The year I lost Mormonism

December 24, 2008

Or maybe Mormonism lost me.

In 2005 I was living in Texas and working at a job I absolutely hated. But other than my job, life was good. My wife and I were reasonably content and happy, and our children were giving us the normal mix of pride and grief that children do.

At church I was in the high priests group leadership, and I was dedicated to my calling and to the church. At that point in my life (I had just turned 40), I probably had a less literal approach to Mormon history and scripture than most owing to my participation on various pro-LDS message boards over the years (from alt.religion.mormon to the MAD board), but I had a testimony, and I knew the church was God’s kingdom on earth.

A lot of little things nagged at me over the years, but I always subordinated them to my testimony. I was convinced that God had spoken to me, and nothing else mattered.

But on August 8, I was getting ready to go home from work when a good friend called from the Church Office Building in Salt Lake, where he worked and still does work. He sounded distressed.

He had just learned that Joseph Smith had pressured Newel K. Whitney and Heber C. Kimball to give him their teenaged daughters as wives in exchange for the family’s exaltation.

“That can’t be true, can it?” he asked, and I could hear the anguish in his voice.

“Yes, that’s true,” I said. I wished I could have told him it wasn’t, but it was true.

Then he said he had learned that Joseph Smith had sent men away on missions and then taken their wives for his own once the husbands were out of town.

“That isn’t true, is it?” he asked again, this time sounding more desperate.

“Yes, that’s true, too,” I said.

His voice became very serious. “The church is still true, isn’t it, John?”

I thought for a moment. Suddenly I realized that I had been giving Joseph Smith a pass for reprehensible behavior that I wouldn’t excuse in anyone else. I had accepted that, although it wasn’t literally a true history, the Book of Mormon was nevertheless inspired scripture.

Now I was faced with scripture that wasn’t actually true coming from a man who acted just like you would expect a false prophet to act.

“John, it’s still true, isn’t it? You believe it’s true, don’t you?” he asked again.

“That’s something you’ll have to work out on your own,” I said. “I can’t tell you what you should believe.”

In that moment all the excuses I had made for Joseph Smith evaporated. Suddenly I didn’t have to dismiss obvious problems with the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. The rewriting of modern revelation was no longer a mystery. Bank fraud and adultery and cut-rate swindling suddenly came into focus.

I went home that day and said to my wife, “I do not believe in the church anymore.”

She encouraged me to take President Hinckley’s challenge and prayerfully reread the Book of Mormon by year’s end. To make a long story short, rereading it just opened up more problems, which prayer could not resolve. I ended up sitting in a coffee shop in late December, reading Moroni while sipping a rather nice triple espresso.

Life hasn’t always been easy since that day, as many of you know, but I can honestly say that I am more at peace with myself and with the world since I figured out Mormonism

Oh, and my friend still works at the COB. But he doesn’t believe, either. Of course, he never did.


Evidence Trending in Frosty’s Direction, FARMS Says

December 16, 2008

Researchers for the Foundation for Arctic, Reindeer, and Magical Snowmen say that, despite the claims of skeptics, more and more evidence supports the belief that Frosty the Snowman really did come to life that day. Food Sciences professor and FARMS president Daniel Midgley-Welch summarized discoveries in 2008 as “very promising and encouraging, indeed. For more than half a century,” Midgley-Welch said, “scoffers have ridiculed the idea of a living, breathing snowman, but these days, there’s just too much evidence for anyone, except the hardcore anti-Snowmen and ex-snows, to ignore.”

Midgley-Welch explained that the best evidence for the reality of Frosty is the warm feeling children everywhere get when they sing “bumpety-bump-bump” and think of the “jolly, happy soul” frolicking in the winter snow. But no longer must believers rely solely on their own personal knowledge of the Snowman.

“First of all, the production of the text is miraculous in and of itself. After the success of 1949’s ‘Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer,’ writers Jack Nelson and Steve Rollins had only months to write, produce, and record the song for the upcoming 1950 Christmas season. There’s no way two ordinary mortals could have accomplished that without some kind of divine intervention.”

“But perhaps the strongest evidence of divinity is the text itself,” said Russell Thwetwipes, professor of Greek History. “Our first clue is the use of very specific items in the construction of the snowman itself.”

Several things stand out initially as anachronistic to 1950. Corncob pipes, silk hats, and coal had all been supplanted by cigarettes, fedoras (which were on their way out), and central heating. The use of these items suggests a deeper rooting in the past, which would be unusual for popular writers of the 1950s. But the images seem to have been chosen with care. A corncob situates the story in the Americas, which squares nicely with the use of the word “cop” to refer to a policeman (how could Nelson and Rollins have scored such a bullseye?). The coal for the eyes suggests the Biblical idea of coal as burning fire and life being breathed into mortals (see Ezek. 1:13). And of course, the old silk hat has reference to the ancient practice of using seerstones to connect with the divine. Indeed, the text specifically places the “magic” (which here may refer more to spiritual power) in the hat itself.

The text also anticipates skepticism. “Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale, they say” speaks to the song’s prophetic nature. The writers (Thwetwipes prefers “transcribers”) expected that their claims would be ridiculed, and indeed they have. “Once you have heard ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ you are no longer on neutral ground,” said Midgley-Welch.

Expecting a poor reception in an increasingly godless world, the transcribers made sure that there were witnesses to the miraculous event. We are told that the children “know” that he really did live and breathe. Their testimony is clear and specific: “Frosty the snowman was alive as he could be, and the children say he could laugh and play just the same as you and me.” There is no equivocation, no hesitation in the testimony. “We aren’t sure how many children there were, but the use of the plural indicates more than one,” said Thwetwipes. “And none of them ever denied their testimony. They had plenty of opportunity to deny what they had seen and expose the fraud, if there had been one. But they remained faithful to the end of their lives.”

Forthcoming research will explore the relationship between the broom Frosty carried (perhaps symbolic of a sceptre?) and the ritual dance he performed. “This dovetails rather nicely with what we know about Egyptian kingship rites,” Midgley-Welch asserted. “And we are aggressively researching the etymology of those two strange phrases, ‘thumpety, thump-thump’ and ‘bumpety, bump-bump.’ We expect to release our findings in a forthcoming edition of the “Journal of Elf, Easter bunny, Reindeer, and Snowmen.”

Asked of skeptics’ claims of a lost Gene Autry manuscript, Midgley-Welch was dismissive. “That’s been floating around for years, and so far we have nothing but a few unfounded word-print studies. I’m confident that Rollins and Nelson will be vindicated in the end.”


Church Bail-Out in the Works?

December 12, 2008

Representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met with members of Congress in an effort to secure federal funding to shore up what they termed “weakness” in the religious market.

“Times are tough,” said Church spokesperson Dale Bulls. “The recession and credit crunch have hit our bottom line big time.” Given the success of the financial and auto industries in securing money from Congress, Bulls said, “We thought we should get in on the action.”

Sources within the church note that recent years have seen a flood of expensive development projects, such as the enormous Conference Center, an aggressive temple-building campaign, and the ambitious City Creek Center mall project in Salt Lake City.

“We’re bleeding badly here,” said one insider who wished to remain anonymous. “The Conference Center needs constant repair, and around the world we have temples that no one is using. And don’t get me started on the malls.”

The source went on to say that, despite bad financials, some in the church continue to push for wasteful spending. “A temple in Rome? What the hell could they be thinking?”

Wall Street analysts outlined the bind the church finds itself in. “It’s a ‘perfect storm’ situation,” said Lerner Brothers vice president Robert Stearns. “They invested heavily in real estate just as the market peaked, and a worldwide recession translates into less tithing. Something has to give.”

And that something appears to be the federal government.

“We have no choice in this matter,” said Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R). “This country was founded on Christian principles and faith. If we allow our religious base to fail, we’re in big trouble. We must act, and we must act quickly, to save our country from religious ruin.”

Some in Congress remain skeptical. “If we bail them out, who’s to say they won’t go back to their old, wasteful ways?” asked Indiana Democratic Congressman Ed Warner. “I’m all for keeping this ‘one nation under God,’ but I don’t want to throw our money down a rat hole.”

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) assured reluctant legislators that there would be strict oversight. “My bill provides for a federal ‘over-seer’ to ensure that funds are spent wisely and prudently.” He said he had received assurances that the church would provide full access to a seer stone and a hat to ensure total transparency. “If it was good enough for Martin Harris,” Reid said, “it’s good enough for me.”

Church leaders suggested that a partnership with the government was a natural and positive devlopment. “We all know that when the Savior comes, he will subdue all earthly government beneath his feet. This is just the first step,” said a smiling Boyd K. Packer.

“He said what?” said Alabama Congressman Buford Gustings. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I give money to that cult.”

Repayment of the federal loans involves giving the government a percentage of church revenues over the next ten years. “We really didn’t want to give them a cut of tithing,” said apostle Quentin Cook, “but times being what they are, we had to agree.”

The government will also get a percentage of revenue from Beehive Clothing sales. “Everybody has to buy underwear at some point, don’t they?” said Cook. Federal negotiators declined the church’s offer of a ten-percent stake in the City Creek Center. “Yeah, like we’re going to take that on,” said newly appointed “over-seer” David Tanner. “We’re giving them money, but we’re not stupid.”

In other news, the church announced plans to build a temple in Uzbekistan. “No, we don’t have any members there at the moment,” said spokesperson Bulls. “But we’ve got a lot of money that needs to be spent.”


Decompressing

December 9, 2008

Today was kind of a mess. I’ve been so stressed out about the incident last week that I really hadn’t allowed myself to see how upset it had made me. It’s really heartbreaking to see my daughter still suffering the after-effects of trauma, and I wish I knew how to help.

Today my stomach hurt all day just thinking about it. I feel this weird mix of anger and hurt and shock and sadness. I don’t think the burglar will ever understand the effects his actions have had on our family. I know we’ll be all right, but it will take time.

I went to my son’s orchestra concert tonight, and the finale was a symphony and choir (an enormous choir, at that) doing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. That music gets to me every time. Gives me goosebumps. That was a nice way to take my mind off things.


The Last Thing I’m Going to Say About This

December 7, 2008

I figured I’d post a link to my daughter’s interview and let that be the last thing I say about the whole incident. I’m kind of tired of talking about it.

Teen’s 911 call gets intruder arrested.

I’m grateful that she is OK, and I appreciate all the concern and kindness sent our way.


Honk for Decency

December 6, 2008

Today, as I drove past University Mall in Orem, Utah, I couldn’t help but notice a cluster of what looked like BYU students holding bright, day-glo pink signs advocating a boycott of the Victoria’s Secret lingerie stores. The focus was on sparing our children from having to look at lingerie-clad mannequins and suggestive signs. (I can almost hear Maude Flanders shrieking, “Won’t somebody think of the children!”) You can see their demands on their web site.

I like Victoria’s Secret. They have good products (I have given my wife their bath and body products as gifts, and I understand they make well-fitting bras). But sure, their displays and ads can be on the suggestive side, but then that’s what you would expect from a lingerie store, isn’t it?

So, I don’t really agree with the protesters, though they have a right to fight for what they believe in, I suppose. But in a world plagued by war, poverty, injustice, and inequality, there are so many other things worth fighting for than underwear ads. And, frankly, I can’t imagine getting that riled up about something that is, in the end, relatively trivial.

Seems a waste of youthful energy to me.


Speaking of Trauma

December 3, 2008

I had the most insane day today.

My daughter called me just before noon (she was home sick) and whispered, “Dad, is there supposed to be someone in the house?”

She had been downstairs on the couch, and someone rang the doorbell. Because she wasn’t feeling well, she thought she’d just ignore it. The person kept ringing, and then she heard the door open. She thought it was probably me coming home for lunch, but then she heard the guy’s cell phone ring and knew it wasn’t me.

So she had the presence of mind to take the phone into the bathroom and hide in the shower. She called 911, and just as they answered, the guy came into the bathroom where she was. So she hung up and then called me. I told her to stay put and call 911 again, so she did.

The police arrived, one at the front door, and one downstairs. The policeman found my daughter and put her in a bedroom that he had already cleared. Just then the guy tried to jump out a window, and the policeman upstairs drew his gun, so the guy ran downstairs and into the cop downstairs, whom he punched in the side of the head. He ran back upstairs and then went out to the balcony, jumped off, and ran for his car.

The cops chased him down and tackled him. When I got home, he was cuffed face down in the middle of the street, and there were cops everywhere. My daughter was pretty shaken up, but she’s doing OK.

They have his picture and arrest record online here. Apparently he’s just a drug addict who feeds his addiction by burglarizing houses.

So we’re all OK here, just a little shaken.