Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism
Video of my talk! Finally!
Very courageous Leah. I've been through similar circumstances. This made me pretty emotional. Are you a 'religious' atheist currently? I can tell that you're still emotional about the church. Why this forum? Why tell this story in this way? Just curious about you and what you currently hold dear. Boy, It's really been a while since I've seen you. It was nice to feel as if I was in the same room with an old friend.
I'm curious Leah, what is a religious atheist?
This was one of my favoarite quotes from the question section. “Just because a Prophet or Apostle says it, doesn’t mean it’s true.”
The quote in the last video by the man in the front row (the Bishop I assume) that, "The Church is based off the spirit..." well, so is the Muslims, the Christians, and the Hindus... and yet according the the Journal of Discourses, as the quote by Joseph Smith you cited is from (p.2, 1867 version), these other varieties of faith are all false. Really? This is established how? Because Brigham Young makes up a quote years after Joseph Smith is dead, as if this was trustworthy, we're going to take it on second hand because it came from Young? That's the *opposite of reliable. I think this fellow needs to rethink things... or better yet, think before speaking... because you can't be expected to be taken seriously, as this Bishop does, when he states things along the lines of "We can't believe what any apostle says, but we know who to believe, because we have the spirit." Good now just prove the spirit is real! Easy as pie, right? That's a mighty slippery slope to mount a defense on, and I feel like he slipped right off the edge there by failing to address your issues and giving you the run around. I especially liked his back peddling technique, since it was predictably pathetic, "There's more to it. There's just more to it." Well, that explains EVERYTHING! Wow, what a load off.But as an outsider who has read the Book of Mormon, the Book of Pearl, and the Journal of Discourses, I might even agree that there is more to it, but with the added stipulation, none of it is worth reading--unless, of course, you really like extremely poorly written fiction.Good job with the lecture!
@ Nate, it really has been a long time, hasn't it. I'm generally not emotional about the Church anymore except when I come up against it, which doesn't happen too often where I live. As for why this forum, this is a weekly lecture series hosted at NDSU to encourage discussion on topics related to science and/or religion. I became acquainted with the organizer a few months ago, and he invited me to speak. Framing information in terms of personal experience is just what comes naturally to me and what I think I'm good at. I'm not sure what you mean by "religious atheist." I believe in love and in humanity. This is an excellent article by Dr. Marlene Winell that sums up a lot of my own conclusions and beliefs. Perhaps I'll have to work on a post about what I do believe, now that I don't believe in God.@ Eric, I know! That certainly was not the memo I got in seminary! I was told, "If the say it in General Conference, then it's doctrine." And questioning or criticizing priesthood leaders is the first step to apostasy, so you're never, ever supposed to question.@ Tristan, another commenter broke in after Mr. Bishop make his ploy about the Church being based on the Spirit, and then the discussion got way off topic, but if I had it to do over again, I would bring up exactly the same points that you did. That "Spirit" is in every religion, and in many completely non-religious settings as well. Eric has an excellent post on his blog about why "feeling the Spirit" doesn't confirm anything. I had spiritual experiences in the Mormon religion. I do not deny that, but I've had that same experience saying Catholic mass, staring at the ocean, doing warrior pose, and having sex (yes, even before I was married). And you're right about the bad fiction! It wasn't caught on tape, but toward the end of the discussion Mr. Bishop tried to trot out the BofM as some kind of trump card, and another person said Joseph Smith probably just wrote it, and Mr. Bishop said, "He had a third grade education!" Well, there is nothing sophisticated about the BofM. I can easily believe that a third grader wrote it. I have five words for you: "And it came to pass."In the spirit of open discussion, the Mormons will be invited to do a rebuttal lecture. I've requested to do another lecture as well. I'm thinking something along the lines of: A lay priesthood led by the Spirit, and why that's a problem.
Oh how I wish the yelling part was here! I knew that was the Bishop when he walked in to the room. I think he took things personal and try to justified his believes. I can't believed he said that not everything the prophet says are true, what an idiot!If that so then he is making a mistake and not speaking of truth then!Where you excommunicated because you took the endowment and afterwords had sex without marriage? That could be the only reason why I think that would happened.I have heard Dad talked about how they think differently of homosexual lately since after Mikey came out.So I wonder if that changes any thought about what the prophets says. It is hard when it actually happens in the family and with the sweetest person you've ever known! The church is very consuming, it is everything about you.I love you, Leah. And thank you for sharing your view and being so courageous to show it to everyone.
Thank you, Elizabeth! I was endowed, and I'm sure that was a factor, but still, not every endowed member who fornicates gets exed. I don't know why I was the exception. That was part of why it hurt so much. Why was me having sex so much worse than other people having sex? It never once entered my mind that I could be exed for having sex. I thought you had to kill someone or pass out anti-Mormon literature or something.Mormonism is very much an all-or-nothing kind of church. It really does consume you. I'm glad to hear that Mom and Dad are loosening up their views on somethings.
@ Leah Elliott Hauge: That's a great point. Why were you excommunicated? I fornicated (what a stupid word, btw) prior to leaving for a mission. Yet after I confessed in the MTC and was subsequently sent home to be "tried" by the Bishop and his councilors, I was only disfellowshiped. Granted, it really hurt at the time. Yet I was clearly given a second chance. I was embarrassed and ashamed because authough NO ONE besides the Bishop, his councilors, and the Elder's Quarum president were supposed to be aware of my "standing", it was very clear that EVERYONE at church KNEW what I did AND that I was disfellowshiped.Oh well. I'm glad things shook out the way they did or I would have never met my wife. And I sure as hell don't miss going. But the inconsistencies within the Church are infuriating amongst other things.
Leah, I listened to your presentation (btw, found this site through the emails that Davis Cope sends out for SRLS). This is certainly a bold presentation. It was personal not just for the bishop, but for you, and rightfully so. Indeed, this was a "testimony," but not the kind that LDS normally has in mind!Although this might seem odd, as I am neither Mormon, nor atheist, nor agnostic, and, in fact, clergy in my own religion, thank you for doing this. I think there are important lessons here for all of us.I don't know if I'll be able to make the LDS rebuttal, but I'd be curious to listen to that as well. I'll have to see if I can make that one.The Q and A portion seemed to be developing nicely. I know you yelled at the bishop, but is there any more from that portion that you'd be willing to post on your blog?
I know many 'religious' athiests. Athiesm to some is just as much a religion as Mormonism.I am still a very religious Mormon, and it seems like so many people still get mixed up in the culture of mormonism, and can't separate the true religion (including bishops). Remember that Mormonism was introduced by a boy who asked questions, and emphatically told his followers to find answers for themselves.
Tristan - is it me, or are you really that angry? I also have to call you on reading a book called 'the Book of Pearl'. I don't think you read that book. Back to Leah. When you come to a cross-roads in your faith like we have you have one of two logical choices to make. One - Religion is a hoax and merely a way for people to feel better about themselves, and explain the world around them, therefore God does not exist.Two - Atheism is a hoax and merely a way for people to feel better about themselves, and explain the world around them, therefore God does exist.
This may actually anger both atheists and theists. Atheists rely on probability and theists rely on faith - when if you get right down to it they're exactly the same concept looked at from different angles. Atheists use probability as a scientific approach to believe in theories they can't prove, and theists use faith as a religious approach to believe in miracles they can't prove. What I'm always really interested in is what atheists actually believe. There are many brands. To get a discussion on what you DO believe I'll tell you what I believe. I believe that every religion out there has truth, and has the hand of God in it in some way. The religions around the world are so similar even though these civilizations were isolated. Traditional arab dress includes many symbols that are sacred to them that are actually amazingly close to sacred clothing and symbols in the LDS faith (specifically in the temple). The Aztecs and other ancient civilizations including the Greeks and Romans have Gods and stories of Gods that are eerily close to the stories and attributes I used to think were peculiar to the Mormons.
As a practicing Mormon I totally believe that all religions have spiritual experiences and feel the spirit. I'm not sure how that is different from the religion I have always been taught.For me, logically there are too many coincidences. Spiritually I think I'm a lot like you Leah. I don't feel the spirit like most people say they do. I don't have dreams, I don't have life altering visions, voices, or even burning in my bosom (though I have felt some intense feelings of love at times when I'm doing what I feel I should be). But, I have seen a sister-in-law literally raised from the dead through the priesthood. I have felt love. I have seen the power of the example of a perfect man. I don't really understand this argument about prophets always having to be right, and always being perfect. Is that really what you all think Mormons believe? Even in the Old Testament Noah got drunk and cursed Ham (a priesthood cursing) because he came into his tent while Noah wasn't dressed. Abraham even made some stupid mistakes. Why can't a guy speak for God when he's inspired of God, and be a human at other times? Leah, I think the Mormon CULTURE is an 'all or nothing' deal. I don't think the TRUE RELIGION is. The true religion is about accepting your divine potential. On that note: what are your beliefs now?
@NathanielTo say that athiests rely on probability and theists on faith is to miss the point. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in God. This lack of belief can be for a number of reasons. Young children are atheists until they are taught about God by their parents. This is simply atheism from ignorance. Most adult atheists (such as myself) simply have not been presented with evidence that proves God's existence. Atheists like these ground their understanding of the world on reason, logic, and most importantly on evidence. Saying we base our understanding on probability is misleading. If a theory hasn't been proven I won't believe it. It can't be "probably" true. It has to be demonstrably true.
mikasaur2000 - by definition that is not atheism. That is agnosticism.I would like you to give me a belief of yours that is demonstrably true. I can then give you evidence to the contrary (however absurd to you think it might be). There is no definite, only probability and faith. That is the dilemma we live in like it or not. That's why probability and faith rule the human race.
So, Nathaniel, if the TRUE RELIGION isn't an all or nothing deal, how do you know which parts of the doctrine are okay to toss out? How much can you throw away before you're no longer considered LDS? Might I be considered LDS by your standards? I don't believe in God, and I think the core beliefs of Mormonism are basically rubbish, but I share a few (non-exclusive) beliefs with Mormonism, like love one another (and by extension don't kill or rape people), "all things in moderation," exercise prudence and save for the future, etc. Does that make me Mormon? You face the same all-or-nothing problem with the divine-mouthpiece/fallible-human prophet dichotomy. How do you know when it's God talking and when it's the man talking? If you have to use your own common sense anyway to sort out the answers about which stuff to follow and which to ignore, why not just scrap it all and come up with your own logically-derived set of morals? And what does "accepting your divine potential" really mean, anyway? *shrugs*For me, atheism isn't "merely a way for [me] to feel better about [myself]," it's just the logical conclusion I've come to after considering everything I've learned so far. Honestly, I don't think anyone becomes an atheist just to feel better about themselves; it's a ridiculous notion. As Leah vividly pointed out, even if you know you'd be happier not believing, you can't just force yourself to stop believing without logical reasons for doing so.As far as feeling better goes… overall I'm definitely happier as an atheist, but frankly (and I'm paraphrasing Julia Sweeney here), there are some things that are sadder from an atheist perspective than they would be from a theist perspective. People die forever. No one is guiding us, or protecting us, or compassionately listening to us. People who commit atrocities and are never held accountable in this life do not face accountability in the afterlife; there is no such thing as karma. A caring and benevolent God is a lovely idea. But just because you want something to be true, doesn't make it so. That's not a respectable or logically-valid reason to believe something is true.Bottom line for me is this: there probably is no God. And even if there were, if he's really as perfect, and loving, and just, and merciful as everyone says he is, he wouldn't cast me out of his presence for using my God-given intellect and trying genuinely to follow my own logically-derived ideas of right and wrong, nor would he hand down eternal punishment to anyone for any reason (because eternal punishment is a seriously fucked-up concept), nor would he hold me accountable for not believing in him based on the (complete lack of) evidence he's given me (and why exactly is it so important that we believe in him anyway?). And if I'm mistaken, and he turns out to be a horrible bastard, then good riddance; I'm better off without him.
Mike - Are you Leah's brother? You use a lot more emotion than I ever knew Leah to.You ask illogical questions like 'which parts of the doctrine are okay to toss out? How much can you throw away before you're no longer considered LDS? Might I be considered LDS by your standards?'I never talked about tossing out or throwing away doctrine. I never said that you were LDS either. The fact that you consider this religion or any religion all or nothing says a lot about why you're not LDS (or even religious for that matter). My vocabulary is obviously not black and white, but mostly gray. Within the LDS religion there are many instances of prophets and good men disobeying the commandments because they knew it was better for them to do so. What you've said says way more about your beliefs than it does about the LDS beliefs.You say that you don't feel better because of atheism? Your last paragraph proves otherwise. I don't want to come off as cold to you, I just think these points should be discussed logically instead of emotionally.
You know Nathaniel I was brought up LDS, and I don’t recall a single story of a prophet disregarding a commandment for some greater benefit. Could you give us a few examples?
Thank you for your story, and I wish you all the best for your life.
You don't seem to understand the whole difference between agnostic/gnostic and atheist/theist. Agnostic/gnostic describes whether or not you believe we can know the answer to something. Atheist/theist describes whether you believe in god(s) or not.Let me spell it out for you simply:- Agnostic atheist: Doesn't believe in any gods, doesn't think we can know the answer to that question. (This would be most other atheists)- Gnostic atheist: Doesn't believe in any gods, and believes that we know that there are no gods. (Much more rare) - Agnostic theist: Believes in a god/gods, but admits we don't know for certain (Relatively rare) - Gnostic theist: Absolutely believes in a god/gods, and that we can know the answer. (Very common in the religious)
Yes, Nathaniel, your language was mostly gray, which is why I was trying to get some clarification. You said the "true religion" isn't an all-or-nothing deal. What am I to understand by that? Does that mean that you can pick which parts of the doctrine you like and ignore the rest? Does that mean you can pick out times when you think the prophet is just "being human" and ignore the stuff he says at those times? Or perhaps it means you should believe every last bit of doctrine and every single word out of the prophets' mouths but it's okay to just do a half-assed job at following it? Please clarify. What do you mean exactly when you say it's not all-or-nothing? And again, what does "accepting your divine potential" mean, exactly?And no, I didn't say I don't feel better because of atheism. In fact I said "overall I'm definitely happier as an atheist." By pointing out some exceptions to my happiness, I was trying to illustrate is that atheism isn't all peaches and cream. It isn't "merely a way for people to feel better about themselves," as you suggested. Do you imagine that deep down I still secretly believe in God and Mormonism and I'm just clinging desperately to the hope that God doesn't exist so I can escape judgement for all the naughty, naughty sins I love so much? Is that what you mean when you suggest that atheists are only atheists to feel better about themselves?(P.S. I'm not angry, just mildly irritated and slightly sarcastic. And, yes, I'm Leah's brother.)
Ray, thanks for the definitions. That's how I understand them as well.
All I was saying is that the essence of mormonism as I know it is to ask God for yourself. Yes, every single person is different and should have different beliefs. Didn't the Mormon prophet Nephi hack someone's head off? Doesn't that normally send a guy to outer-darkness in the Mormon religion? The Mormon religion is full of similar stories. Remember, the culture and the religion are two very separate things. The question I have for you is: can't men (including prophets) have personal opinions in the Mormon church?
Remember that I also suggested that theists were theists because they feel better about themselves.
I would really like to have a logical discussion here, but people, you need to read my whole argument to understand what my points are. I know it's painful to read posts from a Mormon who has considered atheism and returned, but for logic's sake, please try.
"mikasaur2000 - by definition that is not atheism. That is agnosticism."Actually, his/her definition is entirely correct. 'Atheism' means 'lacking belief in god(s)''Agnostic atheist' is, I think, a silly term. Sure, I'm not 100,00% sure of my atheism (or anything, I guess). But it's really close. Calling myself an agnostic or an 'agnostic atheist' would just be silly. 'Atheist' is fine. I think I can go for 'militant atheist' too, or perhaps even (god forbid) 'strident atheist'.I can see the term 'gnostic atheist' being fitting for some kinds of people, but honestly, I've never met any such person. (And most people I know are atheists)
"Traditional arab dress includes many symbols that are sacred to them that are actually amazingly close to sacred clothing and symbols in the LDS faith (specifically in the temple). The Aztecs and other ancient civilizations including the Greeks and Romans have Gods and stories of Gods that are eerily close to the stories and attributes I used to think were peculiar to the Mormons."And the reason why it is so is called "cultural appropriation". Seriously.
I found the link to your blog courtesy of the brodie awards site. Thank you so much for posting this - I can empathize with the depression felt in the mormon church simply because I was a human and flawed. I was finally able to isolate myself from the mormon church by moving away for several months, went off anti-depressants and none of my previous symptoms returned. I've sometimes looked back on the times I was depressed, wondering if I was just young and stressed and if it could be chalked up to that. Thank you for sharing everything - I greatly appreciate it.Thank you.
Out of curiosity I came back to this thread to see if anything else had been posted, and I saw Nathaniel’s post about how Nephi, a Book of Mormon Prophet, cut off the head of a man named Laban.For readers who are not familiar with the LDS faith, the way Nathaniel characterized this story as Nephi disregarding a commandment is blatantly wrong. In the story Nephi does indeed cut off the head of Laban, but only because he received a direct command from God to do so. While Nathaniel wants to clime that this is an example of Nephi disregarding the commandment not to kill the narrative makes it clear that this is not the case. In fact Nephi is hesitant to kill Laban until God reiterates the command to do so.The text for this story can be found: hearAlso while many would think that “Thou shall not kill” is pretty straight forward; the scriptures are full of places where God has made exceptions to this rule, places where the commandment from God is to kill some one or some group of people
Thanks for your story Leah, it was very moving and I'm glad you can breathe freely now.
Superb -- that guys questions at the end cemented your case !
XR4-ITYou actually proved my point quite well when you said "...while many would think that “Thou shall not kill” is pretty straight forward; the scriptures are full of places where God has made exceptions to this rule, places where the commandment from God is to kill some one or some group of people" Thanks. Couldn't have said it better myself.
The point is, Nathaniel, that the prophets weren’t disregarding commandments but explicitly fallowing God’s commandments. You can’t tell me that Nephi was disregarding God’s commandments when he killed Laban, because he had an explicit command to do so.If you want to see other explicit commandments for God’s people to kill see Deuteronomy 13, along with several other commandments in the Old Testament. In law a legal exception is not considered disregarding the law, but rather a special circumstance where the law allows for different rules.So again you haven’t provided us with an example an example of a prophet disregarding God’s commandments, only and example of a prophet following a special commandment.When you say that prophets disobey God’s commandments, you must mean that they have a disregard for God’s will, because disobeying God’s commandments by definition is disregarding his will, and doing things contrary to God’s will.
LOVE your talk.But seriously, how can the guy at the end not see that he utterly contradicted himself? He acts like women are not supposed to be submissive, and then he oozes his "authority to speak" all over everybody, and ever so graciously offers to answer any questions any weak-minded and un-spirit-led individuals might have about the church. His arrogance and patronizing attitude just poisoned what was otherwise an awesome talk.
Thanks, Carla.Yeah, the LDS man at the end was obnoxious and also sent me some rather patronizing emails. Whatever.
Wow... excellent talk! (Glad you didn't finish it in the name of JC Amen... LOL!) I thought you had a wonderful balance between clearly and thoughtfully presenting your search and research, but still allowed yourself to show that your life experiences had deeply touched your heart. Telling the "things of one's heart" can be a challenge because when the topic is so precious to us we can sometimes become too emtional, but I thought you were wonderful.How ironic the gentleman at the end... he spoke exactly as I would expect a true bluer to speak. An apostle speaks for the Lord, EXCEPT when he says something wrong. Well duh! I'm glad he spoke up and his ignorant (and I meant that in the true definition of the word) remarks were a real live example of the member mindset. Rather a fitting way to show the contrast of how far you have come.Thank you for sharing this.
Catherine, thanks so much for watching!Yeah, one of the death knells in my testimony was the whole claimabout how priesthood leaders speak for the Lord, speak for the Lord,speak for the Lord UNTIL they make a mistake. And then we're supposedto forgive them because they're just human. How the hell are supposedto know the difference?! And they say pray about it and let the Spiritguide you, but then if the Spirit tells you something that conflictswith Church authorities, you've been deceived. AAAAUUUGGHHH!