Faith No More

A surprising trend I see from ex-Mormons is the abandonment of faith altogether. Specifically a rejection of Jesus and the Bible. I’ve got no hard stats on that matter, but it seems that people who reject Mormonism (not simply go inactive) overwhelmingly become atheist or agnostics. The trend is so stark it’s caused me to seriously question the fruit of counter-Mormon arguements.

Disaffection is not a specifically Mormon phenomena. People become disaffected from all churches for all kinds of reasons. I’ve personally become disaffected with churches I formerly attended and have resigned my membership. But in the Evangelical world disaffection doesn’t so frequently equate with atheism. Evangelicals most typically find a new church home. Even in the most serious cases of hurt caused by a church Evangelicals will seek ways to worship Jesus without the church, but they still pursue Jesus.

I’m interested to hear from Mormons why this takes place. I have my own theories, but I’d like to hear Mormon thought on this trend. I’m not bemoaning that ex-Mormons don’t become Evangelicals, I think we have plenty to share in the blame for that. But there are a great many non-Evangelical Christian options that ex-Mormons reject just as easily. Why does a loss of faith in Mormonism lead to a loss of faith in Jesus?

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112 thoughts on “Faith No More

  1. I think it’s because many of the perceived arguments against Mormonism apply against Christianity. I mean, this is something I’ve *cringed* at when Mormons have used it against ex-mormons. “So, you don’t believe in x historically doubtful event in the Book of Mormon but you *do* believe in y historically doubtful event in the Bible? How dare you?!” (I think Seth has stopped doing this, lol) And, to an extent, if historical doubtfulness is the issue, people can generally see that there’s a world of difference between the two, I suppose.

    Or…something like this…when doubting Mormonism, we might doubt that the church has something unique to provide us that we feel we really need (but were pressured and raised to believe that we need). This carries on to Christianity in many ways. One thing I just DO NOT GET is the “need” to be “saved.” It seems like Christian groups are assigning their only problem (e.g., hell) and then are advertising a solution for it (e.g., Christianity/relationship with Christ). Yet, in disaffecting from the church, what I realized was, I…don’t need that stuff.

    Next, even though I’ve been glad for your articles like “We Push Them Out…into what?” I don’t think many people read them or implement them. non-LDS Christians are still notoriously unappealing in their approach to Mormons, so when people disaffect from the church, then EVEN IF WE REALIZE, “Hey, they were right on x, y, or z claim about the church,” the next thing that comes to mind is, “But GEEZ. I would never be like one of THEM.” I still frequently go up to bat FOR the church when I hear people saying things about it…

    It doesn’t help that many Evangelicals feel that their attitude in evangelizing isn’t all that important (or rather, maybe they feel it is, but they have very different thoughts on what is effective.) So many people use a “tough love ministry” because “this is the truth” and “the truth may be hard to hear, but it can’t be sugarcoated.” OK, whatever. But to someone who does not believe that, all you are doing is alienating them. Many evangelicals seem fine with this too! “Well, I shared the truth with them and Jesus will work through them.”

    Finally, LDS doctrine in many ways is what we are familiar with. So, even if we can’t buy it any longer, other Christian doctrines don’t necessarily fill the gaps. Ugh, I don’t want to get into a discussion: “Aha! So you guys were following “another Jesus” and this is proof” (protip: that’s the wrong thing to do)…but at some level, you have to realize that Mormonism and…say…Calvinism…are arch rival philosophies when you look at what each places on the idea of “free will.” In many other ways, various traditional Christian ideas seem unpolished or jagged in comparison to what Mormons grew up believing.

    …Also, it’s kinda tacky to go back dating right after the hugest breakup in your life. I know some people would say, “But you need to get back on the scene EVENTUALLY,” but…this was a REALLY REALLY REALLY big breakup. And the settlement was ugly.

  2. Pingback: Why do many ex-Mormons leave Christianity altogether? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  3. In my experience, leaving Mormonism (philosophically, if not yet physically) has meant radically rethinking the way I understand religious language. What did I mean when I said I had a testimony of the LDS church, of Joseph Smith, and of Jesus? Studying history led me to realize that I did not have a testimony of the LDS church as it actually operates: I had good feelings about a mythical vision of the church I conjured up in my head every time I thought or spoke about it. The same was true for Joseph Smith: I believed in a constructed image of the Prophet of the Restoration, not some sex-crazed hillbilly with a propensity for lying and/or hallucinating. Unfortunately, Jesus is susceptible to the same kind of deconstruction that takes down the church and the Prophet: like them, he exists primarily as an image of goodness in my head which loses all objective reality as soon as I try to square it with history. I arrived late on the scene, discovering what liberal Christian theologians have known ever since the Enlightenment: Christ is one myth among many. This does not make him useless, but it does make nonsense of the idea that I must “believe” in him exclusively in order to live well. Other myths are just as valid (arguably more so), and what is really important (from my perspective, anyway) is the reality behind the myths. What is religion supposed to teach us?

    Once I learned to look past the myths (LDS church as kingdom of God on earth; Joseph Smith as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator; Christ as Savior), the realities I was left with were ethical truths: the community of brothers and sisters striving to reach common ethical goals; the heuristics involved in discovering those goals (ascetic behavior, self-denial, forbearance, patience, dialogue); and the glue holding everything together: love for everything and everyone as contributing a necessary part to the mysterious whole in which we all exist. C. S. Lewis sums up what I am trying to get at as the Tao (in _The Abolition of Man_, if I remember correctly). While it is possible to embrace Christ and the collection of myths associated with him as your only tool for exploring the Tao, it is not necessary. You can use him in concert with other tools (myths about Socrates or the Buddha, for instance). Or you can discard mythical language altogether and talk in what the world commonly regards as non-religious terms (human psychology, conflict resolution, etc.). Many ex-Mormons are most comfortable using discourse that no larger religious authority controls (or attempts to control), since they have had bad experiences with such discourse (it did not serve them well within the LDS church).

    I hope some of that makes sense. I appreciate your effort to see where we are coming from.

  4. I think the key to your question is: “I’ve got no hard stats on that matter, but it seems….” How can we discuss a general trend when we have no evidence that that trend even exists?

    Also, you’re comparing two different questions. In one, you’re asking about Mormons who reject Mormonism, and in the other you’re asking about Evangelicals who reject a particular church/congregation.

  5. I think many former LDS become atheist/agnostic because of the concept of prophets. Somehow we have it in our collective minds that the prophets and apostles must be infallible, even though all the evidence shows that is not the case. So, when something is found to go against what is perceived to be done by a true prophet, then the whole thing collapses.
    And when that same LDS person finds out that not only Joseph Smith was imperfect and the Book of Mormon is imperfect, but also the Bible and its prophets also contain similar imperfections, it leaves only one choice: unbelief.

    Meanwhile, if an Evangelical disagrees with his pastor, he just finds another pastor that teaches what he wants to hear. Many of them are, as Harold Bloom describes, “know nothing Baptists.” They read a verse or two, and build an entire theology on those few verses. Attempting to show them that the Bible has inconsistencies or errors only brings up shouts of heresy, since the Bible is God-breathed perfect and therefore everyone and everything else must be wrong, instead.

  6. Bravo Brian. You found the loophole. (which I acknowledge from the get go). But we’ve got plenty of evidence of the trend, we just don’t have hard stats on it.

    I disagree with your second objection. I could easily say “Mormons who reject the LDS church” and the comparison to any Evangelical still holds. After all, Mormons are “Christians” aren’t they?

  7. I think the key to your question is: “I’ve got no hard stats on that matter, but it seems….” How can we discuss a general trend when we have no evidence that that trend even exists?

    Hard statistical evidence is not the only evidence that exists. We have plenty of anecdotal evidence: sure, it is not dispositive or conclusory, but it is also not irrelevant. Even if it turned out that Tim’s “trend” is not the case for the majority of ex-Mormons, it is nevertheless the case for a large number of ex-Mormons. Just look around.

    Also, you’re comparing two different questions. In one, you’re asking about Mormons who reject Mormonism, and in the other you’re asking about Evangelicals who reject a particular church/congregation.

    Exactly. It’s actually really simple:

    Mormons are taught to believe in Heavenly Father, Jesus, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, the Priesthood, and the Church all based on the same grounds for faith: they have a “testimony” of all of those things that is supposed to be worked out by praying and receiving personal witness that it is true. This personal witness supposedly trumps all possible objections.

    So, when a Mormon’s faith in Mormon-specific things like Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon crumbles, the Mormon realizes that his grounds for believing those things was not reliable (he believed based on those grounds, and it turned out to not be true). And I think after that, the next step is inevitable: if prayer and personal revelation were unreliable for determining the truth about JS and the BoM, why should they be reliable for determining the truth about God, Jesus, and the Bible?

    I knew based on the witness of the spirit that JS was a prophet and the BoM was true. But they’re not. Which means that the witness of the spirit was unreliable. But I knew about God and Jesus and the bible based on the same witness of the spirit. Oops.

  8. Tim — I too wish I had some hard stats on the matter (I’d bet the higher-ups in the Church do), but my impression is the same as yours. I don’t know how many people we’re talking about here who reject the Church; there are surely far more people who go inactive than explicitly reject the Church.

    I read somewhere in another blog recently (I don’t remember where) that those who reject the Church tend to be those who have been the most “conservative” (for lack of a better word) about their beliefs — the ones who believe Joseph Smith didn’t make mistakes, who think church leaders are de facto infallible, who think there’s physical evidence for the existence of the Nephites, who think it’s borderline sinful to marry outside the temple, who basically don’t have any room for ambiguity and are somewhat black-and-white in their thinking. So when something comes along that calls that to question — whether it’s new information from the Church’s critics or personal shortcomings they aren’t equipped to deal with — well, if it can’t be all true it must be all false. And if the LDS church isn’t the true church, than there is no true church.

    That makes sense to me as part of the explanation.

    I think another huge factor is what non-LDS churches “feel like” (again, for lack of a better phrase) to those who have become acculturated to the LDS church. I have heard countless people say something like this: “I went to another church last week when I was visiting relatives out of town. And I couldn’t believe how shallow that church was.” I have heard that word used over and over again when describing the experience of going to other churches. Many people who have gone to evangelical megachurches say it was more like going to a concert instead of to a worship service.

    (For the record, not all say this. I have also heard Mormons talk about feeling the Spirit at other churches, and some found that surprising. But for those who don’t “feel the Spirit,” the reaction generally is one of experiencing shallowness.)

    Finally, I’d have to agree with part of Andrew said. For many Mormons, what they see of evangelicalism isn’t particularly appealing.

  9. I think another huge factor is what non-LDS churches “feel like” (again, for lack of a better phrase) to those who have become acculturated to the LDS church. I have heard countless people say something like this: “I went to another church last week when I was visiting relatives out of town. And I couldn’t believe how shallow that church was.” I have heard that word used over and over again when describing the experience of going to other churches. Many people who have gone to evangelical megachurches say it was more like going to a concert instead of to a worship service.

    I think they go expecting it to be shallow. And they go, and it’s not what they are used to, and they have told themselves and been told that “what they are used to” is in fact the one true way, which means any deviation from it is a deviation from truth.

    They go expecting it to not be true, and then it seems different from what they are used to, which they believe is true, so the difference gets cast as a substantive, spiritual lack, even though it is in reality just a lack of what-they-are-accustomed-to.

    It’s like how people think their Mom’s cooking is the best, when it’s really just what they’re used to. Only change that by having them spend their lives believeing that their Mom’s cooking that they are used to is also the one authorized cooking by God, and the only culinary way to truth, and being taught that all other cooks are cooking wrong things in a wrong way.

    So they taste someone else’s cooking, it tastes different, and they read “different” as “lacking the spirit” or whatever, and return and report, and feel so glad to be eating at the table of the one true cook. No surprise there.

  10. Growing up in the LDS faith, I have seen many of my contemporaries who continue in the faith after they leave high school and move out of their and many who don’t. Some of the ones who left came from very active LDS families, and some who stayed came from casually active families. Generally the ones who stay active after they move showed initiative in our youth groups and sunday school lessons and generally seemed like they wanted to be there, while some were there because their parents expected them to be. For those who felt compelled to be there (whether this was perceived or actual), they probably began to have negative associations with anything to do with religion and spirituality, and reflect this attitude later in life.

    Some who leave the LDS church do so because they feel it is too difficult to live up the standards of sobriety, chastity before marriage, and fidelity within marriage. Many fear they would be judged and condemned by any religious group that held such values, even when the churches teach that Christ loves and can redeem the sinner, and only condemns the sin.

    I think the reasons are best stated in the Book of Mormon and the Holy Bible.

    2 Nephi 28: 30.
    30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

    John 3: 19-21 (KJV)
    19 And this is the condemnation, that a light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
    20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
    21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

    Ultimately, everyone should have a very personal relationship with Jesus Christ and those that turn away from Him have very personal reasons that we can only guess. All we can do is love them as Christ loves them, and welcome them back as He welcomes them.

  11. Problem is, you have to ask “which Mormons?”

    If you are talking about ex-Mormons who are vocal on the Internet?

    Yeah, there seems to be a definite atheist trend.

    But I think this is most true of people who were solidly “in” Mormonism to begin with.

    There are a lot of folks in the LDS Church who sign up for a while, but never really integrate. I can totally see these people going back to their Christian roots.

    Likewise, there are some Mormons who are never really committed to Mormonism in the first place, never really buy into its doctrines – for the simple reason that they never studied those doctrines – and then have a social falling out with their ward. These types can also wind up in other Christian churches were they feel more accepted. Although I think it’s more likely that they’ll just go water-skiing instead.

    And then there are Mormons whose link to the Church is purely social, and who have a lot of self-esteem issues that they link to their Mormon identity – but they too never really “got” LDS doctrine in any substantive way – these people will often grab hold of another Christian faith where they don’t feel as bad about themselves.

    I can also see a Mormon who is thoroughly into the LDS paradigm and well-versed in the doctrine having a faith-crisis, and jumping ship in favor of a less-demanding “liberal” Christian denomination. But I don’t see that lasting – to be honest (Kullervo might be an example of this, but I’m not sure).

    Then there are some Mormons who are lukewarm about being Mormon in general, and wander out of activity. But these guys aren’t really likely to be any less lukewarm about any other religion – they’d rather be water-skiing on Sunday, to be honest. So not really fertile ground for Evangelicals there either.

    The Internet only gives a small slice of the Mormon experience, and does not cover all these groups. Only the most vocal and passionate types usually end up on the Internet debating. Basically, to end up here, something has to be driving you.

    Honestly – and it feels totally self-serving for me to say this – I think the most fertile ground for Evangelical conversions among committed Mormons – is among Mormons with a shallow grounding in LDS doctrine (never got beyond the Primary level of the narrative, and never read much of the grown-up theology stuff), and who have deep self-esteem issues grounded in their social experience of Mormonism.

    Which I suspect is why a lot of Evangelical ministries – like Mark Cares push the whole “are you saved?” and “does Jesus love you?” angle so heavily.

    Low-hanging fruit.

    Another fertile ground would be recent converts who used to be Evangelical before going Mormon, but never were in long enough to integrate into the Mormon worldview, and now have lost interest. These guys are possibly ready to go back to what they know.

    But I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere (usually) with committed Mormons who are deep into the literature. Mormonism generally does a pretty good job of highlighting the problems with classical Christian thought. You can’t just expect people to forget all that, and pretend they didn’t see it. Why aren’t there prophets anymore? Why aren’t there temples? Why did God stop talking around 100 AD? Why did his “plain word” in the Bible result in such a complete mess of denominations? And what on earth was John Calvin smoking when he came up with the TULIP? And what IS this three-gods-in-one stuff, and why can no one explain it to me?

    You pick these questions up in Mormonism. And they don’t go away just because you suddenly conclude that Joseph Smith was a fraud.

    Fraud or not, he had a point.

  12. i don’t know if I posted the comment or not,

    but from one of the pew dealies, the survey found.

    of those who are raised mormon
    *70% stay with it
    *15% move to “another group” (no more specific detail)
    *14% move to “none” (no more specific detail).

  13. Tim, I’ve noticed the trend too, but I’ve also seen it with ex-Catholics and, to a lesser degree, ex-Lutherans (Missouri Synod).

    Mormons, Catholics, and that particular brand of Lutheranism all have at least a history of teaching the One True Church dogma…

    So I wonder, if one is taught that their church is superior to all others, and then one loses faith in that church, does it just seem like, “why bother with the underneaths?”

    On a slightly different tangent… of those Christians who completely lose their faith, I’ve noticed a surprisingly large number of people who embrace paganism, wicca, etc… any thoughts on that?

  14. Mormonism generally does a pretty good job of highlighting the problems with classical Christian thought. You can’t just expect people to forget all that, and pretend they didn’t see it. Why aren’t there prophets anymore? Why aren’t there temples? Why did God stop talking around 100 AD? Why did his “plain word” in the Bible result in such a complete mess of denominations? And what on earth was John Calvin smoking when he came up with the TULIP? And what IS this three-gods-in-one stuff, and why can no one explain it to me?

    And the church likes to say it never attacks other religions . . .

  15. On a slightly different tangent… of those Christians who completely lose their faith, I’ve noticed a surprisingly large number of people who embrace paganism, wicca, etc… any thoughts on that?

    Quite a few.

  16. I’m stunned that a Mormon would admit that. I guess I shouldn’t be stunned with you by now, but it is what it is.

    I guess the question that I’m really mulling over in my head right now is: what’s the point? Why bother with all of this talk of friendship and bridging the divide when it’s a divide of Mormonism’s own making? So long as the counter-cult books and pamphlets and Web sites are critiquing an accurate, relevant version of Mormon history and theology, and people are respectful in their interactions with Mormons even as they try to proselyte them and dissuade people from joining the LDS church, what’s the problem? What’s there to bridge? Is that all anyone can really hope for?

  17. I guess the question that I’m really mulling over in my head right now is: what’s the point? Why bother with all of this talk of friendship and bridging the divide when it’s a divide of Mormonism’s own making? So long as the counter-cult books and pamphlets and Web sites are critiquing an accurate, relevant version of Mormon history and theology, and people are respectful in their interactions with Mormons even as they try to proselyte them and dissuade people from joining the LDS church, what’s the problem? What’s there to bridge? Is that all anyone can really hope for?

    I think this is an incredibly important question. I think you should write a different post on it.

  18. Well, the point for you obviously is that you are married to a Mormon. So if you want to have some kind of spiritual life together, then you have to pretty much be in constant dialogue. But it’s inthe context of one of your most intimate relationships, so it doesn’t necessarily generalize to everyone else.

    Why everyone else wants to dialogue so bad, I dunno. Maybe just because the conversations are interesting.

  19. Seth,
    I agree with your comment concerning our existance being an attack on traditional Christianity. When it comes to accusing one religion of attacking another I use the simple explanation: An attack is an organized effort on the part of participants to single out and destroy another faith. In general these attacks never really explain why their religion is better, or what the truth really is. They simply explain why their target is wrong.

    Just another comment: I have read all the posts and it seems that there is a common thought between all of them, though each poster has a different way of explaining it. It is simply this: The LDS church is such a powerful influence on the lives of many members that when they leave traditional Christianity is not strong enough to fill the void created.
    Going off the break-up analogy before: It is like breaking up with what you thought was the perfect wife. Every other woman pales in comparrison to the memory.

  20. Just another comment: I have read all the posts and it seems that there is a common thought between all of them, though each poster has a different way of explaining it. It is simply this: The LDS church is such a powerful influence on the lives of many members that when they leave traditional Christianity is not strong enough to fill the void created.

    I do not think that is accurate at all.

  21. Just another comment: I have read all the posts and it seems that there is a common thought between all of them, though each poster has a different way of explaining it. It is simply this: The LDS church is such a powerful influence on the lives of many members that when they leave traditional Christianity is not strong enough to fill the void created.

    Sounds like the same explanation my husband gives for why none of my Mormon ex-boyfriends have married.

  22. Well Jack, it depends on how ambitious you want to get.

    Personally, I’d settle for historical and factual accuracy in the arguments of both sides, combined with a willingness to jettison bad arguments, or arguments with shaky foundations in our core non-negotiable values and beliefs.

    I mean, are you going to get a believing Mormon to admit that “oops, well… there actually wasn’t anything all that important that needed “restoring” after all”. If there had to be a Restoration, that means that there was somewhere Christianity was deficient. And if a Restoration wasn’t needed, then what are we Mormons doing here anyway? Why not let free-form Evangelicalism fix whatever problems there are?

    There are improvements we can make. We can stop insulting Christian pastors in our temple rituals. We can revisit Nephi’s writings and conclude he was not specifically targeting the Catholics. We can be fair, and give credit where credit is due (to the Catholics for basically saving both the Bible and the Gospel from oblivion, for instance). We can also strive to understand each other. We can try to not misrepresent each other’s views on stuff like the Trinity.

    But we can’t ask the other side to surrender its core reason for being.

    The Catholic Church NEEDS to be a historical continuation of the unbroken presence of the fullness of the Gospel from Jesus on. Non-negotiable.

    Protestants NEED the Bible to be the first, best, and last word of God – because that is where they get their reason for existing. Non-negotiable.

    Mormons need the Apostasy – which they are the solution to. Non-negotiable.

    Now, we can finesse, supplement, modify, and even soften these messages as appropriate. But we can’t get rid of them altogether.

  23. Personally, I never felt threatened by “anti-Mormons” during my years as a good Mormon. I have to agree with Seth R: my experience trying to be an apologist for the Mormon faith thoroughly inoculated me against the “one true faith” dogma rising from non-Mormon Christianity (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox). In the end, it broke my faith in traditional Mormonism (by showing me that Mormon attempts to control history are just as empty and specious as their Christian counterparts).

    On the bright side, my deconversion has had some really positive effects. I no longer feel any guilt about refraining from telling other people how to live their lives. I learn freely from a wide variety of mythological and ethical traditions and try to apply the best of what I learn in my own life, consciously owning my freedom to embrace or reject specific ideas and behaviors–and the personal responsibility that that freedom entails. I no longer associate ethics irrationally with mythology, presuming that you cannot be a complete human being (in any sense) without “knowing” who was who (or what) x years ago. In many ways, this has made me a more charitable, Christlike person than I was before.

    I still have family and good friends who are Mormon and Christian (mostly Protestant), and I do not want to disrespect their integrity at all. While they choose to assign to mythology an essential importance which I do not, their hearts are in very good places, as evidenced by their personal conduct towards others (including me). There is no way I would tell them to give up religion if it meant destroying the source of the love I feel from them. It is sad when some of them cannot say as much for me, i.e. when they want to pull me back into some sort of orthodoxy (whether Mormon or Christian) so that I can be “right” even as my soul shouts “wrong.” Most of them have been very understanding (though there were initial fears that I would suddenly start smoking pot or abandon my wife). What I am trying to say, Tim (and Jack), is that you may not need to feel as sad or cut off from all of us ex-, post-, and new order Mormons as maybe you do. We do not all immediately presume that all religion is evil just because our particular version of one particular brand ends up not being true exactly the way we once thought it was. Many of us are still with you in ethical terms (living the Christlike life), even if we do not treat the mythology of Christ as history.

  24. My depression on this subject has more to do with the fact that I’ve been trying so hard to “build bridges” on this than it does with my marriage. I really thought there was room for significant improvement here. I really thought there was a bridge to build.

    Now I’m starting to think I was naive. Blind, even. Useful idiot at worst.

    But I think I’ll follow Kullervo’s suggestion and save my thoughts on why for another post.

  25. What I meant was, “the point” of dialogue–and consequently whether your goal is realistic or reachable–is vastly different depending on who you are trying to dialogue with.

    You are going to build different bridges to get different places with different people. I’m not sure there’s sense in bridges for bridges’ sake, unless you just happen to think bridges are interesting.

  26. I feel like I kicked someone’s puppy.

    But I would ask “bridges to what?”

    I mean, I’m sure you weren’t hoping to erase all distinctions between our differing faiths, correct?

  27. I think dialogue is an essential part of building personal integrity (including what many would call “spirituality”). Personally I am very grateful to all those who have shared with me their perspective on life and its meaning(s). Without them, my outlook would certainly be much smaller and poorer. While I acknowledge that there are situations in which some dialogue can cause problems (usually when people withhold crucial information or fail to take into consideration the special needs of their interlocutor), I do not think that means we should abandon it tout court.

    The dialogue that works best, in my experience, occurs when both sides lay all their cards on the table without attempting to pre-determine the outcome. I give my truth. You give yours. I take from you what I can use. You do the same with me. Both of us are changed in ways neither may have originally suspected, but it is all good as long as our integrity as responsible individuals is not compromised (e.g. you do not surrender to me the authority to decide how you live your life). One way to think about this is to compare concepts to tools. A hammer can be dangerous and/or very useful, depending on the understanding and ability of the person wielding it. It is more likely to be useful when you (as an expert hammer-wielder) give it to me with a caveat (“this hammer is really good for pounding nails, but watch your fingers; and you might want to use something else to fix the hardware on your computer”) rather than a command (“use the hammer, and only the hammer, for all your needs, or suffer the consequences!”). The caveat respects my choice to use the hammer or not (admitting that I may or may not use it in a variety of circumstances and giving me some idea what circumstances fit it best). The command forces my hand: I have to have a strong opinion on hammers now, and if I am not careful I may end up mistaking everything for a nail.

    I should probably try to write this up more coherently in another time (and another place: sorry to continue the threadjack at such length).

  28. I think dialogue is an essential part of building personal integrity (including what many would call “spirituality”).

    I’m inclined to think that’s nonsense. Am I somehow obligated, as a matter of personal integrity, to enter into “dialogue” with every human being I encounter?

  29. Of course not. But if your life were entirely without dialogue, you would not be human (though you might be something else). At the very least, you need a mother (or something like her) to provide the initial care and communication that jump-start your own ability to exist and make sense of the world. This is perhaps a broader way of looking at “dialogue” than most people recognize, but I find it useful.

  30. I mean, I’m sure you weren’t hoping to erase all distinctions between our differing faiths, correct?

    No. I’ll explain when I do my own post in a day or two; I didn’t mean to threadjack here.

    Don’t feel bad, Seth. It’s nothing you did.

  31. “Why does a loss of faith in Mormonism lead to a loss of faith in Jesus?”

    A question like this assumes that Mormons have a foundational basis in Christianity that they can fall back on once they realize that Joseph Smith was a con artist. This may be the case for some Mormons, but for most it is not.

    It would be like assuming that everyone who is a Christian has a foundational belief in Judaism. If you came to realize that Jesus was not the Messiah, would you fall back on Judaism, and go back to living the Law of Moses? No, because even though Christianity itself is rooted in Judaism, your individual Christian faith is not.

    Your faith is centered on Jesus Christ. You only believe in the Old Testament because Jesus did. Likewise, Mormons’ faith is centered on Joseph Smith. They only believe in Jesus because Joseph Smith did.

    Take that away from them, and they are starting from scratch. To someone with no religious background, Christianity is no more likely to be true than Islam or Hinduism. Now, starting from scratch, some ex-Mormons may decide that Christianity is the most compelling belief system out there. It happens. But most ex-Mormons embrace atheism or agnosticism simply because those are the belief systems that are the most compelling to educated adult minds that are free from childhood indoctrination.

  32. This is perhaps a broader way of looking at “dialogue” than most people recognize, but I find it useful.

    You are redefining dialogue to mean all communication, but that’s really, really not what we are talking about here.

  33. “Likewise, Mormons’ faith is centered on Joseph Smith. They only believe in Jesus because Joseph Smith did.”

    Correction: Joseph Smith showed us how to experience Jesus in a real, historical, missional, and altogether powerful way.

  34. But most ex-Mormons embrace atheism or agnosticism simply because those are the belief systems that are the most compelling to educated adult minds that are free from childhood indoctrination.

    I think that’s a smug overstatement. I think a more accurate thing to say would be that in American culture, Christianity is generally assumed to be the only “live option.” Other religions are thought of as too culturally alien to seriously consider. For the most part, for Americans, it’s Christianity or nothing. But that has a whole lot more to do with cultural bias (which I mean in a neutral, non-perjorative way) ruling out all of the other options than it does with the superiority or greater appeal of atheism/agnosticism.

    Which brings us back to Clink’s observation about Neopaganism. Despite the stigmas attached to “witchcraft” and the ridicule that they can tend to attract, the various neopagan faiths are growing fast in the US, and I think it is because New Age/neopagan spirituality is more accessible and less culturally “foreign” to Americans, so it is another live option for the serious seeker. It’s an alternative spirituality that is primarily the product of western civilization and unlike a lot of other NRMs, it is not attached to a specific authoritarian religious organization.

    So I think the number of post-Mormons who flock to neopaganism is nothing specific to Mormonism, but instead just a typical and consistent manifestation of neopaganism’s appeal for the religiously disaffected in America in general.

  35. Likewise, Mormons’ faith is centered on Joseph Smith. They only believe in Jesus because Joseph Smith did.

    To paraphrase Kullervo, I call baloney.

  36. And to Eric, Odell says “yes it’s true.” https://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2007/02/12/joseph-saved-me-from-getting-hung-up-on-christ/

    Sophocles overstates the case by saying “they” instead of “some”. But I do think it’s true for “some”. They have a more vibrant relationship with the church than with Jesus.

    I think Sophocles is also right that most Christians wouldn’t become Jews if they discovered the resurrection wasn’t true. Does that mean those Christians don’t have a serious commitment to Jehovah? Or does it mean their reason to worship Jehovah is gone?

  37. I guess the question that I’m really mulling over in my head right now is: what’s the point? Why bother with all of this talk of friendship and bridging the divide when it’s a divide of Mormonism’s own making? So long as the counter-cult books and pamphlets and Web sites are critiquing an accurate, relevant version of Mormon history and theology, and people are respectful in their interactions with Mormons even as they try to proselyte them and dissuade people from joining the LDS church, what’s the problem? What’s there to bridge? Is that all anyone can really hope for?

    Because attacking raises walls. Even if they are truthful “attacks” or “criticisms.”

    It may seem counterintuitive, but I believe the phrases “People will not care how much you know until they know how much you care” and even “kill people with kindness” are crucial.

    non-LDS Christians really need to be raising a point for the desirability of traditional/evangelical/non-LDS Christianity over Mormonism rather than beginning a campaign to lower the value of Mormonism. Do not “dissuade people from mormonism.” “Persuade people to non-LDS Christianity.”

    Since I think much of the apologetics are first and foremost about “dissuading people from Mormonism,” then is it a surprise when people are dissuaded that they do not jump to anything else…because they have not been persuaded to anything else.

  38. Tim,

    I tend to agree with your concern that some counter-Mormon arguments can lead to atheism. I think that the Church has abrogated its role and responsibility to these independent para-church groups.

  39. I think it has a lot to do with the “one true church” bit.

    At some point in your LDS upbringing you’ve felt “the spirit” at church, reading scriptures, etc. Either this was actually the Holy Ghost (church is true) or a biological response (church is not true, but all religions are false as well).

    Personally, as I searched for greater meaning, I could never deny the things I felt growing up. Other denominations had equal amounts of historical garbage and beliefs that didn’t make sense. Additionally, the same emotional response — the Spirit — I felt thinking about the Savior was also felt reading The Book of Mormon and at other various church activities.

    In the end, it was either the gospel is true (though man’s delivery is sometimes flawed) or there is no God.

  40. When the “one true church” stuff is all about feelings, how do you account for the fact that other people feel “the Spirit” at other churches? Are they feeling evil spirits? Are they imagining it? Are they feeling the “true” Spirit, in preparation for them to find the “true” church?

    If some are good spirits and some are bad, how do we know we’re in touch with the right ones… especially if they’re doing good things like miracles, etc. on both the Mormon and Evangelical sides?

    Not trying to discourage you, just wondering about the thought processes there… that feeling the Spirit is what makes someone stick with one church over others.

  41. The LDS position has never – since Joseph Smith on – been that other Christian churches have nothing good about them.

    With this in mind, feeling the Spirit at other churches isn’t hard for a Mormon to explain at all.

  42. But why is the Spirit hanging out at churches that aren’t “true?” And why would the Spirit give someone confirmation about another church that isn’t LDS? Is it like predestination; some people aren’t meant to be LDS?

    Again — knowing how much is NOT communicated online — rest assured I am not trying to be snarky in any way… I really want to know how people reconcile all this, especially when basing their religious preference on a religious feeling.

  43. Because they aren’t 100% false.

    So the Spirit cannot be expected to reject EVERYTHING they are doing.

    Seems pretty obvious to me.

  44. Seth,

    So a missionary tells an evangelical Christian to read and pray about the Book of Mormon. Said evangelical Christian dutifully does this. The missionaries ask the evangelical Christian how he felt about it. The evangelical Christian replies, “Great!”

    Now excited the LDS missionaries ask when they can schedule a baptism for the evangelical Christian because he knows the truth of the Book of Mormon. The evangelical Christian replies, “No thanks, I like my church just fine.” Now perplexed the LDS missionaries ask why the Holy Spirit would testify that the Book of Mormon is true if he shouldn’t join the Mormon church. Having read LDS Conversations the evangelical Christian replies, “Well, the Book of Mormon isn’t 100% false, so the Spirit cannot be expected to reject EVERYTHING in it. It seems pretty obvious to me that the Holy Spirit will testify of the true parts and that’s why I felt good.”

    Now what?

  45. I think new religious movements (NRM’s) are a good vehicle from which to analyze older NRM’s like Christianity itself. The subset of NRM’s which produce fruitful scriptural works and coherent religious organizations do an even better job. Therefore I would suspect shifts to atheism in ex-mormonism may, in part, be due to the mormonism’s tendency to bring the NRM card into play.

    Fundamentally every religion was a NRM, and history, from my perspective, shows successful NRM evolution is more easily explained through group level adaptive factors than obvious divine providence. Extrapolate that conclusion to the subset of NRM’s that match mormonism’s story and the tautologies with Christianity make it easy to treat that world religion as just another successful NRM. This removes the cloak of historical reverence that implicitly shrouds many Christian paradigms.

    In simpler words mormonism makes it easier to treat Christianity as a NRM than a perfect set of God’s words. As the latter is essentially an abstract entity, it can be easily separated from mundane pragmatics. I don’t think NRM’s have those abstract benefits.

  46. David Clark, while your last comment was directed at seth, I would jump in and say that would be a great response! Questioning what parts are and aren’t true fits exceptionally well with the general mormon paradigm as I understand it. Keep peeling back layers to explore the next level of precision.

  47. David,

    Am I supposed to be perplexed by your response or something?

    I don’t see any problems with the Evangelical’s response. Seems like an intelligent response to me. From that point we’d have to go into the substance of the two faith traditions.

    Is this a problem?

  48. Sigo, I understand and agree. I think you make an insightful point. But on a personal note, your point would come across more strongly if you wrote in a way in which more people could understand you more easily. People skim these comments and I assure you, everyone just hopped right over yours.

    Your ideas are more than your vocabulary.

  49. I confess I didn’t read all of the comments, but I’ll add a data point for you.

    My deconversion from Mormonism started with (what felt like to me) waking up to the unreality of God. It had little to do with Mormon history or Mormon doctrine; that stuff was icing on the cake after I’d already lost faith. Learning about problematic Mormon history made it easier to walk away in the end, but it only served as confirmation for what I already believed.

    So you could put me in with the others who said that the arguments that led me out of Mormonism applied equally well to Christianity.

    Also, other Christian churches never felt like home. This doesn’t apply to me, but I can imagine for some that the cultural divide between Mormonism and the larger Christian world is too large for some to bridge. But not feeling at home doesn’t really explain why someone would stop believing. At most, it would explain those who self-report as spiritual but unchurched.

  50. Why some ex-Mormons become atheists rather than protestants

    To riff off my previous post. . . If the same spirituality that lead you to Christ is not distinguishable from the spirituality that lead you to the LDS church, and then you decide that the Church’s claims are unsupportable, post-Mormons often can revert to the healthy distrust of the implausible . . . they stop trusting themselves to believe implausible things.

    I am not sure there is a strong difference between what brings the average Evangelical to Christ than what brings the average Mormon to Christ. But I could be wrong, i haven’t heard anybody explain it any differently.

    The conversion through the Book of Mormon is not a conversion to Joseph Smith, most Mormons don’t really understand or know who he really was.

    Atheism often is the product of refusing to trust in seemingly faulty or incomplete explanations of things after having lost trust in the

  51. Seth… so it’s not a question of other churches being wrong, but rather a question of degree in being right, correct?

  52. Of course.

    Although there are some things – like formal Priesthood authority – that you either have or you don’t.

    But you can’t just expect the Holy Spirit to withhold from giving a “job well done” when there is real righteousness going on.

  53. Clink wrote “But why is the Spirit hanging out at churches that aren’t “true?” And why would the Spirit give someone confirmation about another church that isn’t LDS? Is it like predestination; some people aren’t meant to be LDS?”

    My response:
    The LDS Church does not state that other churches are “not true.” D&C 1 states that the LDS Church is the only “true and living church” which the Lord is “well pleased” with. Some interpret this to mean there are no other true churches, or that God is not pleased with other churches. That isn’t what it states. It means that God works within many churches to lift people to a higher state of holiness, but the LDS Church stands above the others.

    This is easier to understand in context of the LDS belief in multiple heavens. I believe that a person can be Catholic, Baptist, etc., and receive a kingdom of heaven. This is what we are taught in D&C 76. However, only the most valiant, who accept all God’s prophets and ordinances and teachings will receive the highest.

    Many traditional Christians believe similarly, except instead of separate kingdoms, they view it as different levels of reward/glory within the one kingdom.

  54. If the LDS church is the only “true and living” church, I really have a hard time escaping the conclusion that all of the other churches are (at least to some extent) false and dead.

  55. Having one organisation claim that it is the only one that is 100% true does not necessarily lead to the idea that every other organisation is 100% false. This seems to be the notion being presented right now. Yes, the LDS Church proclaims that there are errors in other religions. But having some errors does not make the whole thing bad. If you get an 85% on a test, you still pass the test. You may not have gotten it all right, but you certainly didn’t get it all wrong, either. The LDS Church doesn’t preach a pass/fail approach to understanding God.

    The phrase that I often find myself repeating whenever this comes up is that the LDS Church does not have a monopoly on goodness. There is good all around us. Latter-day Saints are told to seek after everything that is good, lovely, virtuous, of good report, or praiseworthy. I have a hard time believing that Joseph Smith penned the 13th Article of Faith by taking St. Paul’s admonition and saying, “All right, guys, now, when we do this stuff, what we are really doing is just pointing the finger back at ourselves.”

    Why is it possible to feel the Spirit in other places? Moroni, quoting his father, tells us why in Moroni 7:13. Everything that is good comes of God. Everything. Not some things that are good. Not even most things. All things. Everything. And the Spirit witnesses of goodness and truth. So if you find goodness and truth, the Spirit is going to tell you so.

  56. Clink, it may be helpful to see the following entries in the semi-official Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

    Light of Christ
    Holy Spirit
    Holy Ghost

    The LDS church affirms that all human beings have access to revelation and guidance from God through what they call “the light of Christ” and through the influence of the Holy Ghost.

    They deny that non-members can have the gift of the Holy Ghost, aka “baptism by fire.” This is usually understood as the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit. See:

    Baptism of Fire and of the Holy Ghost
    Gift of the Holy Ghost

    A popular (and perhaps bad) analogy is that non-members occasionally receive flashes of light as if by lightning, while Mormons get their own flashlights.

    Bottom line being, Mormons really wouldn’t have a problem with non-members feeling the power of the Holy Spirit in their churches.

    Explaining why people might feel the Spirit more in non-LDS churches than in LDS ones or experience manifestations of spiritual gifts or feel the Spirit’s guidance regularly in their lives is perhaps more difficult.

  57. If I say that my husband is the only studly and good-looking man in the room, it probably means that I don’t think the other men are very studly and good-looking.

    If I say that he’s the only completely studly and good-looking man in the room, it leaves open the possibility that I think the other men are studly and good-looking to lesser degrees.

    D&C 1 says that the LDS church is the only studly and good-looking man in the room.

  58. Bridget, you are misreading the statement. Too many people take the term “only true and living” out of context. You have to read the entire sentence to get the full meaning: “with whom, I the Lord am well pleased.”

    It is like saying your husband is the best looking among the good looking guys in the group. There are ugly guys in the group, and there are good looking guys in the group. But of all in the group, your husband is the best.

    Does this mean there isn’t a better looking guy somewhere, if we expand the group? Of course not. The LDS Church believes it is the best out of the good looking churches. That said, even the LDS Church does not at this time contain all truth, doctrine, nor keys of authority. For example, while we have the keys of sealing (temple marriage, etc), we do not have the priesthood keys of resurrection. Nor do we have the truths that are to be had in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon.

    There is no perfect church on the earth. But there are some great ones with which God is pleased. And D&C 1 tells us that there is one with which he is “well pleased.”

  59. Am I supposed to be perplexed by your response or something?

    No Seth, I am perplexed. You essentially undermine the entire missionary program of the church and you don’t even care. You of course would deny doing any such thing. But, if there is no reason for a spiritual experience with the Book of Mormon to lead to a conversion (provided someone feels good about their current church), then what does?

    From that point we’d have to go into the substance of the two faith traditions.

    Except you don’t seem want to go into the substance of the faith traditions. Every time there is a discussion about the evidence of the Book of Abraham you just complain how complicated the whole situation is. Every time there is a discussion about the substance of the Book of Mormon you retreat to there being a slim possibility that we might find evidence for the Book of Mormon. You also say that there is no conclusive evidence against it, therefore faith is justified.

    But what you really are doing is relying on your spiritual witness that those books are true. The problem is that you just admitted that the spiritual witness is not a very reliable indicator for adjudicating truth and falsity, since as long as something is not 100% false the Spirit will testify of something.

    Yes, I am perplexed.

  60. David Clark,

    I think the issue is one where the Lord inspires us to the amount of truth and light we are ready to receive (Alma 29:8). It isn’t a black and white issue, because humans do not dwell in black and white, but in shades of gray.

    While on my mission, I knew a couple Protestant ministers who preached from the Book of Mormon in their congregations. But they never joined the LDS Church. Why not? Because they were inspired to believe in the book, but were not ready to give up their paid positions. So they found a way to accommodate new beliefs into their lives. It is part what we ask, and part what we are ready to accept.

    Secondly, we have to ask the right questions. A few years ago as a ward mission leader, the missionaries took me to visit one of their investigators. They had challenged him to pray about both Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. When we asked him, he still wasn’t certain. I asked him to tell me specifically what he had prayed for. He said he had prayed that the Lord would show him the “right way.” I noted that we were here, potentially as an answer to that, but it still did not answer concerning JS and BoM.

    So we went down on our knees and prayed specifically if Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and whether the Book of Mormon was the word of God. We all received a spiritual confirmation, and the man was baptized. I’ve seen this happen many times, that the questions asked determine the answer we receive.

    Also, as noted above, our intent makes a difference. I taught a couple pastors about Joseph Smith and the BoM years ago. I encouraged them to pray about it. They said they would do it right then. “Heavenly Father, we already know that Joseph Smith wasn’t a true prophet, but if he is, please let us know.” They got the answer they sought: nothing.

    So, the Spirit testifies to us that amount of truth we are ready and willing to receive. It works in the gray areas, because it is better for a person to accept some of the truth and light, than to accept none of it.

  61. Hi Rameumpton,

    Bridget, you are misreading the statement. Too many people take the term “only true and living” out of context.

    Actually, I would say that I’m incredibly well-informed on the context of the statement, more so than most Mormons. In the 19th century, it was par for the course for churches to declare that they were right while everyone else is wrong—Protestants included—and they meant what they said. D&C 1 is very typical and understandable for that time period. The difference is, Protestants never canonized any of these statements reflecting a divisive 19th century mentality and were able to move on to an age of denominational ecumenism.

    I think it’s nice that Mormons such as yourself want to find more ecumenical readings of the statement. I just don’t think the text (or the historical context) allows for it.

    You have to read the entire sentence to get the full meaning: “with whom, I the Lord am well pleased.”

    So you think “only” modifies “with whom, I the Lord am well pleased” instead of “true and living”? Seems pretty awkward to me.

    Besides that, read for yourself what Joseph Smith is recorded as saying in JS-H 1:20, after his encounter in the Sacred Grove: “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.” He doesn’t say that Presbyterianism was a nice religious tradition that had a lot of truth in it, but there was more truth to be had out there; he says that it’s “not true.” This is a true/false mentality we’re dealing with.

  62. Tim: yes, you acknowledge the loophole…and then plow ahead anyway.

    “But we’ve got plenty of evidence of the trend, we just don’t have hard stats on it.” No, you have zero evidence of a trend. You have evidence that some people behave one way, but without properly collecting the data you cannot begin to identify a trend. ‘Cause, ya know, I have a friend who left Mormonism and now worships with the Lutherans so my one example totally blows your theory out of the water.

    “I could easily say “Mormons who reject the LDS church” and the comparison….” Then you should say that, because it is a very different question. Former LDS Mormons who reject the Church but don’t reject it’s teachings might end up in RLDS or other movements. That’s very different than former Mormons who reject Mormonism.

  63. Kullervo: “Exactly. It’s actually really simple….” Your theory is really interesting and holds promise…now go get the damn data to test it.

    “We have plenty of anecdotal evidence: sure, it is not dispositive or conclusory, but it is also not irrelevant.” I never said it was “irrelevant”. I said it doesn’t reliably coalesce into a trend. And who’s “we”? You have some anecdotes, and I have some, and Tim some others. “We” doesn’t exist (yet).

    “Even if it turned out that Tim’s “trend” is not the case for the majority of ex-Mormons, it is nevertheless the case for a large number of ex-Mormons. “ Define “large.” Without any real data, you can’t (because by definition, “large” is qualitative). But I agree with you: size does matter.

    Also, Tim’s question wasn’t “Why do a large number of ex-Mormons reject faith altogether?” it was “Why do more ex-Mormons reject…than Evangelicals?”

  64. Andrew: nice link. And from it we find that:

    “Of those who leave Mormonism after being raised in the faith, half (15% of those raised Mormon overall) convert to a new religion, while the other half (14% overall) become unaffiliated. This is similar among those raised Catholic; about half of those who leave the faith (18% of all those raised Catholic) switch to another religion and half (14%) switch to no religion. Among those raised Protestant, 28% switched to another Protestant family, 7% joined a non-Protestant faith and 13% became unaffiliated.”

    So, the faith-no-more stats are: Mormons (14%) = Catholics (14%) > Protestants (13%).

    Not much of a trend.

    Although another part of Tim’s gut feeling did hold up: fewer exMormons switched to another church (only 15%) as compared to 18% switcheroo Catholics and a whopping 35% of Protestants. Nevertheless, the number of Protestants willing to make a categorical leap (7%) is only half that of Mormons—which, depending on how one reads Tim’s initial question, is the opposite of what he proposed.

  65. Tim: if your point is to understand Mormonism, then why aren’t you interested in challenging your preconceived notions? If, on the other hand, you’re just interested in strengthening your biases….

  66. Alex, the LDS Church does not, as far as I can tell, claim to be “100% correct.”

    David wrote:

    “You essentially undermine the entire missionary program of the church and you don’t even care.”

    I have done no such thing. I have merely undermined the simplistic 19 year old missionary approach that you ASSUME is equivalent to the entire LDS missionary program.

    Nor are my feelings about the Book of Abraham “feeling based.”

    They are based on a superior theology and worldview that is derived from the book. They are also based on an ongoing conviction that the book was simply beyond the capabilities of Joseph – or anyone else in the 19th century.

    My convictions are not based on “warm fuzzies” but rather empirical testing of the principles in my own life (they work), and pondering how the theology fits in with what I know of the universe and such.

    You keep trying to reduce all this to “Seth likes it because it makes him feel good.”

    No David, that’s not it. You wish it was (makes your argumentative position easier) – but it isn’t.

  67. Thanks for all the responses to my “feelings and the one true church” question. Actually the LDS position on spiritual feelings stated here squares very closely with my own feelings on the matter… I have a hard time believing the Holy Spirit is any one private group’s “property.”

    I’m still confused about the statement that started my questions, however:

    “At some point in your LDS upbringing you’ve felt “the spirit” at church, reading scriptures, etc. Either this was actually the Holy Ghost (church is true) or a biological response (church is not true, but all religions are false as well).”

    How can spiritual feelings that LDS is the one true church be the most important, final confirmation kind of reason for believing, when other people legitimately feel the same thing at other churches?

  68. David Clark :

    “You essentially undermine the entire missionary program of the church and you don’t even care. . .

    this doesn’t hold, just because people get a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon doesn’t mean they will join the church, On my mission I taught an aspiring Evangelical preacher who wanted to preach from the BOM. I don’t know if you were ever a missionary, but the missionary program of the church extends far beyond the Book of Mormon and Moroni’s Promise.

    But what you really are doing is relying on your spiritual witness that those books are true. The problem is that you just admitted that the spiritual witness is not a very reliable indicator for adjudicating truth and falsity, since as long as something is not 100% false the Spirit will testify of something.

    The Spirit may not be a reliable indicator as far as the truth of certain scientific/historical events, but when it comes to the miracles of the Bible or other implausible, unsupported accounts, it maybe the best evidence. I don’t think that our scientific/historical conclusions based on the Spirit are as important as our religious conclusions.

    I think you are also oversimplifying the larger LDS understanding of the Spiritual witness. It is certainly not a red-light/green-light sort of thing, but something that takes serious meditation, humility and diligent search etc. in order to understand precisely what the Spirit is saying.

  69. How can spiritual feelings that LDS is the one true church be the most important, final confirmation kind of reason for believing, when other people legitimately feel the same thing at other churches?

    They can’t. It’s all just “spin the Spirit.”

  70. Tim: if your point is to understand Mormonism, then why aren’t you interested in challenging your preconceived notions? If, on the other hand, you’re just interested in strengthening your biases….

    No, you actually gave me new and refreshed insight into Mormonism.

  71. Seth,

    I have done no such thing. I have merely undermined the simplistic 19 year old missionary approach that you ASSUME is equivalent to the entire LDS missionary program.

    Then why are the vast majority of LDS missionaries 19 and 20? Doesn’t the LDS church expect the vast majority of its missionary work to be done based on “the simplistic 19 year old missionary approach?” Can you join the church and not go through a 19 or early 20’s missionary? I missed something I guess.

    Nor are my feelings about the Book of Abraham “feeling based.”

    So your feelings are not “feeling based?” Isn’t that a contradiction? Is this a new fangled kind of feeling that has nothing to do with feeling?

    They are based on a superior theology and worldview that is derived from the book.

    Since the BofA contains the proof text for one of the biggest mistakes the LDS church ever made (denying the priesthood to blacks) I’ll have to disagree.

    My convictions are not based on “warm fuzzies” but rather empirical testing of the principles in my own life (they work), and pondering how the theology fits in with what I know of the universe and such.

    So empirical evidence is persuasive if it’s for life application, but empirical evidence against the BofM and the BofA is not persuasive? I’m confused here.

    You keep trying to reduce all this to “Seth likes it because it makes him feel good.”

    No Seth, this isn’t about you (sorry). From my 34 years in the church, I have always taken Mormon epistemology to be entirely feelings based. I can’t recall any instance in studying, reading, or listening where the path to the truth about the church was presented as anything other than purely feelings based. So, once again I am perplexed that you think it is otherwise.

  72. The Spirit may not be a reliable indicator as far as the truth of certain scientific/historical events, but when it comes to the miracles of the Bible or other implausible, unsupported accounts, it maybe the best evidence. I don’t think that our scientific/historical conclusions based on the Spirit are as important as our religious conclusions.

    OK, I just keep getting more and more confused. I guess I’m pretty dumb. So if the Spirit testifies that the Book of Mormon is true, does that mean that it is not witnessing to the reliability of the historical aspects of the Book of Mormon? So does that mean that one should hold fast to the teachings in the Book of Mormon (since the Spirit witnessed them) but look to archeology for understanding of the purely historical events? Wouldn’t that leave one rejecting the historicity of the Book of Mormon, since there is zero evidence for it, archeologically speaking?

    Maybe that dichotomy between scientific/historical and miraculous ain’t too useful here. But what do I know, I’m pretty dumb.

  73. “Since the BofA contains the proof text for one of the biggest mistakes the LDS church ever made (denying the priesthood to blacks) I’ll have to disagree.”

    I don’t think there was any scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to blacks – period. Abraham or otherwise.

  74. The use of the word “feelings” was a typo David. I should have written “views” or “beliefs.”

    On the other stuff – why does the LDS Church use 19 year olds?

    To act as heralds for the rest of the show. Pretty simple.

    Imagine you’re visiting London and get to see a royal procession.

    A few guys with trumpets come out and blow some rigning tones announcing that the entourage of the Queen will be coming by soon.

    Do you just pack up the kids and say “well, there’s the heralds – we’ve seen all there is to see”? Or do you wait around for the queen to actually drive by? Do you wait for the rest of the parade? Or do you act like the guys with trumpets announcing the event were the whole show?

    Because this is essentially what you seem to be doing.

  75. I’d also say that under the current OFFICIAL LDS system, the full-time missionaries are only supposed to be about – I’d say – 30% of the process a person goes through in getting to the point of baptism.

  76. Alma 32 and D&C 9 both teach that the Spirit does more than just “feelings” or a burning bosom.

    It also affects the intellect, expands the soul/spirit, and makes the thing it testifies of become delicious to us.

    Also, note that even the New Testament notes a difference in how the Spirit works upon us. Peter clearly had a testimony in Matthew 16, when he stated “thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus responded, “for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. ”

    Compare this to Peter denying Jesus three times. Was the testimony that Peter received from above a lie? Or did it not take hold? Or is it that Peter’s weaknesses took over, at least for a moment?

    Now, look at what else Jesus taught Peter: “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22).

    It was after the event in Matthew 16 that Jesus “breathed on them (the disciples), and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20).

    Here we have Peter testifying that Jesus is the Christ by the power of God, yet he is not yet converted, nor given the Gift of the Holy Ghost! That conversion occurred on the day of Pentecost, when the Gift of the Holy Ghost came upon him and changed him from one with a testimony to one who was fully converted.

    Note, LDS believe there is the influence of the Holy Ghost given to all mankind through the Light of Christ, and then there is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. We find later that it is by the laying on of hands or a similar action of authority that the apostles gave the Gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 8).

    So, in Peter’s case, he did receive a testimony, but it wasn’t sufficient to change him into a fully converted individual. He still denied that testimony, as earthly cares clouded his judgment. Once he was fully converted, there was no denying the witness he received of Christ.

    We believe the Spirit can work in same manner with us. A person can receive a witness of something and deny it if their worldly cares/fears are greater than the testimony they have received.

  77. Kullervo: yes, because it wouldn’t be at all ridiculous to discuss the causes of something that does not, in fact, exist.

  78. Please. Things don’t exist or not based on whether or not you or I have the data for them.

    One way to know if things exist is by gathering empirical data on them. Just because I can’t produce data on x, doesn’t mean x ain’t so.

    You know this. You are either being deliberately obtuse (which is a nice way of accusing you of being a troll), or you have become a religious zealot for the scientific method.

  79. Sure, without data, then we might be talking about something that doesn’t exist. But guess what? even with data we might be talking about something that might not exist. You might not exist. The world might not exist. Basic epistemological problem.

    If for whatever reason you want to arbitrarily set the threshold for evidence beyond anyone’s ability to reasonably reach, then you are effectively ejecting everyone but you from the concversation. Which means you have ejected yourself from the conversation.

    Goodbye.

  80. If one discovers that his Father, or his Jesus, or his Holy Spirit is lying to him, than why trust God? Even further, than why believe in God?

  81. Kullervo: I’m being obtuse because when Andrew posts a link to a respected study that actually bears upon the original question, I read the study and see that the original question was based on a false premise? Whereas you want to continue discussing an idea in the face of contradictory data? You have an incredibly creative definition of the word “obtuse.”

  82. Or rathe,r can I talk about why, in my opnion, people like to have cereal for breakfast, even though I have no damn data? I guess not.

    I am not now nor have I ever been talking about Andrew’s study. So no, me calling you obtuse has nothing at all to do with that.

  83. It doesn’t suprise me in the least that ex-Mormons abandon faith altogether.

    That religious system that they were apart of is legalistic and cannot be maintained (honestly).

    It seems like anyone who was honest with themselves would chuck it overboard…and many never darken the door of any church, ever again.

  84. It’s a rainy weekend day here, and I’ve been completely ignoring all my indoor work needing attention and instead reading a bunch of ex-Mormon blogs, leading me to this question —

    I’m wondering if the perfectionism that runs rampant through Mormon culture is a contributing factor toward the abandonment of God altogether when they leave the Church.

    For instance, on the blogs I read, people tended to expect to completely believe everything about the LDS church was true and infallible. They felt guilty if they had doubts. When they investigated those doubts and found holes in history, doctrine, etc., they could no longer believe because the church wasn’t completely true. And since they’d been taught all along that other churches are even LESS completely true, they don’t even give them a second look. If a religious tradition isn’t completely (perfectly) true and provable, then none of it — God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Bible stories — can be true, or at least trusted.

    Or looked at another way — LDS culture (in the blogs I’ve been reading) really stresses your absolute best, over-the-top effort and achievement in everything they do. It would then be considered disingenuous, dishonest, to practice a religion or join a church without that over the top belief, commitment, whatever. And all church history will have holes, points of question.

    Foggy and old as my brain is, I can’t get much farther past that to articulate any details yea or nay. Any ideas?

  85. I think that the perfectionist mindset does exist in the LDS culture, and it does so far more than it should. LDS scriptures clearly teach that we should not try to do everything at once. Mosiah 4:27, Doctrine and Covenants 123:17, and Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28 all seem to indicate this to me. Of course, we also have the command to “be ye therefore perfect” and I think that folks take this as a direction to be perfect right now. Even though that doesn’t make any sense, based on what we know about progressing and learning through life.

    Somehow this also translates into the idea that everybody and everything in the church must be absolutely perfect every time, even though Mormons have the wonderful saying that the church is perfect, even if the people in it aren’t. This is supposed to indicate that the doctrines are of God, but sometimes the way they are practiced leave much to be desired. I think that the imperfections people see can definitely lead someone to give up altogether.

  86. The phrase “the Church is perfect, but the people are not” may be popular. But it has zero scriptural basis.

    Where in the scripture does it ever say that his chosen Church is going to be perfect. When were you or I ever promised that?

  87. Do you consider a talk by an Apostle in General Conference scripture? Because Elder Maxwell definitely describes the church as being “a perfect church filled with imperfect individuals”. So, depending on how old you were (and I tend to assume that, being born in 1983, I am younger than most of the folks here), I would say that you were told in May 1982 that the church was perfect.

  88. OK Alex, let’s take it a step further.

    What did he mean by the phrase “perfect Church.”

    Did he mean that no one in the Church auditing department ever makes a math error?

    Did he mean that the 1980s missionary program was perfect?

    Did he mean that the Sunday School Valiant A manual was perfect?

    What on earth does the notion of “perfect Church” even mean?

  89. Seth, I already answered that question when I used the phrase. The doctrines of the church are of God. God is perfect. His doctrines are perfect.

    I also said that the way doctrines are practiced within the church are not always perfect. People goof. People do stupid things. Lesson manuals make really dumb assumptions and leaps of logic that keep me up all night trying to figure out how to teach my 10-year-olds stories from the Bible.

    Elder Maxwell explained himself quite well, too. After stating we have a perfect church, he went on to explain all sorts of ways in which the people within it are prone to making mistakes.

    I think of the church like a mathematical formula. It is true that the area of a circle is equal to pi multiplied by radius squared. Does that mean that if I make a mistake in measuring the radius, and get a wrong answer, that the formula is wrong? No, of course not. It just means that human error crept in. Likewise with the church, and with God’s plan in general. The formula is right, but God lets us experiment and make mistakes as we learn how to implement it correctly.

  90. I think a lot of the problems I have with the church stem from my taking seriously the idea that it was somehow perfect. I thought that it existed as a (mathematical) ideal apart from all the (empirical) mistakes that people make implementing it, as Alex says. When I looked at it closely, however, I realized that the unitary, mathematical ideal was illusory (at least in practice): some people love the church for the reasons I hate it; others hate it for the reasons I love it. There is no single formula for goodness (righteousness, whatever) that it articulates for everyone; it just provides a empty face that people color according to their individual moral preferences (polygamy = the law of heaven; polygamy = unfortunate experiment; following the prophet = trust and never verify; following the prophet = trust but verify very carefully). Correlation is a losing war against this phenomenon, which holds true for all human organizations (not just the church: my university also is a moral chameleon; so is the US government: they all mean radically different things to different people, who read their own individual values into them and then feel betrayed when “the community” betrays them).

    Where does that leave me? I am slowly coming around to the notion that all organizations “abuse” people to a degree (by making them complicit communally in some actions and ideals which they find abherrent as individuals). The most we can hope for in an organization is that it acknowledge its abusive tendencies and provide transparent processes for addressing them. The church has yet to do this (from my standpoint), and so I remain aloof (with no strong desire to attach myself to another organization merely because the one I thought of as my friend proved less helpful to me than promised: I am open to the idea that other organizations–and even the church–might do better, but I am not holding my breath).

  91. Joseph, I think I have the same problem with the idea of church in general. Jesus lived and loved and taught and died. Then a religious institution, established and run by men, rose up and tried to organize, prioritize, and proselytize His teachings and experience by fitting those things into the box of human knowledge and capabilities, with all the limitations and pitfalls that implies… multiply that by the problem that any person can claim or act super-spiritually, as if they have a direct line to God, and you eventually wind up with a super-sized mess of greedy power struggles and definitely un-Jesus like behavior.

    So I’m not fond of the Christian church institution in general. It doesn’t destroy my faith in God though; rather, it makes me think there is a better way somehow, something that allows God to be the head and center and not bestow power on men or women (haven’t figured it out yet; I’m just saying). Maybe buildings and Sunday school and worship services and confirmation aren’t what Jesus had in mind when he mentioned “the church.”

    I still attend, because I haven’t come up with any grand replacement. I try to glean something out of the music or the sermon that draws me closer to God, or that I can use to live a better, or easier, life. I participate in a couple of ministries that to me feel completely Jesus and mission centered. But I acknowledge the group, the institution, for what it is (as I see it)… a place where a nice group of people with similar values and different ideas, who get something out of belonging. Similar to a country club, or Kiwanis, in a lot of ways.

  92. I hope to get to the place where you are one day, Clink. I think it is a good place. I further agree that there is a place for community in “the good life.” Community can provide a great place to hone moral ideals you (as an individual) have and to learn new ideals from others (as individuals). Unfortunately, many community leaders subvert the process by assuming that their job is to impose “the company brand” universally, no matter what the cost to individuals, rather than to provide a safe environment for individual learning and growth. I see this problem in political parties, churches, schools, and even families. It is a tough one.

  93. Yep, it’s tough. I have to tell you, though, that I didn’t come into this mindset immediately… nor the first time I abandoned church. From what I’ve gathered, I think I’m a bit older than most of the people on here (sigh), and my own spiritual journey has not been a straight path. I’ve dropped out of church altogether SEVERAL times in my life. I’ve been critical of organized religion. I’ve jumped denominations and church families in search of one that had it “right.” I think I can say with near-perfect confidence that NO church has a monopoly on all things good and godly, nor bad and — un-godly.

    I believe God, however you define Him, can and at times SHOULD be searched for and found outside of organized religion. It is the search and journey that make us grow, spiritually and otherwise. We never “arrive.”

    Or maybe we do arrive somewhere, but it turns out to be the edge of a cliff. Right before we tumble off of it. That’s been my experience, anyway… ; )

  94. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: Participation Edition! | Main Street Plaza

  95. it seems that people who reject Mormonism (not simply go inactive) overwhelmingly become atheist or agnostics

    It depends on what you mean by “reject Mormonism”. If you mean that the number of Mormons who become atheists or agnostics is greater than the number of those who become Protestants or Catholics, I wouldn’t find that particularly surprising at all.

    The reason why is that if Mormons have any sort of faith in Jesus Christ, even a dormant one, they are far more likely to identify with the Christian tradition that they were raised with, the one that most of their friends and family affiliate with even if they have serious doubts about certain aspects of the LDS faith.

    The only thing this suggests is that Mormons have strong group cohesion. To draw a stronger conclusion, one must have reliable comparative data on the number of Mormons who become atheists / agnostics versus the number of Protestants or Catholics who do. It may very well be that Mormons are less likely to become atheists or agnostics. It might be the reverse.

    While anti-Mormon ministries no doubt have some considerable effect on Mormon proselyting efforts, they are probably far and away a net negative in terms of persuading disaffected or inactive Mormons to join Protestant denominations. It is far too hostile for that.

    Persuading someone to switch to a significantly different faith tradition requires building on common beliefs and showing why the alternative is superior. That requires a focus on the positive, and only the most diplomatic, comparative examination of the posited weaknesses of the core differences of proselytes’ current affiliation.

    The problem is that Evangelical ministries (when speaking to or about Mormonism) tend to always be in debunking mode. Not only that, such ministries tend to always attach the most incidental and superficial aspects of the Mormon faith, things that most of the membership have either never heard of or which a high percentage are dubious about anyway.

    If you want to engage Mormonism seriously, one must address the core differences – first and foremost those in ecclesiology – should there be an organized priesthood, should there ideally be one church of Christ on the earth at any given time, does priesthood entail divine authority, should there be prophets in this day and age, etc.

    There are any number of other key doctrines about which there are important theological differences. Not historical errata, but precepts that are arguably foundational to the modern LDS faith. Temple ordinances, marriage for eternity, child to parent sealings, the personalization of the Abrahamic covenant, strong requirements for both full tithing and active service in the church to be in good standing, soteriology as actually taught in the Book of Mormon, expectation of full time missionary service etc.

    If you just say (as most do) that they are not Biblical doctrines, that is not much of a convincing argument. So what?

  96. Speaking of ministerial outreach, how about why Evangelical Protestantism leads people to become better Christians, better citizens, and better people? The proof is in the pudding. If Buddhism or Confucianism produced individuals who were arguably more honest, more productive,more charitable, indeed more Christlike than other religions and denominations, that would be prima facie evidence that something was being missed by the latter. By their fruits shall ye know them etc.

    Theological disputes will be resolved in the eternities. Who cares if some people have strange precepts about this or that. The real test of a precept in the here and now is what kind of people it produces. More accurate, more inspired precepts – the doctrine of Christ – should produce better, more well rounded people, Christians worthy of the name.

    Evangelicals like to say that Mormons aren’t Christian. Indeed some aren’t. Not because they have some strange conception of the Trinity, but rather because they aren’t particularly Christ-like. Which creed they adopt pales in comparison. Unless converting to Protestantism makes those individuals better people, their conversion will be in vain.

  97. “Theological disputes will be resolved in the eternities. Who cares if some people have strange precepts about this or that. The real test of a precept in the here and now is what kind of people it produces.”

    That assumes we all start on the same footing before the influence of a religion. Different religions might attract different personalities, and there is probably a weeding out effect for those churches who have been around several generations. The Protestant religion is for sinners, and heavy on evangelism and drawing new members into the fold. Therefore you’re always going to see a significant number of people who are at the start of their spiritual journey, long before much fruit has had time to be “produced.”

    On the other hand, I agree that the fruits of the Spirit can be one measurement of an INDIVIDUAL’S Christian path.

  98. I know I’m late to this party, but I wanted to throw Todd a link for this statement.

    “If one discovers that his Father, or his Jesus, or his Holy Spirit is lying to him, than why trust God? Even further, than why believe in God?”

    God and Jesus, apparently, are not above deceiving people. Link to EV scholar Mike Heiser.

    http://michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/2010/03/does-god-lie/

    Follow-up
    http://michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/2010/03/lying-and-deception/

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