I don’t know how I found your blog but for the past couple of hours I have been intrigued with what you have written. I am currently a faithful Mormon and after reading your Rise and Fall of a Testimony post I have some questions for you. My questions are not intended to sway you to “come back to the light.” You have proven yourself as a critical thinker and I believe you have put in the time to establish your position. With that position, your ability to articulate clearly, and your LDS back ground I think you can share a very interesting perspective.
(1) If something of good fortune (the word miracle is too cliché) happens unexpectedly at the right moment…. Do you deem it as luck? After such an experience do you feel gratitude and if so towards what?
(2) The post right after October 31, 2009 you said, “…personal experience is not valid evidence of God…” I looked at the link you offered and it down played spiritual witnesses. I presume you follow that logic. What would a God need to do for you to devote yourself? If you want some kind of evidence, what constitutes as evidence?
(3) Being a parent, do you allow your children to believe in Santa Claus?
(4) Do you feel confident when you say an existence of God is impossible? Impossible is defined as incapable to having existence or of occurring.
(5) What do you miss about the church?
(6) Do you give merit to the Book of Mormon? If you have a patriarchal blessing do you give that blessing any merit?
I understand you do not represent the whole of atheism but I respect your point of view. I’m a fan of your writing and I am interested in what you have to say.All excellent questions. Thank you for writing!
(1) If some good fortune comes my way at exactly the right time, I do feel grateful, though not toward anything in particular. I don't see why gratitude needs a recipient in order to be felt. I choose to be appreciative of being alive, of my family and loved ones, of the serendipitous coincidences that come my way because it makes me feel more happy and peaceful, not because I think any external being is bestowing blessings on me and expects to be thanked.
(2) "If you want some kind of evidence..." I wouldn't say that I want any evidence of God, at least not the kind of God I presume you're talking about. I certainly don't miss the Mormon version of God, a personal being who requires obedience and devotion. I can't think of anything a God could do to convince me to devote myself to him. I don't think conceding one's autonomy to a God (or anyone else) is a healthy way to live, even if that God's intentions are completely benevolent. I think being centered in one's self, following one's own innate desires and motivations (without infringing on the right's of others, of course) is a more sure path to happiness.
(3) Yeah, we do the Santa Claus thing. It's fun. We don't use it as a "be good, or else" motivator, but putting out cookies Christmas Eve and rushing for the stockings in the morning makes for a fun family tradition and good memories, and I can't see the harm in it. Our kids will figure out it was make-believe soon enough.
(4) No, I don't think God is impossible, but I think God's existence is extremely unlikely, unlikely enough that I'm willing to risk eternity in hell in the event that there's an afterlife and I'm wrong.
(5) I miss the rituals and the reverence of the temple, the sense of holiness and importance there. That's what I miss most. Besides that, Sunday was a snore fest, but I miss the intellectual picking apart and digging for deeper meanings that took place in Institute classes. Sometimes I miss feeling like I was specially called for some higher purpose in life, but most of the time I think I prefer feeling that my life is mine to live as I choose instead of being under obligation to fulfill some divine mission.
(6) Do I give merit to the Book of Mormon? Yes and no. I don't think it has any divine origin. I think Joseph Smith just wrote it. (Yes, I know he had a sixth grade education, but have you read the Book of Mormon? I find nothing miraculous or sophisticated about the narratives or the writing structure.) That said, I think there are some good teachings to be found in it. Some I find reprehensible, like Mosiah 3:19, the notion that the way you naturally are is inherently wrong and needs changing, but then, for example, there's Mosiah 4:16 which encourages sharing with the poor (a verse that makes the conservative, "look out for number one" attitude that many Mormons have a head-scratcher to me).
I wrote recently about liking the stories of world religions. I don't personally relate to any of the Book of Mormon stories, mostly because they're almost all about wars and battles and are very male-centric. I don't think that means they're bad, worthless stories though, just not stories for me.
As for my patriarchal blessing, I found it interesting that you asked, because I had actually been thinking about it for several days before I received your email. I'm not sure what I think of it. The patriarch who bestowed it upon me quite obviously had some sort of powerful, numinous experience as he was speaking the blessing. (Though, as I've discussed before, I don't think this is proof that it came from God.) I wish I had kept it. I threw away a lot of my Mormon paraphernalia because I was angry right after I left (I've mellowed). Some of my blessing I think was 100% baloney (no way am I descended from Ephraim), some seemed pretty generic and horoscopish, but parts of it I really liked and seemed meant just for me. I don't care to go into the details on the internet (I've never revealed the New Name I received in the temple either; some things are still sacred to me), but there were phrases that I still repeat to myself from time to time. I've held on to the strands from the past that I feel help me live a better life, and I've left the rest.
Thanks again for your letter, and I'd love to hear any further comments or questions.