DISCLAIMER: IF YOU ARE A MEMBER OF THE LDS CHURCH AND DON’T WANT TO KNOW DIFFICULT INFORMATION ABOUT THE CHURCH, PLEASE DON’T READ THIS POST
I will reiterate, for those members who believe their life would be worse if they lost faith in the church, don’t continue. If your marriage would not weather your loss of faith or if you were to start questioning, don’t read this post. If you are happy and honestly don’t want to know difficult information for whatever reason, do not continue reading. IF YOU DO CHOOSE TO READ THIS, PLEASE DO IT WITH YOUR SPOUSE! I’m not kidding. I’m not being dramatic. I believe that you would be better off to read this together, to go through any possible faith alterations together, rather than to go through a faith crisis or faith transition and then tell your fully believing spouse. From someone who has taken this path, please listen to this advice.
But if you choose to read this, I would ask that you ask yourself one question before you continue: If the church is not true, would I want to know? Think about it for a moment and be completely honest with yourself when answering.
This will be an extremely difficult post. This is the first of several posts where I will list some of the major issues that broke my shelf and convinced me that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormon or LDS Church) is not true. For Part 1, I will be discussing issues that the church has acknowledged. I consider that these issues have been acknowledged by the church because I have found information on the official church website for each of these topics. This post will be difficult for me to write as well as for members of the church to read.
Writing this post is difficult for me because I worry that, by posting this information, I will be seen as anti-Mormon and that I may lose friendships or that friendships will be irrevocably altered/damaged. I worry that members will read these things and complain to my local leadership and as a result I might be called in for a disciplinary council, with excommunication being a possible outcome. I worry that people will think I hate the church (P.S. I don’t…). But I write these things for several reasons. I stand by my statement in the first post that this is therapeutic for me. It helps me process. I write these things because I believe people have a right to know. I was not given proper informed consent when I was baptized into the church, so was not aware of the vast majority of these issues. I want people to know that I’m not crazy for my loss of faith. There are legitimate issues. I write these things because if people like me remain silent, the church won’t become better (take the recent temple changes as an example). But I do not write this for the purpose of destroying faith. There are those that continue believing while knowing these issues, although their faith is much different than what is taught by the leaders of the church. But I do believe that everyone has the right to make the choice for themselves while knowing all the information.
This post will also be difficult for members of the church to read. Even though in this post I will be discussing issues that the church has acknowledged, I will be including other information that I have learned. This information does not promote faith in the church. There will likely be many that write off this information as anti-Mormon lies. They may think that I have been led astray by Satan and I am deceived. Others will find ways to make this information fit into their current belief. People are obviously allowed to believe whatever they want. But I have researched these things for more than a year, with much of that time being while I still believed and wanted the church to be true. Even with this mindset, the evidence, in my opinion, is overwhelming. So, it will be difficult for members of the church to digest. For those of you who have made the choice to continue, please reach out to me if you want to talk. I will provide sources upon request. I will support anyone who needs it without judgement. I will be straight with you but I am here for you if you need it.
I have no idea how long this is going to end up being but here is my summary for this post. I will be discussing issues in order of how impactful on my faith transition the issue was. From least impactful to most, I will be discussing:
1. Kinderhook Plates
2. Masonry and the Temple
3. Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
4. Book of Mormon Translation, Geography, Lamanite Identity, and DNA
5. Problems with the First Vision
The last three points will be discussed in the next post.
7. Race and the Priesthood Ban
8. Book of Abraham Historicity
I actually had no idea which issues I was going to include or how they would end up being ordered. I do find it interesting that the least impactful and most impactful items have physical evidence that reinforce the conclusions I have come to.
Before I get into these topics, I will say that for the vast majority of those that lose their faith, there is not one smoking gun topic, no one issue that PROVES the church isn’t true, although point number 8 was extremely impactful for me personally. The majority of post-Mormons find that there are dozens of issues that just add up. So, with this in mind, and with one more warning to MAKE SURE YOU ARE ACTUALLY WANTING TO DO THIS, I will begin.
1. Kinderhook Plates
I will begin each of the topics with what the church acknowledges then include other information the church does not. From the lds.org website we learn that a group of men in 1843 supposedly dug up six bell-shaped brass plates that were found near a skeleton, outside Kinderhook, Illinois. The plates appeared to contain ancient writings. They were brought to the founder of the church, Joseph Smith. The church article states that there was no translated text that resulted from this encounter. The article does reveal that Joseph remarked that they contained “the history of … a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” The church article goes on to claim that “Joseph evidently did not attempt a revelatory translation…but rather appears to have compared the symbols on the Kinderhook plates with other ancient artifacts in his possession.” The church acknowledges that these plates and the engravings were eventually determined to be a hoax.
There are several issues with the church’s characterization of what actually occurred. The article does not include the information that the hoax was specifically created to test Joseph Smith’s ability to translate ancient text and to discern the hoax. Joseph reported having a specific and special ability to translate ancient languages through the power of God. This is how he claimed to translate the Book of Mormon, as well as the Book of Abraham, which will be discussed in point 8 at the end of this post. In the case of the Kinderhook plates, he failed the test. He also failed to utilize the power of discernment to determine the falsehood, which discernment members of the church believe leaders and members have through the Holy Ghost. The article says there was no translated text as a result of his inspection, and while this is technically true, the article edits out a portion of the quote about “the history of … a descendant of Ham.” A lengthier excerpt of the quote reads as such: “I have translated a portion of them [Kinderhook plates], and they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham…” So, the church specifically left out the part stating that Joseph claimed to translate the plates while the article later claims that he didn’t provide an inspired translation. The article minces words to discredit this event.
In the end, Joseph was not able to determine that this was a hoax. God did not tell him, through revelation, that these plates were fake. Joseph claimed a special God-given ability to translate, as he had apparently done in the past with the Book of Abraham, and he was not able to determine the engravings were unintelligible scribbles. Joseph lied about being able to translate the engravings by giving a faulty interpretation. These plates were not an ancient record of a descendant of Ham. They were fake. This raises troubling concerns with Joseph Smith’s claims to receive revelation and to translate ancient text.
2. Masonry and the Temple
As a preamble to this point, I will respect the sacred nature of the temple ceremonies for members of the church by not including specifics about current temple ordinances. The article on lds.org on masonry states that freemasonry is a centuries old organization that grew out of European trade guilds. The masons re-enact a story where they advance by degrees using handgrips, key words, and special clothing. Many early Latter-day Saints were Masons, including Joseph Smith, who joined in 1842. Soon after Joseph became a Mason, he introduced the temple endowment. The church article agrees that there are similarities between the masonic rituals and the temple endowment. Their argument is that there are also many differences. The article acknowledges that there are no masonic documents before about 1400AD. The early Masonic narrative about where they came from was that their ancient forebears built Solomon’s temple. The article acknowledges that the rituals of Freemasonry appear to have originated in early modern Europe, not Solomon’s Temple. Less than two months after Joseph Smith was made a Master Mason, he introduced the Temple Endowment. Many early church leaders described the endowment as quite similar to the masonic rituals. They believed that masonry was a degenerated form of ancient temple rites, which Joseph Smith restored.
The church makes attempts to emphasize how there are differences in these rites as a way to assuage the confusion members may feel due to the shocking similarities. It is like someone who plagiarizes a paper but tells their teacher after being discovered, “See here, these few words are quite different,” while there are paragraphs of copied material. The fact is the symbols, oaths, handgrips, and terminology, especially of early temple rites (the ceremony has changed quite a bit from earlier iterations) are almost identical, and in some cases word for word the same. Many of the parts that have been taken out of the endowment (such as the graphic penalties pre-1990) were almost perfect copies. Many of the symbols on the exterior of temples, such as the compass, square, level, sun, moon, and stars are also masonic symbols. On October 15, 1911, in Messages of First Presidency, 4:250 it states “Because of their Masonic characters the ceremonies of the temple are sacred and not for the public.”
The early church leaders tried to make sense of these stark similarities by saying that masonry came from Solomon’s Temple (1000BC), which rites came from an earlier source all the way back to Adam and Eve. But as the church stated in its article, the evidence tells us that masonry goes no further back than 1400AD, with the specific similarities between the temple endowment and masonic rites being no earlier than in the 1700s AD. Masonry does not have a history going back thousands of years, it only goes back hundreds, not enough to make sense of these similarities. Even Fair Mormon, the believing apologetic website, admits both that freemasonry does not go back to Solomon’s Temple and that it is clear that freemasonry played a role in the development of the temple ritual.
Another problem is that historically we know what occurred in ancient temples. The ritual sacrifice of animals. Nothing resembling masonic rituals or current LDS endowment ceremonies occurred anciently. So, it would appear that Joseph Smith copied copious amounts of the masonic ritual when creating the endowment. The typical argument that the masons got their rites from ancient sources does not hold up under investigation and Mormon scholars acknowledge this. Temple rituals were almost certainly plagiarized from Masonic rites and were not a restoration of ancient worship.
3. Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
The lds.org article on the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon tells us that the first edition featured two testimonials: one by a group of three witnesses and another by a group of eight. The three witnesses (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris) declared that an angel showed them the Gold Plates that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon and they heard the voice of God telling them that the work was true. An additional eight witnesses (all members of the Smith and Whitmer families) declared that Joseph showed them the plates and they were allowed to handle and examine them. The article states that there have been accounts that some witnesses denied having seen the plates with natural eyes but only saw them as if they “saw a city through a mountain.” The article acknowledges that witnesses “employed a variety of phrases” to describe the encounter, including seeing them with “a spiritual eye.” Many of the three and eight witnesses either left the church or were excommunicated, though some few did return. The article and many members use the claim that the witnesses never denied their experiences as proof of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
What the church tries to minimize is that there are numerous accounts of the three witnesses saying they only saw the angel and plates in a visionary state in their minds or that they only saw the plates when they were covered by a cloth. John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the Book of Mormon, said that he had asked Harris, "Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?" According to Gilbert, Harris "looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, 'No, I saw them with a spiritual eye." John H. Gilbert, "Memorandum," 8 September 1892, in EMD, 2: 548. At least four other accounts describe Martin Harris saying almost exactly the same thing at several different times. One was in 1838 when several apostles and high ranking leaders in the church left, Stephen Burnett, one of these men told of the reason: “When I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel...renounced the Book of Mormon...after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain.”
All of the witnesses had extremely close ties with Joseph Smith and his family. Martin Harris had a substantial financial stake in the success of the Book of Mormon. Many of the witnesses left the church and joined other leaders of break-off LDS sects and other religions. After Joseph’s death there was a succession crisis. Most of the witnesses did not follow Brigham Young but followed James Strang. Strang produced his own set of plates, called the Voree Plates, and said they were given by God in much the same way Joseph claimed to receive his plates. And the majority of the witnesses believed him. By 1847 not a single one of the surviving eleven witnesses was a part of the LDS church. Many of these witnesses were called liars, counterfeiters, thieves, etc by Joseph Smith later on, making their characters questionable.
David Whitmer made the following statement: “If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to separate myself from among the Latter-day Saints…” So, was David lying when he said God spoke to him? Or was he lying when he said he saw an angel and the plates? He does not sound like a trustworthy source of information.
Martin Harris was an extremely superstitious man. Before joining the Saints, he had changed religion five times. After the succession crisis, he joined four more different sects as well as the Shakers. There are accounts that he believed the sputtering of a candle flame was a sign that the devil wanted him to stop reading his scriptures. He told someone that he had been walking and talking with Christ, who was in the form of a deer. He also stated that he had seen the devil who had four feet and a head like a jack-ass. Another statement he made was that he had just as much evidence for a Shaker book as he did for the Book of Mormon. The Shakers at the time also had numerous witnesses claim that they had seen an angel and knew their modern book of scripture, the Roll and Book, came from God. Why are their witnesses less trustworthy and those of the Book of Mormon more so?
As for the eight witnesses, there is convincing documentation that they only handled plates through a cloth or while in a box. There are also accounts of several of the eight witnesses that state they only saw the plates uncovered in vision. There is evidence that there was a physical object that Joseph Smith had, perhaps plates of tin, but that these were kept concealed at all times. Joseph would tell people that God would destroy them if they looked at the plates. Knowing this information makes these witnesses less credible.
These people grew up in a time rife with angelic appearances, visions, treasure spirits, folk magic and the like. These types of miraculous events were not unique experiences to them. So, while they may never have denied their witness to the Book of Mormon, neither did they continue with the church. They testified of other books of scripture. They made statements that they did not see with their natural eyes but in vision. The evidence of these witnesses’ testimonies were not as convincing as I originally had heard.
4. Book of Mormon Translation, Geography, Lamanite Identity and DNA
The church has several official articles for each of these issues but I will summarize them as best I can. The church has taught that Joseph Smith used the “Urim and Thummim” to translate the Gold Plates from Reformed Egyptian to English. These instruments were clear stones placed in rims similar to glasses. The church taught that Joseph looked through these glasses at the Gold Plates and a scribe transcribed his translation. The church now acknowledges that after the loss of his original 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, Joseph exclusively used a rock in a hat to dictate the words in the Book of Mormon with the plates not being looked at at all. This same rock was found while Joseph was digging for treasure, and he used this same rock to charge people money to find treasure, but he never found any.
The church used to teach that the people of the Book of Mormon (the Nephites and Lamanites) came from Jerusalem, sailed across the ocean, and became what is now the First Nations people. We were taught that these people spread over all of North and South America. The church taught that both continents, and especially the United States, were saved for a righteous people and none could get here except led by God. The heading to the Book of Mormon used to say that the people of the Book of Mormon became the “principle” ancestors of the American Indians. This has since changed to “among” the ancestors of the American Indians. The prevailing theory now is that there was a very small area where these people settled, which has not been found.
The facts of this matter are that the church was deceptive about the translation of the Book of Mormon. Church historians/prophets have said that Joseph Smith did not use a seer stone. Bruce R. McConkie, a famous Mormon general authority, stated that peep stones were of the devil. Now the church acknowledges that Joseph used the stone in his hat to translate.
There is an absence of convincing archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon peoples, as well as no evidence for a Reformed Egyptian language. DNA tells us that the First Nations people were originally from Asia, not Jerusalem, so the church has had to change it’s narrative. Joseph Smith himself stated that there was a monumental battle at a specific hill, the Hill Cumorah in New York, where two million people were killed in war. This would have been the largest death toll of any single battle ever until the modern world wars. Yet there is no archeological evidence of any deaths, weapons, or armor at this hill. Joseph Smith stated during the Mormons numerous migrations that they were walking where ancient Nephites lived. He reported finding the skeleton of a righteous white Lamanite named Zelph in central Illinois. It is clear that the original founder of the church and prophet believed it was revealed to him by God that all First Nations people were descended from these Book of Mormon peoples and they spread over all of North and South America. But with modern scientific findings disputing this, the church has had to change its story.
5. Problems with the First Vision
The article on the church’s official website states that Joseph Smith was visited by God and Jesus Christ in 1820 when he was 14 years old. The church acknowledges that there are numerous accounts of this vision that are different from one another. There are actually upwards of nine different accounts. The article states that these differing accounts tell a consistent story but emphasize different parts in each retelling. The first account, and only one written by Joseph himself, was written in 1832, a full 12 years after the events in 1820. The article discusses how the discrepancies were merely differences in emphasis rather than different stories. Joseph stated that he told people about his experience at the time and he was persecuted as a result. The official account given in church history that we members grew up with was given in 1838, which was 18 years after the event itself and 6 years after Josephs first handwritten account. The church acknowledges that there are critics who believe the events described became more miraculous as time went on in each subsequent account. The latter three accounts report there being two personages (God and Christ) while the earliest account only says there was one (The Lord). The article focuses on different ways the accounts can be interpreted in order to make sense of the differences. It is opined that the differences indicate that Joseph had increased insight over time, or in other words, that he remembered the event better as time progressed. The article concludes with the common idea that the only way you can gain knowledge whether Joseph saw God and Christ and was told to restore the true Church is to pray about it.
The first and main issue I have with the First Vision story is that there is absolutely no record of it anywhere until at least 10 years after it supposedly happened. Joseph stated that he told his parents. His mother was known for writing down the family’s history but she did not record that Joseph had seen God. Joseph stated that he told many people, including a preacher, and that he was persecuted mercilessly for the story. Yet there is no documented evidence for this in any newspapers or journals. The only documented evidence of persecution at the time was about Joseph’s treasure digging, which there is significant documentation for.
There were numerous opportunities for leaders of the church to record this event in official church publications, including numerous official histories of the church, but these histories were vacant when it came to the First Vision. In Joseph Smith’s 1835 history of the church, he claimed his first spiritual experience was in 1823, where he prayed to know if God existed. An angel, whom he stated was Nephi (not Moroni, who later was attributed to this visit) appeared to him. Why would Joseph ask if God existed in 1823 when supposedly God and Christ appeared to him in 1820? The Book of Commandments, which was the precursor to the Doctrine and Covenants, did not mention the First Vision. The first important missionary pamphlet, “The Voice of Warning” included information about the Book of Mormon but nothing on the First Vision. The evidence suggests that the general church membership were not taught about it until the 1840s and even then it was not a prominent story. Early church leaders, including the second president and prophet Brigham Young, specifically stated in the early 1850s that God did not appear to Joseph but angels did. President Gordon B. Hinkley stated “Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud.” So, the importance of this event cannot be understated.
Scientific literature is clear that memory and recall decline over time. The article suggests that with time Joseph’s insight and memory improved. This argument cannot be sustained. There is documented evidence that the religious revival that triggered Joseph Smith to pray and have his First Vision did not occur until 1823-24, not 1820 as reported. It is also interesting that there are literally dozens of accounts of other people having visions where the Lord would appear to them in the early 1800s. Norris Stearns 1815, Elias Smith 1816, Solomon Chamberlain 1816, Charles G. Finney 1821, and Asa Wild 1823, among others all had visions that were remarkably similar to the one Joseph Smith claimed to have in his first account of 1832.
There are also major discrepancies between the accounts. In his earliest account he stated that he had already determined that all other churches were false before he prayed. He reportedly came to this conclusion by studying the scriptures. Yet in later accounts he states that it had never entered his mind that they were all wrong, at least not until God told him that this was the case. There is evidence that Joseph tried to join the Methodist church in 1828. Why would he do so when in 1820 God specifically told him that “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight”? The date of the vision fluctuates between 1823, 1821, and 1820. Who appeared to him changes between the subsequent accounts from a spirit, to an angel, then two angels, Jesus, many angels, and finally to the Father and the Son. Leaving out that God appeared in the early accounts would be like saying that the mayor came to your birthday party but then five years later telling someone that the mayor was there but so was the Queen. Why leave out this information when the prevailing belief at the time was that God and Christ were one? Why not call this important discovery to others attention from the earliest account?
While these differing accounts bothered me, my main concern was that there was absolutely no record of the First Vision occurring for at least 10 years after it supposedly happened. Even with ample opportunity for recording this in official church histories, scriptures, pamphlets, etc. The initial heavenly visitation was that of an angel speaking of gold plates. This was the origin story of the church for many decades. The First Vision was not canonized until 1880. All of these things led me to believe that the First Vision event never occurred but was a later addition to add legitimacy to Joseph Smith’s claims to authority given by God.
As an aside, Joseph Smith did the same thing with the miraculous account of the priesthood being restored. Members are taught that John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John appeared and restored the priesthood authority to Joseph Smith. Except in the meeting minutes contemporary to the actual event, it is reported that Lyman Wight gave Joseph Smith the priesthood. This is confirmed in Rough Stone Rolling, a biography of Joseph Smith written by an active believing member of the church. We don’t hear of the angelic appearances for 5 years after the event supposedly happened. David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses stated, “... neither did I ever hear of such a thing as an angel ordaining them [Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery] until I got into Ohio about the year 1834 – or later [5 years later].... Oliver stated to me in Joseph's presence that they had baptized each other seeking by that to fulfill the command. And after our arrival at father's sometime in June 1829, Joseph ordained Oliver to be an Elder, and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an Elder in the Church of Christ.... I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by the same.” Richard Bushman, stated, “The late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication.” He goes on to say, “Moreover, he [Joseph] inserted the story into a history composed in 1838 but not published until 1842.” There are several additional sources of evidence that show that Joseph later edited or added information into revelations he previously received as if they were written the altered way in the first place.
Wow, this post has gone long. The final three issues on polygamy/polyandry, race and the priesthood, and the Book of Abraham are actually much bigger for me that these past five, so I will make a separate post for them. But I want to reiterate something before I close. I have been thinking about this for some time now. I want whoever reads this to understand that I don’t hate the church. I want it to improve. I might feel more comfortable attending in the future if the church became better. And it’s important to note that if the church is not the one and only true church on the earth, it’s still a good church. It is one of many places for people to gather to learn and grow together. To become better people. I want the church to learn and grow and become better as well.