Why I Left

Because some people have asked, I’m reposting a brief summary of why I stopped believing in the LDS church. There’s a lot more to it, but these are the basics (the original post is here):

The Shelf

I have written elsewhere about why I no longer believe in Mormonism, but since someone asked, I’ll say it again (though I don’t know why someone would want to know why a Charles Manson-like figure doesn’t believe in Mormonism). Just kidding.

Anyway, the big thing for me is that to believe all of what Mormonism asserts requires the construction of a rather large shelf of suspended belief. For example, you have to believe that the Book of Mormon is an actual record of people who left Jerusalem before the Babylonian exile but somehow miraculously took with them plates of brass that contained scripture written after the exile. You have to believe that horse-and-chariot-riding, steel-smelting, pre-Christian Christians occupied land in the Americas and then vanished without a trace, either archeologically or genetically.

But I did believe those things. I had a testimony. I put those issues on my “shelf” for later, figuring that at some point God would explain all the contradictions to me.

Sometime when I was about 35, I was reading in the book of Enos where he says he was raised in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Finding it odd that Enos would quote Paul, I made a systematic search through the Book of Mormon and found many places where these pre-Christian prophets not only quoted Paul but then built entire sermons around Pauline phrases and concepts. It just doesn’t work. Like the postexilic Isaiah passages, these are clear anachronisms and point to a nineteenth-century origin for the Book of Mormon. And just to be clear, this wasn’t the only issue, just the last in an avalanche of evidence against an ancient origin for the Book of Mormon (feel free to chime in, Chris).

But I was OK with that. I took the Van Hale approach of recognizing that the Book of Mormon’s historicity cannot be defended, but that it has spiritual value and is inspired scripture.

That worked for five years, and then my best friend (“Greg” in my mission stories) called me one day in distress. Someone had told him about how Joseph Smith had demanded 14-year-old Helen Kimball and 16-year-old Sarah Whitney in exchange for their families’ exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

“That can’t be true,” he said.

“Yeah, it is true,” I replied.

He then said he’d heard that Joseph Smith had sent men on missions and then taken their wives as his own once the husbands were gone.

“That can’t be true,” he said.

“Yeah, that’s true, too.”

He sounded really distressed: “The church is still true, isn’t it, John?”

Right then I knew. The shelf collapsed, and I knew it wasn’t.

You can have a good man come up with false scriptures and still believe he’s a good man. You can have a bad man come up with true scriptures and still believe the scriptures are true.

But you can’t have a bad man come up with false scriptures and still believe in it. No shelf is that sturdy.


5 Responses to Why I Left

  1. Here’s a question for you: Do you believe that Mormonism is a branch of Christianity?


  2. Diane Sower says:

    I think there are some mormons who are Christians. They do not comprehend the total picture of their faith, yet they accept Christ and his teachings whole heartedly, and seek to live as he would have them live. I don’t think we can judge all people of all other faiths as to whether they are Christians or not based on the dogma of their faith, because, in my lifetime, I rarely met a female mormon who truly new the dogma. She just took everything on faith, as she’d been brainwashed to do, and so I don’t necessarily hold all those people accountable for their beliefs. There are lots of shades of grey in here.

  3. Thank you for reposting the story of your struggle to maintain your faith and the last straw that prompted your departure.

    It’s hard to give up old faith unless we find something with which to replace it. I hope you’ve found it.

  4. Odell says:

    It sounds like that conversation with your friend is what caused the cognitive dissonance to stop working.

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