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.