. How much time this will take depends on what the initial reactions are. My biggest hope is that my family will take it in stride and all of this worrying and planning on my part will be completely unnecessary.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Time is Coming

My wife and I, and our young child, have just recently moved across the country for a new job. We've used this as an opportunity to quit church altogether. I hadn't been attending much anyway, but my wife was attending most of the time because she had some friends in the ward. Now that we are here, we will no longer attend the LDS church. Our young son would have just been entering primary, so this was a very convenient time. We won't have to unplug ourselves from the ward, and there will be no close ward friends or leaders to have awkward conversations with. This severance of church participation, however, brings us unavoidably to the largest hurdle in the process: telling our extended family.

There just isn't a viable way to keep it a secret from them. I've heard more than once the question, "Why do you have to tell them? Why do they need to know?" There is a part of me that would love for this to be a secret from them. After all, what business is it of theirs whether I believe in the same myths that they do? Why can't we just get on with our lives and enjoy the tangible relationships we have while we're here? The answer is that the church is so much more than just a set of beliefs to them. The church is their way of life. Every week the family gets an email update from my mom about the goings on at home (I have many younger siblings, and most of them are still dependent on my parents). About 50-70% of each email is church-related. Their lives are filled with church activities, meetings, and callings. Every once in a while there'll be a testimony. My sister is at BYU and she also sends weekly updates, filled to the brim with anxious testimony stories. My family eats, breathes, and sleeps Mormonism.

There are two main reasons why my unbelief cannot remain a secret from them. First, the issue will inevitably come up in normal conversation. In fact, I'm convinced the topic of church will come up in our next phone or video chat. I would literally have to lie outright in order to keep it a secret. They will ask how the ward is and what callings we have. Lying to them is absolutely out of the question. Also, none of my younger siblings have married yet, and when one of them does, we'll have to explain to them why we cannot attend the ceremony. Trying to keep them in the dark about our disaffection without actually lying to them would require a lot of work.

The second reason why this cannot remain a secret is that I simply do not want to hide this from them. Sure, there are advantages to keeping it a secret, but there are also big advantages to coming out, and I prefer those advantages. I want to be authentic. I want the people close to me to know what I think. The fact is that right now they think that I hold certain convictions that I no longer hold. I will not try to force my worldview on them, but I want it made clear to them that I do not accept what the old men at the head of the LDS corporation preach. I want them to know that there is an unbeliever and an atheist very close to them, and I want them to think about that. I want them to experience that cognitive dissonance in their minds. They cannot have this cake and eat it too. However they reconcile it is up to them, but reconcile it they must. Their belief system gives them very little choice. Either I must be evil, or there must be something to what I say. I expect that their conclusion will be the former, but I want them look at me straight on as their brother or son, who loves them, and tell themselves that I am evil. I want them to look at me while they conclude that people who leave the church aren't happy or are deluded. If they want to demonize apostates and atheists, I want them to know that they demonize their own brother. I want them to realize that the logical conclusion of their beliefs as dictated to them by the old holy men is that their brother and his wife are bad, unhappy people.

I haven't been very optimistic when thinking about the possible ramifications of our coming out. I've imagined so many different scenarios. The best possible scenario is that my parents send a warm email about how they love us just the same regardless of our beliefs. I would be awestruck by a response like this. It would render me speechless. I would probably feel bad for having underestimated my parents, and my apprehensiveness would melt away entirely. I'd feel silly for having spent so much energy on the topic, and life would quickly move on.

But every time I think about my dad, I'm almost sure that it will not be that way. He is a very opinionated man (one thing that I inherited) and very devoted to the church, and I can't imagine him being okay with this in any way. He is the stronghold of political/religious opinion in the home, and my siblings have for the most part aligned themselves with him. A conversation with him is typically a 1-way lecture, not a lot of give and take. There are a thousand great things about my dad, don't get me wrong, but these are just some reasons why I don't think this is going to go down as smoothly as I'd like it to. I'll talk about our strategy for coming out in the next post, but we're going to need to send a family-wide email because if we just told my parents first, I know my dad would gather everyone around and let them know the news in his own way, infusing the announcement with gravity, sadness, and that oh-so-poignant spiritual anguish, followed by exhortations to keep the faith. It would be like announcing the death of a sibling, inoculating them as much as possible from any potential cognitive dissonance for whenever I got around to telling my own story.

I've pictured in my head each of my siblings, trying to think of how they will react to the news. Will they draw away from me? Will they challenge me? I don't think many of them will challenge me, as I think they know I can hold my own in a debate, but I suspect that there will be a quiet distrust there, possibly for the rest of my life.

I've thought about how this is going to go down for so long that I've developed a sort of detached curiosity about it. I feel like just sending the email right now just so that I can observe their reactions and compare them to my expectations. I've thought about how I will respond to their reactions, whether I would be very accommodating and forgiving of insulting behavior or whether I would toss it right back in their face. I've decided that I will not stand for insulting or accusatory reactions, nor will I allow myself to be angry in my responses. I will try to be calm and firm.

Depending on what the reactions are like, I may post them here. I have been at the receiving end of a few blogs and forum posts where people have told their exit stories and shared the reactions of family members, and I have greatly appreciated their sharing them. I think these stories are important and need to be told in a public way. One of the most insidious things about the church in my opinion is its destroying of family relationships over something a simple as a belief, and they cannot and must not be able to do this without the stories being heard.

Friday, January 7, 2011

My List of Issues

People generally want to know what it is that made a person stop believing in the church. Believers want to know often because they want to find out where the leak is so that they can patch it up for you. A disaffection can be a long and complicated process that involves many different threads. Some people have disaffection stories that have one clear cut culprit, like finding out the real history of Joseph Smith. More often the disaffection starts with one thing, like the first crack in a dam, and then the whole worldview falls apart as the crack quickly turns into a flood of issues. Sometimes when a disaffected person shares the issue that was the first crack in their testimony with a believer, the believer pounces on that one issue with some apologetics and stands back and says, "Okay, so now do you believe?"

My own disaffection started with many little cracks in the foundation. Eventually the sheer number of them overwhelmed me and I could no longer ignore what was right in front of my face. I anticipate that I will be asked a number of times to give a reason for my disaffection, and that is why I've decided to make a comprehensive list of all the little doubts and questions that contributed. These are all the little nagging doubts that I tried to shelve as best I could when I believed, before the shelf just couldn't hold them any longer.

Remember that these were all the questions and doubts I had when I was still a faithful believer. Do not assume, for example, that the reason I couldn't feel the Spirit, receive an answer to a prayer, or whatever it may be is because I was a filthy, unbelieving apostate. I read my scriptures, said my prayers, paid my tithing (gross), went to church, believed in the doctrine, loved the church leaders, fulfilled my callings, did my home teaching (usually), attended the temple, and was an all-around agreeable albeit quiet guy at church. I felt a strong sense of duty to God, to whom I felt I owed everything I had.

I haven't added anything about church history to this list because there are just too many issues there and it would overwhelm the rest. Suffice it to say that studying actual church history raises an overwhelming number of questions by itself, enough to bring about the disaffection for many people.

As I remember more questions I had, I will add to this list.

  1. Why is it that I've never received a confirmation from the Spirit that the church or the Book of Mormon was true despite many sincere prayers?

  2. Why do I pray and ask for physical protection when I know very well that not only am I not guaranteed protection by praying but that my statistical chances of being in harm's way does not diminish at all as a result of asking for protection? Countless other righteous people have prayed sincerely for protection and yet have been killed, maimed, tortured, have had their families destroyed, their daughters raped and murdered, etc. Apparently God had his own plans for them (for our own experience, right?), and so I must also accept God's will for me if it so happens that physical protection is not in my destiny. What is the point of praying for physical protection then, if it isn't going to change God's unknowable destiny for me? What reason is there to feel safe and secure (physically) after praying for protection, knowing that for all I know it's just not part of God's mysterious plan? Is it not arrogant, after having had a safe trip somewhere, to claim divine intervention on one's own behalf while other no less deserving people perish in flames after praying for the same kind of protection?

  3. Why does God get all the credit when things work out, yet none of the blame when things don't work out? It's indistinguishable from God not being there at all. Or at least if he is there, he apparently doesn't have to answer our prayers, as we will praise him regardless.

  4. Why is it that I feel zero inspiration when I lay my hands on someone to give them a blessing despite all of the promises made to me that the words would come? The words never came. The first time I gave a blessing I had faith that the words would come. I was a little anxious about it, but I believed that the inspiration would come at the right moment. The moment came and I put my hands on this person's head. I stood there and felt nothing. No words came to my head; no feelings, no impressions, nothing. I was horrified. I eventually just blabbered some churchy words, the kind that you reserve for an impromptu prayer at the front of a Sunday school class or something. I left that blessing and went and prayed and pleaded with the Lord, asking why I couldn't feel anything and asking for help next time. The next time was the same, and the time after that, and so on. Promised inspiration from the Spirit has never been a part of my believing life.

  5. Why have I never experienced this "still small voice" that so many love to talk about? People are constantly telling stories about how they received a prompting from the Spirit to go do something or talk to somebody, promptings that came out of the blue and were obviously external to their own thought processes. So many people will swear by these experiences, even basing their entire testimony on it. Why is it that I never experienced anything remotely like this? I have never had a voice in my head telling me to do something. Not even a feeling or an inclination. Does this make me abnormal?

  6. Why are the scriptures simply uninspiring to me? Why is it that people gush about the scriptures all the time and yet when we open and read them, they sound tired, repetitive, barely relevant, and trite? Why is it that when my wife and I read scriptures together, it depresses us rather than enlightens us? Why do these promises that our lives will be full of spiritual warmth as a result of reading the scriptures never come to pass? When I read the Book of Mormon for the 100th time, I get nothing out of it that I didn't already get when I first comprehended the stories at age 4? I've tried to look deeper and analyze the text for new meanings and angles, but it is like squeezing water from a rock. Why is it that when my wife and I try reading from a different book together other than the scriptures, suddenly there is much more to discuss and think about, more substance to meditate upon? Why is it that I feel infinitely more inspired by reading Flags of Our Fathers than I do by reading the scriptures?

  7. Why is the curriculum in the church so dumbed down? Why do we cherry pick so few versus from the scriptures in every lesson manual and in every class in the church? Why is it that I'm told I still need milk before meat despite having spent a lifetime in the church? During church classes I increasingly felt distant from everyone else because I could no longer muster any excitement about the shallow, correlated topics that have been covered from every possible angle since I was a small child.

  8. Why are the church publications and general conference talks full of fluffy, trite gospely talk that could have been generated randomly? Why are there so many glaring logical fallacies at the pulpit in sacrament meeting, in Sunday school, in the Ensign, and in general conference? My wife and I sat down to read an article the Ensign together one evening in an attempt to revamp our FHE, and we were surprised at how content free the article was. Where are the deep introspections? Where is the intellectual rigor? Why must everything taste like mass-produced spam? Why do people with otherwise impressive academic credentials so easily and willfully confuse correlation with causation and throw about massive generalizations during church?

  9. Why do I feel so depressed when I go to the temple? I constantly came out of the temple feeling frustrated and depressed. At first the endowment ceremony was just very strange and new to me. I figured that I'd eventually come to learn more about it and that it would expand my understanding of the plan of salvation and my place in it. It did nothing of the sort. Each time I went I tried to understand more, but ended up being more confused than ever. What depth of meaning could there possibly be in all this weird ritual and excessive repetition? It was very frustrating. I almost memorized the entire thing in my quest to learn from it somehow. Eventually the frustration gave way to monotony and depression. People at church kept gushing about how wonderful the temple experience was, and it kept making me feel distant and separated from them. I continued attending the temple because I felt it was my duty, but I finally accepted that I would probably never like it.

  10. Why is there such a focus on "saving ordinances" when fairness dictates that everyone who has ever lived will receive an equal opportunity to receive the ordinances regardless and that the more important thing is to live righteously? Is it more important to live a good life or to receive the ordinances? The LDS gospel tries to have it both ways. The church claims that both the ordinances and living a good life are required for exaltation, and the assumption here is either that all genuinely good people will accept the ordinances or that the genuinely good people who don't accept them will not be exalted. The former situation renders the ordinances as superfluous; just some strange little bureaucratic rituals that for some reason have to be performed. Even though you are completely worthy of exaltation, God cannot exalt you unless you've been dunked in the water correctly and have watched the right movie and memorized the right tokens. What? If this is the case, then why is there so much emphasis placed on receiving these ordinances as if they were only going to be available for a limited time? Why must all good people join the church if they are perfectly happy where they are now, and will accept the superfluous ordinances in due time in the afterlife? The latter situation in which perfectly righteous people get damned is of course grossly unfair.

  11. Why do grand, faith-affirming experiences occur just as much if not more in every other religion, even when the principles or doctrines that the experiences affirm are in direct contradiction with the LDS gospel? We claim the companionship and gift of the Holy Ghost, yet we are outnumbered by people who daily experience the constant companionship of various godly figures. Do we reject their experiences outright, or only when they don't contradict our particular beliefs? Are we to believe from our burning-in-the-bosom experiences that we belong to the only true church on the face of the Earth? What about the burning-in-the-bosom experiences that countless others have about completely different religions? What are they to conclude? Does the universe really revolve around us? Are we really the chosen few of the latter-days?

  12. The LDS gospel teaches that Jesus is the savior of not only this world, but innumerable worlds (Billions? Trillions?) aside from this one. And yet he happened to have been born on this particular world. Does anyone understand the fantastical probabilistic hubris of this doctrine? Did Jesus visit every one of these worlds, like an ultimate cosmic Santa Claus? Which is more likely: that we are really the one planet out of trillions that was chosen for Christ's ministry or that this part of the doctrine is just a result of conventional self-centric musings, much like the early idea that the sun revolved around Earth.

  13. Why do we believe that thousands of years ago a man built a giant boat and put a pair of every single species of animal on it in order to save them from a flood that covered the entire globe?

  14. Why do we believe that thousands of years ago that a large group of people who spoke one common language were instantly altered such that they spoke various languages which are the roots of all the languages we have in the world today?

  15. Since evolution of humans as well as all animals cannot be seriously dismissed anymore, how does this not conflict with what our prophets have been saying for years? I was taught evolution at BYU, but I was also taught to ignore and/or deny that the church's teachings had ever been in contradiction to evolution. How does this not conflict with the creation narrative or the Adam and Eve story?

  16. What is it about an ape-like body that is otherworldly and perfect? God apparently has a body of flesh and bones just like ours, since our bodies were apparently fashioned after his. Does he have a bellybutton? Do his intestines process food waste like ours? Do his opposable thumbs come in very handy in his celestial world? What about his anus? Does he find his androgenic hair to be of great use to him? Does his facial hair keep his face warm in the winter, or is it useful for something else? Is it simply for good looks? Are all the compelling evolutionary explanations for all of our ape-like features completely bunk? Almost all of our bodily organs have a well-understood terrestrial and mortal function, most of which would be useless in a world without the biological properties and dangers of our own. Is there an equivalent celestial function for every single one of our bodily organs? What use are fingernails in a perfect, indestructible body? I could go on and on. This seems to me like yet another self-centric idea: that our bodies are perfect in conception; that we are at the very peak of our evolution, and no other kind of body could be superior; that our bodies are created from a celestial template -- the very same ape-like body that the creator of the entire universe has. Take away anything, change anything, or add anything to it and it would be unlike God and therefore inferior. The universe ultimately revolves around humans, and was created by a superhuman.

  17. Why do we believe that the very same atoms that were part of our body will again be reunited in our body at the resurrection? How is it that we can be so profoundly ignorant about the cycle of life that we think that every atom that becomes a part of us belongs to us forever? Why do people in the church get so worked up about people being cremated after they die, as if this is going to make resurrection significantly more complicated than it would otherwise be?

  18. Why do so many false faith-promoting stories (told not as stories but as truth) find so much success in the church? People are constantly feeling the Spirit very strongly whenever a patently false email forward story is told at the pulpit as though they were completely true accounts.

  19. Why is it impossible to tell the difference between an emotional response to stimulus and the Spirit testifying of truth? Regardless of how many times leaders try to point out the distinction, people constantly fail to discern any difference between the two (like with the stories above). If it is that difficult to discern, it does not bode well for Moroni's famous challenge.

  20. If my mission president was called of God and was entitled to inspiration from God, why did he so completely misjudge me? Why was my mission run like a slimy marketing campaign?

  21. Why are we taught to obey our leaders without question? We are taught that our leaders won't lead us astray and also simultaneously that if they lead us astray we should still follow because obedience is the first law of heaven.

  22. Why is our message about "forever families" in essence: "You will not be with your family in the afterlife unless you become a Mormon."? How is it fair that a good righteous family will be immediately separated into spiritual prison cells right after they die, to sit there and wait until some fleshly Mormon gets around to doing temple work for them?

  23. Why is it that so much of the church experience is based on emotional manipulation?

  24. Why does my wife not get the excessively promised fulfillment that she is supposed to get from being a stay-at-home mother?

  25. Why is it that people's personalities can completely change when their brains are altered either through damage or added/subtracted chemicals? If you take away a certain chemical from someone's brain, they become humble and childlike, an innocent and righteous person. It seems pretty clear that the more the brain is damaged, the less of a person there is. This doesn't square with the concept of duality, where there is a ghost inside containing the true personality of a person which will be judged in the afterlife.