Read part one of my spiritual journey for better context first if you have not already.
The month of May 2017 had passed and June came with the enlightened podcast Mormon Stories. While talking to Kirk about some of the things in the book I was reading (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind ) and how I was doubting some of the things that church leaders were preaching he mentioned the podcast Mormon Stories. The host, John Dehlin, describes it as a podcast that “is dedicated to exploring, celebrating, and challenging Mormon culture in constructive ways.”
In the course of listening to a few podcasts I would hear reference to a CES Letter as various guests were interviewed. I asked Kirk about it and he pointed me to the link. The CES Letter is described as “one Latter-Day Saint’s honest quest to get official answers from the LDS Church on its troubling origins, history, and practices. The author was offered an opportunity to discuss his own doubts with a director of the Church Educational System (CES) and was assured that his doubts could be resolved. After reading the author’s letter, the director promised him a response. No response ever came.”
The CES Letter is a beast of a document. It is 138 pages of lightning rod problems related to Mormon church history and it’s leaders role in systematically whitewashing the full history. The introduction quote lays bare the quest of finding truth:
If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed. – President J Reuben Clark (1917)
His (the author of the CES letter) faith journey began after he read an article about a Q&A meeting at Utah State University that LDS Church Historian and General Authority, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, gave in late 2011. He was asked his thoughts regarding the effects of Google on membership and people who are “leaving in droves” over Church history. Elder Marlin K. Jensen’s response was to him shocking:
Maybe since Kirtland, we’ve never had a period of – I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having now; largely over these issues…
The CES letter is rather extensive. Below are bulleted the points that most impacted my foundational understanding of the mormon church. I attempt to give as much information that would help one to understand the point, but will necessitate further investigation along with proper context to fully appreciate the faith altering implications. These concerns individually can be stomached, but collectively, it forces one to question the very foundations of your personal identity if you are a fully committed Mormon, as I was:
- Why are 1769 King James version of the Bible errors doing in the Book of Mormon?
- Why did the Joseph Smith translation of certain Bible passages correct both the New Testament version and the same Book of Mormon version? Would not the Book of Mormon version be incorruptible from the beginning?
- DNA analysis concludes that Native Americans did not originate from Israel or the middle east but rather from Asia. This is in direct conflict of the church’s past narrative.
- Anachronisms found in the Book of Mormon: Horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, elephants, wheels, chariots, wheat, silk, steel, and iron did not exist in pre-Columbian America during Book of Mormon times. Why are these things mentioned in the Book of Mormon as being made available in the Americas between 2200 BC and 421 AD?
- Complete lack of archaeology that directly supports the Book of Mormon
- The contemporary book View of the Hebrews has eerily similar story lines and language when compared to the Book of Mormon. It was written by Oliver Cowdery’s pastor from Vermont Ethan Smith.
- LDS Scholar B.H. Roberts further lays doubt on the Book of Mormon origins in his private research intended for the First Presidency’s eyes only when he said:
Did Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews furnish structural material for Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon? It has been pointed out in these pages that there are many things in the former book that might well have suggested many major things in the other. Not a few things merely, one or two, or a half dozen, but many; and it is this fact of many things of similarity and the cumulative force of them that makes them so serious a menace to Joseph Smith’s story of the Book of Mormon’s origin. – B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.240
- The book The Late War Between the United States and Great Britain published in 1819 reads stunningly like the Book of Mormon and is fraught with similar phrases and story lines; read this to have your mind significantly blown
- The First Book of Napoleon follows the trend of previously mentioned contemporary books in that there are undeniable similarities that should sober our perspective of the origin of the Book of Mormon
- Why do we need the golden plates if Joseph actually (contrary to decades of official church teaching) used a stone in a hat the Joseph would peer into and dictate the Book of Mormon?
- There a multiple first vision accounts that contradict each other in important ways (i.e. who appears, what was said, and the reason for receiving the vision)
- The claims by Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets about the translation of the Book of Abraham are completely false; egyptologist and the church admit the papyrus used for translation has nothing to do with Abraham; what does this say about Joseph Smith?
- Further questioning of Joseph’s gift of translation in evident in his lack of discerning the fraud of the Kinderhook plates; his fraud is exposed by translating some of the plates later proven to be a hoax to expose him
- Joseph Smith married at least 34 women; some as young as 14 (or as the church describes it, “several months shy of her 15th birthday”), and others already married to other faithful and devout men (polyandry)
- Joseph Smith married many of these women behind his first wife’s (Emma) back (many were either foster daughters or maids in Joseph’s home) and in 2 cases married an already married woman while her husband was away on a mission
- Joseph Smith is known to have coerced young girls into marrying him upon promises of salvation for them and their family; he would also coerce others by giving them limited time to decide (many times 24 hours) and telling them an angel with a flaming sword would destroy Joseph if they did not marry him
- Side note, why would God be so forceful in implementing polygamy as to necessitate an angel with a flaming sword intervention when God is absent in the lives of countless abused/suffering individuals
- Joseph was caught in the barn with his maid Fanny Alger by his wife Emma in 1833 (Oliver Cowdery described it as a dirty, nasty, filthy affair and his non-denial of this witness was the principle reason for his later excommunication) prior to the sealing keys being restored in April 1836. It was illegal under the laws of the land and by the Book of Mormon itself, it was adultery
- Joseph publicly denied participating in polygamy on multiple occasions; his desire to keep it secret from the church in general and the public contributed to his death when he ordered the destruction of a newspaper (Nauvoo Expositor) that dared to expose his private behavior and was later arrested and subsequently killed in the Carthage jail
- The recent agreed upon details about Joseph Smith’s polygamy does not mean the church itself is not true, but it does provide Joseph’s pattern of behavior or modus operandi for the period of 10+ years was to keep secrets, to be deceptive, and to be dishonest – both publicly and privately
- The church teaches a pattern of blind obedience that has perpetuated since its foundations with teachings like “The Lord will never permit me to lead you astray” (Prophet Woodruff 1890) and “Look to the brethren, we cannot and will not lead you astray” (Apostle Ballard 2017); this is contrary to the multiple instances when prophets of God taught false doctrine
- Every major religion has members who claim that God or God’s spirit bore witness to them that their religion, prophet/pope/leaders, book, and teachings are true; how do we know which spiritual experience is valid over another?
- Apostles have recently taught in order to gain a testimony (a spiritual witness of the truth of the Mormon church) you need to bear it to other people (even if you really have not had a spiritual witness); or you can record yourself reading the testimony of Joseph Smith and listening to it regularly. (Oaks & Anderson and respectively) How is this ethical or honest?
- In other words, repeat things over and over until you convince yourself that it’s true. Just keep telling yourself “I know it’s true…I know it’s true…I know it’s true” until you actually believe it and now you have a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Church is true
- There is significant evidence that supports the dominate belief of the restoration of the priesthoods through John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John were later fabricated
- The Witnesses of the gold plates on multiple occasions described their experience as “seeing with an eye of faith” or “with a spiritual eye”; casting doubt on whether they actually observed actual gold plates with their physical eyes
- Every single living Book of Mormon witness beside Oliver Cowdery joined Joseph Strang’s (apostle under Joseph Smith) church after Joseph Smith was killed, casting doubt to the credibility of the Book of Mormon witnesses or their discernment to follow the perceived rightful hier Brigham Young
- Masonry has always been compared to the work that occurs in Mormon temples; the temple rituals were introduced to the church seven weeks after Joseph Smith was initiated as a mason
- There is no connection to Solomon’s temple (admitted by FairMormon), and as such what is so divine about a man-made medieval European secret fraternity and its rituals?
- Why were the rituals in the temple 100% masonic up to 1990?
- Why did the church remove the blood oath penalties from the endowment ceremony in 1990 when Joseph Smith said the endowment was restored and would never be taken away from the earth?
- Is God really going to require his children to know secret tokens, handshakes, and signs to get into heaven? What is the purpose?
- Does the eternal salvation, eternal happiness, and eternal families really depend on Masonic rituals in multi-million dollar castles? Is God really going to separate good couples and their children who love one another and who want to be together in the next life because they object to uncomfortable and strange Masonic Temple rituals and a polygamous heaven
- How come Jesus’ true church spent $1.5 billion on a high-end megamall in one year and gave $1.4 billion in humanitarian aid from 1985-2011?
- How is not this a complete moral failure? Think of the sum of human suffering on the planet from a physical, economical, social perspective and imagine Jesus commanding his prophets to build a shopping mall
- The church brings in an estimated $7 billion every year and spends an estimated $40 million in humanitarian aid per year; this means 0.6% of all tithing collected goes towards humanitarian aid
- Compare this to Methodist church who gives 29% of its tithes and Seventh Day Adventist give 12.6%
- How can this be moral? How can another christian church give 30x more to help those in need than the Mormon church who consistently touts it’s lay ministry and volunteerism efforts
- How come the church teaches it’s poor they should pay tithing over buying food for their families when general authorities are compensated with six figure salaries? This seems morally reprehensible and not in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
- The church has a well defined war against intellectualism; Elder Packer said: Some things that are true are not very useful” and Elder Oaks said, “The fact that something is true is not always a justification for communicating it.”
- Couple this war on reason with temple covenants (promises) to not speak ill of church leaders and quotes like, “It is wrong to criticize the leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true.” (Oaks) and you get a culture of blind following
Okay, that was a lot. If you made it this far congratulations. There is a ton to take in there. These points along with countless others I was experiencing through multiple podcasts, blogs, websites, and thought leaders carried me through June 2017. I was noticing the people I was engaging with in the exmormon spaces seemed to be very well respected and well educated individuals. This was different than the demographic I had pictured for exmormons. I was learning from former members of the seventy, stake presidents, bishops, CES teachers, and other well respected individuals leaving the church over these issues.
I had an insatiable thirst for studying the reasons why seemingly normal, committed people would leave the church. On the flip side, I have been fascinated with individuals that in every other aspect of their life are incredibly objective and fair minded, however, when religion is introduced to the landscape of discussion the rules of engagement disappear and in their place appears something completely different, a kind of feelings confused as facts appears. That discussion is for another day and another post. But let’s simply say I was in the trenches at this point.
I went through the 138 page of the CES letter document while I was at youth conference in late June. Youth conference is an event where the local church youth get together over the course of a few days to focus on spiritual growth and development. We were at Utah State University and in between lessons on ‘Why the Book of Mormon is true’ and ‘How to gain a testimony’ I was teaching the youth the very doctrine I was finding to have very suspicious origins. In real terms my brain was being ripped apart with the new information I was learning.
I had known for many years the surface problem issues that most Mormons know. Things like polygamy, blacks and the priesthood and views on homosexuality. These issues were never a testimony shaker or would cause me to doubt the veracity of the church by themselves. But when I drank from the deluge of the CES letter in the way it was presented, collectively, with sources, clearly biased, but with a sincere desire to understand, the wall that was my unbreakable granite mountain of truth began to crumble. I cannot fully describe the awful internal torment this caused. It was like losing a loved one in a real sense. My entire sense of self was being torn apart.
I came to realize that these formerly fragmented pieces of information began to form a mosaic of the following: Some things that are true are not very useful + Censorship + Deceptively altering past quotes + It is wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true + so-called science + Intellectualism is dangerous + “us versus them” rhetoric + Prioritizing tithing before food and shelter + When the prophet speaks the debate is over + Obedience is the First Law of Heaven + control over the narrative of the origin story for generations = Policies and practices you’d expect to find in a totalitarian system such as North Korea or George Orwell’s 1984 not from the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In fact, let me quote 1984. The Party is the controlling body of the totalitarian government. One of the main ways it controls it’s people is by controlling history:
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it”
Over the course of 180 years the mormon church was able to control the narrative of its origin story. Yes, there were some that attempted to expose the important hidden details, but those attempts were like a stream running into an immovable giant boulder. A boulder led by a self-proclaimed divinely guided boulder prophet that told it’s boulder inhabitants that he spoke for boulder Jesus and the stream was sent from boulder satan and to not let boulder satan sweep them from the truth and the glory of the promised blessings of the boulder afterlife. The Mormon church was able to control the present by controlling the past. That is, until the Google came along.
Like Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, “life finds a way.” Advances in communication, science, organization, and a culture for knowing, leads me to believe that truth finds a way. That is the main reason I found myself in this faith crisis, and the reason that so many people are finding out a story that was kept from them by the Church they believed they could trust to be objective about it’s storied past. A prominent mormon scholar Richard Bushman has recently said:
I think that for the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative. The dominant narrative is not true; it can’t be sustained. The Church has to absorb all this new information or it will be on very shaky grounds and that’s what it is trying to do and it will be a strain for a lot of people… (June 2013)
I am now in early July 2017 in this story. I am being asked to teach the youth in church about why they should go on a mission, and ‘how to gain a testimony’. My brain was absolutely tormented with the deception going on around me. I describe it as waking up from a dream. It is similar to learning that chocolate milk actually does not come from brown cows and that Santa Claus is not real. But everyone around you is saying “I know that Santa is true and he is watching over us and desires us to be good. Santa blesses those that are obedient to his commandments with the Christmas spirit. The gospel of Saint Nicolas is the only path to true happiness, and if you fall off of the path, you will no longer be guided by Rudolph’s nose and will fall to the temptations of Krampus.” I understand this analogy is a tad derogatory, but you get the point, I no longer could unknow what I knew. Attempting to be the old me was going to be problematic.
Since my transition I have not spoken to many people one on one about it. However, in each case that I would bring up important church issues I would be met with indifference, or surface rebuttals that did not address the core issue I was voicing. A common response is, “If you go looking for bad, you are going to find bad, I choose to look at the good.” In response: What if the bad you find completely dismantles any unique good your religion claims? One should be able to investigate claims that have torn apart world-views and destroyed important relationships. The fantastic claims made by Mormonism demands that its people have sufficient self-respect to scrutinize the fantastic, but most do not for a variety of reasons. The one fear of investigating I disdain the most is the fear of being deceived by Satan. Do you not have the self-respect to believe you cannot read counter-arguments to your faith and come out of it with your faith intact because Satan will somehow confuse you?
My discomfort with the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing with church doctrine led me to confront counter-arguments reaching back 150 years. I wanted to know the information then decide for myself what I believed. I slowly began to find the Mormon church unable to withstand that examination.
If a faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak. (George A. Smith Journal of Discourses 14:216 42 A)
Thus ends part 2. In part 3 I deal with the aftermath of coming out of the self-described darkness and into navigating my unexpected life path.