I first began to have doubts about the Church roughly 14 years
ago, when I was still living in Phoenix. I had undertaken a rigorous
self-study of the four standard works, and was in the process of
reading the Old Testament again. I was continually troubled by descriptions
of murder and mayhem by the Israelites, ostensibly under the direction
of Moses, Jehovahs prophet. When I came to the descriptions
of atrocities in Numbers 31, I could take no more.
Numbers 31 describes Moses telling the Israelites to completely
destroy a group of people. The Israelites did not have the stomach
for it, though, and took the women and children as prisoners. Moses
was very angry, and had the Israelites take the prisoners and murder
them, except for the young virgins, which they raped under the pretext
of taking them as "wives."
In reading this account I decided that I simply had two choices.
On the one hand, I could accept the story as written, and conclude
that Moses was doing the will of God. In this case, I would be forced,
logically, to reduce God to a butchering monster. My second choice
was to retain my concept of a benevolent God, full of goodness and
virtue, and conclude that Moses was either a false prophet or that
the historical record had been seriously corrupted.
Since there is obviously no point in worshiping an evil god that
commands the rape and murder of children, I took some hope that
the record had been corrupted, and that Joseph Smiths "inspired"
translation would correct the problem. Unfortunately, it didnt.
Joseph Smiths version has Moses doing the same evil deeds
as recorded in the King James Version.
Knowing that the "inspired" version was not completed
(according to LDS leaders), I made an appoint with the Bishop. He
told me that the account in Numbers was correct that Moses
really did those things. This was very troubling. I was (and remain)
convinced that if there is a God, then he/she/it would not command
the murder and rape of children, and would never have someone like
Moses as a prophet. I thought that perhaps the Bishop was mistaken,
so I made an appointment with the Stake President, but the Stake
President gave the same answer as the Bishop. When I pointed out
the atrocities committed by Moses and the Israelites, I was given
very poor excuses like "things were different then," or
"we dont understand all the mysteries of God."
What struck me was the way both these men approached the situation
in legalistic form. They spoke in terms of Moses and the Israelites
being "justified," and not being held "accountable"
for the murders they committed. I, on the other hand, could only
imagine what it would do to my humanity if I were to do what they
did. "How could I," I asked, "maintain my humanity
if I were to kill a little child?" "Surely the children
were crying and begging for their lives. How could anyone kill a
child under those circumstances without becoming a monster and a
devil?" Instead of reasoned answers, though, they would just
stare back at me with empty eyes when I pressed these questions.
They had never thought about the issue themselves, content simply
to regurgitate the worthless legalistic explanations they had been
taught to rehearse.
For me, the answer was clear. If Moses and the Israelites were
not monsters and devils before they murdered those little children,
they certainly were after the dirty deed was done. Legalistic justification
cannot change things like the murder of women and children.
My ecclesiastical leaders were worthless in dealing with this issue.
They seemed totally blindsided by the question, as if they had either
never read the Old Testament, or had never put any thought into
it. Their only answers were lame, and seemed more intent on distracting
my attention and getting me to sustain the Church leaders than waste
anymore time with moralistic questions about the Old Testament.
About this time I got a job offer in Oregon, and so we moved our
family out of Phoenix. Within a few months of arriving in our new
ward, I was asked by the Stake President to be the Elders Quorum
leader. I had been the Elders Quorum leader in our Phoenix ward,
too, but really felt overwhelmed by the new calling in Oregon because
it came so soon after our move, and because of the questions and
issues I was struggling with.
Just the same, I accepted the position. Id been taught (and
you have, as well) to always accept every Church calling. I still
wanted to believe in the Church, and felt the call would not have
come to me if it had not been inspired.
The Bishop in our new ward was different from most Bishops Ive
known. He was young (younger than I) and very self centered and
selfish. He came from a family with well-to-do parents, and never
had to actually worry about a job (he worked for his dad). Consequently,
he had a very condescending attitude toward people in the ward who
were not as well off as he was, monetarily speaking. In one of our
correlation meetings, he said that God was punishing the people
in the ward who had little money. Our real job as ecclesiastical
leaders, he said, was to find out what sins they had committed,
and help them to repent so that they would be worthy of Gods
blessings (in the form of more money, of course). He took a very
hard line toward giving assistance to the needy, and would lecture
us in correlation meetings about how people in need had brought
their problems upon themselves by breaking the commandments.
During one of these lectures I mustered the courage to disagree
with him, and I told the Bishop that I thought his attitude was
inspired by the devil. That went over like a ton of bricks. Hes
hated me ever since.
The combination of my old doubts from Phoenix (about the atrocities
committed by Moses and the Israelites) combined with a Bishop who
lacked so much charity toward the poor, led to continual internal
struggles about the Church. Internally, I knew that I no longer
believed in the LDS religion, but I kept hoping I was wrong. I thought
perhaps I had done something evil, and that I had lost my testimony
by unrighteous living. Thats what Id been taught, and
it was still what I believed.
I spoke with the Stake President about my concerns regarding Moses
and the Israelites. Like the Stake President in Phoenix, he was
basically worthless at an intellectual level. He was a nice guy,
and a good administrator, but I dont think hed ever
had a deep thought in his life. He seemed perplexed by my "problem."
His solution was to try and convince me that God would not punish
Moses or the Israelites for those murders. "So," said
he, "whats the problem?" He seemed totally unable
to grasp the significance of what such evil deeds would do the person,
or the implications of Gods culpability if Moses really was
acting under His direction.
During this same meeting with the Stake President, we spoke of
some additional concerns I had developed, regarding Church doctrines
that conflicted with science. I had begun to study more about the
scientific theory of evolution, and concluded that there was so
much evidence supporting it, that it was a virtual fact. This left
a very big problem, considering the manner in which so many LDS
General Authorities have taught that evolution is a false doctrine
of the Devil. With my growing willingness to critically examine
the Church, Id also begun to critically examine the Churchs
conflicts with geology, physics, chemistry, and biology, and I began
to realize that the Churchs position on many issues related
to these branches of science is in direct conflict with well-established
When I tried discussing these issues with the Stake President,
the scientific problems just went right over his head. He tried
to reason by using old tired creationist propaganda (the sort of
junk I learned in seminary). In addition to having almost no command
of the scientific issues, he seemed ignorant also of many of the
scriptural issues and teaching of the prophets, as well. At the
end of our interview, sensing his failure to deal substantively
with the issues Id raised, he suggested that I write to the
12 apostles. I did. But they never responded.
By this time Id tried every avenue I knew, and made every
attempt to reconcile the problems that I could think of. Instead
of answers I got lame excuses from men who were nice, but seemed
totally out of their element when it came to doing any independent
thinking about deep issues. Their universal solution was "keep
the faith and someday it will all make sense."
Well, it wasnt making any sense at all.
After about a year in Oregon I finally faced up to the fact that
I no longer believed in the LDS Church and I asked to be released
as Elders Quorum president. I still attended Church, still paid
my tithing, and still wanted to believe in Joseph Smith, but I felt
it was unfair to the Quorum to have an unbelieving president. The
Stake President understood, and the Bishop, with a sly smirk, was
glad to have "the trouble maker" out of his hair.
I continued paying tithing for about another year. In the mean
time, I got several critical books on Mormonism and read them. One
of these books was "No man knows my history," by Fawn
Brodie. The Church had taught me that Brodie was an evil apostate
who had been seduced by the Devil. But what I read in her book made
lots more sense than the pathetic responses that Id gotten
from my ecclesiastical leaders. The most immediate thing I learned
from Brodie were the many details about Joseph Smith and Church
history that the Church ignored, glossed over, or denied. I began
to resent what was emerging as a pattern of official intellectual
dishonesty by the Church and its apologists, in denying or sidestepping
intellectual issues that conflicted with LDS doctrine. I began to
see a pattern, and that pattern was one of deception.
Through all this, Id held out hope in the Book of Mormon.
Here was tangible proof, I thought, of Joseph Smiths inspiration.
Id been taught all my life that no man could write a book
like the Book of Mormon, and so I still believed that, if not just
in the back of my mind. As with other areas, though, Id learned
to be skeptical and Id learned to research claims. So I began
to examine the claims of the Book of Mormon, and I read it again,
with a critical eye. What I saw this time was different from the
times before, and what I learned of Ancient-American cultures and
civilizations was nothing like what the Book of Mormon described.
Like the prophets, whom Id been promised would never lead
me astray, the smoke began to clear and the once invincible Book
of Mormon began to show cracks.
About this time I began to read a news group on the Internet during
lunch. Its called alt.religion.mormon (ARM). Its mostly
an unmoderated debate between Mormon apologists and LDS critics.
In following these discussions I found many resources and followed
many debates. The critics consisted of two types. One group was
the born-again Christians, and the other was the intellectuals.
The born-again Christians lost as often as the won, but the intellectuals
took the LDS apologists to the cleaners every time. In one convincing
example of logic after another they showed how the Book of Mormons
account of a vast Hebrew society with domesticated cattle and wheeled
chariots drawn by horses, with soldiers bearing steel swords was
inconsistent with every bit of scientific evidence available. Not
only does the Book of Mormon describe dozens and dozens of animals
and plants not known to ancient Americans, it fails to describe
dozens and dozens of plants and animals that were known.
I read some of Nibleys books, as well as some by Sorenson,
but they were an intellectual embarrassment. In reading Nibley,
I was especially frustrated by his continual habit of making arguments
that are so broad they can be used to justify belief in UFOs and
little green men as easily as belief in the LDS Church. Basically,
his reasoning is that until someone manages to absolutely prove,
with no uncertainty at all, that the Book of Mormon is false, then
it has to be admitted that it could be true. And if it could be
true, then it is on the same footing as science. And then he would
go on about how science is a false religion and Mormonism is the
true religion. I imagined Nibley on a sandy beach walking up to
Socrates. Socrates is writing numbers in the sand and Nibley comes
up and kicks the sand, destroying the letters, while insanely ranting
on and on about how nothing is knowable. Rather than answer the
critics, Nibley and Sorenson simply made the problems too apparent
by leaving the festering question open, and me wondering why they
couldnt answer them.
The debates on ARM have covered virtually every topic possible,
and on matters of conflict between science and Mormonism, there
can be virtually no doubt that LDS doctrine is on the losing end.
After reading Brodie, I read some books about Mark Hoffman, and
how he sold Hinckley forged historical documents. Id read
the Book of Mormon cover to cover 17 times at this point in my life,
and I knew that a prophet, seer, and revelator was someone who could
"discern records of ancient date." Yet here was Hinckley
purchasing bogus historical documents, all without a clue. Furthermore,
he was not just purchasing these documents; he was trying to keep
them hidden so that Hoffmans negative portrayals would not
embarrass the Church. I wondered why he would be fooled by Hoffmans
forgeries in the first place, especially given the embarrassing
light in which they cast the Church. Unless, that is, the Church
has other documents in their possession (that Hinckley knows about)
that suggested Hoffmans portrayals were correct. It all seemed
very shady, very uninspired, and very un-prophet like.
I read lots of books and did a tremendous amount of research. Some
books dealt with the problems with the Book of Mormon and its failure
to accurately describe any ancient-American civilizations. Others
were about the Book of Abraham, which is a transparent fraud, with
nothing at all in common with the actual message written on the
scrolls from which it was supposedly translated. I also read about
BYU's history of stifling intellectual freedom, and their recent
censure in that regard. I read about Joseph Smiths money digging
activities, his multiple versions of the first vision, and his adulterous
relationships, conveniently legitimized by a revelation commanding
him to take multiple wives. I read, and read, and read. Not just
the critical stuff, but from both sides of the debate. What I found
was clear as night and day, and I finally concluded that the only
intellectually honest decision I could draw was that the LDS Church
is false. It is based on a fraud, and perpetuates a fraud.
Up to this point Id been racked with sporadic hidden fears,
fanned by the teachings of my youth, that I was destined for hell
and worse for disbelieving in the Church. Id always been taught
that if I lost my testimony it could only happen because I was an
evil person. Id been taught that I would lose my job, my wife,
my children, my sanity, my health, and that the only thing awaiting
me was the miserable life of an indigent. Smug, self-righteous priesthood
brethren had taught me that those who apostatized from the LDS Church
died mysteriously of awful diseases. And, there were the veiled
threats of death from the temple ceremony. Half seriously, I wondered
if the Joseph Smiths Danites were still active, and if I might
awake in a start some night, just as cold steel slit my throat and
my lifes blood drained away.
Although Id made the conscious decision that these teachings
were false, I was still haunted subconsciously by the fear they
were true. These destructive doctrines kept me in the Church for
a few years, and caused great emotional anguish and turmoil. I had
nagging fears about losing my job because I had stopped paying tithing.
I imagined that God would punish me by taking my wife and children.
I had nightmares about losing everything we had worked so hard for
in Oregon, and being sent back in poverty to Arizona.
But as I read and understood, I began to realize that the problem
wasnt with me. It wasnt the lack of some mythological
spirit that caused my testimony to leave, but the enlightenment
of knowledge, information, and a stubborn refusal to let emotions
and desire get in the way of the facts. The Church really was false,
and that conclusion was based on evidence. The scales fell from
my eyes. The emperor stood before me naked.
The feared plagues never materialized. My salary doubled, and doubled
again. My investments flourished, and my retirement account became
the beneficiary of the 10% contributions that had previously gone
to the corporation of the President of the Church. My health improved
as I began a regular program of running (which I still maintain).
My ability to earn a living as a scientist has greatly benefited
from a mentality based on reason, evidence and logic. Although I
was an active Mormon for roughly half of my professional carrier,
every one of my 15 patents, two-dozen professional articles, and
public presentations have come since breaching the intellectual
barrier that allowed me to realize Id been fooled my entire
life into believing a fraud.
It wasnt all a bed of roses, of course. Where the Church
can, they make a determined effort to make life miserable for people
who leave. They couldnt take away my job (though I think they
would have, if they could have) but in other ways they did everything
they could to make me "pay" for the sin of thinking independently.
I was the insinuated subject of many talks at Church, warning of
the dangers of logic, and the sin of questioning the Brethren (even
when they dont make sense). During one of the Fast and Testimony
meetings the wife of the High Priest Group Leader accused me of
being a son of Perdition. Afterward, with the encouragement of the
Bishop, she began screaming and yelling at me in the Church foyer
(she was so loud, you could hear her outside). It was quite a sight.
For a time, I was the subject of character assassination, misquoting,
and outright lies on at least one LDS apologetic Internet sites,
because of comments and concerns that Id made on ARM. Church
members on ARM were just as virulent, calling me a liar and every
other dirty name in their vocabulary. Some Church members publicly
stated that my wife should leave me, rather than risk her eternal
salvation and the children by staying with such a wicked man. The
experience was wrenching for her, but she stayed with me (weve
been married over 23 years). In the end, all they accomplished was
the destruction of the testimonies of my family.
The inevitable question, that Im sure you are asking now,
is what has replaced the Church in my life. Ive not replaced
it with a new religion. The same intellectual skills that showed
me the error in Mormonism also showed me the essential errors in
every other religion Ive examined. As for God, I remain open
to the notion, although I know of no definition of God that is consistent
with the evidence of nature. Though I yearn for the God of my youth,
Ive resigned myself to the fact that a personal, all-knowing,
and good God plays no role in the lives of people on earth. As for
the many evil gods of the worlds dominant religions (like
Jehovah and Ala) they reside on the same ash heap of mythology as
Zeus and his ilk.
In my personal life Ive replaced the mysticism of my early
LDS upbringing with logic and reason. These, however, are reserved
as tools for finding my way through life. Like a map and compass,
they point the way, but they dont encompass the essence of
living. Life is more precious than ever, and still filled with beauty,
wonder, and amazement. Since leaving the LDS Church Ive come
to realize that this life is probably all I have, and the one major
change in my outlook is a firm determination to make every day,
and every encounter, the best I can. They say you cannot dip your
finger into the same river twice. In the same way, you cannot live
any day over. We exist in time, passing through it, and it will
eventually consume us. The most important thing is to cherish the
moment, brief as it may be, and live so that our legacy can inspire
others to carry the torch a little further.
I hope that you find peace and happiness in whatever you choose
to do. I dont presume to tell you that my way is the only
way, or the best. The only advice I can give you unequivocally is
to always strive to do what is right, and always respect the truth,
whatever it may be. My ultimate faith is that being true to the
truth is the best way to live ones life, and that, having
done that, it really doesnt matter what else happens.
Saint Helens, Oregon