In my last post I wrote about what people can do to support those going through a faith crisis or faith transition. It has caused more traffic through my blog than any of my other posts by far. I am really grateful for this, and I hope it has helped both active, believing members of the church as well as those that no longer believe or who have left. As a reminder, if you are an active member, please think about those friends or family in your life that have either stopped believing or have stopped attending church and reach out to them. Give them a call and tell them you love them. Even if you have said it a thousand times before, tell them again. Ask them how they are doing. Don’t call just to get the to come back to church. Tell them you will listen and you are interested in their experience. Set boundaries if needed but allow them to feel heard.
Before I get into what I personally believe now, I want to discuss different options or paths of belief for those that have learned about the difficult information regarding the church. I originally included specific personal values and behaviors that have either changed or remained the same for me but including this information made this post too long (as per my lovely wife, at least). I will include this information in a post of its own next time. But back to this article. A friend of mine recently sent me a great resource called Mormon Primer (mormonprimer.com) by Bill Reel. It lists several categories of belief, including mainstream, critical, apologetic, and reconciled.
Mainstream, traditional, or orthodox belief is essentially what is taught in General Conference by leaders of the church, over the pulpit in local church meetings, and from manuals produced by the church. These official doctrines and teachings are the most commonly held beliefs in the church. I would say the vast majority of church members fall into this category. Typically, members that don’t know about many of the difficult issues within the church or don’t have an in-depth knowledge typically believe this way. For instance, a mainstream belief is that the Book of Abraham was actually written by the prophet Abraham himself, in Egyptian, on papyri, and was translated into English by Joseph Smith. This is verifiably false. I am not trying to be difficult; this is just fact. Almost all members of the church are familiar with the mainstream category of belief so I will not go into depth here. But typically, those that do learn difficult information about the church do not remain mainstream believers afterwards.
The critical view is what I have discussed in posts 6 through 8. These posts are not an exhaustive list of the issues, they are the problems that were most impactful to me. As I no longer believe the truth claims of the church, my current beliefs fall into the critical category, which is that Joseph Smith was not a prophet and the Book of Mormon is not actually an ancient, historical book of scripture that was revealed by the power of God. Again, if anyone wants to research this position, feel free to read my sixth, seventh, and eighth blog posts. I will give sources on request. And I am open to respectfully chat with anyone that would like to.
The apologetic view is a counter-argument to critical points. This view is reactionary, where the apologist is confronted with difficult information and makes attempts to find any possible answer to these critical points, with the goal of retaining belief in the church. I will give several examples. Returning to the example of the Book of Abraham, an apologist view would acknowledge that Joseph Smith got dozens of things wrong when attempting his translation but would focus on the few things he got close to being right. They would suggest that while Joseph himself stated numerous times he was translating, he wasn’t actually doing so. They theorize that instead, Joseph was using the papyri as a catalyst to receive revelation. He would look at the writings, this would cause him to think about Abraham, and he would receive revelation independent from what was actually written on the papyri. In this scenario, it doesn’t matter that Joseph thought he was actually translating, it’s what he wrote that is important. The apologist would say that it is not necessary for a prophet to have seen Christ in order to be a prophet, that they have spoken as a man rather than as a prophet at times, or that we just don’t know why God would have commanded certain things. They might suggest that wherever scripture is not backed up by science, for instance a global flood, there might have been a local flood. Or that in situations that seem too fantastical (yes, this is a word, I looked it up), the historical authors were merely exaggerating or speaking metaphorically rather than literally. They realize the temple endowment is essentially the same as Masonic rituals and that we won’t really need signs or tokens to return to Gods presence after we die, even though we are specifically taught otherwise. They suggest that Joseph used Masonry as a way to teach principles rather than believing that God gave these exact or even similar rituals to ancient prophets. The apologist view suggests that while many other people from many other religions may have spiritual experiences telling them their church is true, their religions are merely a stepping stone, as the LDS church is the final destination and only true church on the earth. Somehow, Mormon spiritual experiences are discernably different and more reliable than others’ spiritual experiences. Essentially, the apologetic view is one that begins with the belief that the LDS church is true and attempts to make the evidence fit that conclusion, even if it makes less sense in the end. I am not a fan of this approach as I find it observably deceptive in its reasoning, but this is an option.
Finally, the reconciled view is a way to integrate the historical facts/criticisms into a new faithful approach. This view acknowledges many of the issues and does not try to dance around them but finds ways for continued (albeit nuanced) faith. People like Richard Bushman, the active member that wrote Rough Stone Rolling about the life of Joseph Smith, would fall into this category. For example, this perspective would view only the 1832 version of the First Vision as accurate, since is was the earliest account, it was written by Joseph Smith himself, and there was no need for him to embellish it. In the 1832 account, Joseph says he was 15 at the time, he saw one personage, he was told his sins were forgiven, he was told to keep the commandments, and that the world as a whole was wicked; nothing more. The reconciled view also acknowledges that much of the Book of Mormon is verifiably a 19th century product. Some with this perspective would say that there may be parts that are ancient while others would say the entire document is not historical at all. This view posits that even if the Book of Mormon is not historical, it does not necessarily mean it can’t be scripture given by God, much like other holy books (Quran, etc) may have been given by God and are scripture as well. The importance of any scripture is on building a relationship with a higher power. They would also minimize the importance of the incorrect translation of the Book of Abraham and instead focus on what was written within it. This view acknowledges that the prophet and apostles receive revelation in the exact same way as everyone else rather than communicating with heavenly persons directly. They realize that even prophets can and have been wrong in the past. Mistakes can be large and can take a long time to be fixed. They might advocate for welcoming differing viewpoints in church and an allowance for members to disagree with the prophets’ current teachings if they are harmful or inaccurate. The reconciled view would see much of scripture, including miracles, as metaphor rather than literal. Regarding tithing, the reconciled would suggest that each individual member should decide what they feel comfortable donating to the church, rather than a mandatory 10% of income. Regarding the Word of Wisdom, this view realizes that many early prophets drank alcohol, up to at least the very end of the 1800s. They view the original wording of the Word of Wisdom to be what should be followed, in that it should be taken “not by commandment or constraint” but that individual agency is important in choosing how best to take care of one’s own body. The reconciled view would say that the LDS church has overreached about its truth claims and that since individuals from other religions have spiritual experiences confirming their church is true, relying on the Holy Ghost or feelings to determine truth is also overreaching. The LDS church may have unique truth, but this perspective realizes that other churches may have unique truth as well. The idea here is that the church is just one instrument in the orchestra of God’s plan. Polygamy may not have been commanded by God at all and was possibly a mistake or it could have been abused by early leaders in a way not sanctioned by God. Many with this view hope for the day that polygamy can be called an error and the church can thus move away from this part of its history. They would hope that the current doctrine of polygamy in the church, that men can be sealed to more than one wife for the afterlife, will be done away. Regarding temple worship, some within this view would say that Joseph Smith completely plagiarized the endowment independent from God’s inspiration, copying Masonic ritual. They would suggest that temple ordinances may create a closer relationship with God even if they were not revelation from God. Overall, the reconciled view hopes that the leaders of the church will one day apologize for past racism, sexism, current homophobia, as well as other mistakes. A well-known active member (Jim Bennett) that has offered a rebuttal to the CES Letter, which is a document listing many critical historical facts about the church, has suggested that the church is wrong on its treatment of the gay community. He hopes that the church will change their hurtful stance in the near future and allow gay people full rights within the church. I prefer the reconciled view over the apologetic view as it is more honest and in tune with facts. Personally, this perspective did not work for me with the knowledge that I had but I know other members of the church that thrive within this view. For those that choose to remain active, believing members, I would suggest that this perspective is likely the closest to the actual history of the church and is most likely the direction the church will continue to move towards in the future. I believe that many of the recent changes to church policy have been in preparation for other major changes to come, which changes will bring doctrine more into line with past history and current understanding.
The reason that I have listed these options for belief is because the majority of members that know the difficult issues with the church have had to alter their beliefs. As Richard Bushman stated, “the dominant narrative is not true. It cannot be sustained.” The church will continue to make small changes to its official history and current practices, such as acknowledging that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, to be more historically accurate and socially acceptable. In the end, I don’t want to start a debate on this topic. I am simply saying that there are categories of belief other than the traditional view that fit the facts of church history better than those we have been taught by the leaders of the church in the past.
The second part of this post is about what changes have occurred for me in regards to my beliefs. I have stated before that when your worldview changes as drastically as it does when you lose faith in a religion, you have to start from the ground up. You have to determine what, as well as why, you believe in certain things. During that process, change is inevitable.
I have been open about not believing that the LDS church is the one and only true church on the earth. I will take it a few steps further. I no longer believe that Christianity is the true form of worship either. And I am no longer sure that there is a God or higher power. I do believe that Jesus was a real person, but I do not believe that he was divine. I have many reasons why I believe this to be true but these are not the point of this post. If you would like to know, please ask. To be completely honest, I find the whole idea of one-true-churchism to be extremely harmful, regardless of which religion we are speaking of. But for myself and what I do believe, I currently identify as two separate but related things: I am a hopeful agnostic and I am a humanist.
To be agnostic means that you believe it is impossible to know for sure about the existence of God. I know this is where most believers would say that this is where faith comes in, but faith cannot be completely blind. I have had to weigh the evidence for and against and found myself here. Although, I do have faith that if there is a God, and after I die and come into his/her/their presence, I expect one of two things to happen. Either God will tell me that I was right, at least about the LDS church, or I will be told that I was wrong. If God tells me that I was right, I will still have been a good person living my life in a way that is upstanding and moral. The only way that a just God could judge each of us in a fair and benevolent way would be to judge by our actions and the intent of our hearts. So, in this scenario, I completely believe that I will be fine when I die. But if God tells me that the LDS church was the one true religion, I will say that it wasn’t made very clear. I will ask for God to explain all of the contradictions, all of the evidence against the LDS church being the one true church on the earth. I will say that I was following my conscience and that I was doing what I thought was right. And I fully and completely expect God to say, “You’re right. You were a good person and I know your heart. Come and receive all I have to give.” This may seem like a cop out, an excuse, or a justification. But the more I have studied the LDS church, the more sure I have become. I can honestly say that I am 99.9% certain that I am not wrong. But after all is said and done, I hope that there is a God. I hope that there is something after I die, thus the hopeful in hopeful agnostic. But there is no way to know for sure. Even if there is a God, there is no way to know whether it’s the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or something completely different that we can’t even comprehend. But in the end, I find no compelling evidence that there is a God, so I choose to live my life by another set of morals and standards that align with what I believe to be truly important. I know that I don’t need to have a belief in a God to be a moral person.
As well as being a hopeful agnostic, I am also a Humanist. When I say that I’m Humanist, it doesn’t mean that I have joined any other religion or community. It means that I agree with the things that are espoused. As per Wikipedia, Humanism is a philosophical, democratic, and ethical life stance that emphasizes that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own individual lives. It embraces human reason, critical thinking, and scientific methods of understanding the universe. Preference is given to evidence over faith and they believe that all humans, individually and collectively, have inherent value.
To help others get an idea of what Humanism is, they created a list of suggestions that, if followed, would likely make the world a better place. You could consider them an alternative 10 commandments.
1. Strive to promote the greater good of humanity before all selfish desires.
2. Be curious, as asking questions is the only way to find answers.
3. Harm to your fellow human is harm to humanity. Therefore, do not kill, rape, rob, or otherwise victimize anyone.
4. Treat all humans as equals, regardless of race, gender, age, religion, identity, sexual orientation, physical ability, or status.
5. Use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action.
6. Do not force your beliefs onto others, nor insist that yours be the only and correct way to live happily.
7. If you govern, do so with reason, not with superstition. Religion should have no place in any government which represents all people and beliefs.
8. Act for the betterment of your fellow humans, and be, whenever possible, altruistic in your deeds.
9. Be good to the Earth and its bounties, for without it, humankind is lost.
10. Impart the knowledge and wisdom gained in your lifetime to the next generation, so that with each passing century, humanity will grow wiser and more humane.
Before I wrap this up, I wanted to include a roadmap for the direction of this blog. I had a great conversation with my wife the other day, and in discussing these posts, I decided that I would rather write fewer posts and be done with this blog rather than continuing to shoot for the goal of 20 posts total. I have been feeling a lot better about my personal journey recently and I am not feeling the need to write much more (thank goodness, amirite!?). I would, however, like to include several articles from a few people I know who are in different paths in their own faith journey. I have contacted several people and will post their articles as soon as they come in to me. I was hoping to have a post written by another previous member that went through a faith transition and left the church due to historical issues. Another post by someone that knows the issues but found a way to work through them by finding a nuanced faith. A third would be a believing friends’ perspective and experience with my blog and my journey. And finally, an individual from another faith that transitioned out of their church as well.
But I would like to personally write 4 more posts. As I stated earlier, the next one will be about personal values and behaviors that have either remained the same or have changed. Post 15 will be the positive aspects of the church and 16 will be what I believe is harmful and needs to change. In my final post, I will write about how life is now, finding balance, and moving forward. I want to finish with what writing this blog has done for me and whether I accomplished what I had hoped to at the onset of this experience. By that final post, I hope to hear from everyone and anyone that has been reading these, whether it has been a positive or negative experience. I have been working towards living authentically and I hope that anyone that has stuck with this to the end would feel comfortable sharing honestly how reading these has been for them.