Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What I Didn't Know

I spent almost my entire life in the Mormon church and believed I was a very educated apologist for it.  But there were still a lot of things I didn't know.  Some I didn't know because I just hadn't gotten to them in the history.  Some I didn't know because they were only available from sources I'd been told were bad and dangerous and shouldn't be touched.  Some I didn't know because I chose not to examine the implications of conflicting information I'd already encountered.

I didn't know that Joseph Smith had married two teen-age girls.  I didn't know that he'd sent men on missions far away and then secretly married their wives.  I'd always been tolerant of polygamy as a principle because I'd been taught from early childhood that it was okay with God.  But there's no way I can square God's will with secretly stealing other mens' wives and then publicly lying about it.  That's just too big a stretch.

I didn't know that Joseph Smith said any man who'd been educated in the principle of the Word of Wisdom and failed to follow it was not worthy to hold any office in the church, yet he himself apparently enjoyed tobacco and liquor till the day he died.

I didn't know the full extent of non-Mormon commentary on the Book of Abraham or the fact that the actual papyri had been found and translated, or the universal conclusion that Joseph Smith's "translation" is completely bogus and that his transliterations of "Egyptian" words are utter gibberish. I didn't know that parts of the "facsimiles" published with the Book of Abraham in the PoGP were filled in by Joseph Smith himself since the originals he had were missing some parts of the pictures, and that it's now been shown he completed those pictures incorrectly.  I didn't know of the almost laughably pathetic Mormon apologist attempts to explain away these facts and posit some other explanation for the text in the PoGP.

I didn't know that the ban on giving priesthood to black men apparently traces its origin to Brigham Young's personal revulsion at the marriage of a black man to a white woman.  Yet his institutionalized racism was held out and defended for over a century as God's will and requirement dating back to before Abraham.

I didn't know the wildly gyrating trajectory of teaching and preaching by LDS leaders on subjects like homosexuality and masturbation.  These have fluctuated so much over time that there's no way it could all have been correct or true.  Yet the leaders who taught all these changing and sometimes contradictory positions all claimed to be inspired.

I didn't know that my own ancestor Martin Harris said that he and David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery never saw any gold plates with their actual physical eyes.  Nor did I know that Joseph Smith himself wrote the statement of the Eight Witnesses and that some of them were reluctant to sign it because they thought it made the whole experience sound too literal, which apparently it wasn't.

I didn't know that Joseph never actually used any gold plates when producing the Book of Mormon, but that at least 20 different witness accounts confirm that he used only his seer stone inside his hat.  Yet all the lessons I ever got in church and all the presentations I ever saw about it uniformly showed him using gold plates, or lugging them hither and yon, or taking heroic measures to keep them safe.  What's the point, if he never actually used them?

I didn't know that the reason there's no recorded date for the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood by Peter, James & John is that Joseph Smith never talked about such an experience until years after it allegedly occurred, and then only when the most serious leadership crisis of the new church was occurring, he was facing mass defections, and needed to shore up his authority.

I knew there was more than one account of the First Vision but I didn't know there were eight, or that Joseph's accounts of what he saw varied widely from version to version.  In one it was "the Lord."  In another it was two distinct persons.  In one it was "your sins are forgiven" but no more.  In another it was "all churches are corrupt and you're going to restore the true one."  Obviously I'm not Joseph, but if I'd had an experience like that I would have written it all down immediately, in full, and I would have promptly told others I trusted about it.  And my versions would have been consistent.

I didn't know that an enthusiastic and ardent LDS attorney called Thomas Ferguson was the prime mover for establishing BYU's first Department of Archaeology, became president of something called the New World Archaeological Foundation, and with official LDS church backing and support devoted much of his life to expeditions and explorations and studies and efforts to prove the Book of Mormon was a true historical document.  Yet it was precisely because of that effort that he ultimately concluded there was no evidence supporting the Book of Mormon, that it was spurious, and that the Foundation he'd started to prove the Book of Mormon's authenticity actually ended up disproving the book because it failed to find any evidence whatsoever of any Pre-Columbian Christian culture in the Americas.

I didn't know how definitively DNA testing of Native Americans showed that they came from East Asia and were not Semitic peoples from Jerusalem.  Nor that, faced with that inconvenient truth, the LDS church quietly changed the Book of Mormon's title page to say the Lamanites were "among" the Native Americans' ancestors, rather than their "principal" ancestors.

I didn't know any details of the "blood atonement" principle preached by Brigham Young, namely, that Christ's Atonement was insufficient to pay for certain sins, that a person guilty of such sins had to shed their own blood to pay, and that there were cases where certain early Mormons actually submitted to it.  For things that today sometimes don't even necessarily guarantee excommunication from the church.  Yet an ostensible prophet, seer and revelator preached that horrific principle as God's will.  How can something be so heinous in the 19th Century that it requires bloodshed in addition to Christ's Atonement yet in the 20th or 21st Century it doesn't necessarily guarantee even just the temporary loss of church membership?   How does that square with truth being consistent with itself?  How can I have any confidence in the "prophet" that preached such a shocking thing or any of his successors who repudiate what the first guy said?  Some Mormon apologists defend it with the "a prophet's only a prophet when speaking as such" thing, but as far as I can tell, Brigham Young fully intended to speak as a prophet when he preached this barbaric and, IMO, blatantly anti-Christian practice.

I didn't know the extent to which LDS temple ordinances were undeniably copies of secular Masonic rituals that were only a few hundred years old, yet the LDS versions were defended as restorations of ordinances that were administered all the way back to Adam and are essential to getting back to God.  Since when have the "secret" handshakes of a man-made fraternity like the Masons been required to pass by the angels that guard the gates to God's presence?  Why would such angelic guardians even care about such trivial formalities, if God looks on the heart and not the outward appearances?  If they're angels, surely they have the ability to discern far more about passers-by than could be revealed by a few special handshakes which are now publicly available to the world anyway and could be faked by otherwise "unworthy" aspirants.  It just seems silly.

I didn't know that at some point I would no longer be able to ignore the combined weight of all this evidence, and more like it, and would be forced by my own sense of honesty and integrity to look at it not from the viewpoint of trying to force it to fit predetermined conclusions supporting the LDS church, but simply to see what conclusions the evidence supported.  Nor did I imagine, after a lifetime of defending and serving in the church, that I would ever conclude it wasn't what it claimed and that I couldn't in good conscience support it any longer.

Nor did I know how much better my life would be in so many ways after the church and I parted ways.  I was always taught that people who left did so because they wanted to justify sin, or they couldn't measure up to the requirements for exaltation, and that despite their claims of finding better lives elsewhere, secretly they were miserable and knew they were doomed.  It's just not true.  I've found so many who, like me, left on principle alone, and whose lives are far better elsewhere.  Mine too.  I'll talk about that in another post.  Point is that in hindsight, all those warnings can just be lumped in with the rest of the misrepresentations.  When you realize you've been the victim of scare tactics, it's natural to distrust everything else said by the person or organization who tried to scare you.  Add it to the list.


  1. Do you have sources for the claim that people actually submitted to blood atonement? It was always my understanding that it was never actually practiced.

  2. Yes. Check out this link: