Tag Archives: Exmormon

Ripe for the Picking

A person who spends his or her entire life, from the moment they hear human voices, imbibing the flavored, highly sweetened and vibrantly-hued Kool-Aid of religious indoctrination are often assured that only they are drinking of the pure, “living water.” So ubiquitous are the children’s hymns and poems and axioms to which they are subjected, they often don’t realize that what they are being force-fed is flavored at all. It is simply part of their environment–the way life is. The pedagogy makes certain to tell them that their doctrine is the norm–so normal and banal as to be mundane and common sense. If there exists a superior color and flavor, theirs must be it while all others are either entirely bland and colorless or flamboyant distractions, vicious counterfeits, or well-meaning perversions. That’s how they begin to see anything and everything that conflicts with the world-view their parents and clerical leaders have carefully curated in them since their mother first sang nursery hymns to them as she held them to her bare chest.

Like a battery in the matrix, how could a human brain, so wired to embrace tribalism and Us vs. Them categorization, and ready to accept the reality presented to them at face value, ever become aware of such programming? David Foster Wallace’s recounting of an old fish encountering two young fish makes the point succinctly. The older asks the younger, “How’s the water today?” The two young fish smile and swim on and, when beyond earshot of the older fish, one young asks the other, “What’s water?”

Children raised in an immersive religion that informs every aspect of their life, belief, knowledge, and world-view consider their faith-environment and ask “What’s belief?” To them, their faith is the only pure and wholesome and reasonable option there is. To them, their faith is as normal and as easy and as pervasive as the air around them or the ground beneath their feet. When presented with actual, clear water, they sneer at its transparency (a metaphor completely apropos) and balk at its plainness. “No wonder you’ve lost the light of ________ in your eyes,” they say. Of course you have. You’re drinking something so bland and meaningless! Obese in their certainty, they continue drinking their familiar Kool-Aid and wonder how anyone can get through a day without purple-stained mouths and the near-catatonic sugar rush.

The reality is that youth raised to think this way become adults who struggle to think in any other way. And the emotional and social costs required to change their firmware and update their operating system are just as painful as the clerically instilled terror has made them fear. Their mental and emotional firmware are so programmed as to run only programs that protect their system’s integrity. Programs or information that challenge their belief system can’t even be run to begin with. When they do run, they may cause the entire system to crash. Luckily, the anti-virus programs of many cults and religious traditions can often weed out and restore normal operations with little harm done. Shame and fear and blind devotion can even overcome the effects of abuse and manipulation from the organization itself. Individual Stockholm Syndrome overwhelms the Streisand Effect for even a tenuous belief. All other religions are guilty of horrible atrocities but my religion isn’t.

Objectivity: Error 404. Operation not found. Exe: Special Pleading

The foundation of modern religion comes from ancient texts. The Ultimate Man or human is a prophet or savior of the past. A man who rose above everyone else to impart the word of god/gods/God to the deplorable masses of men and women. By their nature as bronze-aged texts born of agrarian, feudal societies while being the story of the greatest man to ever live, they implicitly make the values taught–values beholden to and quite literally the product of their time–the greatest and most wonderful of all values! They aren’t just good ideas, they are the very mind and will and words of unchanging, infallible, omnipotent-scient-present Daddy-deity!

Despite the blathering Karen’s of The United States Congress, most Americans still believe that pluralism and Jefferson’s “separation of church and State” should be guiding principles for our republic. For the image driven, sixty-second-Tik-Tok-preferring populace, news cycles will always depend on provocative headlines and abridged reports that will still keep the Wheel of Fortune crowd tuned in.

For the good news: religiosity has been on the decline for decades in the United States and Europe among younger generations. This fact alone is evidence of a widespread embrace of people willing and free to ask themselves, “Do I really love big brother?” and to admit that “2+2 does not equal 5.”

Over the last few decades, the proportion of the U.S. population that is white Christian has declined by nearly one-third. As recently as 1996, almost two-thirds of Americans (65%) identified as white and Christian. By 2006, that had declined to 54%, and by 2017 it was down to 43%[4]. The proportion of white Christians hit a low point in 2018, at 42%, and rebounded slightly in 2019 and 2020, to 44%. That tick upward indicates the decline is slowing from its pace of losing roughly 11% per decade.

…The proportion of white Christians increases proportionally as age increases. Among those ages 30–49, 41% are white Christian, as are half of those ages 50–64 (50%) and a majority of Americans 65 and older (59%). These increases are offset by sharp declines in the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans in each age group. While more than one-third of Americans under the age of 30 are religiously unaffiliated (36%), that proportion drops to one in four (25%) among those ages 30–49, to 18% among those ages 50–64, and to only 14% among those ages 65 and older.

https://www.prri.org/research/2020-census-of-american-religion/

I’m not the best person to evaluate statistics and my observations are often instinctual–a bit too much like faith, perhaps. (The difference is that I have become someone willing to change my mind in the light of new evidence.) Thus, I find interesting is that there are several demographics that tend to vote conservative. (Another widely used term for conservatives that transcends “Republican” in the U.S. or “Tory” in England is the appropriate and descriptive term “Reactionary.”) Older, white males without college degrees overwhelmingly vote for the Republican candidate in presidential elections. I, for one, voted Republican until 2016 when pussy grabbing and bragging about the freedom to murder people on 5th Avenue without consequence turned me off quickly to Comrade Trump. Perhaps it was the then, white, very recently post-Christian male-with-a-doctorate in me that found his language and manner beyond indecent and inexcusable as provocative. I’d like to think it was the investment in reading from Orwell and Hitchens during that time that helped me see him for what he was. But why were my parents and siblings with college degrees and a profound sense of Christian morality supporting someone who lacked common decency like Donald Trump?! I didn’t like candidate Clinton either. But Trump bragged about doing things that made me ill. How could explain voting for him, even if I thought he represented values I shared (I never felt that way) to my daughter? My vote for Clinton was more about keeping Trump out of the White House than anything else. I believed separation of powers would keep the train from derailing over the next presidential term. Four years later, the cult of personality that supported a disgusting populist platform that, like all populists in all countries–only enriched the elites in practice, frightened me even more as Trump began undermining the election the preceding summer.

I’d heard this rhetoric before. Mormons are taught to consider apostates “lazy learners.” That definition means, in practice, that someone either didn’t do any study whatsoever and simply caved to the philosophies of men. Or, because faithful members don’t become apostates due to neglect but by following their integrity in their studious diligence, Mormon’s believe know that their apostate friends and family did indeed study but didn’t do so in faith or, they didn’t study the right way. If they had studied the Mormon dogma and scripture with the appropriate faith, wearing blinders as they stare down the barrel tunnel of piety they would have reached the same conclusion as a believing Mormon. Put more simply: “You’re wrong unless you come to the conclusion that I know is correct.”

I hope the idea of “blinders” put you in mind of Orwell’s old, laborious horse, Boxer. Horses wear blinders to prevent them from being frightened by the world around them. But not for their safety, for the safety of the person driving them and his or her cargo. They use the horse for their own ends. With humans, one cannot simply breed them to fill a role, you have to convince them that what they do is for their own good or for the good of the whole. And you can ply the whip of shame and fear of eternal punishment to motivate them to build the mill until they do, quite literally, “waste and wear out their lives” to build something on a foundation of lies and sexual deviancy cloaked in euphemistic semantics. The trick with humans is that you must put on the blinders from birth–information control–and cultivate that fear and shame that keeps them from trying to peek beyond the blinders edges–emotional, behavioral, and thought control. Even thinking of looking beyond the blinders is made a sin.

Mormons are just one cult who’s regional influence remains largely isolated. I think seeing it for what it was helped me to identify the same “cult of personality” tactics in Donald Trump and see the blind devotion of his adherents riding their MAGA Kool-Aid sugar rush all the way to January 6th. Of course it all started in his first run for President when celebrating pussy grabbing and his power to murder without consequence were dismissed by rabid reactionaries as a septuagenarian who shouldn’t be held accountable for reprehensible, ninth-grade locker room talk. Perhaps this says more about the person who would excuse such language than it does about the rotting jack-o-lantern that said it (my apologies to jack-o-lanterns everywhere). But the former high school classmate I remembered, who made that very excuse for Trump, publicly, on social media, would never have said something like that. Thank goodness for the freedom of expression. Now I think I can tell what he was thinking all these years.

Fast forward through a lazy, degenerative and divisive presidency, and Trump’s rhetoric about the 2020 election became more brazen. He knew he had his committed supporters. He knew they hung pictures of him on their walls next to those of Jesus. He could tell them in an interview with Pat Robertson:

Well they’re going to show up for me because nobody’s done more for Christians or evangelicals or frankly religion than I have. You’ve seen all the things that we’ve passed including the Johnson Amendment and so many things we’ve nullified. Nobody’s done more than we have.

https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/trump-thinks-nobodys-done-more-religion-him-msna1161781

His acolytes don’t care that, though he stopped enforcement of the Johnson Amendment by executive order, the amendment itself was not legislatively changed at all. He didn’t need to say another word. If he told them he had opened Mars for Christian proselyting, they’d be calling to ask how they could catch a ride to the red planet and, could they name Mars something else? Something that wasn’t a Roman god? Maybe name it something biblical, like Two Corinthians. Or Troth Senshal.

Despots and theocrats take the skepticism inherent in humans and make blinders out of it. You don’t want people to see everything. In the internet age, blinders aren’t easily affixed any longer. Thus, you can create blinders in-effect by simply making the credulous skeptical of everything beyond their paradigm that is in conflict with it. If their preacher doesn’t say it or Faux News doesn’t report it or the Dear Leader doesn’t stammer it incoherently, they are skeptical of it. Orange Kool-Aid is the most tremendous Kool-Aid and everything else is fake. And while you’re at it, don’t call it fake anymore. Newspeak to the rescue: if we say “fake” that implies to the electorate that “fake” or “illegitimate” or “untrustworthy” information actually exists. Maybe they’ll think we are saying fake stuff. Let’s eliminate the word from the vernacular. Let’s rename it “alternate.” Suddenly everything is factual but only our facts matter.

Trump had long undermined any lackey-less news entertainment. In addition, he sought to undermine institutions of government. Only he could be trusted. Not the election process or even the Constitution. If you don’t come to the same conclusion as me, you’re wrong. (Where had I heard that before?) He brazenly declared that if he lost the 2020 election it would obviously mean there was fraud. However, if he won, it’s all legitimate or, legitimate enough. And if he lost, he could send “alternate” electors that represent the “real” results of the election.

How could such a man rise to power in a free society that depends on the rule of law and the ideal that justice be meted out equitably regardless of wealth or station? As Hitchens said of Stalin, “You don’t belong in the dictator business” if you aren’t ready to take advantage of a “reservoir of credulity” prepared for you over centuries of religious indoctrination. Stalin’s regime was propped up by the orthodox church–despite his disdain for and sabotage of it–directly during his reign and indirectly in the preceding centuries by creating a populace ripe for the picking. An entire nation raised to believe that their dear leader was chosen by divinity or providence and that he was something more than a man. Read Katya Soldak’s personal account of a childhood nourished on the Kool-Aid of Soviet indoctrination. Take off your blinders for fifteen minutes and open a browser window in your suppressed intellect with safe-guards turned off, put your religious leader’s name in place of Comrade Stalin and Lenin; put your nursery hymns and scriptures in place of hers and see if it doesn’t overlap almost perfectly.

Evangelical America has been waiting for their own David to come along and slay the mighty, taunting giant of secularism. Ultimately, they await the arrival of their King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The ethos of fundamentalist Christianity might be stated, “A wicked man chosen by God as a king over men is better than a good man chosen to the position by free people in a free and fair election.” Trump, knowing it would be difficult to win another national election, simply perpetuated his fake news and fraudulent election Kool-Aid until the blinded work-horses he’d raised up would storm the Capital for him. They could do the work, pay the price, and he could reap the reward.

What could be more reactionary than that kind of ideology? Trump’s win in 2020 is in part due to effectively mobilizing those who did not regularly vote to cast one for him. As we’ve seen, his electorate was also composed of regular church goers in white, Christian America who’s fundamental, uniting principle is devotion to a bronze-aged text and a deep distrust of everything “non-Christian,” especially education. They pine for the good-old days that will be reinstated when Jesus can reign as King of Kings. Until then, a divinely appointed dictator will do. There’s a word for that: Theocracy.

When you have a romantic view of some bygone, golden-age, why consider the future? The past was better than now and now is definitely better than a future doomed to corruption and “wickedness in high places” to precede the long-awaited and definitely-to-occur eschatology of rapture, war, and divinely imposed peace. “Take no thought for the morrow” is a particularly special ingredient in religious, reactionary political ideology. When the sufficient evil happens, tomorrow, we may react to it. We don’t need to prepare or attempt to mitigate it because God is mindful of the lilies and sparrows and each hair of our head. Why should we worry about protecting the innocent from the growing wave of gun violence? God is mindful of them. Let’s do nothing to prevent the next one and claim that the wake of a mass shooting is not a proper time to discuss politics. After all, why not be content with current “tribulation?” Didn’t Jesus assure us that we would have tribulation in this world anyway? All-the-while, some on both sides, not content to wonder where the next victims will come from, strive to create an environment of pluralism and curiosity to drive medical advancements against the golden-age pining of faith-assured God-botherers.

Christianity was at its strongest in the middle-ages when inquisitions and heresy hunts were not just despotic convenience but sacred duties. Artists’ commissions came, to a large extent, from creating trite devotional works of which each cathedral seemed to need at least one. Like many museums, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence preserves and celebrates hundreds of these works. There exist, just in this gallery and as a single example, dozens of renderings of the baby Jesus with his mother. (The churches within blocks also have their commissioned pieces of this scene.) Each is rich with Christian and, in particular, Catholic, iconography. Halos encircle the heads of Jesus, Mary, and the bishop or pope who is the likely subject of the piece. Knights and dignitaries and clerical authorities pay homage to the inhumanly stoic and benevolent infant. In some he patriarchally places his hands on the head of his mother or a bishop in the attitude of blessing. Sometimes he simply looks on them in solemnity and holds a finger skyward as if directing their attention to heaven. In one I recall, the oddly adult-looking baby cups his mother’s chin and raises it as if offering much-needed encouragement.

By the third room of the Uffizi, I was tired of halos and Catholic-clothed clerics and crosses and babies who, in need of diaper changes and burping, were revered as old and wise sages. The way the paintings deliberately expressed the divine approval and proximity of the church powers became a bore and an irritant. For a largely illiterate populace of people attending the church in which this would have been on display, what better way to communicate 1000 words about the divine right of the Pope or King, priest or noble patron, than with an icon-rich picture? For a feudal lord or ambitious priest and to uneducated and credulous population, how many words is such a picture worth? To the illiterate peasant, such a picture alludes to the authority of their cleric who tells them that all the answers they need come from a book they can’t read but which they know as “The Good.”

Now, with video and social media, church decor is of lesser use. Would-be tyrants need only speak the language of their devotees. Utilize keywords or simply vagaries–tremendous; phenomenal; fake. Appeal to shared mythologies/conspiracies upon which people base their life and against which all other claims must be weighed. Fears kept alive within these mythologies motivate people to pray, pay, and obey.

All a would-be tyrant like Trump has to do is to appeal to his acolytes’ reactionary tendencies with ideas about America no longer being “great,” that drugs and immigration are already beyond horrific, and that America can, once again, be the most tremendous place on Earth and way better than everywhere else. It often feels that reactionaries would rather make history that attempt to really engage with and learn from it to be proactive. After all, they already know all there is to know about the history they were taught in home school and Sunday school. Remind them of the pictures of a wonderful by-gone age–pictures painted in their minds by preachments and revolutionary nostalgia.

What ought to be terrifying is that, because of Biblical and Quranic assurances, a large proportion of reactionary monotheists look forward to something far more insidious than simply returning to a bygone golden age. Despite injuctions to take no thought for the morrow, Christians look forward to A day in the undetermined future. They can be guilty of morrow consideration if their long-awaited future comes to pass tomorrow. Monotheistic parents world-wide are raising their children with the help of priests and imams to understand little that does not fit with their faith convictions. These rely on the idea that they are part of a generation–if not THE Generation–who’s eternal duty is to prepare the world for Armageddon and violent purification. (Which monotheistic sect believes it is their duty to save the world or improve the circumstance of those wont to take refuge on our little planet in an obscure region of the galaxy. Such people are easily taken advantage of by scam artists that know the correct code words and cynically employ them.

Begin, dear tyrant, with the inoculation of the intellect. Luckily for you, the Christian preachers have started this monumental work from birth. Descartes’ oft-quoted quip expresses a truism that to think it is a fundamental component of being human. Like the physical, one needs to hone the skill, but nearly everyone is capable of critical thought until the capacity is inoculated from them. Too many are made to be susceptible to conspiracy theories that fit their bronze-aged mythology. They are made to that they can be an expert on any subject by reading an op-ed or listening to an endless string of distracting questions from Tucker Carlson that cleverly keep him free of direct culpability for his listeners’ fanaticism yet offer no answers or insights. “I’m only asking questions.” We make them think that one real estate developer with no college transcript can know more about biochemistry or meteorology than anyone with a PhD in the field.

Average humans don’t know more than the folks with doctorates about the details of processes they’ve studied their whole life. Average humans are born with the innate ability to spot a crook and a liar. Rather than follow your instinct, you get inoculated to be teachable only when the proper passwords and dog-whistles are spoken by your approved source–such as a man who has done more than Jesus for Christianity. All you hear are the keywords and that means he couldn’t possibly be lying to you. That’s what church did to you. Is it any wonder that evangelicals line up behind him? They are told to ignore science and believe in a young Earth; virgin birth; resurrection; talking asses (I guess that may be why they are in awe of Donald Trump).

A lifetime of this repeated rhetoric in the company of your trusted, adult mentors chanting the tedious string of “Amens” makes a person comfortable with contradictions and adept at recognizing hypocrisy in everyone but themselves and their religious demagogues and in any system but their own. Under the impression that their leader is so in touch with the divine as to know His mind and will, acolytes even swallow such morally and intellectually bankrupt statements as:

That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under anotherWhatever God requires is right, no matter what it is

History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 5, pg 134-35

I could furnish more examples of logical and moral inconsistencies from “Good” books of scripture. Christians would balk at examples from the Quran while being completely incapable of recognizing them from the Bible or Mormon’s from their additional, canonized fan-fiction. The same is true of political parties, particularly those built around adoration of a man or woman and committed to seeing that person in power. The man is right, no matter what. He is chosen by God, therefore what he says or does is, by that endorsement, right.

Mormon’s, in particular, have scripture that promotes the idea of conspiracies in high places that seek only power and the oppression of the good, moral, people of God. In The Book of Mormon, they are known as the “Gadianton Robbers.” These wicked people seemed to have little more motivation than the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s, The Dark Knight. Alfred tells Bruce Wayne that “some people just want to watch the world burn.” Couple that story with the revelatory idea that The Book of Mormon was preserved as a warning to people in the 19th century and beyond. Mormon Prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, among others, affirmed:

The Book of Mormon … was written for our day. The [authors of it] never had the book…It was meant for us. Mormon wrote near the end of the Nephite civilization. Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, he abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us.

Teachings: Ezra Taft Benson, 140

Propped up by Biblical warnings like that of Ephesians 6:12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” conspiracy prone, pattern seeking individuals trained to surrender their intellect to revelation, easily see the corruption their would-be leader claims is rampant even while ignoring his many amoral statements, actions, and well-published corruption. Benson repeatedly warned the Mormon membership of “secret combinations” high in government seeking to destroy God’s most blessed country of The United States.

I testify that wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society. It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before. Secret combinations lusting for power, gain, and glory are flourishing. A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1988/10/i-testify?lang=eng

Since the sixties and seventies, when Benson acquired his apostleship, he spoke this way to the worldwide Mormon church, in the fever of fading McCarthyism kept alive by John Birch fanaticism, generations of Mormons heard and listened and lie in wait until a man so orange as to appear touched by the purifying fires of the finger of God, started saying exactly what their prophet–one who stood on the watchtower to warn the people–had been saying since the 1950’s.

Interesting note: The Gadianton Robbers of The Book of Mormon were characterized by the secret handshakes and code words their order shared only with one another. There is a reason some derisively call the Mormon temple the International House of Handshakes. There are no less than four secret handshakes, four secret hand and arm posturings, and four secret keywords that only the initiated and committed are privy to learning.

If you are a Mormon reading this and thinking, “Yeah, but you’ve got it all wrong. They’re not secret, they are sacred.” You might just be self-deceived. I was there, too. I regurgitated the tired apologetic arguments to skeptics. But the first time I performed the temple rite, I didn’t think how amazing this was or how sacred. I remember thinking, “This is exactly what The Book of Mormon warned me was a hallmark of a corrupt society.” But I was with my parents and uncles and aunts and brother and sisters. They were drinking the Kool-Aid. Maybe it is laced with poison. But I’ll be going to heaven by drinking it, so it’s not really poison…right?

Illusions of Happiness

I’m no longer content with being happy, but I have learned to be happy with being content. Perhaps I should say, that I have found happiness is not consistently satisfactory, even the pursuit of it which, in the United States, I have as a recognized, natural right. It would be safer and more honest to say that I do, now, find satisfaction in choosing contentment over happiness as a preferred state of being.

I wasn’t born this way, and I didn’t wake up on morning after reading philosophy the night before, suddenly enlightened and enlivened. I still struggle to be content though the struggle does not feel so strenuous as it once did. It required a great deal of heartbreak, a total and utter destruction of the world paradigm that had been inculcated in my mind and heart from my first human interactions. For me, the loss of faith was a necessary though not sufficient waypoint in finding contentment preferable to happiness. I am a mere human primate that still craves monoliths, icons, and ideals that might be considered unchanging or everlasting. That was partly due to the religious conditioning to which I was subjected and that I perpetuated by writ and by rite into adulthood. I also believe such a yearning for the absolute it is part of our nature. When that all collapsed around me, I quite naturally sought out new guru’s and scriptures to rebuild a foundation for my morality and for how I perceived and interacted with the world and its inhabitants. Curiously, my morality didn’t crumble into degeneracy and debauchery and dishonesty. I simply felt compelled to excuse or give basis for my morals. While I owe something to my faith tradition, I found morals went deeper than that. And my reasons became human solidarity where, once, the adolescent, “my dad/God told me so,” had been my natural, scoffing reply.

After six years, two episodes of significant depression exacerbated by personal and professional challenges, I feel I have come out the other side better-off than I had been early in my faith transition. Unlike early Mormon malcontents and apostates–the Thomas Marsh’s and Martin Harris’s–I have better explanations for misery and for the natural world. Even during my extended moments of unhappiness, I knew that I could no longer be happy as a Mormon. I am confident I would have been more miserable had I returned to activity after breaking away. In the first two years after reasoning myself in atheism, I did try going back. I tried believing. I accepted callings within the church including being twice a bishop’s councilor—the first being when I became an atheist and remained covertly. When I was to be released, the next bishop asked me to remain in the position despite me revealing my mental and spiritual state to him. I accepted the call. I tried without lying to anyone. I felt more lost. The misery of trying to reconcile what I knew with what Mormonism required me to believe and claim as knowledge had no balm to soothe and no tincture to cure. Those were not the extent of callings I accepted as an atheist. None offered comfort and certainly not happiness. How could one be content living a lie when you were aware of the facts?

Confession: yes, Mom; yes, Bishop; yes, President (insert name of geriatric, white male and don’t forget the middle initial!)—I am NOT happier since I left the Mormon church. You may also be right in your solipsistic accusation that, when I experience happiness, I “only think I’m happy.” And this is a big part of the problem and part of why I, and many others, experience such heartbreak in leaving Mormonism. Aside from the loss of friends, the alienation of and by family, the infantile position you feel yourself in when the meaning for life crumbles into ruins around you, the accompanying social and professional suicide, and the strain on marriages and parent-child relationships each apostate must prepare for a confrontation with happiness itself. 

There exists a familiar pressure from the ex-Mormon community to feel happier than I did when I was an active Mormon. Unlike the days when I followed the prophet, it’s a passive pressure. Reading or hearing fellow ex-Mormons describe how much happier they are rings with a similar tone for me as hearing active members describe how happy they are. I don’t doubt that many or all of them are. Maybe I’m supposed to be happier and, if I’m not, I must be ex-Mormoning incorrectly. (I’ve experienced this, too. “You’re not praying intently.” “You’re not reading the scriptures with an open heart.” You’re not Mormoning correctly or you’d call it Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Sainting“) I will say that I find a greater degree of validation for experiencing melancholy or despair from the ex-Mormon community than I did from Mormons. I’m not inundated with encouragement that makes not attempt at empathy. No one tells me to count my blessings or reminds me of how happy they remember me being. They demonstrate understanding and support without expectation.

The other aspect of needing to feel happier post-Mormonism is to show my family that they were wrong. I am happier! I’ll show Mom and Dad and everyone else that I’m happier! Sob, sob. Sniff, sniff. Can’t you see how Happy I AM! Luckily, I’ve already disappointed them severely enough simply in rejecting their mythology that I’ve grown quite comfortable with being a disappointment in this matter. And I’ve developed–not necessarily a thick-skin–but a healthier perspective on happiness since leaving the faith. It doesn’t make me happier, but now I no longer expect it to and I feel no guilt or shame, I don’t feel compelled to say or show happy expressions, when I’m genuinely feeling down or even outright miserable.

The words originally performed by Jimmy Ruffin and made popular to my generation by Paul Young have become suddenly salient and profound: “As I walk this land with broken dreams, / I have visions of many things. / But happiness is just an illusion / Filled with sadness and confusion.

I’ve been to the top of the mountain. I’ve seen behind the veil. I’ve participated in the rites and unquestioningly paid ten percent of my annual, gross income. There is not happiness there, either. I used to tell people there was. With conviction, even tears–those learned expressions all Mormon’s know–I testified of happiness that comes from obedience. It takes a vulnerable person to bring the honesty out of others willing to, as Orwell said, face unpleasant facts. No one wants to admit that altruism is less a motivation to them than money or prestige or relaxation. In fact, we all feel guilty when we don’t put altruism or charity on a list of our fundamental motivations. Like happiness, we feel compelled to claim it for ourselves even when we don’t feel it. Then, living in our contradictions, as everyone does, we claim happiness or altruism when, in practice, we hoard billions for a rainy day.

In his Rubaiyat , 11th-12th century Persian polymath and poet Omar Khayyam, expressed his doubt openly and beautifully. I encountered the Rubaiyat early in my journey out of Mormonism. And I have found it immensely reassuring. Khayyam said:

“Nor idle I who speak it, nor profane, / This playful wisdom growing out of pain; / How many midnights whitened into morn / Before the seeker knew he sought in vain. / You want to know the Secret—so did I, / Low in the dust I sought it, and on high / Sought it in awful flight from star to star, / … My soul went knocking at each starry door, / Till on the stilly top of heaven’s stair, / Clear-eyed I looked—and laughed—and climbed no more. / Of all my seeking this is all my gain: / No agony of any mortal brain / Shall wrest the secret of the life of man; / The Search has taught me that the Search is vain.”

Most ex-Mormons I know were not idle in their devotion. As Kayyam said later in Rubaiyat, “The unbeliever knows his Koran best.” To understand the mysteries of God, we were told to prepare for and participate in the silly rites of the Mormon temple. Many of us stood at the “silly top of heaven’s stair” in great and spacious Mormon temples, seeking knowledge from “on high.” Once through the confusion and the communal and familial pressure; once honest enough with ourselves; in the “wisdom” that grew from our pain; beyond the “agony” of our “mortal brains” and hearts–we finally understood the secret. Searching for happiness or knowledge “taught [us] that the Search is vain.”

Not only is the search “in vain” it is itself “vain.” Consider Kayyam’s most famous line from Rubaiyat: “And do you think that unto such as you, / A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew, / God gave the Secret, and denied it me?— / Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.” The vanity of those who think their form of happiness or their Search is superior? Perhaps it’s simply an error of translation. What matters it! The search is not only “in vain” it is propped up by tithing-hungry old men who claim humility as they vainly declare their spiritual and philosophical superiority. The vain flock to this and join the Search.

Happiness is an illusion propped up every day by imposed facades on the faces of normal people. We hide our pain from one another. Social media personas typically present curated lifestyles, even of those close to us, and rarely do they air dirty laundry. While we are painstakingly aware of our own misery, we are deprived of seeing it in others. The oasis of happiness seems a pleasant destination in the midst of the desert. It is not that happiness is fleeting, it is a mirage. It is not to be found as a destination but, as Orwell suggests in Can Socialists be Happy?, “Happiness” is not a goal to be achieved but a “by-product” of striving for worthy goals–human brotherhood, social and political justice, and economic equality, just to name a grand-eyed sample.

On a personal level–one cannot base their happiness on things like familial harmony or professional success where the choices of others can so dramatically challenge it. We cannot count on validation from other people or entities because, as Jerry Seinfeld once said of people, “they’re the worst!” The acquisition of wealth or health can be problematic as markets out of our control and nature itself may seem to conspire against us. I may take heart in the words of Paul, who suggested that, despite his life nearing its end at the hands of executioners, he had “fought the good fight,” he had “finished [his] course.” It is in striving toward worthy goals that we find contentment. Happiness may come at moments and ought to be basked in when it does–it certainly should never be spurned as undesirable. One can be content while melancholy or disappointed. Depression poses a real challenge to contentment. But, in my experience, happiness is not the answer to depression.

Neuro-philosopher (I made that up) Sam Harris observed, “Some people are content in the midst of deprivation and danger, while others are miserable despite having all the luck in the world. This is not to say that external circumstances do not matter. But it is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determines the quality of your life.” Not your happiness, mind you. Suicide rates are highest in countries with the highest levels of social, religious, and personal freedom. They have the highest standards of living yet they find living has lost its allure. It’s not about convincing yourself that you are in the midst of bliss but, to me, accepting that life is filled with just as much doubt, depression, and disappointment as it is with bliss, elation, and excitement. Likely, it is subject to far more of the undesirable emotions. 

I did search for what I could raise in my life as scripture and began collecting icons. Many came from the world of literature and philosophy. I remember what I felt and thought the first moment I read the work of David Foster Wallace. Oddly, the man has amassed something of a cult following of people who dissect his fiction with the fervor of monotheistic apologists. Unlike L. Ron Hubbard, he didn’t seem to have any desire to lead an actual cult. A friend an I (Hi, friend!) have, on occasion, discussed what books we have adopted with a scriptural deference. Neither of us sees any literary work as infallible, but we do find some books worth re-reading. In my own process of collecting insights, David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” (May 2005) is at the top.

Originally given as a university graduation speech, the oratory was soon transcribed and published. Both the audible and written versions are worthwhile. Wallace was particularly concerned with the detrimental effects of ubiquitous, easily accessible entertainment on mankind.  He struggled with drug addiction and depression throughout his life. He spent time in drug and alcohol rehab as well as multiple stays in psychiatric hospitals. He may have seen entertainment as another potential addiction and a fix worth avoiding and chose not to have a television in his own home. None of this diminishes his contributions to the world, in my estimation. He never claimed to be more than a man and certainly didn’t proclaim divine inspiration for his work. He struggled to find meaning and insight in the post-modern world that valued irony without insight into improvement. It seems obvious he craved some kind of spirituality but, perhaps, couldn’t bring himself to adhere to any religion for long. Several snippets rom “This Is Water”:

An outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough.

Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

“Yeah, but Mr. Byrd, all of this is in the Bible and The Book of Mormon. No wonder you’re not as happy. You went searching for what you already had.” Well and good for you, dear reader. For me, anything that I must adhere to by divine injunction, no matter how I feel about it, when it outrages reason and when facts fly in the face of its purported truth, is a challenge to contentment and happiness. It requires me to lie to others and, most of all, to myself. This is tried-and-true prescription for misery.

For me, the insights of This Is Water proved even more profound when I found out, after reading it for the first time, that David Foster Wallace died by suicide in 2008. Just three years after expressing insights that may have prevented some from choosing suicide, myself included, the speaker succumbed to his own depression.

Just before I read This Is Water and listened to the speech, I had become enamored with Christopher Hitchens. I recall that on multiple occasions, Hitchens would be asked by an interviewer if he counted Orwell or Jefferson or any other of the many literary and historical individuals he would routinely quote as a hero. Hitchens would nearly, invariably respond that he rejected the idea of heroes and the collection thereof. He simply admired men for their contributions but never raised a mere human above the message.

Recently, I attended a continuing education course in my profession. Two fellow participants and I seemed to share a lot in common other than our careers. We spent one evening speaking about subjects that went far deeper than our shared career. Late into the night we discussed religion, philosophy, relationships, and politics. After I shared some insight or another, one young man asked where I learned all of the things I was sharing? He could not believe that an atheist had stumbled on these things without God or a really good life coach. It also seemed to matter to him I was not a Trump supporter as he was. I expressed my concern for people voting for a man who, in no way, represented the ideals that they had espoused for decades. The man was being placed ahead of ideals, that is a massive danger to free society. He pressed for my reasons for thinking this way. I shared my perceptions on totalitarian rulers and the methods they use to come into and maintain power. But the idea of putting a man ahead of an ideal brought us to David Foster Wallace. I shared with the young questioner that when we live our lives in fear of losing something—beauty, reputation, power, sexual allure—we cannot be content and any happiness is quick to abate. We find our lives continually and chronically unfulfilling. Our happiness becomes dependent upon external validation of these things. And what if our idol or hero turns out to fail in living up to the message that they have so powerfully communicated to us? What happens when a man who’s words saved your life, takes his own? Positive progress gives way to backsliding; happiness seems not only elusive but futile.

Perhaps this is why some Mormon men run to their bishop to confess sins as simple and as common and as victimless as masturbation. They become dependent on their Bishop declaring them worthy. They stake their happiness on that interaction and the declaration of a person in authority telling them they are worthy. It becomes as much an addiction as the sin they confess. It may even drive the behavior for the chance at feeling forgiven and reconciled.

I am content and, I would even venture to declare myself happy to say that I can and do appreciate David Foster Wallace’s insights into living a peaceful and meaningful life despite his tragic end. Among the other insights he shares during the short and profound speech, Wallace also says of the things we worship: “The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious.”

Already alluded to, a phrase bidding to be one of the best known in world history states that governments are and ought to be formed to ensure that humans need not fear their “self-evident,” “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are abridged. Mormon founder Joseph Smith took the right to pursue happiness further in stating, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence.” He gave this bit of advice and counsel and, in his self-proclaimed station as THE divinely anointed prophet of God, revelation, in an essay written in the wake of his wife finding out he was practicing polygamy, sorry plural marriage, behind her back. Consider, with a spouse angry of and unsupportive of the polygamy he already practiced with many other women, that in the same essay, Joseph said, “[God] never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness.” (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 5, pg134-35).

Honey, you may not support me having clandestine wives (Emma was still woefully ignorant of the extent of Joesph’s plural marriages) but you won’t be happy if you don’t support me because God said so. I know. I’ve been lying to you even though the Book of Mormon says that ‘the liar shall be thrust down to hell.’ I know that it also says that ‘many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord1…Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.’ I know I’ve told you I wasn’t doing this, but there was this angel with a flaming sword that threatened to kill me if I didn’t do it. I know you saw my ‘exchange’ with little Fanny Alger between the slats in the barn. But now you know that you can’t be happy if you don’t accept it and let me do it and support me?

In the same essay, he would go on to say,  

Happiness is the object and design of our existence, and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God; but we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know, unless we comply with or keep those we have already received! That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time he said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted, by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the Kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added.

This is precisely how authoritarians operate. Joseph Smith gave his followers a recipe that would enable his soft, theocratic tyranny to continue in a coarser, crueler form under Brigham Young.

Joseph, er, God, would go on to back up the essay’s sophistry with a real threat, not of unhappiness, but of actual destruction and loss of salvation. In the section of the church’s Doctrine and Covenants that authorizes and outlines how polygamy is to work, he tells those like Joseph’s wife, Emma:

Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.

For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

And as pertaining to the new and an everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.

(Doctrine and Covenants 132:3-6, emphasis added)

I think it was important that you understand the circumstances under which–or into which–the aforementioned essay referencing happiness came about. Happiness is mandated! Along with telling Emma and other doubtful saints made uneasy by their sick feeling of disgust and betrayal, they are told in the same essay: 

That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another…Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is…Everything that God gives us is lawful and right…if we should seize upon those same blessings and enjoyments without law, without revelation, without commandment, those blessings and enjoyments would prove cursings and vexations in the end, and we should have to lie down in sorrow and wailings of everlasting regret. But in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed…

And we atheists and agnostics are the one’s being told that our morals are situational or, at least, that they lack the credibility of being absolute. Those more clever apologists have abandoned the word absolute for objective. “What can a person not justify without God?” they cry out! I reply, “What evil cannot be justified, indeed, what wickedness has not already been justified in the name of God?”

As for happiness, many are raised to think that happiness is the natural and inevitable result of obedience to God’s every command. We begin to find our happiness is conditional and that unhappiness is our fault in every instance. After all, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence.” The striving for perfection while holding up a Savior or a man or a church as the perfect embodiment of divinity is a poisoned chalice. Orwell further said, in Can Socialists Be Happy?, “Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.” The perfection-mongers can’t be happy until you’re either conscripted or converted among them or until you are safely secured in the bowels of Hell for your well-deserved, eternal punishment. The attitude Christopher Hitchens described as, “Created sick and commanded, under pain of eternal torture, to be well again,” is the “essence of sadomasochism.” A “creepy and sinister impulse” in the religious who, having been told they are incomplete, spend the rest of their lives being reminded that “without God, they are nothing.” Their inculcated emptiness begs for them to find icons of perfection, which they are reminded they will never, ever attain in this life, and to base their happiness and confidence in the virtues of that individual–usually a male. Thus, they can never see nor will they admit any wrong-doing by their prophet or Savior since their entire hope in life, their happiness, comes from having a lamb without blemish. A willing scapegoat upon which to heap their pretended sins. Posed an imaginary problem and offered a pretended solution.

You’re right, Believer. I do not feel as much happiness since I left the Mormon church. What I have come to realize is that, since I’ve left, I no longer have to convince myself that I have to be happy all day, every day. Felling melancholy, low, or even despondent, is not a punishment— organized as a natural consequence or directly imposed by divinity. Being unhappy is a natural part of life as a still-evolving primate with a large prefrontal cortex capable of over-thinking its circumstances when a disproportionately large adrenal gland and overactive limbic system respond to all manner of stimuli. 

Mormonism is just one of many religions that hijack people’s emotions, convincing them that physical experiences like frisson or elevation emotion are the result of God speaking to them. Mormon’s simply plagiarize from the New Testament fruits of the spirit. But if you feel any unease, depression, even sorrow–nature’s way of warning you that something isn’t right–there exists a milieu of shame. Lack of happiness equals a lack of the Spirit as a result of sin or simply doubt. If I wasn’t happy, I was made to feel I had failed. I must have been sinning or not reading scriptures or praying often or intently enough. I should be spending more time at the temple. (Oh, god…please not the Temple again…) There existed, in every instance of less-than-happy emotion, a reason to blame myself. Happiness was the object of my existence. It was right there in the Book of Mormon—the most correct of any book!—“men are that they might have joy.”2 Geez! “Wickedness never was happiness.”3 If I’m not happy, I must be wicked. That big, bad guy, Satan, works so “that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”4

I will give some credit to the Mormon religion. For as puritanical as their religion is in practice, at least in theory they expect happiness to be a part of their life–and if that fails, a definite guarantee to the faithful after death. For many, they can endure decades of misery just for the hope of bliss when they die. H.L. Menken once said, “Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere might be happy.” Mormons don’t entirely subscribe to misery and the purifying power of both spiritual and temporal poverty though that is one way of encouraging the weary. Despite being told I cannot possibly be happy out the church, I also get to hear that, if I do experience good feelings about life, “I just think I’m happy.” To them, in reality, what I feel is a counterfeit. From the outside looking in, I feel that I can say with confidence, that when you continually tell someone that they have the truth and tell them how happy they are, they do a good job of equating what they feel to happiness and then giving all the credit to the church for it. My happiness is Mormonism was a choice despite my feelings. Outside of it, my melancholy is an admission and acceptance of how I really feel. I have license to feel down from time to time. And I experience no happy-facade-inducing-shame to convince others and myself that I’m worthy, righteous and, therefore, happy.

For me, it’s no longer changing what you think about that matters, it is changing how I think. I don’t need to pretend I’m happy or ignore undesirable, horrific, or mournful aspects of life. I can acknowledge my unhappiness, recognize and own it, then focus on striving for contentment in the areas of my life over which I have some influence. Focus on being responsible for what I can be. A close family member, still active in Mormonism, seemed eager to tell me that all I had to do was “change what I chose to feel.” They were asking me to think positively and ignore negativity. That doesn’t work for me. It’s self-deceiving and self-defeating. Again, it means that if I’m not happy it’s my fault for how I look at it. Member-in-good-standing or degenerate apostate, happiness is an illusion. In both cases, it is something that happens to me. I can choose it but when I fail, there is guilt in the failing. I’d rather let myself be unhappy if that’s how I feel, and acknowledge contentment despite disappointment.

Those in religion are also taught the value of contentment but it is used as a means to trap them. When confronted with questions to which there is no answer, they are taught to be content to get an answer after they die–refer the question upward and give God the credit and the blame for their ignorance. The religious are taught to be expected to be content with bad explanations based on bad evidence or none at all. They are assured and content that feelings confirm not only truth but, indeed, even fact. Of course, this only applies to their faith or the many conspiracy theories to which the faithful seem prone to participate. In almost every other area–including the veracity of faith’s not their own–they would never accept such poor explanations.

Literature has been paramount in my transition to finding peace after Mormonism. Most ex-Mormons are familiar with the wise insight of the manservant, Lee, from John Steinbeck’s, East of Eden, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” That is how leaving religion felt. Learning what that means entails intense and prolonged moments of unhappiness. But, no matter how depressed I became, I never felt that returning to church would actually help. There is no cure for deceit in a church that, by apostolic decree, doesn’t seek apologies nor does it give them. In addition, if perfection meant being happy, that pressure was also, largely alleviated, with respect to the sinful nature of unhappiness. The pressure was not divinely appointed even if I felt some expectation from fellow ex-Mo’s or to show my family I was what they said I could not possibly be.

Consider the novel and story of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Years after leaving his asceticism, Siddhartha was challenged by close friend who remained that, had he stayed and continued to learn from the Shramanas, Siddhartha would have learned how to walk on water. Alas, by leaving his faith, he had missed out on this spiritual power. Siddhartha replied, “I do not wish to know how to walk on water.” With, perhaps a bit of contempt he adds, “May old shramanas content themselves with such wiles!” I see in Siddhartha, a man who did not find any more happiness outside of his religion. He may have found less contentment. But what contentment he did find was not in believing the unbelievable or striving for the unattainable. Abandoning the “vain search” offered something “the stilly top of heaven’s stair” could not–contentment without convincing one’s self that they can walk on water. What good is walking on water as an old man if it means giving up your youth to pursue it? Shunning all the real, tangible wonders and woundings of life to do something that will die with you. Even in an age of credulity, Siddhartha learned to value the tangible and find unaffected contentment therein.

Why hold out for eternal bliss in a heaven no one has ever experienced and certainly never demonstrated including the men who claim divine authority to reveal it to you? No less than the first prophet of God to have his word’s are recorded in the “most correct” book on the Earth, teaches his sons, that “no man can return”5 from the “cold and silent grave.” Lehi teaches6 just a few verses later of the resurrection—a doctrine no other Old Testament writer seemed inspired to clearly teach let alone define. The fact is that everyone who speaks of what Heaven or Hell have no more experience with it than you or I.

Jesus started off well by instructing his followers that “in this world” they would “have tribulation.” He then gave them the injunction to “be of good cheer” because of his alleged triumph over said world.7 It would almost make allowing yourself to feel despair or unhappiness into a sin itself. 

I much prefer the insight from The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus. Regarding the titular hero of the Greek myth, Camus says in the closing paragraphs of his analysis:

It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

I see no call to cheerfulness. No injunction to be happy and no declaration that happiness is the point of existence or ought to be the condition of it. Victory comes, for Sisyphus, not in the choice of how to feel, but in how to act despite how he feels. Perhaps he knows some sense of satisfaction that would draw a smile on his beleaguered face. I do not suspect that he has any sense he will earn reprieve from the eternal, mundane task laid before him. He is conscious of his fate and the seemingly pointless labor eternity demands of him. Yet, the victory comes, not in carrying the rock to the top. No! Victory is in the moment when he turns back, having watched the stone tumble to the base of the slope for the most recent of a countless number. He will not let his fate overwhelm him. He may not be happy, but he is content to endure without pretending to be happy.

For a time I found myself feeling as Dickens’ heroic Sydney Carton except, I identified with a rather pathetic, early version of the man. It was said of Carton in the early chapters of A Tale of Two Cities: “Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.”

In the process of confronting his misery, he found friends in Charles Darnay, his wife, Lucie, and their children. An entirely platonic friend, beloved by this family, Carton found contentment, if not happiness, with them. He could not make Lucie, whom he love, love him romantically in return. He would tell her, as she struggled to reject his advances while remaining friends, “…Your unselfishness cannot entirely comprehend how much my mind has gone on this; but, only ask yourself, how could my happiness be perfect while yours was incomplete?” Carton would go on to trade places with Lucie’s condemned husband who was found awaiting the guillotine because he refused to let an innocent man suffer for his sake. Mr. Darnay would live and Carton would go on, in contentment, to sacrifice his life to ensure the happiness of Lucie.

Comparative happiness or, happiness made apparent by contrast, may have some merit. As I mentioned previously, George Orwell, in the essay Can Socialists Be Happy?, suggests that happiness ought not to be a pursuit but a by-product of worthwhile pursuits. He observes of Dickens’ impoverished Cratchit family, “their happiness derives mainly from contrast…The Cratchits are able to enjoy their Christmas precisely because Christmas only comes once a year. Their happiness is convincing just because it is described as incomplete.” No prosperity gospel thinking here. Simply the rule and role of opposites offering contrast. The bitter makes the sweet all-the-sweeter in comparison. Can we truly understand happiness when we think we must experience it perpetually and feel it as the natural course? Of course. But any interruption to the expected feeling is an indictment of you for some sin our doubt. Is an eternity of bliss truly desirable?

Is the Heaven offered by monotheism truly worth dying for? Many people heard the apocryphal teaching of Joseph Smith that, in essence taught, that the lowest degree of heavenly glory awaiting mankind after judgment was so grand that, if he could see it, he would cut his own throat to get there. This teaching may have taken root in Mormon lore from a speech by then church Patriarch, Eldred G. Smith. “The Prophet Joseph Smith told us that if we could get one little glimpse into the telestial glory even, the glory is so great that we would be tempted to commit suicide to get there (BYU Speeches, March 10, 1964, p. 4).

Scholars have been unable to find an original statement made or attributed to Joseph Smith by any contemporary observer. I understand that Mormon philosopher and historian, Truman Madsen, spent a good deal of effort trying to track down this teaching attributed to both Smith and one of his proclaimed successors, Brigham Young. At best, he found a statement attributed to Wilford Woodruff—a contemporary of both Smith and Young—but reported in the journal of another contemporary, Charles C. Walker in August of 1837. Walker reports that Woodruff reported Smith saying: “Elder Woodruff said the Prophet taught this, roughly: that if we could see what is beyond the veil we couldn’t stand to stay here in mortality for five minutes. And I suggest from the context that he was not talking about the telestial kingdom. He was talking about what it was like to be in the presence of God and the family” (Truman Madsen, The Radiant Life, p. 91).

Notice the vagueness of the statements. The assurance of some unspeakable glory and bliss that would be so preferable to the knowable now as to compel one to suicide. Hiding behind weakness of imagination or language, they simply assure a person of how amazing it will be.

Orwell, in Can Socialists Be Happy?, offers a criticism of any utopia from the Stalinist attempt to fictional imaginings including those created by religion. If we consider their banal musings on Heaven, with its green fields and harp music or prolonged family reunions, this quip is all-the-more amusing: “All ‘favorable’ utopias seem to be alike in postulating perfection while being unable to suggest happiness.” Stalin, at least according to Martin Amis in his memoir, Inside Story, and confirmed by nearly any account you read of Soviet indoctrination8, not only postulated perfection, he demanded happiness until people credited him with it. “Stalin had become a Tsar: children now chanted, ‘Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our happy childhood!’” Indeed, Amis also notes that “A happy child is no better than a gerbil or a goldfish when it comes to counting its blessings…” Indoctrination doesn’t care. For the devout, teaching children how to think is less important than what to think. They truly believe that if they “train up [their] child in the way he should go…when he is old he will not depart from it.”9 Children who do not understand happiness any better than a goldfish, children who still find great happiness in the myth of Santa Claus, are then inculcated with visions of utopia and promised they’ll get it when they die if they don’t sin. Presents at Christmas for good behavior.

Who can deny that a child behaves, often, just as they are raised up? But I prefer to temper my enthusiasm with the idea of William Blake’s “mind-forged manacles” as I raise my children. I’d raise them up to think freely and to approach information fearlessly. Let them make their own choices for happiness without fearing how my happiness may be affected simply for what books they like or what political party they align themselves.

What all of this hearsay, conjecture, and perpetuation of apocryphal ideas demonstrates is the fervor and yearning of people to find happiness where they can. Even Mormons who are outwardly very happy, genuine or affected, cannot shake the craving for assurance that there is even more happiness to come. That the misery they endure now, including the prospect of suicide, will be worthwhile to make it to heaven and its attendant bliss.

I have never experienced the soul-stifling misery or known the perpetually uncertain hunger that Dostoevsky’s characters often do. The bright student, Raskolnikov, in the misery he made for himself, continually sought to justify the murder he had committed. In contrast to Sydney Carton, Raskolnikov finds that happiness, for himself, is the only reason to live. “No, life is only given to me once and I shall never have it again; I don’t want to wait for ‘universal happiness.’ I want to live myself, or else better not live at all.”

In his poem, September 1, 1939, W.H. Auden said it a different way with similar words. On the heels of the Great Depression and the long slog of World War I, events in Germany and Poland ensured the reality of a second World War. Sitting in a “dive”, soaking up the quiet tension of the people around him, he mused upon the faces of the people at the bar who “cling[ed] to their average day” expecting that the lights and music would simply stay on as convention, or that to which they were accustomed–even promised by experience. Everyone lived in a sort of dull, eyes-wide-shut reality that didn’t want to see what was really happening. They didn’t want to confront, honestly, the fact that to do so would require us to “see where we are, / Lost in a haunted wood, / Children afraid of the night / Who have never been happy or good.” He then expresses that the wasted, spoken air of Important Persons cannot match the coarseness of the average man at the bar. In each human an “error” is “bred in the bone” that “craves what it cannot have, / Not universal love / But to be loved alone.” 

Both Dostoevsky and Auden seem to hint at what Thomas Jefferson expressed in a letter he wrote to his would-be lover, Maria Cosway. Titled My Head and My Heart, Jefferson demonstrates the tug-of-war between one’s reason and one’s emotion. His head tells his heart, “The art of life is the art of avoiding pain: and he is the best pilot who steers clearest of the rocks and shoals with which he is beset.” 

It is obvious Jefferson, perhaps in the attempt at romantic sentiment, is attempting to imply that the head ought to subject itself to the teaching and superiority of the heart. The Heart replies, in part:

Morals were too essential to the happiness of man to be risked on the uncertain combinations of the head. She laid their foundation therefore in sentiment, not in science…I know indeed that you pretend authority to the sovereign control of our conduct in all its parts.

If acquiring happiness is the emotion that drives us, I think we are bound to be unhappy. Like David Foster Wallace alluded, it can become what we worship. Losing it can be traumatizing. Judging others for what we see as the loss of it, can become the emotional, head versus heart game we play to soothe our own insecurity. Consider the words of Albert Ian Gray’s, The Common Denominator of Success. He admits to failings of imagination and intellect but hints at one of its strengths that we might do well to grant greater attention. He says, “There’s no inspiration in logic. There’s no courage. There’s not even happiness in logic. There’s only satisfaction.”

There is no happiness in logic, but there is a great deal of potential misery in faith. A misery that many are forced to confront with by submitting and deferring to a redemptive perspective of a heretofore only postulated, glorious Heaven. How many LDS parents have found their happiness compromised when a child decides to leave the church? Mine expressed that they were “disappointed.” They’d placed their happiness in the idea of their family being “together forever” based upon the promises of men who cannot possibly know what awaits them beyond the veil of death. Not only that, they placed their happiness upon the words, previously expressed, that happiness comes from obedience and damnation from spurning the free gift of salvation. Words first said by a man who’s lies had been revealed and who needed to have his dalliances excused to his own wife.

Happiness is easily found in escape. Mental escape is easy to be had in the on demand unending availability of streaming video. Autoplay movies and television and streaming games offer a never-ending escape from real life for those who desire it. On par with drugs, alcohol, sugar, and any other substance that can disengage our minds and emotions from interacting with reality, entertainment is a better servant than a master. Phone in hand, the younger generations may now even disengage from the old escape, church. Where else could you dream of and, for an hour or three on Sunday, engage with a fantasy world that is so real to you, you prefer it to the capricious and inexplicable world outside the sanctum? David Foster Wallace, in his magnum opus, Infinite Jest, took a direct shot at American’s and what he percieved as a critical component of the prevailing culture. The monstrous book described drug and alcohol addiction and rehab hand-in-hand with entertainment addiction, and was published in the years when dial-up internet still prevented anything on-demand beyond text and grainy photos. In one description of the main character, we read, “Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves. It’s hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency.”

I think it’s fair to say that I knew so much more about Mormonism, scripture, and things said by prophets than I did about how and why I felt the way I did about them. At the time it was difficult for me to comprehend the total influence of upbringing and geography on my religious affiliation. I’d been conditioned to notice good feelings and attribute them to the Spirit of God and never think about my feelings beyond that. Thus, the fact that I felt was the extent of my understanding of feeling. I knew bad feelings meant I was sinning or out of tune with God. I didn’t really know why and didn’t think I should ask. God works in mysterious ways, after all…best to leave it a mystery. I hadn’t learned a bit about individual or group psychology or physiology and had been inculcated with a skeptical relationship toward them anyway. I thought I was free to choose—the right was scriptural! In the same verses that declared that men are supposed to have joy, I learned that I was free to choose liberty with God or captivity and death at the hands of the devil. 

Orwell’s Principles of Newspeak placed at the end of 1984 offer some insight into the manner in which thought is controlled by oppressive regimes, be they secular or theocratic. 

The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’ or ‘This field is free from weeds’. It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’ since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.

We don’t talk about Bruno, no, No. NO! Topics that might challenge the founding myths of Mormonism, the current theocratic oligarchy, or might place something rational and empirical on an even footing with the reality faith demanded were diminished and discouraged. I was taught to feel uneasy—unhappy—when my faith was challenged. I was convinced that this was God telling me something was not okay. Thus, so many trusting kids are taken advantage of by adults they are assured are spiritual leaders worthy of their trust. What of the adults scammed of their hard-earned wealth by friends, neighbors, and priesthood leaders? People are not taught how to evaluate a claim to truth or authority. Conspiracy theories are presented the same way their ultimate truth is presented to them in church. And they are happy to believe in nonsensical theories posited by obscure, faceless, nameless anons. And they stare down their “vain” noses at people like me and pat themselves on the back as they repeat in their minds the affirmation: “I’m so happy! They only thinks they’re happy.”

In or around 1780, in a letter to his mentor and fellow Founding Father, George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson said, “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people…No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.” Education and freely accessible knowledge are not sufficient guarantees of happiness, though they may be necessary for a democratic, pluralistic society. And Jefferson was not deluded enough to think that the Constitution was a perfect, divinely appointed dispensation of knowledge or practice. Speaking of his misgivings of the Constitution he was not present to sign, “…we must be contented to travel on towards perfection, step by step.” Whether or not he was happy with it, he stated his contentment in a letter to Reverend Charles Clay, “The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches…we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get.”

I’m no longer convinced that the hamster wheel of obedience and sacrifice to deity can offer true and lasting happiness. Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, sounding a bit like Samuel to Saul, said:

Ablutions were good, but they were water, they did not wash away sin, they did not quench spiritual thirst, they did not dissolve fear in the heart. Sacrificing to the gods and invoking them was excellent—but was this all? Did sacrifices bring happiness?

A Mormon leader in my former congregation once told a judgmental story about a work associate. Clearly, this man only thought he was happy. The leader told us how fleeting the man’s happiness was. Apparently he sought fulfillment in worldly things including a daily cup of morning coffee. Akin to those who eat bread or drink water that will surely hunger or thirst again, the leader assured us that those who take of the Living Water or eat of the Bread of Life will never thirst nor hunger again. Even in my most strident days as a believing Mormon, this bothered me. I even challenged him that even he, satisfied as he was with the bread of life and the living water of Jesus, also taught us that we needed to read scriptures and pray every day as well as return to church weekly for the sacrament—communion—in order to remain faithful in such a fallen world. Turns out, for mere mortals, the effects of the atonement of Jesus wear out in about a week. Remember the compulsion for validation of worthiness so many young men crave, returning to their clergyman often to confess just for a taste of forgiveness? So much for not thirsting again. 

I realize I’m being trite, but the fact remains that the faithful don’t get a simple one-and-done baptism. They must refresh their faith from day to day. They ought not to bemoan or decry the man who drinks a cup of coffee every day or the woman who exposes her shoulders and treat them like some degenerate addict or would-be prostitute. I’m sorry to say that this is a very real thing.

Paragon of virtue, far apart from what the religious establishment of the time espoused, Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, became a thorn in the side of the church-anointed king Henry VIII, for his stridency in points of doctrine regarding divorce and remarriage. The King and his councillors are desperate for More’s support in the matter. He is a man content with his convictions and under no delusions of happiness. He declared: 

If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes. But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all…why then perhaps we must stand fast a little—even at the risk of being heroes.

I advocate for choosing to be human and to striving for excellence while not pretending to some enlightenment or purity or happiness we may not know or feel. Shame breeds discontentment and depression in the well-meaning. Because of my community expectations, shame makes me unhappy and that makes me ashamed.

In Auden’s aforementioned, ominous poem, September 1, 1939, he leaves us with encouragement. I find no happiness in the sentiment but I do see that contentment under even the threat of war, is achievable. Like him, “All I have is a voice /
To undo the folded lie…the lie of Authority / no one exists alone; / We must love one another or die…May I, composed like them / Of Eros and of dust, / Beleaguered by the same / Negation and despair, / Show an affirming flame.”

That is, to me, the essence of contentment. “An affirming flame” from the those “beleaguered by…negation and despair.” No, I’m not as happy as I thought I used to be. But I have earned the affirming flame despite feeling beleaguered, disappointed, and even stuck in a life I may have chosen otherwise had I felt the freedom to do so. I am free, now. Free to move forward. Free of the pressure to feel happy. Free to bask in contentment.

It’s a beautiful and wonderful and mysterious world. I don’t know all the answers. I don’t expect to walk on water or defeat death. And I’m okay with that. It’s pretty amazing.

__________________________________

1 This is from the Book of Mormon, Jacob chapter 2. The Book of Mormon, according to Joseph, was and is the most correct of any book on the Earth. The quotation I used is in reference to David and Solomon having many wives and concubines. Clearly, the most correct book on Earth considers their polygamy to be an abomination. The chapter does go on to state that if God wants to build up a people to himself, he may command such a practice despite his blanket statement of it being an abomination. But in the Doctrine and Covenants—further, canonized revelations to Joseph—God proceeds to “justif[y] [His] servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines” (D&C 132: 1). Why should we be surprised at a religion wanting to have it both ways in regard to sexuality? They even rename it plural marriage and claim it is different than polygamy. Newspeak anyone?

2 2 Nephi 2:25

3 Alma 41:10

4 2 Nephi 2:27

5 2 Nephi 1:14, The Book of Mormon

6 2 Nephi 2:8

7 John 16:33

8 I highly suggest you read Katya Soldak’s insightful essay on her upbringing in the Soviet Union. Try to read it without thinking of how religions indoctrinate their children. 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/katyasoldak/2017/12/20/this-is-how-propaganda-works-a-look-inside-a-soviet-childhood/?sh=248c2bf73566

9 Proverbs 22:6

The Pinnacle of Piety

When I invite my son to go on a hike, maybe his reluctance and even refusal are because he’s been listening in church. He knows that when Abraham’s invited his son Isaac to climb Mount Moriah, it was more than a leisure hike that was intended by the father. He also knows that I’ve never demonstrated enough devotion to any person or thing to sacrifice a non-combatant to it. I’ve often told my children that, so long as they are not harming themselves or others, they can count on my support for their decisions. Cases of self-defense and war aside, I can’t imagine what it would take to bleed the life from someone. And even if I could, taking the leap to filicide is a non-sequitur. When one hears voices in their head, all bets may be off.

I actually teared-up when I found this image.

But Abraham is held in high esteem by all three monotheisms. He is the father of a divine covenant between God and all of Abraham’s seed, literal or adopted. None who consider the Old Testament or Torah as divinely inspired scripture consider the great patriarch to be anything less than completely lucid, utterly moral in his decisions, and a demonstrator of the ultimate expression of piety. And even if you want to say, “Well, he didn’t have to go through with the sacrifice! God only wanted to see if he would do it.”

My response: “Your God is a sadist. Would you give a pass to the tyrant or mob boss who demanded you kill your child only to say, ‘You passed the test. Now, remember, I can command anything I want. And you’d better do it without question and without delay. Capisce?'”

“But God didn’t require it in the end. That’s the point. God is merciful. You need to read your Bible before you criticize it.”

“Tell that to Jephthah.”

Gulp. “…Who?”

As wicked as their parents’ obedience to unseen voices in their heads is, the obedience of the children in the face of their death is equally horrifying. They submit so readily you have to wonder: if the stories are true then the utter, mindless indoctrination of the children by their parents and communities is a testament to the toxicity of belief in the divine.

For those unfamiliar with Jephthah, check out Judges 11:30-40. (It’s not a story they would tell you in Sunday School as it’s horrible and not faith promoting bu they can’t cut it out of the Bible because the book is perfect for most Christians and almost perfect for Mormons.) In this story, once again, the children become the theatre for parents to show their absolute devotion to their post-adolescent, imaginary friend. Jephthah promises God that if he prevails over the Ammonites, he will sacrifice to Him the first thing that exits the door of him home. When his daughter is the first, he is sorrowful but, dammit, he’s pious! Unlike Abraham, God doesn’t intervene to stop the murder though He has two months to do so. Jephthah’s daughter, after spending the two months bewailing and mourning her virginity, submits to her father’s promise. Instead of saying that he guts his daughter, murders his own child, or even sacrifices his own daughter, the text tells us that he, “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed.” The text makes a point of explaining that she died a virgin. Thus, another cult demonstrates the strange fascination humans have with female virginity as if that point made her either a more sorrowful sacrifice or a more appropriate one. Perhaps both.

The above story is a stark and nearly perfect refutation of the excuse that Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice his own son. That God provided a scapegoat in the form of–not a goat at all–but a ram. The ram, a symbol of Jesus, right? The sheep that pays the price in our place. If you have a “Y” chromosome. If you’re unlucky enough to be stuck with only two “X” chromosomes, your salvation is only really in your husband. God didn’t send a replacement for Jephthah’s daughter. The Mormon church has quietly changed the wording in their temple ceremonies to make it seems as if the women have some independence in the pursuit of Godhood. And, yes, that is the purpose of the temple. Not salvation. You get that through baptism and repentance. The temple is concerned with exhalation–becoming like God himself.

They covenant to give all of their time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed them or with which he may bless them to build up the Kingdom of God on the Earth (the LDS church) and establishing Zion. Everything. Everything including your children are blessings from God and thus, belong to Him anyway. If he asks for them back as the price of your own, bloody, knife-wielding hand, do as Abraham was asked to do. And be ready to follow through as Jephthah had to do. Remember that God doesn’t like when you keep living things alive that he’s commanded you to slaughter. Just ask Saul. Mormons are covenanting in their temple to become “Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses” but Saul lost his kingship for keeping animals to offer as sacrifices. Of course, let’s not forget when Israel conquered the Midianites all the men and male children and non-virgin women were to be slaughtered but any and all virgins of every age were to kept alive. Let your imagination run with that, if you dare. Would you celebrate your daughter being among those kept alive because she would be grafted into the covenant people? Or, would you consider her better off dead?

In rabbinical tradition, as I understand it, Isaac was 37 years old when his father invited him on the long, gloomy hike to the top of Mount Moriah. Most traditions of which I am aware have him as over 20 years of age. Some that seem ironically hell-bent on making the Old Testament tradition rhyme with the New Testament–like Adam Clarke–have said Isaac, like Jesus, was 33 years old when his sacrifice was demanded. Either 33 or 37, I find the age personally interesting. This is the range in which I left the Mormon church and, by so-doing, obtained the ignominious status amongst those who love me (at least love their Mormon version of me) that they feel I would be better of having died than having recanted my faith. If only they knew how I speak against it, now. Danites among them might feel the call of God to deal with me appropriately.

I must admit feeling flattered that, by my late thirties, I have obtained a life of such consequence that some might be “better-off” if I were dead. My children would not think such a horrible thing, though some fathers have actually earned that distinction. But for those zealots who might think or even say such a thing, their holy writ contains enough divinely inspired instruction to hold such a position. Not only may they hold it, the may find consolation and conviction in it.

Unfortunately, for those striving for Godhood in Mormonism, this kind of devotion is still expected. God still expects people to tried, even as Abraham. Doctrine and Covenants 104:4-5: “Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.”

“Yeah, but he said that to a specific group of saints!”

What I say unto one, I say unto all.”

Mormon God

According to Joseph Smith God, the requirement to gut your child is to chasten you. To become like God you must be willing to act like God. You might say, “It’s not about what a person does or doesn’t do because everyone won’t be asked to sacrifice their kid to God. It’s really about the character you develop. Have you become the kind of person who would do anything and everything God asks of you?” Even if that includes gutting your child to prove your love of God–an unseen, unheard, not demonstrable, merciful, all-loving father.

When will you say enough is enough? I don’t care if you’re all-powerful. I won’t submit to a tyrant. My morality and decency demand that I say no. If you claim you would hide a jew in your attic and lie to the Nazi’s when asked about it but you would still kill your kid if God asks, I wonder what level of authority you wouldn’t submit to. And, if you tell me that you couldn’t make yourself go through with the murder of your child at the command of deity, then the extent to which you are a good person is to the extent that you are not a Christian or a Mormon.

Few Mormons or Christian’s would admit that they would do it. But the same majority that won’t admit to it, would also not say that they wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. To say they would means they will kill their kids because a voice in their head instructs them to do so. Thus, they typically avoid the hypothetical altogether claiming that they can’t imagine the command coming to them and God surely wouldn’t ask it of them.

“But what if He did?”

“He won’t.”

“It doesn’t matter if he will, it matters how you would respond.”

Nearly everyone in this day and age knows that to be willing to sacrifice one’s own child is abjectly wicked and evil. When they hear of a mother killing her children because God told her to–it’s in the news often and even once is too often–the saint can pass off the impulse and horrific act as inspiration from the devil. But they can’t say that God hasn’t commanded it in the past and even allowed and relished in the obedience.

If you say no you wouldn’t follow the command to gut your kid, it means that you are admitting you wouldn’t do anything God asked of you. And that’s the whole point of submitting to God. Would you do any thing He commanded? If not, you’re not worthy of him.

I’ve had this conversation multiple times with active, believing Mormons. They will not answer. They pretend they cannot or will not entertain a hypothetical. They won’t say yes and they won’t say no or they’ll dismiss by saying that they can’t imagine it happening or that they don’t know what they’d do. The latter is as good as an admission that they would. If you can’t say no without so much as a breath; if you can’t say no with conviction; if you feel sorrowful or shameful that you would decline God’s command, you may be a horrible person.

Can you see why I don’t want my kids in your care for even an hour on Sunday during their primary indoctrination time? If you’re not teaching them to kill their own kids, you’re teaching them as kids themselves, to be willing to submit if their parent says, “Let’s go for a hike…oh, this? I always carry a knife like this.”

The Cult of Human Sacrifice of Latter-day Saints

Brigham Young once said: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Well, he may not have said it but he lived it. What’s it called when you say one thing but do another? Hypo…NO! That’s not it. Ahh! It’s called being a Special Witness of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days! It’s not okay for YOU, dear reader, and you should definitely confess to your bishop or branch president about any instance of transgression. But, if any of your duly ordained apostles happens to do it, that’s fine. It’s like polygamy. When God condones it because the ordained leader tells you He condones it, it’s not wrong and we name it something else like Plural Marriage. Whew! That was close. Thank goodness for deceptive godly propaganda language and it’s essential companion credulity. As for hypocrisy, we ought to rename it, too. How about, apostling or ‘postling?

As we can see, George Orwell proves more prescient and wise than all the Mormon leaders from 1830 to today. Animals being more equal than others, as many of you recall, is from Orwell’s famous allegory, Animal Farm. The book presents the Russian revolution of 1917 under the leadership of Lenin and the exploitation of the citizens that followed. Not only were proletariat and bourgeois exploited by the small, ruling body under Lenin during the revolution, but after Lenin died and Stalin, Trotsky, and others vied for power–Stalin ultimately conniving his way to the top–the people were made to suffer in the name of communism and to consolidate and maintain control. Everyone, aside from the senior leadership (and even those who were not name Stalin) were justifiable sacrifices to preserve people’s faith in the party, its unstoppable destiny, and the leadership that would take them there.

Born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, Stalin, like many others, took upon him a strong, revolutionary name that meant Man of Steel. He was a not a large man. The non-Russian was born in Georgia with some physical limitations including an underdeveloped arm. Trained in a Georgian Seminary with intention to become a priest, he was actually expelled from the institution before he could receive holy orders but, as some historians like Montefiore have pointed out, he there learned lessons in controlling and manipulating people. It’s no surprise to me that the egomaniacal Young was given or took upon himself the revolutionary restorationary title, The Lion of the Lord. The moniker was attached to a house built for him.

Lion seems a strange symbol for a representative of the Good Shepherd…an alleged carpenter that really, really, loved sheep. But if you consider the allusion to sheep in the promise of the lion lying down with the lamb, it actually fits remarkably well! In the Biblical sense, since all disciples may be considered sheep and the words lie and lay have their own sexual connotation in Judeo-Christian cannon, it may even be a prophetic title. Brigham certainly did lie with a bunch of women during his lifetime. However, they ought not to be ridiculed for acting as sheep in a man’s world. These women are and were victims of men taking upon themselves the name of God in vain.

The Lion House in Salt Lake City was the second Utah home of Brigham Young, built in 1856. (Remember that year…) The other home, The Beehive House, was built two years earlier. The former boasted twenty bedrooms with gabled windows–quite the extravagance on the virgin frontier. The latter, according to the LDS website, “was the anchor for Brigham Young’s large property holdings.” He had other homes built, of particular note in St. George, Utah, but these were built at a critical time as the saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley.

If you haven’t read “The Devil’s Gate” by David Roberts, you may find the unbiased report on the history of Mormon Handcart Companies a worthwhile if infuriating read. You won’t find milquetoast pandering or highfalutin, apologetic prose and sanctimonious celebrations of faith in the face of adversity. If you’d like another, more concise yet still intriguing discussion, I recommend the Mormon Stories podcast with John Larsen (Episode 1489) titled, “The Worst Regional Conference Ever.” I won’t rehash everything Mr. Larsen says and I wonder if I could duplicate his passion and indignation which I admire. Rather, I want to discuss the Mormon iteration of the cult of death that is Christianity.

Christians love to stress the the New Testament imperative that animal sacrifice is abolished by the sacrifice of Jesus. (This is somehow an expression God’s unending mercy despite their reality that the same God commanded it in the first place.) Christ became the final sacrifice of flesh and blood to atone for the sins of God’s people and, indeed, all mankind that had lived, did live, or ever would live on Earth. Mormon scripture outlines, in the words of Jesus himself to people in America (although there is now prophetic instruction, most recently as of this week, that we should not consider The Book of Mormon as a historical document)1, that with the completion of Jesus’ sacrifice:

…ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

3 Nephi 9:19-20

Perhaps Jesus still requires human sacrifice–the blood and lives of some on the altar to purchase the salvation of others. When I left the church and informed my family, at my request, they were not to respond to my email for a week in any form. I told them I wouldn’t look at anything they sent for at least a that long. About six months later, I received a conventional letter from my parents outlining how disappointed they were in me. They expressed their concern for my eternal welfare and piled shame upon my decision in light of the sacrifices of my ancestors who left Sweden, Denmark, and England to cross the ocean and then a continent to gather to Zion and worship as they wished. Some travelled by handcart, watching their children and parents and friends die along the way. And their sacrifice was to extend to me and my children that same freedom to worship as we please in a free land.

Oh, the irony that, for me, that means worshiping how THEY please…I’m sure many of you understand.

If you think this is unique to my family, it is not. Just posit the question on Reddit’s r/exmormon and prepare to be inundated with hundreds of comments from fellow descendants of Mormon pioneers who were raised to honor the sacrifice of those who died to make the journey to Salt Lake City. The idea is so ubiquitous that a Mormon off their guard would not hesitate to agree with you that the lives lost were a small price to pay. If they realize that you find the idea reprehensible in light of the facts (see David Robert’s book or the John Larsen podcast or dozen’s of contemporary and modern criticisms) they will make their clever plural marriage/polygamy-esque word swap. The behavior is annoying but not uninteresting.

Follow the story and what was asked of these poor people and the reality becomes clear: Despite Christ’s alleged torture and death to end the rite of animal sacrifice, Mormonism continues to celebrate human sacrifice in the name of their faith. And, in 1856, their leaders promoted and even ensured it. I’m not talking about “broken hearts and contrite spirits” which certainly were and are a foundational tenet of the faith. I’m talking about the creation of an environment, practice, and expectation that directly resulted in the unnecessary, preventable deaths of hundreds after periods of unimaginable suffering. The inspired leaders, themselves, are to blame. The culture of shaming those who spoke truth to power and exploiting the “widow’s mite” from the destitute faithful who’d already offered all they had except their lives to “the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and the establishment of Zion.” And, like all tyrannies, the elite, ruling class glutted themselves upon the crippling burdens placed upon those who viewed the said leaders as called by God, chosen to rule, and ordained by mystical, heavenly power to ensure blessings AFTER the faithful have died. They can’t promise them in the known and tangible world, but they make guarantees of salvation and exhalation for the unknowable, unseeable-and-unseen afterlife!

Coincidentally, one of my favorite bands released a new album this week. One of their songs is playing in my noise-cancelling headphones as I write this in my favorite coffee shop. Here is a lyric that describes a tyrant and I can’t help but think of Brigham Young:

There’s a man who swears he’s God
Unbelievers will be shot
There’s a man who walks around
Like he owns the fucking lot
There’s a man who takes his time
From his homemade cuckoo clock
And he makes us march around it
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock

Coldplay, “People of the Pride”

If you don’t yet hate Brigham Young, let me introduce to you Franklin D. Richards and Levi Savage. If anyone could be considered a hero, it would be Savage. If there is a villain it would take an Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, or Heath Ledger to pull off, its Richards. The lesson we learn from Levi Savage’s experience and the totalitarian regime ruling over the 19th century Latter-day Saints, it is that tyrants do not value wisdom at the expense of conformity and obedience. What’s worse, as we will see, the current Mormon narrative celebrates such conformity and repackages the horrific actions of the leadership during this time (and every time) as inspired, faith-promoting, and enviable. And we aren’t talking about using them as cautionary tales but heroic and hallowed.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Levi Savage was not an idiot. He’d made the journey across the plains and understood the way the weather works in Wyoming during October and November. (I’m from Wyoming. September has its share of blizzards and cold.) Savage may have known that the leadership in Salt Lake City, sitting comfortably in their mansions with shelter, fire, and food were dishonest in telling the eager pioneers just how long the journey would actually take. These men who’d already made the journey themselves, nevertheless deliberately misrepresented underestimated the distance by several hundred miles! Even after the disaster in which many saints starved or died of exhaustion or froze to death, the leaders that demanded others go out into the wilds to save the struggling pioneers in winter storms, claimed in a church conference that the handcart pioneers had made a miraculous journey in record time! All of it lies and, I’m convinced, not lies told in ignorance of the facts.

Many decisions were made to save money. While Brigham Young oversaw the construction of his second mansion in Salt Lake City, he required the poor saints from Europe to give all their possessions and money to support the effort of migration. And then, for those who couldn’t now afford their own handcart, he offered a solution: the Perpetual Emigration Fund! How about you give all you have to us and then, we will loan back to you some money to make a shitty handcart. But don’t worry, if you survive the trip, you’ll only owe us the money back plus 10% per year. And, oh boy, you get to build the handcart yourself with green wood! Oh, you’re a baker and have never done something like this? What an adventure for you. God showed Nephi how to build an Iron Age, transoceanic ship by himself. How could you miss this deal?

Savage realized that making handcarts of green wood, a perilously late start in August, a greater distance than they were being told, and the scant resources created an impossible situation. He wisely told everyone in a public speech that many of them would die if they left this late. That was something they might be able to change even with green wood and lack of experience. They could gain an advantage with proper timing. They would be better off to wait until the following summer and get an earlier start. For speaking wisdom to them, he was shamed publicly by the ordained leader of he party. Being the most experienced man among them, he realized that the people would die and, without him, many more were likely to die. His sacrifice, to join the fated handcart party, was done for his fellow saints. It certainly could not be for the church and its selfish leadership. After the shaming, he told the group that he would go with them and he would die with them. What would’ve happened had he not gone with him? He did survive the journey, but what if he hadn’t gone? What if he had come later and survived and lived prosperously with good health and happiness and wealth? I’ll tell you how the memory of a wise man would be handled by the church: he would still be considered a pariah. His experience would be told as a cautionary tale. Complete ostracization and ignominy for a man just for daring to be wise and speaking honestly.

You know who didn’t speak honestly? Franklin Richards. Franklin Richards, on his way to Salt Lake City with several other elders returning from the East with horses and all ability to travel with speed, came upon the fated Willey Company in September. Having heard, somehow, that Savage had already warned the pioneers of the very real and likely threat of bitter cold and deep snows with only thin tents and blankets to protect them, Richards proceeded to berate him in-front-of those he already promised to die with. Then, after promising the destitute saints that God would part the storms as he had the Red Sea for Israel, he demanded the fatted calf from their meager herd, had it butchered, and ate it, taking the remainder with he and his companions along their swift journey to Salt Lake City. He was obviously no moron for, upon arrival he quickly informed Brigham Young of the handcart pioneers likely dire condition in central Wyoming. Still, he promised them miraculous deliverance akin to the children of Israel in Exodus. A deliverance they did not experience and to say that they did is to neglect the memory of those who starved, froze, and were buried in shallow graves from Omaha to Casper, WY.

The difference: Levi Savage told his fellow pioneers, “I will die with you,” and Franklin Richards said, “You can die without me.” If ever there was a pig who walked on his hind legs and believed he was more equal than others, it is Frank. And amongst the company he held with Brigham Young and other tyrant-prophets, that’s saying something. Ask yourself, which man is more Christlike? If you are Mormon, which man is considered a special witness of Christ while the other’s story is told to you as one of a man who’s faith wavered?…faith in who/whom or in what? In a world of campaign posters that invite us to “Fuck ______” (name your politician). I think Franklin Richards and Brigham Young fit such a t-shirt or window cling like water to its puddle.

Not a lot has changed in 150 years. The wealthy brethren sit in their palaces in Salt Lake City while they expect the poor and rich alike to sacrifice everything they have and then come across proverbial plains with handcarts. The decision to utilize handcarts and then use green wood in their construction were money saving decisions and little more. They were told that they could not afford to wait nor could they afford wagons when Brigham–one of the wealthiest men in the western United States at the time–needed a second mansion built next door to his just-finished, first mansion. Current leaders could employ thousands of people in the U.S. alone to clean buildings, they actually did years ago. Instead, they expect the rank and file to clean the building, supply all the money for humanitarian aid separate from their tithing, fulfill missions and move members and offer all of their time, talents, and everything to the building of the Kingdom of God on the Earth! They sit, protected in their ivory towers while they grow their obscene stock and real estate investment portfolios on the back of consecrated widow’s mites and protected from government taxation, being told that the Soviet Party-esque apostles are God’s anointed that rightly bask in the recognition and then demand everything from the members. They demand that members covenant in temples to “give their own lives, if necessary” to build the church. They are a cult centered around a bronze-aged human sacrifice that revere the practice and hallow it even in this time of their plenty. Brigham Young wouldn’t even let the handcart companies purchase iron to make their wagon wheels because it was too expensive.

Brigham Young, who road in the back of a wagon with plenty of food and bedding, orchestrated this tragedy and Franklin Richards as well as other leaders sold it. Individuals gave up cherished items to make required weight limits. Not only that, but they sacrificed shelter and bedding and food and clothing to reach the allotted weight limit of seventeen pounds. And Brigham managed, in the midst of this poverty, to have his heavy, solid wood furniture carried from the east to Salt Lake City? He walks on his trotters incredibly well while he watches the dedicated, hardworking, loyal and naive Boxer build the windmill for his benefit.

The pioneer anthem, Come, Come, Ye Saints is propaganda at its finest. Contemporary accounts tell us that the captains of the company, on more than one occasion, herded and whipped every child under eight as they moved along the trail because they thought the children were the problem with the companies many delays. This was a forced march–crosses on their shoulders and whips at their backs. If you fell along the trail you were left behind! A man crawled up next to his sick wife in the wagon while they were stopped just to comfort her and was beaten mercilessly for it…while they were stopped! A boy falls down on the road and his beaten with a stick until he gets up–until he wakes up from falling unconscious from malnutrition and exhaustion. Their planned ration, to save money that didn’t need to be saved, was 1200 cal of flour to walk 15 miles each day. That ration was repeatedly cut as the hardship increased. Restocks promised to wait for them at U.S. military outposts along the way, were not there. Most of the people who died, died of starvation when the boiled leather of their boots and wagon wheels failed to make up for the lack of nourishment. But, at least they had they privilege of sacrificing their best calf to a prophet of God.

How many individuals have been sacrificed on the altar of faith–not for themselves? And then, how has the church treated their death and sacrifice? As propaganda to promote their growing investment firm fronted by a church. They ignore the horrid stories and hundreds of not-miracles to tell of the seventeen miracles that are claimed to have happened. Isaac was spared, but the impulse to grotesque obedience is still celebrated even if it means sacrificing your child for your faith.2

We’re still sacrificing people on the altar of faith today. I lived in the neighboring stake from which a woman died doing a handcart reenactment for the youth in Oklahoma. I’m sure that if you asked her bishop or state president they would tell you how tragic it was and also that it’s not a reason to lose faith in God. This woman two left children at home to facilitate this reenactment and died of heat stroke on LDS church-owned property northeast of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I filled the same role she did a couple of years earlier, in the same place. In three days of barely strenuous activity in the summer heat, we had at least three adults taken to the hospital to be treated for heat stroke. Why? Some strange attempt to build the faith of teenagers? I hated it then and, mostly, was already on my way out when my wife and I went to be a ma and pa for a pretend handcart family. Yes, we pushed a handcart. We were lucky. I would certainly never consider my luck a blessing. The woman’s two children and husband will be without her. And I guarantee her death is packaged as a sacrifice for their faith by some clergy-assholes out there.

On that same trek in which the woman died, five of the youth were taken to the hospital including three who were already unconscious when paramedics arrived to rush them to an emergency room. I’m not a betting man, but I’d wager that the church didn’t offer a dime to this bereaved husband who watched his wife die. You know who will foot any financial expense: good members willing to donate. Crowdfunding from people who don’t know her or her family and a canned apology from the one-hundred-billion-plus-dollar church that exasperatedly reminds everyone that IT bears the name of Jesus Christ as HIS church.

So, here I am exploiting this woman’s memory in a way with which she might disagree and, perhaps those who know her best would also do. I express no shame. I would say the same regarding thirteen year-old girls living under religious tyrannies who are stoned to death for being raped.

Human sacrifice is an idea we have not yet managed to transcend. In coming to terms with it, we will debate abortion. We will also debate whether or not we should feed, clothe, and otherwise honor the life of those forced to birth by our laws. There are slippery slopes and guiding principles will not always be as clearly facile as pundits want us to think that they are. But I hope we can agree with regards to our human brothers and sisters that all animals are equal and no animal is more equal than another. The next barrier will be convincing the zealot that this means a one man or class of men should not have their second mansion built while demanding that others give their money to build it and then take out a loan to come and build it for him…if they survive the journey. One man doesn’t deserve your fatted-calf just because he calls himself a special witness. I mean, isn’t the term special witness evidence enough that these pigs think of themselves as more equal than others?

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  1. Within 48 hours of publishing that LDS Prophet/President instructed members that The Book of Mormon is not to be taken as a book of history, the same report in LDS Living online. (See links in original blog text)

2. Judges 11:30-40

Inclusivity: On Demand

If there’s one thing you can count on from the overly vocal spokesman of Jesus, its the self-congratulatory, gratuitous usage of really shitty metaphors when trying to make a point. Typically, the bombastic preacher employs these metaphors when they must defend their archaic position on a matter that is only made controversial by the dogmatics’ devotion to it. After years of being disappointed by unfulfilled prophetic words and unanswered prayers, it’s hard to see any other consistency in the sayings or doings of prophets. I realize now that such metaphorical speaking grants these narcissists safety in vagaries and inherent misunderstandings. “That’s not what I meant,” becomes a natural sequitur employed by themselves, media spokesmen, and apologists to nearly everything the anointed will ever say. And the misunderstandings are always the fault of the listener rather than the divinely appointed speaker.

My sister has made several trips to Holland, The Land of the Tulips. I’ve become enamored with her descriptions of the friendly people, the Old World charm, and the tulip-carpeted countryside. But, I seem unable to think of the Netherlands without thinking of another “Holland” with whom I am more well acquainted. This “Holland” is Elder Jeffrey R., a senior apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He, too, has two lips and should consider keeping them tightly pursed more often. A side benefit from sparing us his vitriolic, pretended empathy, is that not wagging his jaw would also prevent his massive, bull-dog-esque jowls from flapping.

Most of my readers will already be aware of the speech Mr. Holland gave at Brigham Young University to faculty and staff. Mr. Holland is both a member of the board of trustees for the LDS owned and operated University as well as a senior member of the same Church’s governing body (he is not only ordained as an Apostle: Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, the members sustain him as such on at least four occasions each and every year). As such, those in his audience are obligated as employees to take his word as direction for the course they help the University maintain. In addition, for those who are members of the church–at least 99 percent of attendees–are under sacred covenant to consider his words the same as God’s own (Amos 3:7).

This is why the church is so adamant about individuals not recording the proceedings of events where General Authorities speak such as stake and regional conferences. The words are prepared for that audience and not intended for general consumption. The leadership seems to disregard the admonition of God, himself, repeated so often in the Doctrine and Covenants as to be ubiquitous. “What I say unto one I say unto all.” (Type it into LDS.org as a search)

A few weeks ago, the ward of which I am still a member sent out an email survey regarding inclusion. It asked us questions such as: Did we feel included, welcome, wanted at church? What were barriers to us feeling included? And other questions of this ilk. I responded honestly and without longing. I don’t really need to feel included. In large part because, like polygamy or salvation or friend, inclusion means something different to Mormons than it does to nearly everyone else. If you needed further evidence of this, Mr. Holland’s talk should settle the debate once and for all.

An aside: can we think of a better term than talk. “I gave a talk in church on Sunday,” or “Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk to BYU faculty.” There is something so casual and dismissive about the word. We’ve created a noun out of a verb. While I’m a big fan of verbing nouns, there seems to be some laziness or indifference here.

“I heard you ran a marathon this weekend.”

“Yeah, I gave a run.”

Back to inclusion. Earlier this week I told my wife that I had responded to the survey and she told me that the congregation was having a combined, fifth Sunday meeting of the youth and adults to talk about the survey and inclusion. Considering myself a friend of the Bishop, I sent him a text message offering a “outsider’s view” of inclusion and that if he felt the need, I would be happy to share and to do so respectfully. This was before news of Holland’s talk aired.

The Bishop responded that their agenda was already set and that, in the spirit of inclusion, there would be nothing approaching questions or an open discussion. The implication being that, as with all agenda’s in the patriarchal organization, the presentation would be a “Y” chromosome exclusive, top-down sermonizing. While I’m confident our local leaders actually do work for real inclusion of the marginalized, they must follow the example of the Apostles at the top. Dissent or even open-minded discussion cannot be tolerated.

The gist of it: please come and listen but we can’t include any other ideas into what we are presenting. It didn’t bother me. I really prefer not going to church anyway, but I did see, for a moment, a chance to be a contributor in a very real way that could be beneficial.

When Holland’s talk came to light, I realized that my level of respectful speaking would be, perhaps, beyond my ability to muster. How can a member even speak of genuine inclusion after a talk like Holland’s? After all, “When the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over.” This is not a controversial saying. The church still embraces and endorses this. The exact words of counsel can still be found quoted in messages from the First Presidency and general conference speakers on the church’s official website. Mr. Holland has spoken. Inclusion Sunday can’t have a discussion because that is too much like a debate and, as we know, the debate is now over.

Of course it’s been over for decades. This is not new. This is exactly how the church has preached regarding sexual orientation since long before its conversion therapy experiments conducted at BYU under then president, Dallin H. Oaks–sitting, next-in-line to be the buck-stops-here mouthpiece of the Lord when the current weasel wearing the mantle dies. Good old Oaks has spoken against and been suspicious of gays since before we learned that there are, in fact, no Quakers on the moon. Here is Mr. Oaks concept of inclusion: In a 2006 television interview, speaking of a hypothetical gay or lesbian son or daughter, he said:

I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, “Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”

–Angry, Old Bigot

This, is how the top brass view inclusion and Mr. Holland’s recent talk was no exception.

Under the shadow he casts over his entire talk, of an adolescent feeling of love for BYU that has lasted for over 70 years, Holland sets the tone of someone suffering from “Golden Age Thinking.” If you’ve never seen the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris, I highly recommend it. One of the interesting quotes from a pedantic know-it-all is that another character suffers from this problem of Golden Age Thinking.

Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking — the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in — its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.

While Holland is pining for the BYU of the 1940’s and 50’s, which was, in his mind, “greatest University in the world,” he might as well bring back attitudes and practices of segregation. Under direction of the University’s Board of Trustees (the very same Board of which Holland cites his membership and authority on University matters) black student applicants were encouraged to apply and seek degrees elsewhere. That’s the kind of Board of Trustees Holland dreams of being a part of and, with his position, can attempt to make a reality so far as LGBT inclusion is concerned.

The substance of his talk can be found in its original form as a video with transcripts easily obtainable by web search. In his great speech on inclusion, Holland wastes little time in reaffirming:

“If we (BYU) are an extension of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [excessive, overly-dramatic filler to garner sympathy from the acolytes in the audience who, like most good people, respect people who take their responsibilities seriously]…But until “we all come [to] the unity of the faith, and . . . [have grown to] the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed, those whom he has designated to declare church doctrine and to guide Brigham Young University as its trustees.”

He makes the token mention of Jesus and alludes to following Him, but that’s not what any of the talk is really about. Not love or even coming to a unity because we aren’t there yet and ostensibly have a long way to go. It is about getting students and more particularly, faculty, in line! Goddammit! That was the essence of this entire talk. Captured in the last line of the above quotation, “our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed.” THAT is all that his diatribe was about.

Note that he doesn’t emphasize actually measuring one’s self against Jesus, he emphasizes being a yes-man to the apostles. We see, two days after the talk, a BYU student attempting to erase a simple gesture of support for the 5-10% of the BYU faculty, staff, and student body or, approximately, 1800-3500 individuals, who identify as LGBTQ. When someone drops the term homophobia near the feverishly in-harmony-with-the-Lord’s-anointed “saint” high on his saintly ecstasy, he declares with orgasmic rapture, “Faggots go to hell.”

The overwhelming rush of sidewalk-chalk artists who converged on on the city sidewalks at the base of the hill upon which BYU campus sits, is inspiring. The city set on a hill can’t be hidden and I hope it isn’t. I hope the world sees the hate of Holland and his covenant-keeping followers who call their words–like “musket fire” and “faggot”–words of inclusion and love. The faces of the artists will not be remembered for their inclusive demonstration. In fact, the powers-that-be professionally and thoroughly baptized the sidewalks to purge the colorful and kind works of solidarity for the BYU students living under fear of those who feel obligated (under divine covenant) to do God’s work.

It’s no wonder Holland quotes Dallin Oaks in his talk. Since the death of the beloved curmudgeon, Boyd Packer, whereelse in amongst the Apostles of Jesus will he find such a repository of words that affirm and extend love? The venerable Oaks said some time ago, “I would like to hear a little more musket fire from this temple of learning.” To claim that Holland could have been speaking about any sin or offense to God would be to ignore the entire context of the totality of his talk thus far. He further referenced faculty that aren’t supporting the brethren’s stated position regarding LGBT members; he referenced Matt Easton, the BYU valedictorian who came out as gay during his commencement speech in 2019; he spoke of crying for those who “struggle” with the affliction of loving someone that doesn’t fit Holland’s own conception of what two kinds of people can experience legitimate love. Musket fire is a violent reference to mounting an opposition against, well, what must feel to him like opposition.

My wife is a huge fan of the television show Queer Eye and a follower of ex-BYU Cosmo, Charlie Bird. If people like Jeffrey Holland think they are about to be violently opposed by an army well-dressed, energetic, and truly kind people, Holland’s tears can only be for how little he actually knows or cares to know about individuals like Matt Easton and Charlie Bird. And I must be careful not to make objects of these men as I throw stones at some old pharisees sitting in Moses’s seat. I’m likely to fail in that regard.

Holland’s expression of tears for LGBTQ individuals is based the preposition he perpetually posits that they “struggle with” or are “afflicted by” same sex attraction. He continually assumes that it is a struggle. I’m sure it is a struggle, not because of the feelings experienced, but because of the world in which they are wont to experience them. What I really heard Holland saying was: “The whole world wants to include and embrace these wonderful people just as they are! Well, the whole world doesn’t know what include means. If I could just get them to shut up, feel ashamed, and change so I’m comfortable with them, we could include them, finally!”

Holland even brazenly declares:

“So, it is with scar tissue of our own that we are trying to avoid — and hope all will try to avoid — language, symbols, and situations that are more divisive than unifying at the very time we want to show love for all of God’s children.”

Do I really need to point out the irony of the language and symbols this man of God has already employed just breaths earlier? What about the situations he’s promoting that do and will divide? Simple chalk art meant to unify were destroyed in a “situation” inspired by HIM! Parents unable to include their LGBT children in their family, even deliberately and cruelly telling them they are not welcome, yet blame the child for not including themselves. “Don’t expect to stay the night or go out in public with us…we love you!”

If you want everyone else to be inclusive, and preach as if you have little left to learn about it, why don’t you old codgers demonstrate how you’d like everyone else to act. You’re blaming everyone else for being divisive and claiming that you and your bigoted buddy Oaks and the other apostles are somehow blameless, full of caring and inclusivity. You’ll blame a faculty member for being divisive for verbally and emotionally supporting a gay student. Why is he/she being divisive by your definition? Because, as you said earlier, “our next best achievement will be to stay in harmony with the Lord’s anointed.” Unfortunately, when your morals and commandments are offered to you in tablet form, whatever God says is moral, be it genocide or stoning to death for wearing clothing made of of mixed fabrics. God’s word is moral even if its murder. Holland speaks believing he is one of Jesus’s anointed servants and to do so is the same as God, himself, speaking. By extension, anything other than following the brethren is divisive.

Jeff, can you really say the following with a straight face? “Too often the world has been unkind, in many instances crushingly cruel, to these our brothers and sisters.” Ahh! Your favorite nemesis and convenient scapegoat–the World. Isn’t your speech precisely one of these crushingly cruel instances? You would shift the burden of blame for what you are saying the environment created by others. You’re not wrong: the world has been historically cruel to these, our brothers and sisters. But you fail to claim your own responsibility in this. At best, you don’t care to do so; at worst, you shift the blame to God. “I’m only speaking what God tells me to…otherwise I weep for you.”

Not to put violence aside: let’s bring it back up and then give license to the Deznats of the church and those who feel a need to audition for their ranks. “Musket fire? Yes, we will always need defenders of the faith.” Just make sure that you don’t injure “the church, its leaders and some of our colleagues within the university community.” That’s the real “tragedy” and, yes, he used the word, “tragedy.” Not regarding the excluded teens that find life so unbearable that Utah’s teen suicide rate is among the highest in the country. Not tragic that students who want a place in the church and at Jesus’s flagship University of Inclusivity, BYU, leave heartbroken and often with their hard-earned college credits frozen. No. The tragedy that makes Jeff cry is when “the church and its leaders” are wounded by unpopularity.

“There are better ways to move toward crucially important goals in these very difficult matters — ways that show empathy and understanding for everyone while maintaining loyalty to prophetic leadership and devotion to revealed doctrine. My brethren have made the case for the metaphor of musket fire, which I have endorsed yet again today.” (emphasis added) NOTHING about following Jesus and letting the sinless cast a first stone. Nothing about inclusivity. Just another reminder to fall in line. But, isn’t that inclusivity?

There was never a moment when I felt Holland was about to shift gears or truly inspire anyone to make an inclusive gesture as simple as chalk art. That resounding, simple act came from the goodness of people without prophetic incitement. If you want to know who you incited, Jeff, it was the hideously cruel, presumable BYU student declaring the eternal destination of those who, like David simply loved a person of their own gender as they loved their own soul. Or, greater than the love he had for a woman. (1 Samuel 18, 2 Samuel 1).

The only thing Holland loves as much as a woman may be BYU. In addition to earlier affirmations, he quotes another beacon of inclusion:

In his discourse, President Kimball used the word “unique” eight times, and “special” eight times. It seems clear to me in my 73 years of loving it that BYU will become an “educational Mt. Everest” only to the degree it embraces its uniqueness, its singularity. We could mimic every other university in the world until we got a bloody nose in the effort and the world would still say, “BYU who?” No, we must have the will to stand alone, if necessary

Under the talk’s long, inquisitory shadow, my wife’s (and mine, technically) ward carried out their long-planned inclusion Sunday. Several weeks ago they issued a survey to members asking questions about inclusion and how included/welcome each individual felt at church. I responded honestly and without vitriol. This Sunday meeting had been planned for several weeks and I’m sure the well-meaning leaders were blind-sided with Holland’s words. My wife’s sister sure was. Her husband had to continually remind her that Holland’s tone and message were not new, however. This is the modus operandi for the church as long as I can remember with regards to LGBT. It’s been attempting to cleverly disguise itself as temporally impotent and even changing (they like to say, “ongoing restoration”) entity for the last few years. With some ups and downs, permissions and reversions, they have managed to avoid alienating the last of the really decent members. This talk back-tracked a great deal–Proposition 8, sneaky handbook refusals to baptize children of same-sex parents, and BYU acceptance to witch-hunt reversal toward LGBT students notwithstanding. Or, perhaps, they’d simply managed to get to us stop thinking about it. Nothing trumps a good, old scandal like a good, new scandal!

What would I say on inclusion Sunday? I thought about this for several days, even after the Bishop told me not to worry about it…though he would like to hear my thoughts on the subject after-the-fact. This refusal was probably a good thing because, after Holland’s remarks, I don’t think I could have shown much respect. But, even respectfully disagreeing can be a problem for most Mormons I know. Most monotheists I know, when encountering disagreement revert to their default setting which is to feel and respond as if personally attacked. Even and especially much of my family, some of which seem to be very progressive and open-minded in how they present themselves, bristle at disagreements over the proper wording to tell someone that a girl is fourteen years old. What’s more interesting is that, in line with Holland’s attitude, I am permitted to disagree with Jesus, but if I suggest that Holland or Oaks or any of the prophets, past or present, are wrong or cruel or bigoted, they always come to the defense. Jesus can be disagreed with and disparaged, but not the Lord’s anointed. “There’s a covenant for that.”

I didn’t attend the meeting though I tuned in online. Due to the online link timing out at noon, the end of the meeting was cut-off. All I heard was the first speaker, a counselor in the bishopric, and the Relief Society president who spoke immediately following. (I learned later that the Bishop and Stake President both addressed the congregation as well). As a fellow exmo friend who also watched the meeting commented: they like to talk about inclusion as a concept but they don’t want to talk about the real, tangible issues that people are dealing with. I agree, particularly regarding the first speaker who toed the party line with the deftness of a skilled if frightened ballerina. The second speaker, in lieu of Holland, demonstrated that the rank-and-file members are good people trying to genuinely follow a loving version of Jesus but whose hands and hearts are tied to sustaining the prophets at the low cost of their personal integrity and moral decency.

When I share this with the Bishop, I’ll edit but, essentially, here are my thoughts on inclusion in the Mormon environment:

I think you need to ask yourself what you mean by “inclusion.” I think the church has commandeered the word for its own purposes because it sounds Christ-like, but you don’t really know what it means outside of your bubble. The word is thrown about like candy at a parade. Elder Holland spoke about it yet failed at even demonstrating an iota of it. He blatantly and proudly contradicted himself while letting all the blame settle on everyone else for failing in it. Like the word inconceivable, “You keep using [it]. I do not think it means what you think it means.” A word that hits closer to the mark for Mormons is “assimilation” which implies “conformity.” Your intentions may be impeccable and even godly, but if we really analyze what you mean–i.e. how you plan or attempt to be inclusive–what you really mean is assimilation.

Inclusion not only implies but demands “making room” for new and different ideas. Just having someone in the same room is necessary but not sufficient to claim inclusivity–perhaps it’s not even necessary. A physical, mental, and emotional space must be conceived of and implemented, where people want to be and feel safe, welcome, and appreciated. Not appreciated for the imprint of their rear on a cheap, fabric chair, but for contributing even a contrary view to the discussion and direction of the organization. A place where they are heard even if they are in opposition. Otherwise, why would they make time and invest emotionally to be with you?

If you want them to come, ask yourself “Why do I want them here?” Is it because you think you have something they need? If they don’t want what you have then do you really want what’s best for them, or do you want what makes you feel better about yourself? I’ve been in bishopric meetings and trained bishops as a High Councilor to utilize something referred to as the New and Returning Members Progress Form. We were taught to ask, “What’s the next ordinance for this person and how do we get them to it?” If they don’t want what you are offering but you insist on persisting, then you are making them an object of your devotion. You have a format to follow in “including” them that, by it’s very nature, is a tool to “assimilate” them. The very website that introduces this form on LDS.org states: “Ward council members help strengthen new and returning members in the ward.” The assumption is very clear that you need to create an environment of inclusion to get people in the door so that you, who knows how to strengthen them, can strengthen them.

Do you view them as “in need” of being with you on Sunday? Why? The foundation of your entire discussion on inclusion is divisive. It is coming from a place of arrogance and conceit. “I have something you need. You are broken and here, with us in this sterile church building, you can be fixed.” Now, you add quickly, “We are all broken and need to be fixed,” to somehow seem less condescending. You truly believe that ONLY your church is Jesus’s established church with God’s authority. The first speaker during inclusion Sunday said almost exactly this!

The admonition of Isaiah to “enlarge the place of your tent” ought to be taken quite literally as well as figuratively. We are not simply making space within an enclosure by extending its physical borders, but also by expanding our minds and hearts to take in those seeking community without utter annihilation of their personality. If we are all broken, as Mormons love to remind us, then making space for the broken without expectation of them mending in the way we see fit, is true inclusion. We see lines being shorn, borders drawn tighter, and the wings of Jesus’s proverbial “hen” metaphor, made smaller and more particular. Wouldn’t we rather see wings spreading to include the adulteress, the pharisee, and the other who’s practice of romantic love may seem foreign to us? They need not squeeze and compress into the small-minded, strict thinking manner of Mormonism.

How can you preach inclusion after Holland’s talk? He’ll be anathematized within a couple of years of his death and this entire speech disregarded and even disparaged as “words of men.” Except, you can’t do that while he’s alive. So you perpetuate the cycle of hate and exclusion–assimilation masquerading as inclusion. And if his words are not condoned by Russell Nelson, then the Prophet’s silence on the matter is as good as consent. And then, when he does die, the words and attitude will be so ingrained in a new generation of believers, his words may be anathema, but the culture of exclusion will not be.

Do you, Bishop, see what he and others like him have done? Just like you would make an object out of someone for the sake of inclusion, he is making an object out of you for the purpose of conformity to his antiquated and hateful opinions. You will “follow the prophet” with a well-practiced, conjured smile, affirmations of devotion to and gratitude for living apostles–until he dies. Will breath a sigh of relief when he is gone and you can go on to really loving and including as your basic, innate morality is suggesting to you through the bitter haze of dogmatic conditioning? This episode simply confirms to me that for good people to do wickedly, you need religion. Within a day of Holland’s talk, we saw it and heard it from the most BYU-looking male you’re likely to see.

Holland speaks of crying tears for these people but they are not tears for the environment of hate, derision, and exclusion that He–yes, the Apostle of Jesus–and the church have promoted for ages. Nor are they for the pain and loneliness and self-hate countless individuals have experienced. It’s not entirely the Brethren’s fault alone, but they haven’t been on the side of progress. No. His tears are because of the mounting social pressure he feels. His sorrow is for himself, not for the LGBT individuals he uses to his own end. He and his fellow apostles mourn because the others “sinning” frightens him though, it’s not because it does him any real harm. And, if he cried for any perceived harm to himself, his tears are absolutely selfish.

Why do you want me here?

It will be good for me.

Conceit, condescension, and judgment toward and of others. It validates your assurance that you’re in the one true church. It has nothing to do with what’s really good for me, and it seeks no understanding of me. When I was freshly into my disaffection from the church, I asked to be released as first counselor in the bishopric and eagerly assumed my seat in the pews with my family. I continued to attend with my wife and children. I said nothing. I didn’t pray. I contributed little other than a few BTU’s of body heat and some carbon dioxide into the stale, chapel air. In short, I acted precisely how a recently disfellowshipped brother behaved–silent presence within the carpeted walls. Not one person asked me what what going on–not a single one.

Several months later I heard from a non-Mormon co-worker that a mutual friend who was a Mormon had told her that everyone at church thought I had committed adultery. And the person I’d done so with, was named. This was, apparently, the scuttlebutt of the ward, from people I’d served with and with whom I’d worked, played, and prayed. NO ONE asked me but they assumed. My wife felt this and said of that time that she “wanted to disappear.”

You can’t know what’s good for someone if you don’t ask them and, when you do ask, you will find out that you do not know what is good for them despite your assurances of personal, divine favor.

We want you with us.

Why? because it makes you feel better about YOUR decision to be here. You need the confirmation of others presence to validate your own choice to be here. In the 1993 comedy, “Dave,” the man, Dave, suddenly acting as President of the United States, finds out that there is a federally funded program designed to bolster consumer confidence in their previously purchased, domestically manufactured automobile. That’s what this kind of inclusion feels like. My silent presence at church, like Nelson’s silence regarding Holland’s talk, somehow provides validation. Nelson’s silence validates Holland’s message; my silent presence at church validates your own decision to devote your life to Mormonism. Yes, I think this is exactly what happens for many member. It’s about them feeling good about a decision they already made.

We are to invite everyone to come unto Christ.

It’s about you, again. I’m an object of your devotion. If you really cared for me you would ask me about myself, what I believe and why. You wouldn’t judge me as wrong out of the gate, in need of fixing or healing at your hands which work in the place of Jesus’s hands. I’m here so you can fill out your periodic reports to Salt Lake City that you had a “less-active” member in church and that you have his/her name on a New and Returning Member Progress form.

Inclusion does not put one person or their beliefs above that of the person they are trying to include.

A word about the kid erasing chalk art and using horrible slurs. He, and many like him, have been waiting for this moment. The dog-whistles sounded after some time in which only society clamoring for real inclusion and love of LGBT individuals could be heard. He’s relieved. He won’t care if society at large vilifies him. He finds solace in the idea that “the wicked take the truth to be hard.” And, that sometimes you have to “dare to stand alone.”

I’m not suggesting every group needs to make room for everyone. If you don’t like chess, don’t join a chess club. Every club and every “click” is not for everyone. Interests are diverse as are personalities. But if you are going to position yourself as representative of Jesus, proselytize, and demand inclusivity of everyone, you ought to actually practice it yourselves.

Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church

If you are looking for a repository of absolute truth, unalterable mental meanderings, or in-amendable sophistry I suggest you stick to your favorite house of worship with its preferred texts and energetic spokesmen. One of the beauties of empirical science and philosophy are their willingness to be censored and amended. Not long ago, I didn’t see it that way. I felt that knowledge or wisdom failing to stand up to the scrutiny and competition of new and better data was a glaring weakness. An idea or affirmation should stand on its own merits and, if it does not, deserves to be cast aside under the appropriate pressure of new, better-supported theories. The dichotomy of the faith-affirming mind is it’s tendency to believe in this standard of evidence while remaining so devoted to its affirmations that it refuses to see or hear new, contrary information. Both reason and faith espouse the superiority of ideas that withstand the test of time. The difference being that reason would seem not only open to but eager to be proven correct in the face of contrary facts or inconsistent dogma. It would not disregard new data because it makes claims on probability, not on feelings.

Leaving a theory open to amendment or falsification is not a weakness, it is an incredible strength! A researcher will often declare ahead of time what criteria or finding will nullify their hypothesis. Theories are, by definition, subject to revision and even negation. Any idea that leaves itself open to being disproven also permits itself to be proven right while not making itself a prisoner of its own conceit. Theories are expressions of confidence based on repeated demonstrations of accuracy. Ask a theist what would cause them to renounce their belief. For most of them, nothing could do so. Ask a scientist what would disprove evolution or ask an atheist what would induce them to believe in god. Even at their most evasive, they will simply and honestly reply, “I don’t know.”

As a Mormon missionary, we had an entire discussion with potential converts regarding the changing knowledge and wisdom of men. We actually talked about how the prevailing theories of a flat earth or geocentric dogmas in science and religion in the past were evidence of damning inadequacy. Societal disagreements regarding race, gender, and sexuality provided proof that we needed divine revelation now more than ever. We appropriated the stories of men like Galileo for our own purpose, oblivious to any self-effacing irony. We relished the fact that the Roman Catholic Church convicted the 16th and 17th century Italian astronomer of heresy for challenging the prevailing scientific model and official church dogma of geocentrism. Based on the evidence and future observation, science caught up with his theory much more quickly than the representatives of an omniscient deity. And that was precisely the problem we Mormons wanted to capitalize upon…so long as the potential convert or committed adherent didn’t look behind the curtain.

One of these individuals is the greedy, narcissistic leader of a toxic empire and the result of the deranged creation of men trying to make money on a stupid idea sold for popular consumption. The other is a popular cartoon character from a comedic television show.

You see, we wanted it both ways. We wanted to use science when it suited us and spurn it when it did not. The merry example of the corrupt, Catholic church being so dependent upon their dogma as to refute science and imprison and silence its brightest minds to protect their authority as arbiters of truth helped us promote the idea of all religion having “fallen away” truth and into apostasy. The Mormon prophet now is the Mr. Burns-esque figure of Russell Nelson. By any account, Nelson’s medical career is one of phenomenal accomplishment and well-earned accolades, appointments, and honors. Perhaps he didn’t find it fulfilling and the call to church service was a welcome one. As an apostle and church president, he has overseen the acquisition of numerous pieces of valuable real estate, defined the “M-word” that offends God, and convinced destitute people all over the developing world that the cure for poverty is to dutifully pay a full tithing to the hundred-billion dollar church investment empire over which he presides. We could speculate on the thousands of lives he would have saved or improved as a talented if unfulfilled surgeon and the many millions of lives other hands down the line would have saved from techniques or technologies he pioneered. But why save people’s hearts when you can save their souls? His expertise as a man of god extends to economics as, from his Ivory Tower and sacrosanct pulpit, he so genuinely extorts the impoverished with prosperity-gospel guarantees. The LDS church PR machine makes big news about donating some $9 Million dollars to the NAACP while quietly purchasing, in the same week, a $148,000,000 Marriot resort on Maui.

It’s not Mormon’s, alone, that conveniently choose which scientific theories they will reject and which they will commandeer. I’m no expert on logical fallacies–you may find many within my writing–but I believe the tendency to take ideas or data that support your position while rejecting any that do not, is simply and colloquially referred to as Cherry Picking. One of the most prevalent examples of this from apologists is with regard to The Fine Tuning Argument. Herein, the apologist takes the scientific observation that the values we observe for gravity, the expansion of the universe, the weak and strong nuclear forces, the mass of electrons, protons, and neutrons are so precise that should just one of them be changed by infinitesimal, almost inconceivable amounts, life as we know it would not be possible. For them, this scientific conclusion demonstrates, conclusively, that God is the author of the universe! Forget the fact that we cannot, outside of mathematical proof, actually demonstrate that such variance would be incompatible with life–theists love it! Forget that they have yet to demonstrate the existence of deity; they inductively conclude that not only is a god outside of space and time the cause but, from that assertion, they are capable of deducing this deity’s mind and will and are sanctioned–even commanded–to tell everyone else how to live their life.

The scientists such as Stephen Hawking who have described this incredible degree of complexity and the perception of fine-tuning have not gone so far as to postulate a deity to fill-in the gaps of understanding. Humans need an explanation so badly for every happening that we will make up a bad one rather than persist in not knowing a why. Deity provides a convenient deus ex machina, not only here, but in every explanation for every natural occurrence. Theists have gone from explaining lightening, earthquakes, plagues, and every disorder of mind and body as the active punishment of God to the passive, benign, but equally deferential “will of God.” He didn’t cause them but he could have prevented them. Except he didn’t. And the death of millions of children from the lack of clean drinking water to abuse at the hands of God’s anointed is so apathetically dismissed with the trite refrain, “God works in mysterious ways” that even I begin to wonder how I could ever have said such a hideous thing!

The God of monotheists went from a being who used his corporeal finger write the Ten Commandments after speaking with Moses with the equally corporeal description, face to face, to a being who exists outside of space and time. The Nicene being without body parts or passions becomes more critical than ever. The infinite regress of God’s existence is cleverly ignored or refuted by an equally unknowable assertion that God does not exist within space and time. Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, offered an interesting perspective on the tendency of humans to perceive fine tuning in the universe. 

“Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!”

–Douglas Adams

While the religious often appropriate science for their purposes (I was taught to as a missionary), they have become adept at also rejecting any claim it makes that doesn’t fit their inviolable, bronze-age mythos. Two of the most consistently confirmed, testable theories of biological science, Germ Theory and Evolution, find their only opposition from the religious. What is obvious when you discuss either theory with a believer, is that they do not know what they don’t believe any better than they know what they claim to believe. Ask a Catholic to what the “immaculate conception” refers. Chances are you, the reader, are incorrect. Look it up! It’s easy to find and well-defined by Catholicism. I also have found that an atheist is more likely than a Christian to know the correct answer to “what is the immaculate conception?”

A recent, person experience for me involved my chiropractor. In the middle of the COViD pandemic he quietly and in all sincerity whispered to me with a conspiratorial smile, that “we both know masks don’t work.” As a dentist, I have worn one daily for my protection even before it was mandated for everyone. In shock that one of my health care providers would say something like this, I was also not surprised to hear it from someone who’s profession is rife with devotion to homeopathy and promises of cancer cures that result directly from realignment of the spine. When he explained that one of the men who first postulated Germ Theory recanted it on his death bed, I realized that the spirit of Theocracy and its attendant, desperate desire to force recantation from heretics or slyly interpret their final words as a recantation of heresy, is alive and well even in the twenty-first century. Said chiropractor, at my dubious expression, explained that its not germs that get us, it’s something called “host theory” in which the host must be susceptible to disease and that alone is why some get sick and some do not. I challenged him in that moment to enter a closed room with me. I get a KN-95 mask and he has nothing. Tuberculosis is then released into the air of the shared space. How strongly does he believe Germ Theory is a hoax in that situation? I might have gone with condoms and HIV, but we simply aren’t that close…not yet.

He balked, back-tracked, and mumbled some deflective statement but, unfortunately, did not recant. Perhaps on his death bed as many COViD-deniers, gravely ill in their final moments, gasping for breath, have done to their caretakers. What actually bothers me most regarding this entire exchange is that my chiropractor doesn’t know what he doesn’t believe. A susceptible host is a key component of Germ Theory along with a route of transmission and a viable infective agent, or “germ”. Coronavirus wants human cells to infect. I’m human, and cannot change that. What I can do is make the route of transmission a greater obstacle for the virus with a mask. Who do we see in this country claiming masks are an outrage? The religious right. Friends and family in the south and in the Mormon, Intermountain West, confirm to me that there exists a large, vocal subset among whom the prevailing ethos is that mask mandates are a breach of their rights and by extension, religiously discriminatory or even blasphemous.

Akin to this is the Catholic church’s campaign against condoms, opens a route of transmission for the HIV virus in Africa. Not just amongst the sexually promiscuous but in the babies born with it due to the piety of their parents who’s sin of adultery was far less preventable and damning than the life of a child that will be damned to suffer from a disease that is often very preventable in the neonate. While children born in wealthy, western societies have access to expensive medical treatments, the already destitute child born in Africa of an HIV positive mother is almost certainly damned to a short and horrible existence.

Even more fundamentally, the disdain of the Theory of Evolution, most often bares its ironically maladapted head in discussions of the origins of life. How many times have you heard seemingly eloquent and well-educated people of faith aver, “Humans didn’t evolve from monkeys!” Some hit a bit closer to our own DNA profile by saying chimp instead of monkey. However, both statements are actually technically correct though the speaker is wrong in their own understanding. Evolutionary theory does NOT teach that humans evolved from monkeys or chimps. In this, the speaker, quite unwittingly, declares a demonstrable fact of evolutionary theory. The problem is, like the immaculate conception or germ theory, many with firm opinions on the matter do not know that what they have so confidently decided upon. They think evolution makes the case that humans did, indeed, evolve from a primate we see today like chimps or another ape. They even go so far as to say, “If humans evolved from chimps, why are there still chimps?” I’m not here to teach evolution and many of the the religious seem incapable of teaching it let alone comprehending it. The fact remains that they willfully remain ignorant of the theories they deny and in so doing acknowledge that the theory is an actual threat to their faith. Having lost their monopoly on teaching and affirming facts of nature, they now must fearfully, if not silently, watch the last corner of their moral soap box disintegrate.

There is a great difference in trusting a book or another human and in trusting a process. The process of scientific enquiry is trustworthy not only because it has been demonstrated to work, but because part of how it works is by being open to amendment–We can trust it because it will let us know if it is wrong. Trusting a man or a book as infallible or, if fallible, still excusable in their failing, is not only sufficient, but also necessary for cults and tyrannies to rise from their predecessors ruins or even from utter obscurity. Faith, that most exhausted and counterfeit ideal to be named a virtue, makes credulity respectable in its vast shadow.

Rather than trust that our current understanding is dynamic and always improving with modification and clarification and that such a position is perfectly alright, the faithful only trust unanswerable questions that pose no threat to their paradigm. When Jesus supposedly placed the mantle of leadership upon the broad, fisherman’s shoulders, he told Peter that “upon this rock I will build my church.” Catholics claim this meant that Peter, himself, was to be the cornerstone and foundation of the church he would build in his fulfillment of the law of Moses. Mormons claim that the teaching in the verses previous to Christ’s “upon this rock” declaration is that revelation is the rock upon which the church would be built. Thus the need for living prophets and the string of con artists to take up the mantle since Joseph Smith. If there is one universally applicable and unifying tenet of all religion is its un-falsifiability. Jesus may as well have told his chosen apostles that he would build his church upon the rock of the lack of contrary evidence. Both the claims of divine appointment and equally arrogant claims of being receptacles of divine revelation cannot be disproven. The other side to the coin that never lands “up” when a theist pulls it from their pocket is that neither has any man managed to demonstrate their claims to such lofty posts.

Hitchen’s Razor has become an easy standard for those of us who believe a claim should stand on its own merits not just the bombast or confidence with which it is spoken. The absence of contrary evidence to supernatural claims is not in and of itself evidence for the claim.

That which can be affirmed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

–Christopher Hitchens

Consider the unanswerable question regarding life after death. This may be the penultimate mystery upon which a theist builds their faith. How many, facing the death of a loved one or their own passing, hasn’t wondered at or even hoped for life beyond the grave? One cannot be blamed for hoping for another moment with loved ones who passed, particularly those who’s death was premature. The religious double-think on salvation is also curious to behold. The believer’s son who rejected Christ, who abused his wife and kids, and who died in an alcohol related car accident that claimed the lives of two children may, nevertheless, be “saved.” The same believer who claims the grace of God and salvation for their wayward son offers no grace to those currently living who, despite their best efforts, cannot find the credulity to believe in Jesus. A physician who volunteers her time to community service needs saving so desperately because she was seen reading a book by Richard Dawkins! And she needs saving before she dies! Otherwise, her time is up! Debts will be called due and Jesus won’t be able to make the payment when his name never fell from her lips. I’ve been on the faithful end of this conversation, and I’ve been the atheist doctor as well albeit with a “Y” chromosome.

I don’t begrudge these parents their need for hope. Over seventy years, their entire world-view has been built upon hope of Christian salvation. Unlearning or deprogramming was difficult for me as a 35 year-old man. The entirety of religious history seems to have been formed by mankind’s need to explain the unexplained. Shakespeare described death well in one of his most well-known soliloquies, musing “that the dread of something after death,” is common among men because it is an “undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveler returns.” He admits to the un-verifiability of life after death–a journey we must all make but, for which, no one can claim certainty regarding the destination. And considering a sample size of zero, any likely probability is impossible to substantiate. But that doesn’t keep the frocked from claiming their certainty!


The belief in this afterlife in which a person will see all their deceased relatives, friends, even pets, and get to meet the long deceased, epileptic narcissists that they call prophets, is unfalsifiable. Anyone can claim to have knowledge of anything, but unless it is open to empirical review and testable by indifferent, third parties, no on can add any degree of legitimacy to their claim–be it alien abduction, visions of angels, near-death experiences, or witnessing miracles that defy our notions of natural law. I’ve ridden a unicorn to the city of Atlantis: A benign claim that would make the most credulous among us scoot farther away on the subway. What matters is when the claim carries the claimant into the realm of speaking for deity and demanding control over the minds or actions of other fellow primates. Those who make extraordinary claims have only one logical determinant on their side: in most cases of extraordinary claims, no one can prove that what they claim did not happen or is not real. Like Bertrand Russell’s teapot, we can’t prove it isn’t there. For the believer in supernatural, eternal beings, their God’s existence and the reality of an afterlife can’t be proved–or, at least, has yet to be. The alleged apostle Paul made a faithful refutation scriptural when he drearily taught that without faith we can’t please God. The strength of their conviction comes not from evidence but from clinging to the fact that their God’s existence cannot be falsified.

They care less, if at all, about positive evidence for their claim yet irrevocably place the entire burden of their faith upon the lack of evidence that could refute it. “Is there any position a person could not take on faith?” Matt Dillahunty often asks on the Atheist Experience call-in show. The answer is, “No.” And most callers will admit this because most callers have the vestiges of an understanding of logic. Public school hasn’t utterly failed them despite the religious’ attempts to commandeer it. Unfortunately, most callers understand logic only insofar as it applies to everyone else’s unverifiable claims. Their own faith, however, is a case of special pleading because, well, it is special. In the eyes of the Evangelical: Islamist, Mormon, and Eastern religions are all falsifiable. Catholicism is three-fourths correct and Judaism may be half-right. But to be wrong even in the slightest is to be completely in apostasy or aligned with the repugnant gentiles.

The reality to which I slowly became aware as a rosy-lensed Mormon is that an overwhelming majority of religious claims throughout history have been falsified and only adapted under immense secular pressure. While many historical aspects of scriptural stories are accurate with regard to places, people, culture, and events, the miraculous are often refutable by evidence and probability. But their foundations, the belief in an unseeable God and a blissful afterlife cannot. And in this age of rapid scientific progress, the existence of God and an afterlife are the pillars of faith that remain because they cannot be negated by any information we have or that we might even imaging acquiring in the future. Upon this rock they must place the entirety of their hope which, as they love to profess, cometh of faith.

While there are some differences in Atheists and Agnostics, the majority of both take the stance that when a claim is made that affirms the reality of a being, the burden of proof resides on the maker of the claim. We are simply not convinced. Our stance is a default position until reliable evidence is presented to support a claim. Theists believe the burden of proof is upon the people who are not convinced due to lack of evidence rather than upon themselves and their affirmations despite the absence of any evidence. Why should we be surprised when they also believe that the Sun stood still in the sky without any attendant cataclysmic events. And any evidence that they require as a standard for belief, trust, and action in any other area of their life need not apply to how they evaluate the truth claims of their religion.

Only…ask them if they believe in unicorns…

Fine tuning and the moral argument, among others, are thought provoking rationalities for the existence of deity. What they are not, is evidence. They may involve clever deductive or inductive reasoning but they could care less about habeas corpus. Convenient that there is no resurrected Jesus to examine. Convenient that the Mormon’s haven’t access to “the gold plates” from which their scripture was “translated.” Nevertheless, proponents fall back on arguments like fine-tuning or the moral argument eagerly if not in desperation. All-the-while, they easily dismiss scriptural evidence that the god they worship is a sadistic narcissist. They proclaim him to be a god of love when he clearly states in his sacrosanct, approved text that he is a jealous god who answers disbelief upon the head of generations beyond the offender.

Coming upon the heels of his policy failure surrounding the great flood, the god of Israel decided to choose one tribe and make a nation of them. Rather than destroy everyone, he would use this chosen people to wipe out entire races. Why? For the reason Mel Gibson gives as the title character in the 1994 film, Maverick. Of the Native Americans, Maverick jokingly declares that he tries to kill one [Native American] every day. His justification: for them “being on [white man’s] land before we got here.”

Despite the fact that those with the greatest to gain from it, well-funded Israeli archeologists have not found one jot or tittle of evidence for the Exodus story. Perhaps piously, perhaps innately, perhaps professionally, these researchers have chosen not to bear false witness to evidence or attempt to substitute the trivial or unfounded as authentication of their tribe’s mythology. If the “Exodus” story teaches us anything, it is that the god of the Old Testament eagerly utilizes plagues to reach one of two ends. The first goal would be to humble someone or an entire people enough to bend them to his will, using torture to permit free will to play out. Or, secondly, he may punish and destroy those who do not accept and cow to his will. Even if the story is no more than mythology, the lessons taken are intended to be the epitome of morality and godliness. Consider the example of the Christian missionary, John Allen Chau, who died at the hands of those he to whom he was determined to proselytize. The Sentinelese, an indigenous tribe inhabiting an island in the far east Bay of Bengal, had already attempted to kill him once but failed when, miraculously, their arrow struck the Bible he carried. Having already willfully neglected not only the warnings and advice of others but the law of India as well, he proceeded to land his boat on their shore for a third attempt at preaching Jesus to them. He knew that death was a real possibility and, I suspect he also realized that the foreign microbes he carried and to which his immune system had evolved to combat posed a genuine threat to these people. It’s no surprise that our species has an innate fear of outsiders when they often bring disease and death with them.

Such was Chau’s conviction that he was right in his belief, that the risk to himself was nothing. How could the Indian government claim any authority to prevent him from preaching the Good News when he was on God’s errand? If he considered the danger contact with him would pose to the Sentinelese lives, we have no record. No doubt the arrow that struck his Bible confirmed to him his Godly errand and the words of Isaiah echoed in his head, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” (Isaiah 54:17) He would attempt to communicate with them and, if he was lucky or blessed, would succeed. The gift of tongues is a thing…right? Undoubtedly, he would share a refined and virulent microbiome. Language and immune systems evolve divergently but susceptibility to disease needs no translation. Anyway, their deaths were a small price to pay so long as they could hear about an obscure preacher from two-thousand years ago. What is un-falsified Germ Theory against the power of my un-verifiable God?

One might translate the Christian, proselytizing ethos to: it’s better to make a child an orphan than to allow its parents to “serve other gods.” We are so convinced that god will protect you from our diseases and us from your arrows, that we will go forward in faith. If I happen to die, that’s God’s will. If you die, at least your heard his word and can now be condemned to hell for it. And if your kids have to be raised without a mother or father as a result, well, that is God’s will too. And believe me, he loves them so much, it must be good for them.


While we may refute a great deal of a person’s beliefs, their faith is founded upon claims we cannot hope to falsify.
I say this as a once devout and utterly convinced Mormon: Joseph Smith’s claims are ridiculous. The Kinderhook Plates are a verified fraud. The Book of Abraham is an even greater example of Joseph’s con. Despite the divinely translated record declaring that it was “Written by his own hand,” no credible examiner of the original documents–who is not a Mormon themselves–has concluded that Joseph’s story about their translation could be correct. Now, contrary to the declaration of the book itself to have been written by Abraham’s own hand, we are told that maybe the common funerary text simply acted as a catalyst to inspire Joseph to translate.

Joseph even claimed to produce an “inspired translation” of portions of the Old and New Testament. Research out of Mormon flagship university, BYU, concluded that “it is arguable that [Adam] Clarke is the primary source Smith used” to make inspired changes to the King James Bible. Not revelation from God, in other words.

The Book of Mormon is not respected by ANYONE as a book of history of ANY people that lived in the pre-Columbian Americas. (I had a patient that once upon a time who spent over forty years as a professor of North and South American anthropology. I once carefully brought up the Book of Mormon and needed smelling salts to bring his rolled eyes back to facing forward.) Being considered “the keystone of [their] religion, the Book of Mormon may be the hill Mormon’s choose to die on. In 2009, Mormon Apostle, Jeffrey Holland, offered a stirring and rousing sermon on the divinity of The Book of Mormon. During a diatribe in which doubters and skeptics were called foolish for being unconvinced, he proceeded to make the case for the book based entirely on its un-falsifiability.

For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator.

Jeffrey R. Holland

Upon this rock, I will build my church. How appropriate, unmoving and unthinking. To borrow from an old Chevrolet truck ad-campaign: “Like a Rock.” Holland commits a fallacy here, essentially a false dichotomy in which he asserts that, since another explanation has not been proven correct (by his pathetic, faith-addled standard) then ONLY his explanation could possibly be an alternative. All of it, however, rests on the foundation of un-falsifiability.

Joseph not only lied, he was a compulsive liar. Consider polygamy in which his spouse was kept in the dark for years and, just shortly before his death, he publicly declared that he’d been accused of polygamy but, (see the pattern) since no one could prove it, he could confidently affirm that he “could find only one.” The Mormon temple rituals are simply appropriated from already bizarre, male-centric Masonic rites. It helps to claim that they were inspired, godly rituals to endow mortals with the power to become gods. It helps even more that no one can prove they weren’t inspired. Despite his long history of deceit or incompetence, most of my family hope to meet Joseph in heaven and thank him for his dedication to “restoring” the gospel.


The afterlife…their yearning and hope for and faith in an afterlife that cannot be verified. Yet this dream accounts for such a large contribution to their faith that they will disregard all else. Nothing, NO THING!, could be given credence enough to call their faith into question. The belief proves it, and that is enough to build their life upon it.

What’s In a Name?

I don’t like the circumcision of my name. When I was a kid, being called Pete didn’t bother me. Only a couple of my friends did it anyway. Here’s the thing, I don’t get angry or offended when someone calls me Pete. For some, it’s a term of endearment, for others it’s just their way. To be honest, the only time my name was used in derision was when someone called me Peter. If you can’t guess why, I’m guessing you were never in public or private middle school America.

I suppose I’ve reached a place of self-confidence and self-acceptance that the juvenile joke doesn’t bother me. I used to say, “The chief apostle of Jesus was named Peter,” as if that meant something and justified or made noble the name. It was the name of two of my revered great-grandfathers. If someone is going to call me Peter to mean Penis they could do worse. After all, the name means rock or the rock. With so many men my age beginning to ask their doctors about Viagra and Cialis prescriptions, being named after something hard could be taken as a compliment. If that’s the heads side of the coin, the tails side would be the allusion to something cold and lifeless. I suppose in this case I can have it both ways.

That’s exactly what the Mormon church seems to want. But when you’re playing with the devotion of your tithe payers under the guise of being led by a prophet, I don’t think you can. Might as well claim we have always been at war with Eurasia when last year we were always at war with Eastasia. So, can you change the name of a church carte blanche? Can using the term Mormon be a delight to God and a badge of honor until 2018 only to suddenly become an offense to God and to members?

I have heard it said and seen it written by devotees: “Calling us Mormon is the same as using the N-word.”

John Mulaney’s wit and wisdom sum this point up pretty well:

Mormon prophet, Russell Nelson declared:

“It is a command of the Lord.”

“…the name of the Church is not negotiable.”

“…if we allow nicknames to be used and adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He (Jesus) is offended.”

“To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan.”

Mormon’s have been trained to cringe when the name of Jesus is uttered away from a pulpit in their church. Their own scripture from which Nelson plucked his feverishly fundamentalist interpretation and of which he has made a hobby horse for decades, also states that the highest level of the priesthood in Mormonism should be named after the great high priest, Melchizedek, from the Old Testament. The real name of the high priesthood is revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 107 to be, “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.” Why should the name be changed? The verse that immediately follows gives the answer: “out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood.”

The irony is laughable. The emasculated reminiscence of Orwell’s 1984 can’t be lost on those viewing from the outside. However, I know it is lost to those on the inside who are convinced that their Big Brother can make 2+2=5 simply by decreeing it.

The Mormon church has a long history of utilizing Newspeak and the memory hole. In response to Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful Presidential campaign, the Mormon church initiated a campaign of their own. In 2010 they began sinking hundreds of millions of dollars in a worldwide public relations effort. What was this program called? The “I Am A Mormon” campaign. From Times Square to the London underground, the LDS church placed adds depicting Mormon celebrities and ordinary members proudly declaring, “I am a Mormon!” Youtube videos and the church’s own sites published these videos.

“I sell essential oils and recruit for a large, Provo, Utah-based MLM. I am the wife of an amazing husband, father, and dentist. I like sewing and canning vegetables I grow in the garden with my five, oddly-named children. I am happy and not weird. And, I’m a Mormon.”

“My name is Randon Blooms. You might know me as the lead singer of The Murders. I’ve recorded two gold records. I have my own line of non-alcoholic sugar drinks and anti-aphrodisiac colognes. I’ve travelled the world and founded a charity. I’m married to my cool wife for time and eternity. I’m totally normal and not weird. And, I’m a Mormon.”

This has been done before. Why not? Joseph Smith, the founding father of Mormonism taught that the name Mormon meant, more good. Like Melchizedek, Mormon is the name of a prophet so great that a book of scripture bears his name. What a great way to avoid repetition of the name of the Supreme Being! Then underling apostle, Russell Nelson spoke about the name of the church in April 1990. In response, member of the church’s first presidency and senior apostle, Gordon Hinkley, gave his own talk to the church six months later, in October 1990. After affirming the revealed and proper name of the church and admitting that not only would changing the nickname be difficult, it was also unnecessary. He said, “if there is any name that is totally honorable in its derivation, it is the name Mormon.

In addition to the I Am a Mormon campaign or, rather, part of it, was a church published feature film titled, “Meet the Mormons.” (Search it yourself, I don’t want to give their website yet another external link to push it up the search queue.) For one-hundred and eighty-eight years, the church and its divinely ordained prophets embraced and promoted the use of the nickname, Mormon. A reasonable choice considering their egomaniacal God’s strange reverence for and aversion to the use of the Greek derivation of his own earthly name. From 2010 to 2018 not only was Mormon accepted, it was sold to the world under divine guidance and with outrageous marketing funds.

By the day following Nelson’s revelatory scolding to members for the long tradition of reverencing Jesus’s name despite previous prophet’s endorsement, the term Mormon became a bad word. Members now recoil at it as a “victory for Satan.” A membership already stretched thin in lay callings to support the church–leading, teaching, planning, organizing youth groups, etc–in addition to their jobs and families, they are now expected to further exhaust themselves by repeating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It is equally as exhausting to hear someone say though I must chuckle to myself at the discomfort and haste with which devoted church members seem to regurgitate the bitter cud. They would do well to take the advice of Brad Pitt’s character, Rusty, to Matt Damon’s character, Linus, in Ocean’s 11: “Don’t use seven words when four will do.”

As if members don’t have to give enough time to the church’s growth, how much do they lose with this banal and ridiculous exercise? Don’t use an eight word title when one will do. When Rusty offers the advice to Linus, it is to help him allay suspicions of the man whom he is conning–make him seem legitimate, even genuine. Ironically, that reasoning and advice apply well here. The word Mormon means something to people, for good or ill. During my time as a missionary, it seemed to predominantly have a quaint connotation for outsiders. They associated it with quirky but friendly folks who can be a bit annoying but mean no harm. Watching those quirky members try to honor their prophet’s counsel has a less favorable connotation. And outsiders aren’t stupid. They’ve seen the videos and advertisements from the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. They aren’t citizens of Oceania who have been trained to let things go down the memory hole. Mormons moved themselves from their comfortable, scriptural label of “peculiar people.” Lengthening the name has, by the very nature of it, taken them from peculiar to the forgivable but annoying, pedantic. Add to that the unforgivable, pretentious, and you’ve alienated yourselves further from a world you desperately want to be accepted into.

Ask yourself if you think it is ridiculous for God to to condemn an artistic rendering of the Prophet Mohammed be produced? Does the idea make you recoil? I hope that’s the least of your visceral reaction to such fundamentalism. What Russell Nelson and those members who went from making “I’m a Mormon” video’s on Saturday night to claiming that the use of the M-word is a victory for Satan by Sunday afternoon clearly demonstrates that fundamentalism is alive and well in Mormonism. Prophet Nelson demonstrates that either he and his predecessors have never been prophets or revelators or that their god is petty, capricious, and tinkering. If they are, indeed, revealing the mind of God, it doesn’t mean that they can’t agree, it means that their source, God, can’t agree with himself. He’s like a paranoid schizophrenic that thinks the world is out to get him! Even his covenant people. He can hear them talking about him. They’re following him! Time for another flood!

I don’t prefer the circumcision of my name and I am beginning to oppose the circumcision of the genitalia of children. But one circumcision I would support is with regards to the name of the church. Make Members-of-The-Chruch-of-Jesus-Christ-of-Latter-day-Saints Succinct Again!

Creating a God in Whom I could Believe

For all the outcry over individual mental and emotional and sexual autonomy in society, it seems that in finding shoe on the other foot we have discovered steel toes on both. Society largely agrees and vehemently declares that no one should compel another to believe anything they don’t want to. Anyone who uses societal shame to silence, de-platform, or shell any nut with an opinion is only doing what those who went before them have done. Tyrion Lannister, charming imp of the Game of Thrones series, cleverly observed that “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

Throughout history, men and women have been subjected to gruesome deaths or the very real threat of injury to life or limb for holding their own views and expressing them. Usually, their indictments and punishments came at the hands of some or other clerical bully who truly believed he had God on his side in passing and executing punishments for blasphemy or heresy. The excuse that it must be done “for the children” ought to be a red flag for any critical, free-thinking human.

The pressure to believe in god is all around me. It was in my upbringing, my marriage, the births of my children, my own devotion and faith of over thirty years. It’s programmed into my firmware and there don’t seem to be any updates beyond the age of twenty-five. About as far as I am able to take it is to reason that the belief is unfounded by any standard to which I hold any other aspect of my life. Martin Amis observed, “What one doesn’t learn from one’s parents one never learns, or learns awkwardly.” This must include the negation that whatever we learn from our parents we never unlearn or unlearn awkwardly.

I don’t exactly find myself yearning or pining for a relationship with god, but sometimes I want to believe that there is a being in control of the chaos. A creature that can really see the end from the beginning and who, with our ability to choose, allows the course of human events to play out to their natural conclusion. But that’s the extent of it. I can’t bring myself to believe in any of the gods postulated by any monotheism or the other religious traditions as I understand them. Vengeful, jealous, willing to command genocide and infanticide in his name. Eager to subject women to the superstition and sexual whims of men.

That’s not my god! It says right there in the Bible: God is love!

God punishes disbelief to the third and fourth generation. That’s not love.

You just don’t understand him. God can’t hate anyone or anything!

Have you read Proverbs 6? It clearly lists the things that your God “hates.”

Oh! That’s not what it means. He hates bad behavior!

Okay, what about Pslam 11:5? Clearly his hate is directed toward the people who exhibit bad behavior. Wicked is a pretty broad term.

That’s not what it means!

Forgive me while I scratch. I a severe allergy to double-speak.

Sixty-four percent of American’s responded affirmatively to the question, are you convinced god exists. From my experience amongst and as one of the devout, I presume that these same respondents also promote their belief that freedom and morality cannot exist without God. Each tradition has its slippery slopes that follow, but those are easy to ignore if you’ve been programmed to find comfortable in reassuring swaddling of cognitive dissonance. My proprietary, sixteenth-century firmware has been updated, but it really needs to be wiped clean and replaced with twenty-first century, open-source programming. (I do hate to think of a new paradigm as programming at all. Don’t carry the metaphor too far.)

Since the first anthropoid sought to explain the volcano, earthquake, tsunami, plague, crippling defect, or epileptic spasm, they have created gods and devils. Dreadful or benevolent–even some dichotomous combination of both–they have created many gods to fill the gaps of their understanding. Our species’ minds prefer a poor explanation to no explanation at all.


This long-honored the tradition involved man creating a God or gods in whom they could bring themselves to believe. Created in their own image, in other words–though perhaps not in totum. I realize there is a certain arrogance in this idea, a self-delusion against which one’s own faults must be ignored or embraced and rationalized. That is why I must confess, with a strange combination of pride and disgust, that the god I am now capable of conceiving is a deity in which I could believe rather than one in which I feel I must believe.


Such an imaginative undertaking is not that difficult. Most American’s have been exposed to Christianity. We have popular movies with their serious or comical depictions of gods and goddesses. The trick is to reconcile that god with reality in a way that allows that god to be as we all want him to be–loving, concerned with our individual and collective fates, omnipotent without being arrogant or negligent. My god is still derivative of the monotheistic interpretation of deity. It depends in part on the God revealed in the Torah, Bible, Book of Mormon, and Quran–a God we know to be petty, vindictive, demanding of uncritical and unending praise, homophobic, racist, and-on-and-on-and-on.

I don’t believe in the deity I am about to describe and, just to prove that he/she/it is my creation, I have conceived of a god that doesn’t care if I believe in them. That was really the nidus for my conceptualization. If you were truly eternal and all-powerful–not like an Earthly king who can be killed or could lose their power in defeat–would you care about endless praise? Would you care if someone said, “Oh my God!” It’s not even your name! It is a title in one, infantile language! Would you be so hurt if someone defiled a day you decreed as sacred by walking more than the allotted number of steps or buying a meal or going to the laundromat? Would you be so concerned with mandating a “day of rest?” Would inane observances of a single day of the week mean enough to your ego that you would threaten destruction for those who didn’t follow your edicts on it? And that’s just one of the most benign of the commandments!


Speaking of edicts and mandates and commandments: Why would covenants matter to God? Why would people need to make promises, binding themselves to oaths and promises of conformity and obedience to satisfy you? It feels like this eternal dictator of monotheism has an incredibly fragile ego that is idiotically disproportionate to their infinite capacity to comprehend, create, and foresee.


Are you all-powerful? If you are able to make laws simply by decree, why do you rely on a barbaric, human sacrifice to “save” people? Why not demonstrate to your creations the example of forgiving by simply forgiving those who recognize when they have wronged another, made an effort to make things right, and changed not only their behavior but their attitude? When you don’t establish a simple standard of forgiveness but require bronze-age blood-myths to achieve reconciliation with your less-than-the-dust-of-the-Earth creations, you promote the creation and perpetuation of religions from which holy martyrs, honor killings, and blood-atonement are preached as doctrines and praised as worthy of emulation. On top of this inanity, you find that your acolytes in Christianity, for example, adore the blood of their savior and the means by which it came, yet they recoil at the barbarity of rampant blood-sacrifice in other ancient civilizations.

When one defines someone’s god as vindictive, petty, narcissistic, punitive, greedy, or applies any other unseemly adjective to him, the condescending response that person must often be prepared to entertain is, “that’s not the God I’ve come to know.” Well, based on your holy scriptures, what other god could you know? Are not the sacred cannon the final word regarding God? Even you call the extremists in particular sects–including your own–“fundamentalists.” Why? Because they not only preach the verifiable fundamentals, they live according to them!


Once, during a long drive with a colleague who happened to be, broadly speaking, an evangelical Christian, the discussion meandered to my recent shift away from belief in a God or any god. I explained that I could no longer reconcile either intellectually, ethically, or in any other fashion, the fact that god had condoned and even commanded so many horrific things to be done in his name and for his glory. Of course, the Old Testament came to the fore and we settled on the injunctions to slay entire civilizations such as the Amalekites for the crime of, as Mel Gibson’s character said in the movie Maverick regarding the Native Americans, “being on our land before we got here.” My colleague, without any hint of remorse, irony, or even difficulty in saying it, defended the act as his God showing his love for his chosen people by keeping his promises to them. The God he knows is a promise keeper which is far more important that a respecter of life, as innocent as it may seem to me. To ancient Israel, the Amalekites were aggressors for living on a certain real estate that, as Christopher Hitchens ironically said regarding this territorial gift from an omniscient creator, is the only place in the Middle East with no oil.


So, what God could I believe in? I could believe in a monotheistic God who has allowed the holy scriptures to be written just as they are. Not to see if we will abide by them in every detail, but to see if our innate sense of solidarity, irony, and humanity can overcome the siren song of clerical authority. Are we courageous enough to speak out against slavery despite scriptural prescriptions of how to do it? Will we refuse to stone the adulterer or ostracize the homosexual? Mine would be a being that allows suffering but does not condone or command it. This deity would permit those that profess to speak for him to teach hideous, dangerous doctrines though he would not inspire them. My God, if he has allowed all of this wickedness and suffering, does so with pain and anguish so that he can see if we will rise above it. If we will subject our confusion and social desire to conform to our own humanity. My God does not need to be praised. I ask again: why would an eternal, all-powerful being need the praise of any mean mortal? What could our adoration give to him that he would make it a commandment that includes a penalty consisting of eternal torture as the punishment for the failure to obey?


In a more recent conversation, I expressed to my wife that, if nothing else were to change in the divinely allowed/proclaimed, revelatory database, I could believe in a certain type of God. After outlining what I have thus far written, she agreed with me. This is indeed the God in which she believes. I was taken aback by her concession for I have heard her justify Noah’s ark, Nephi decapitating Laban, and bears devouring rowdy, if rude, children. And I have heard her justify these divinely condoned happenings to our children. How can she claim to believe in the God I have just described? Were she to say that she had come to know Hitler, Stalin, or any other tyrant as a loving, caring, personal father-figure, I don’t think I could have been more surprised. It is as if, after studying chemistry first-hand, and teaching it to others, she were to say, “Sodium and chloride ions together make sugar.” The salt of her convictions would seem to have lost its savor.


It is a case of Stockholm syndrome? Defending the indefensible because of fear of offending and enticing to violence? Or even a misplaced affection for one’s tormentor? Or is it out of a duty to make palatable for consumption rather unsavory ideas that keep people like me from joining–or, rather, rejoining–the feast?
In Mormonism, one of their interesting doctrines revolves around punishment. In The Book of Mormon, Alma 42, instruction is given that God does not punish people, rather, they bring the punishments upon themselves. “There is a law given, and a punishment affixed…and the law inflicteth the punishment.” The tricky position is to ask the believing Mormon if they believe their God to be omnipotent. If they even know the definition of the word and do not attempt some sophistry in redefining it on the spot, some will claim that, in fact, their God is not all-powerful for he is bound by eternal laws. Their obsequious deference to the Book of Mormon does have its limits, but any doctrine–including polygamy, racist ideologies, and capital punishment for heresy–is not utterly dismissed, only deferred until the hereafter.


Many atheists, when asked what they will do if, upon death, they find themselves before the God of the Jews or Christians or Islam. (It seems only monotheists really care to challenge with this scenario.) When asked how he would respond to a God that asked him why he didn’t believe in Him, Bertrand Russell famously replied that the God had not provided enough evidence for himself. Other, more contemporary critics of religion like Dawkins and Hitchens have said that if God is really as loving and understanding as Christians make him out to be, they aren’t afraid to meet Him because they have lived their lives with the reason and moral integrity that this god would have created them with. They challenge the concept of a god of love by expecting that god to live up to his billing. A god that would not be impressed with people who espouse belief only to avoid punishment. That he would look at your life and judge you according to who you became despite the pressures of religions organized around barbaric, primitive writings of credulous peasants who knew nothing of germ theory, plate tectonics, astronomy, physics, biochemistry, or meteorology.

These same men and others have said that they would not wish to go to the heaven presented in the Christian, Jewish, or Islamic tradition. An eternity of praising the god of easily bruised ego.

So, here I am, doing what generations before and after me have and will do: creating a god in whom I could believe. And as much as he/she/it is beholden to the traditions of the past while being a reformation from them, I still cannot bring myself to believe. But, hey, my god doesn’t care about that. He appreciates my assimilation of new science and philosophy. I’m not a “good” person, but I don’t need to be. A “good” person in Mormonism, for example, used to support segregation and racism under prophetic teaching. They used to alienate and attempt to therapeutically heal gay people. They made women servile to men. They did all of these things, claiming the moral high ground…until they didn’t. My god isn’t impressed with this and, being created in his image, neither am I.

Trial of Faith or Trial of Our Humanity

Before I stopped believing in Mormonism, I stopped believing in God–at least in the way Mormons claim Him to be. Fortunately, he seems to be essentially the same character in all monotheistic religions. Why not? They all find their roots in the Old Testament. I could see that trying to find a version of a truly loving and benevolent and omnipotent deity became a catch-22. I was dependent upon the ancient texts and their revelations of God’s character. Are we not taught–indeed preached to–that they are gods complete and final word on everything including himself?

I found one of the first books I chose to read after accepting my doubts regarding god quite by accident. In The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, he offers one of the most concise definitions of God yet given. It is a pleasing irony that the definition should come from an avowed atheist. And, in contrast to the faithful avowals of believers, is the only definition that seems entirely consistent with the sacred texts. Dawkins asserts, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Perhaps the only point at which a believer could argue against this definition without coming across as ignorant of their own scripture, is Dawkins’ categorization of the Bible as “fiction.” A skeptic can no more prove it is a work of fiction than a believer can prove that it is. Though the evidence does not seem to tip in favor of believers, when they attempt to stand upon the claim that it is factual in content and factually God’s revealed word, they become hopelessly bound to the remainder of Dawkins definition with little recourse to changing a skeptical mind from the reality of it.

Rationality and integrity left me with only one viable option for belief–leave faith at the door if it comes to me unwilling or unable to show its credentials. 

I don’t know where I first heard this, though I’ve heard it from catholic, protestant, and mormon alike:  God put fossils in the ground to test our faith.

I don’t mind this type of imaginative apologetics. It’s creative and interesting. It may even be true.  When you tie your hands to an Earth that is roughly six-thousand years old, something has to give. Worse, when you tie your hands to the idea that god might command you to kill your own son to show your faith, this is a trivial, whimsical postulate. It’s not going to be faith, so let it be reason and Occam’s razor. Though this line of thinking doesn’t make sense, it fits in well with Dawkin’s definition of him for such a being seems as if they would, like a cat, enjoy toying with the mouse over which it has ultimate power.

My sister and I were discussing the idea of god recently. We agreed that, even if it were true, would we want to worship such a God as portrayed int the Bible or Quran? We spent a good deal of our lives attempting to be worthy of his blessings and his approbation. Worthiness is a big deal for mormons and you get it by following the rules. You have interviews with a lay-clergyman at least twice a year as a teenager in which they evaluate your worthiness. To enter the temple, the most sacred place on Earth in which the most sacred covenants are made, requires passing a worthiness interview with the same lay-clergyman. You must be worthy to the end of your life to be with your family after death. They sing a hymn that states, “Then, when we have proven worthy of thy sacrifice divine, Lord, let us regain thy presence.”

As sister and I discussed the idea of God, she presented and idea about which I–an I assume many–have often considered. What if God has indeed given us–or allowed the publication of–such horrible texts as the Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon to test our integrity, empathy, and humanity? An apologist can so easily accept that the deity they defend as infinitely-loving/benevolent and that respects not persons would deliberately place fossils in the rock or any other doubt-inducing idea/object/knowledge to test our faith. But if their god were truly as loving and knowing and eternal as they claim him or her to be, would this god actually have sanctioned slavery, genocide, and sexism? Would he, being all-powerful, have designed a plan that required the barbarism of a human sacrifice to save us from sins–many of them so petty as to be laughable–that he so graciously gave us?

If there is a god like religions claim him to be, it would seem more likely that he allowed the horrible Bible, self-proclaimed prophets, and divisive dogmas and racist, sexist practices simply to see if we can use the intellect and empathy inherent in our nature to overcome such blind faith? Maybe he wants to see if we will trust our own goodness and intuition more than we will trust the word of others. Maybe he wants to see if we will have the moral courage to break man-made conventions rather than assimilate them.

I don’t believe in God. But if I did, that might be one I could believe in. Nietzsche wrote, “We outgrew Christianity, not because we lived too far from it, rather because we lived too close, even more because we grew out of it.” Reconciling our belief in this perfect god–created in our own image–with the God revealed in the holy texts, is a devastating experiencing. Perhaps it is a necessary experience to transcend bronze-age dogmas and move forward into an exponentially expanding enlightenment held back, if anything by the poorly represented but militantly defended God of revealed monotheism.