Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The temple - the movie

I had yet another serious doubt about my place in Mormonism when the temple film started up. I heard there was a film, but seriously? SERIOUSLY? When the reality of it hit - that I was sitting in a movie theater dressed like an asshole - I felt deeply embarrassed, like I had been tricked into being there. It was definitely more anti-climactic than my baptism for the fact that there had been so much hype around the mind-blowingness of the temple.

Behind the curtains... a movie screen!

The temple movie is horrible. It's an unintentially campy spin off of the Creation story. I can't believe anyone can sit through this crap regularly for years on end. You have a silly, big, booming God voice narrating the creation, landscape shots that seem to move between the awe inspiring aesthetics of a nature program and the kitsch of Thomas Kinkade sunsets, Adam and Eve wandering about a stage garden with foliage covering their waists and crotches, crows cawing whenever Satan enters or exits a scene, cheesy lines, and bad acting. It's absolutely awful stuff and yet it's supposedly the tool God uses to teach us His greatest secrets.

 Michael Ballam steals the show as Satan

I wasn't convinced, but I shut my critical eye and convinced myself that the Church didn't have to win the Palm d'or at Cannes to be true. I needed to pay attention to the information, not the film making. This was holy stuff I was watching. I mean really sacred stuff. So I doubted my doubts and watched on.

By way of post script let me clarify that there were two movies by the time I went through and they were both horrible, then they dropped one a few years back only to introduce a new film version this year which I haven't seen (I've read that it's now more Lord of the Rings-esque!). There's also the non-film version of the ceremony that requires temple workers to reenact the drama. Essentially all of my Mormon friends, active and inactive, say the live session is way better than the movie, and I'm sure they're right. But it's still totally inane bullshit.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The temple - head gear

Temple clothes are neither attractive nor holy, and seeing a large number of your immediate and extended family, a few neighbors, and a bunch of unknowns congregated in all that gear (for me) felt about like walking into the music video for Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" only more white and fewer shadows. It wasn't fun. Had we been 8 year olds prepping for a Christmas pageant I might have felt better about things.

What's the story with these awful hats? Who's the butcher, who's the baker, and who's the candlestick maker here? Why doesn't anyone else feel as ridiculous as I do? And why the fuck are all the women veiled? Seriously, why? Being segregated by sex was already weird enough, but the veil was really going too far for me. 

Why had no one shown me these clothes before stepping into the temple locker room or how to wear them before sending me into the endowment session? What did they mean? Why were they so ugly and poorly made? Is this really what we'll all be wearing in the Celestial Kingdom? Is this how God dresses?

I wasn't sure I should be taking out my endowment that day. Maybe I wasn't ready. Maybe I just had to sit through it and it would all come together. The Church and the Gospel made perfect sense to me at the time, so surely the endowment ceremony would eventually come into focus too, right? 

Doubt your doubts! This can't be as bad as it seems. Oh look! The women get to remove the veils from over their faces now! See? It's not so bad.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The temple - washing and anointing

As is customary in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I took out my temple "endowment" a couple of weeks before going on a mission at nineteen years old. I had no idea what would happen. I knew I would be inducted into wearing Mormon garments somehow at some point and that was good enough for me. I had grown up seeing my parents garments regularly in the laundry but they were often washed separately from the rest of our underwear. I picked them up and looked at them from time to time for the sake of curiosity but never for too long (they were Mom and Dad's underwear after all and who really wants to handle their parents underwear?). Mom's were particularly mysterious because they were all silky and slippery and seemed generally shapeless and incomprehensible.

I had no problems believing in the legitimacy of garments. On my way to the temple I knew I would be instructed (or commanded) to wear garments all the time from that day forward and I was okay with that. I was even excited about it. Honored actually. Garments to me represented the passage to adulthood. I would finally get to dress like the adults and see and do what the adults in Mormonism do (except for having sex).

I had heard, however, that not everyone likes the temple, that some people stop going to the temple or even to church because it's so weird. Once I heard a cousin make some kind of joke about people running around naked. It was enough to make a fellow at least a little nervous. This was going to be the day that I learned why non-Mormons considered Mormonism a cult. But I knew I wasn't joining a cult. I knew the Church so well. I had an entire life of devout attendance under my belt and I was sure everything would turn out great and I'd treasure the experience for the rest of my life.

As it turns out once things got rolling I found myself a little annoyed that I had no idea what I was doing or what was coming next. Why was it so taboo to talk about the temple? Why hadn't I been given any kind of detailed rundown before the big event? We make little kids practice being baptized over and over in preparation for the big day, but no one gets any training whatsoever before going through the numerous ritualistic components of the temple.

So when I was instructed to take off all my clothes and put on the "shield" (read white poncho) I felt a little weird. "Oh, I guess you do get naked in front of people in the temple. Um... Okay, what the heck, I'm here and I'm committed (plus I've got a decent washboard going on), whatever, here it goes..." I started striping down and the two officiators (old white guys I'd never seen before in my life) freaked out a little bit and told me to put the shield on first and then get undressed underneath. "Oops! Thanks a ton for being so clear the first time, guys! Are you two new at this by any chance?"

I wasn't sure if they were embarrassed by my mistake, embarrassed by my naked body, annoyed they hadn't given me clearer instructions, or annoyed I didn't know the drill. Whatever the case may be, I definitely felt embarrassed and annoyed.

They indicated for me to sit down on a chair, which I did, and then one of the guys said an obviously scripted prayer, touched me with a wet (just water) finger, said another prayer of sorts about me becoming a kind and a priest to the most highest godliest gods, etc., and touched me again but this time with an olive oily finger.

When I say touched I mean his finger made contact with my skin. Mostly this was no biggy because it's not like he was giving me a holy handjob with oil, but then again it was pretty messed up. I was naked and this stranger was touching me in the name of the afterlife. And yes, he did reach just inside the poncho so he could touch my side. Twice. That's messed up. I didn't like it. 

The experience got a wheel or two turning. The first wheel spun in the direction of "this is not cool! why does God want me to do this?" and the other wheel ran the direction of "dude, we're so sensitive and PC these days! just think what this was like back in the ancientest of times!" I couldn't decide if this was an occasion worthy of calling the cops or a lesson in how I was too prideful and skeptical and needed to just let the Spirit work. Here's what I did: I blocked my doubts and went ahead with the rest of the experience. (I had a mission to go on for Christ's sake!) I was finally instructed to put my Gs on. They felt way too big but I was happy enough to have them. 

In 2005 the Church changed the washing and anointing so that inductees wear their garments under the shield so they're no longer totally naked under there and the administrators no longer physically touch the inductees. It's a nice enough change, I guess. It's still an incredibly uncomfortable ordeal to go through, I'm sure. The crazy thing is that back in the day people really were completely naked, without even a small poncho, during this ceremony. 

Considering the fact that Mormons have gone from totally naked in a bathtub where they were completely washed by someone else to sitting in their underwear and a poncho while someone only gestures to touch them, I think it's safe to say that the washing and anointing is one of the most changed rituals of Mormonism. And that's significant considering the fact that Mormon's make such a stink about baptism being altered from full emersion to just a couple of drops of water on the head.

I don't wear temple garments anymore because they're a crock of shit embroidered with Freemasonry symbols and I don't need lame Freemason symbolism on my underwear, however if I were to get some today, instead of paying my tithing and attending the temple and shopping at the Church Distribution Outlet, I'd just go to Mormon's Secret and buy some that fit.

Friday, October 25, 2013

My baptism and confirmation

I can't believe I forgot to mention this before. I had no serious doubts going into my baptism. Even if my bishop had asked me my thoughts about the Creation and the Flood, I know my 8-year-old self would have shrugged the question off and pushed for baptism anyway. Not that I would have had to push, usually Mormon adults take care of all the required pushing.

I was told that I would feel the burden of my sins be lifted (which is odd considering Mormon doctrine teaches that we are incapable of sinning until we reach eight years old, the age of accountability), that I might possibly feel physically lighter, and that I would feel overwhelmed with God's love and know that I was accepted by Him. What I actually felt was quite different. I felt like it was over so fast that I didn't even know what happened. When I came out of the water I basically felt the same as before, just a little more embarrassed than usual because everyone was watching me and my underwear was probably showing through the wet white jump suit I was wearing. I felt hurried in the changing room and weird about the other boys and their fathers all changing together (I was raised a prude). I felt like I had missed something, but I was sure the good feelings were waiting for me around the corner. 

I also felt nervous that now everything I did could count against me. Everyone told me I would screw up and sin and it was bad but it was also okay because Jesus suffered and died for all our sins so we can repent, but keep in mind that repentance is hard and painful, so just don't screw up, okay? Okay.

Admittedly there was one more thing about my baptism that I wasn't too keen on. The font wasn't very cool. It was just the typical tiled box with stairs that you see above. What I really wanted was to get baptized in a natural body of water like Jesus in the River Jordan or all those converts in the Waters of Mormon. This baptism picture still kicks the shit out of any baptism I've ever seen.

My confirmation was very much the same experience. I had been told marvelous things about being confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and so I had a few expectations. I specifically expected to feel the Spirit come over me and confirm my decision to join the Church. I remember trying so hard to open up and tune in. I wanted to do it right. It was serious business. What I felt that Sunday morning was the nervousness of having all eyes on me and a sincere desire that the dudes confirming me would lift their hands a bit more because the weight of all their arms was making my neck tired. Please, dad, lay off a bit or wrap it up! Name a Jesus Christ AMEN!

The temple - baptisms for the dead

I had a doubt or two when I first did baptisms for the dead. I doubted I was worthy enough considering how much I thought about not thinking about how badly I wanted to see boobs, for example, but my main doubts came during or after the experience of being baptized "for and in behalf of" a deceased person. I had heard countless stories of people seeing the spirits of the dead hanging around waiting for you to get dunked only to scamper off like a puppy to play outside finally freed from Spirit Prison. Other's had said that you would maybe just feel the presence of the spirits, or maybe just the joy of relief that the spirits were feeling as they witnessed and accepted their baptism. Then again, maybe all you'd feel is the Joy of the Holy Ghost witnessing to you the truthfulness of "the work". I didn't feel any of it. 

So how did I feel? I felt worried that a temple worker would discern through the Spirit that I was unworthy to be there because I wanted to see boobs. I felt uncomfortable about my wet clothes clinging too tightly to my crotch and revealing my white Hanes briefs. I felt weird about the being essentially alone in a room with two men I didn't know as they conferred the Gift of the Holy Ghost on me on behalf of the people I had been baptized for. It wasn't a very spiritual experience for me (nor would it ever be despite fasting and praying and preparing each time I went), and I wasn't anxious to go back and do it again.

Despite all of that discomfort and doubt, I stuck it out for years. I went back various times throughout my teenage years to be baptized and confirmed for the dead. I doubted my doubts, but that didn't improve anything for me.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Door to door

After spending a summer as a salesman in high school I began to have doubts about how well I'd like being a missionary. Being a salesman was possibly the worst job experience I've ever had and I've had a lot of jobs. 

I hated putting people on the spot, I hated asking for referrals, I hated the false enthusiasm, I hated that I couldn't just give it to people straight and let them make up their mind instead of running them through a gauntlet only to redirect them back through if they seemed unmoved. I also hated that people migh genuinely not want what I was selling. I was showing some seriously awesome stuff! Everybody would benefit from what I had to offer. Everybody.

I calmed my fears about hating missionary work as much as I hated door-to-door sales by telling myself that (1) the Gospel is FREE so I don't have to worry about that awkward moment when I try to close the deal and make the sale, (2) the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the ultimate product because it is without a doubt the very most important thing on Earth and literally everyone needs it, and (3) God's on my team! Sharing the Gospel couldn't be easier when you have the Holy Ghost testifying all over the place!

As it turned out, the two years I spent on my mission felt a lot like being a salesman and it was, for the most part, absolute torture. We put people on the spot all the time, asking if they had read, inviting them to church when they very clearly didn't feel comfortable enough to do so, "challenging" them to be baptized, and even asking them to pay the Church 10% of their income as tithing. I made plenty of sales, so to speak, but the memories of my interactions with the people in my mission still haunts me to this day. We pestered members for referrals, we plastered permanent smiles on our faces in effort to always exude the Spirit, we gave runaround answers to simple questions. We were salesmen.

The good news is that there was a lot more to my mission than just testifying and pushing scriptures on people and consequently I was able to learn a lot about the world and the ways we human beings try to make sense of it.

I can't say I regret going on a mission for the Mormon Church, but I know I would never do it again. After I came back home I had a number of dreams that I had been sent back to my mission to do more missionary work, and in every single one of those dreams I resented being back. I would wake up wondering what was wrong with me. Why would I resent being a missionary again? Didn't I have the time of my life? Weren't they the "best two years" of my life? Isn't the work of the Lord simply wonderful?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book of Mormon - absence of linguistic evidence

It gets worse, people. There's no linguistic evidence for the Book of Mormon either. That merely causes doubt until you learn that there are plenty of reasons to believe Joseph Smith just made this shit up.

I was only able to doubt my linguistic doubts until I took a class at BYU on historical linguistics, at which point I had to start trusting the experts.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book of Mormon - absence of archeological evidence

People, there is zero physical evidence for The Book of Mormon. Not a chariot, no temple fashioned after Solomon's, no weapons as described in the text, no DNA. Nothing whatsoever. We're going off a dream here and that fact had better make you doubt more than a little.

Bad news, folks, this is not Lehi's dream.

I doubted the absence of evidence proving the historicity of The Book of Mormon my whole life. It just had to be out there. We totally have Lehi's dream about the Tree of Life, for crying out loud! And I remember seeing a video of a BYU professor down in South American standing in a baptismal font! And let's not forget that tour package that will take you to the Waters of Mormon in Guatemala... The Book of Mormon just has to be true. It has to be!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Family (A Proclamation)

When I was a mere Aaronic Priesthood holder something very exciting happened: the prophet made a proclamation!

I can't make it through the whole thing either, but that's Gordon Hinckley, a prophet, solemnly proclaiming stuff! Why was this an exciting event at all, you might wonder.

This wasn't just another General Conference talk, this was a written document signed and endorsed by the fifteen men that I, my family, my friends, my community at large sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. The thing was they hadn't prophesied, seen, or revealed anything since 1978 when they announced that the ban keeping men of African decent from holding the Priesthood had been lifted. I had always been told that prophets speak to God on our behalf and God responds directly to them giving them answers and guidance for the entire human population. The words of the prophets are sacred and holy because they are the words of God and that's why we write them down as scripture to read and study. Mormons believe that God is busy revealing and that He has a lot more to reveal later on, and yet I often wondered where all the revelation in the Church was. I for one sincerely hoped that God would finally give us the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon in my lifetime. 

So now we had new text coming straight from the Top! I figured it was as good as canonized and the Church would be issuing a new edition of Doctrine & Covenants with the family proclamation right behind Official Declaration 2. Instead "The Family" ended up for sale in frames to hang around your house.

Why was this not canonized? I couldn't figure it out. Wasn't this God's word with regards to what a family is and what it's for? Was it more of an opinion piece by God's groupies? 

At the time I didn't have what it took to recognize "The Family" as the unenlightened piece of conservative, reactionist tripe that it is. Instead I took it as God's word given through His prophets collectively but somehow not scripture, but pretty close to, or at least as good as scripture, probably, I couldn't quite tell, but I was for sure going to believe it because how can you doubt something as solemnly proclaimed by living prophets as was this particular proclamation? Whatever. It will sort itself out later.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

True science

Growing up Mormon I learned that God was the Ultimate Scientist; He used science to make the Universe and uses it still to carry out miracles. What we know of science now is unfortunately little more than the grossest approximation to the kind of scientific knowledge God possesses.

The understanding of man is nothing next to the understanding of God, but thank God He's bestowed upon us such wonderful truths as our dire need for repentance and baptism, both of which are infinitely more important than any silly vaccine or some pointless taxonomy of life on our planet. I mean think about it, we all know that illness and pestilence come about because of our disobedience to God and that life on earth began in the Garden and spread from there. We don't even need science. Ok, I'm done being facetious. 

Here's a serious question: when has science ever confirmed the explanations of the natural world offered in the Standard Works? The Book of Mormon has that silly verse about how the earth revolving around the Sun, but the fact that the BoM shows up long after the scientific debate on the heliocentricity of our solar system makes Joseph Smith and his Nephi character (no, this is one of the other Nephis) look like a regular Johnny-come-lately.

Pairing up science with the Gospel was an obvious lost cause from the get go, but I did my best to remind myself that my brain was just too tiny to understand how revelation and science work together and that my heart yearned too impatiently to see the pieces fit. For years I put the issue on hold and trusted my faith.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Where thoughts come from

Mormonism, like so many other religions out there, puts a lot of emphasis on how we desperately need to control our thoughts. That's typically manifest through expressions like "guard your thoughts" and "keep your thoughts clean". This is because Satan, the fallen Star of the Morning, Lucifer the Great, the Devil himself, is always out there looking to temp and corrupt you. It's a horrifying idea that keeps a lot of us constantly on edge. Even now Satan and his minions are almost definitely chiseling away at your brain case in an attempt to infiltrate your every thought and desire. No one wants to lose his or her mind and will to the Enemy of All Righteousness, so we question our thoughts constantly, doubt our logic, second guess our impulses, and think twice before acting all because it might be coming from the wrong source.

In addition to putting up serious defense mechanisms against the Bad, Mormons are instructed to yield to the Light of Christ (our conscience) and learn to "open up to the Spirit", a.k.a. "follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost" once we have been baptized and given the gift of the Holy Ghost. It's all simple enough, right? Reject the bad, embrace the good.

Unfortunately for me, I could never quite sort out my thoughts so neatly partially because there was a little more to the story. In church I was taught time and time again that Satan had no power to know my thoughts but God knows my thoughts perfectly. I remember puzzling constantly from before I was baptized to the day I said my last prayer how the hell Satan managed to carry on such a wonderful debate with the Holy Ghost when the debate in question was all in my head. God's fine in this situation because He's got his Spirit alter ego tracking my every thought, but how could Satan have any ability to offer counter points to the inspirations of the Spirit if he has no idea what I'm thinking? How could Satan even know what the topic of debate was at all? As far as I knew the Devil & Co. were just bombarding me with everything they had at all moments hoping that something - anything! - they had to say would stick. The only way "those unhappy spirits" would have any idea that they got through to me was if I immediately did what they suggested. I can only imagine their disappointment when all they could get me to do was sneak a bowl of Blueberry Crunch instead of killing my entire family and torching the house. The Spirit must have been very strong with me!

Actually I never really felt like I was dialoguing with the Holy Ghost. Seriously, not once. I wanted to so badly. I wanted to have at least a story or two about how God inspired me to hurry home and upon arriving home I find an emergency situation that I'm able to resolve before it gets out of control. Or at least a story about finding some lost car keys! But I got nothing. There was never a Still Small Voice inspiring me to do kind things or filling me with greater light and knowledge. It was always me and the Devil fighting over stupid shit like sneaking a snack vs. waiting for dinner. That's one of the worst parts about the way Mormonism teaches resistance to evil: it almost always has something to do with "physical appetites".

In my experience the temptation Church leaders warned us about the most by far was sexual desire. Enticing your sexual pleasure was Satan's ace in the hole, and it was your job to fight off all improper thoughts of an erotic nature. Sexual acts, which rank just below murder and the denial of the Holy Ghost, were grievous enough to warrant a trip to the bishop's office for a very uncomfortable confession. Remember, guys (and gals), that "the natural man is an enemy to God!" so please don't do anything you're biologically inclined to do.

And yet other bodily impulses were not so severely monitored. Sneaking sugary cereal wasn't going to win me any points in the Celestial Kingdom, sure, but unless you're fasting you really shouldn't refrain from eating. Urinating and defecating are always okay and should be taken care of in a timely fashion. Washing up when you feel uncomfortably sweaty or dirty is encouraged and so is sleeping when you're tired. Oh, you should also clean out your nose if you have a little something up there giving you problems.

I could never sort out what was temptation, what was inspiration, what was natural me, what was brain me, and what was spiritual me, which all resulted in doubting myself ALL THE TIME.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Brainwashing children

By the time I hit high school I started realizing how sickening the Primary songs were. Primary is the name of the Mormon Church's Sunday school program for children ages four to twelve a healthy chunk of which is dedicated to learning and singing songs. 

A few of the songs are about things like a tall snowman melting in the sun, apricot trees blossoming in the Springa spider crawling up a rain pipe (not included in the Songbook), and a kind of Simon Says-type number, but those sorts of songs are mostly for the youngest kids only. The older children get to enjoy an exclusive diet of songs that clearly classify as heavy-handed indoctrination efforts.

By far the most beloved of all Mormon songs for children young and old is "I am a Child of God", a little number with intimidating lyrics like "help me to understand His words / Before it grows too late" and carrot waving lyrics like "Celestial glory shall be mine / If I can but endure". This is where it all begins for Mormon children. Kids have to know that they have a Very Real Daddy in Heaven who's more awesome than the one hanging around the house and that if they behave themselves He'll give them a Very Big Treat. Kid's love this song. The music is so earnest. Parents love it too. It's a sure-fire tear jerker when the Primary kids sing it together in front of the whole congregation.

Other classic Mormon brainwashing songs included hits like "I Know My Father Lives" (they know no such thing), "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission" (they have no idea what a mission is or what it's like), the very spooky "Follow the Prophet", the similarly themed "Keep the Commandments", and a bizarre song about loving to see the temple (when they have only the vaguest idea of what goes on in the temple). There's even a song about happily giving money to the Church (little children don't make any money)! Browsing the Children's Songbook will quickly offer up a good many more examples of how Mormons hone passion and dedication for concepts and practices in children long before those concepts can be understood or the practices can be put in place. Mormon children never have a chance of formulating their own opinions or working through independent thoughts because they're taught to keep these songs on repeat in their head at all times.

My teenage self was the truest of true believers when it comes to True Believing Mormons. I was all in and pitied anyone who couldn't see just how clear and simple and perfect the Gospel and the Church were. But I was also considering not allowing any child of mine to go to Singing Time. I seriously doubted the ethics of placing a child inside the brainwashing machine. But, instead of exploring the implications of unethical treatment of children in the Church, I moved forward with faith, went to the temple, and served a mission just as the primary songs taught me to do.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Doubting our dear Dieter

You won't regret taking the time to read Jen's critique of Dieter's punchline.

Redeeming the dead

So now on to my first Mormon-specific doubt that comes to mind. Baptisms for the dead. On the one hand it only makes sense that God should provide a way for people who never ever had a chance to hear of Jesus to get a shot at accepting the Straight and Narrow via baptism, on the other hand it was recognizably insane even in my pre-teen brain. 

(What's a 9-year-old girl doing in the temple? And what's with the yellow dress?)

The thought of having to perform baptisms for every person who has lived since the ministry of Christ gets increasingly complicated when you consider things like the sheer number of people who have lived in the time spanning the Resurrection to today - only the smallest fraction of a percentage of which were baptized "by authority" - and the fact that no recording of names was ever made for the vast majority of those people. Even if some record had been made of a birth, a death, a marriage, a purchase, or anything else, chances are it doesn't exist anywhere. 

The way it was told me, the Mormon solution to the billions of forgotten and unresearchable names of the dead calls for the assistance of angels who will, I guess, whisper entire, unending genealogies to temple workers during the Millennium. Angels always get their facts straight so there won't be anything to worry about, right? Well, maybe. I didn't find it very convincing myself, but I doubted my logic and found faith in faith. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A couple of responses to Dieter Uchtdorf's "Doubt your doubts"

Take few minutes to read B. Very Chill's delightful post over at the Church of the Fridge and then skip on over to Infants on Thrones to give Uchtdorf's brief follow up talk a listen. Enjoy.

The dawn of Man

The story of Adam and Eve was an easy favorite for me as a child, second only to the story of Noah's ark. Probably because even though it had just as many animal species it lacked the adventure of the roundup and the violence of the Flood. I loved that Adam got to name all the animals and live with them and Eve happily in a kind of Tarzan-Jane-like existence. Even thinking about it now makes me happy.

Despite the thrill of such a wonderful story I knew there were some problems with it. For starters there were the likes of these guys

and plenty of others. Then again my parents never showed any indication of subscribing to young earth creationism. In fact my dad had taken me and my siblings out trilobite hunting once or twice and he was sure to explain that the fossils we found pre-dated the dinosaurs, who were themselves hundreds of millions of years old and probably never in the Garden of Eden. I was told at home, in church, and later at BYU that the details of the Creation would be revealed to us at some point after we died, so I kept the whole issue of where prehistoric creatures came from on the shelf labeled "We won't know, so we don't care" for a surprisingly long time. Admittedly I noticed the shelf bowing horribly when I was studying the Old Testament on my mission and read quote after quote from general authorities stating that the Church's stance on the matter was unbendingly pro-young earth and therefore aggressively anti-scientific. It hurt to read that kind of senselessness. I didn't want to be wrapped up with it, nor did I want to place my faith in something so demonstrably inaccurate.

Now let me return to the question of Adam and Eve. I was taught that they were literally our "first parents", meaning that all human beings can trace their ancestry back directly to them. I believed that my physical existence resulted directly from their procreative efforts so many millennia ago. (No, Y-chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve do not fit the biblical narrative, people!) As a youngster I oscillated between thinking they were folks who looked like my family and our church-going neighbors and thinking they were probably special cavemen who had, you know, touched the obelisk or something.  

It's embarrassing now to think back on these things. It's painfully embarrassing to hear people defend creationism and attack evolution. The last two times I've attended LDS church services I was treated to witnessing explicit attacks on Darwin and the scientific method! Of course this was only a couple of months after Mormon apostle, Russell Nelson took a stab at refuting the Big Bang in General Conference with a snide and ignorant remark about an explosion in a printing press producing a dictionary... 

How does anyone stay a believer when this stuff is obviously wrong even to a small child? These are issues that extend far beyond Mormonism to all of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. How could this absolute nonsense persist and flourish still today among billions of people? I'm guessing that many people do what I did: they doubt their doubts and not their faith.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The literal baptism of the earth

Growing up my favorite stories in the Bible were always the ones that had the most to do with animals. The more prominent role animals played in the story, the more I liked it. favorites included Daniel and the lion's den, Jonah and the whale, the plague of frogs in Egypt, Adam naming all things living in the Garden of Eden (duh!), and of course Noah's ark. The story of the ark is still hard to beat. I love the idea of saving and caring for all the animals in the entire world and being up close with so many exotic species in all their well-behaved glory. I would have given anything to be on that boat with essentially every kind of Earth’s land animals as my pets. 

My enthusiasm for the animals, however, did not deter me from posing the question of just how exactly Noah would have found them all (think of all the animals living near the poles or in Australia or the Americas), sexed them, brought them back to his ark (I liked to imagine a Divine hand guiding them all in a mysterious migration pointed in Noah’s direction), somehow fit them all in (maybe he knew Merlin’s song from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone), kept them fed (I remembered seeing a picture in my Zoo Books of how much food an elephant eats in a year and it was basically a small hill), kept their pens clean (cows on farms for example always seemed to be up to their knees in manure), and kept them from killing each other (because animals do that quite naturally). Then I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world they managed to get back to their respective habitats (imagine the box turtles hiking from the Middle East to the Eastern United States, for example). 

Even as a little kid I knew the story was fishy, to say the least, but I held on to it as best I could. Years later as a missionary I found myself reading the Student Manual to the Old Testament about how the earth had to be literallybaptized by immersion to eventually attain its celestial glory, and how maybe - just maybe! - the continents moved to their current locations during the year of total submersion. It was clear, just as it had been from my earliest memories of the story, that the contents of Genesis 6-9 were to be understood as literal, historical events.

It was all too staggeringly hopeful. The story of Noah's ark full of pairs of some ten million species and the supposed flood that covered every mountain top on planet earth pointed me to one single conclusion: THIS IS FICTION, NOT HISTORY. 

And yet I doubted my doubts and believed on.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Name them one by one

In the first session of the 183rd Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held October 5, 2013, the beloved Second Counselor of the First Presidency, Dieter Uchtdorf (a.k.a. The Silver Fox), delivered an address entitled "Come, Join with Us," in which he encouraged members of the Church to "first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith." The admonition was an instant hit among the faithful and internet memes sporting the Diete's words were soon popping up all over social media as status updates and adorable memes.

It's not particularly difficult to find reasonable criticisms with what Dieter's saying here. For starters, the concept of not doubting your faith applies exclusively to members of the Mormon Church and not to anyone considering joining Mormonism - which is odd considering most of the talk (including the title) is addressed to non-Mormons. Heaven forbid an outsider of some sort (like an investigator of the Church) actually decide to keep his original faith instead of converting to Mormonism! For those who are already Mormon, hearing that we should be doubting our doubts rather than our faith comes across as at least a little ignorant if not entirely insensitive. Dieter seems to suggest that members who doubt are uncritically embracing their doubts rather than resisting or analyzing them carefully over years and years of their life. How many doubts do believing Mormons store on their proverbial shelf in hopes that one day their understanding should be completed with "further light and knowledge"?

The years I spent as an active, believing Mormon were plagued with doubt-causing cognitive dissonance, but I hardly even noticed. Friends have since asked me what caused my disaffection from the Church, what happened, when did it happened, and what exactly I still believe with regards to Mormonism. When I sat down to think about it I couldn't help but notice that there were a number of issues that I had put on the shelf only to move on faithfully as I felt Heavenly Father would have wanted me to do. So after seeing all the Uchtdorf memes and listening to his talk I began compiling a personal list of doubts with the belief that I would be able to identify just a few key moments that had given me pause during my years of faithfulness, but within a matter of minutes I had a much longer list than I had anticipated and more moments of dissonance were coming to mind all the time. Of the items that made the list, some are fairly concrete events while others are more subtle realizations that sunk in over time. The thing is: I ALWAYS DOUBTED MY DOUBTS every time they came up and in the end IT WAS THE WRONG THING TO DO. I should have had the courage to be wrong and move on with my life, develop new beliefs, and worry less about the Church.

So this blog is about my wrestling with cognitive dissonance and doubt in the decades that I was an active believing Mormon; these are the doubts I doubted until all I had left was the fact that I could no longer believe.