I am writing this letter in an effort to let you know where I stand in life. As an FYI, I have also sent this to a number of friends and family that I thought might warrant this message. I contemplated for a long time on whether I should even write this, or what my intentions for writing this are. I think in the end, my intention is to say I value our relationship and desire for it to be authentic. I do not want there to be any confusion, second guessing, rumors, or assumptions.
I have recently stopped believing in the truth claims of the Mormon Church. I understand what a loaded phrase like that means. Just writing that phrase comes with an eruption of thoughts and emotions. I have been on this journey for about a year and a half. I have often thought about the moment I first thought “is it possible that the Church might not be true?” I now ask, what led me there? How did it happen? Why then and not earlier or maybe later?
After months of study from church resources, original documents, scholarly debates, BYU research articles, articulate discussion, scripture study and intense prayer, I have found the evidence against the truth claims of the Church to be overwhelming. In addition, I have always been careful to consider the spiritual with the temporal. I can say I have had multiple powerful spiritual experiences in Church and within specific doctrinal contexts. I served a wonderful mission and taught and baptized many great people. It was there that I grew to love the gospel and its teachings, especially the words of the prophets. I came to understand and value the peace, comfort, clarity, that is described as the spirit. However, though it may be hard to understand, that same spirit of love, clarity, and peace led me away from the Church.
This journey has been nearly the hardest experience of my life. I would describe it as my brain and my heart being ripped apart over and over again. I would place it right there next to losing my mom. Having my worldview crash around me was literally like my mom dying all over again. I once had the sure knowledge that I would see her again, and even beyond that, she was mindful of me and my situation. I have had to contemplate the very real statement: I might never literally see or speak to my mom ever again. I hope this observation, in the very least, would put into perspective the emotional, mental, and spiritual turmoil this journey can be and has been and how serious I took it.
In short, I believe faith is literally “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”Heb 11:1 When there is sufficient evidence for or against a proposition faith subsequently backs out of the equation proportionally to the level of evidence. For example it is more difficult to believe (using faith in view of the evidence) in a world that is 6,000 years old, or one where Adam and Eve are from Jackson County Missouri and were the first creatures to experience death; or that there was a literal global flood and Noah and his arc saved all land creatures. These examples did not in and of themselves shake my testimony, I had what I thought was a solid foundation on the fundamentals of the Gospel.
In an effort of clarification here are a couple examples. And if any one of the following were found to be false based on crossing predetermined goal posts, belief in the very foundational structure of the Church would be deeply broken:
- The First Vision
- The historicity of the Book of Mormon
- Literally translated from golden plates written on by literal people of Jewish descent that literally lived from 600BC to 400AD in the Americas
- The method in which Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and polyandry
- The veracity of the Book of Abraham (among other works) and Joseph’s ability to ‘translate’
- The reliability of the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
I think it is safe to say, that if any of those were not true (an important note here: when I say true I mean true in the way that they were taught originally and in subsequent years by prophets and apostles) you, as a believer, would have major questions. If more than one or all of them were untrue or proved to be on substantially shaky ground, nothing in your life would be more important to you than finding answers and understanding. Again, I hope you can appreciate the depth that this goes, and this is just a brief sketch.
I embarked on this journey as the Young Men’s president of my ward. When I began to seriously doubt and disagree with the teachings I was entrusted to teach my young men I met with my Bishop and subsequently my Stake President. I received two very different responses. From my bishop I was told, “you’ve found yourself consuming anti-mormon lies. These kind of people take quotes and comments out of context and present them in ways that confuse you. Satan is the author of confusion.” And, “I know the Book of Mormon is true, I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet, etc. etc.” My Stake President’s platform was, and this is a direct quote, “I’ll be the first to admit that the church might not be true.” His catalyst for belief is the way the church provides meaning and happiness to him and his family. He agreed with the issues I raised; they were valid issues. I bring this up to illustrate two very different positions of members that I have spoken to about this: validity vs utility. It goes something like this, “It may be hard to live but it’s true” (validity) or “it may not totally be true but it sure is useful to me and my family” (utility).
From my perspective, if the value derived from the utility of something is the method of knowing a concept is true I could be a member of any number of religions, Islam, Jehovah’s Witness, Catholic, Baptist, Hindu, Buddhist, and find happiness, meaning, and experience spiritual phenomena in the rigorous application of doctrines and teachings of said religion. There are people everywhere, from every walk of life, living a deeply spiritual, meaningful and joyous life. What made the LDS Church special for me was that it was True in the objectively capital T literal sense. The method of coming to knowledge of objective truth through the Mormon belief model became, to me, immediately unreliable with this new paradigm shift.
The lack of spiritual reliability coupled with finding there was so much whitewashing of church history left me feeling deeply disturbed and betrayed. Imagine finding out that your favorite restaurant, the one you devoted your entire life to, and based all your life decisions on deleted all the 1 and 2 star reviews it was given and anyone that tried to give 1 star reviews were vilified as servants of restaurant Satan. Imagine over time you come to find out that those 1 star reviews were not only true, but that the restaurant actively participated in deleting all the 1 star reviews? How would you feel if this was your favorite restaurant? I understand there is a lot more to unpack with this analogy, but I hope you get the point.
Despite the difficulty of going through a faith transition, I would not trade it for anything. The terrifyingly low lows were filled with despair, anguish and anxiety. But on the flip side, I have experienced some of the highest highs in my life since. I have experienced what I formerly would have called the holy ghost many times, and still do in powerful ways since and continue to do so. I see my fellow human beings as broken, beautiful creatures trying to make the best of themselves and the world, not as member or non-member. I do not see them as “a good person” who would be “so much happier if they had the truth in their life”. And I don’t see another as someone who “failed to make the right choices and have lost the spirit and are more easily tempted by Satan.” I feel more connected and empathetic toward others. I desire the best for people for the sake of goodness and not out of duty or fear of God. As a disclaimer, this is from my perspective, and not a generalization on current believing members.
Reconstructing a worldview is a difficult process. My view on how to live a good life dissolved into nothing leaving behind an incredible void. I began asking myself questions like, “What does it mean to live a good life?” “What is the meaning of life?” “Where does morality come from?” “How do my values influence my behavior?” “What should I value?” “How should I view truth?” “What gives my life purpose and meaning?” Exploring what has been said on these topics has been utterly fascinating.
As for you, my LDS family or friends, I still love you no matter what you believe. I am not, for all intents and purposes, anti-mormon. I am not in the business of spreading lies, half-truths, or only focusing on the negative. I do recognize and acknowledge the benefits that the Church brings into many people’s lives. I am happy to have meaningful conversations about these very important things, and hope you understand I only want truth, honesty, and integrity to guide my journey. I respect your right to believe as you wish, and I sincerely hope that we can continue to have a normal, happy, and healthy relationship, as I would hate for things to turn awkward. I really care about each of you, so I care about anything that’s important to you. That includes your callings and life in the Church; you can and should share those things with me and it won’t be weird.
If you have questions, I’m happy to answer what I can. If you have doubts, I’m happy to point you to resources for you to decide for yourself. If you want to debate, I’ll be glad to do so. If you have answers that can coherently address the significant problems with the truth claims of the Church, I am certainly open to changing my mind. In fact, if you wish, I can share with you my blog where I have been expressing my journey. If you want nothing to do with my disaffection, I am happy to have this be our only communication about it. These are tough topics to talk about and I’m happy to discuss them, but I’m wary of damaging relationships with those who might feel attacked if I share my new perspectives. Because of this, I’ll generally follow your lead. If you go there, great! If not, I hope we can interact like we always have.
As for my family, Stephanie still believes, and her journey is hers. It has been difficult on us and especially her. We are working through what it means to be in a mixed faith family. I am grateful to her for being there to listen even sometimes when she didn’t want to. She has been extremely supportive of which I am deeply appreciative.
If you would like to respond, great, if not, no hard feelings.
As ever, Sapien Curiosus