Nook Version Is Out

October 21, 2011

Heaven Up Here

Several people have asked, and the Nook version of the book has been released:

Heaven Up Here (Nook Version)

The Saga of My Book

October 19, 2011

I understand that some people find it irritating that I’ve plugged my book here. But it’s my blog, so I get to do with it what I want. And there’s nothing wrong with plugging something I’m proud of.

The book has its origins in a conversation I had with a friend in which I told him a story from my mission when my companion and I had found what we thought was a dead body on a bridge on a bitterly cold winter night in La Paz, Bolivia. My friend said I should write it down, so I wrote about it here on my blog. For whatever reason, I couldn’t stop writing. For five weeks I wrote 2-3 hours a night chronicling everything I could remember about my mission.

There’s a lot of self-censorship involved in sharing missionary stories with other Mormons. It’s acceptable to tell faith-promoting stories and funny stories, but it’s not OK to talk about the difficult times, the soul-crushing experiences. So, for the first time in my life, I started writing about everything, good and bad. It all just came pouring out. Naturally it wasn’t very polished, but my purpose wasn’t to do something literary, but just to get it out of my system.

I have a few friends who are writers and editors, and one of my friends, Mina, urged me to edit the posts into a coherent narrative and publish it. Maybe I was just flattered that someone I consider an amazing and gifted writer liked what I had done, but I spent the next several months editing the book. Another friend, Tyler, a professional editor, volunteered to edit the book. He did a fantastic job, and I am very happy with what we ended up with.

I shopped it around to publishers, but there wasn’t a lot of interest; let’s face it, a missionary memoir has a limited audience. But I wanted to get it out there, just to say I’d done it. But the bigger problem was that some of my family members were very upset about the book, I think partly because it’s so intensely personal but also because it isn’t relentlessly positive in its description of Mormonism and missions. To reduce the conflict in my family, I held off publishing, and the book sat for three years.

I’m not sure what’s changed, but I’ve felt recently that I needed to publish it. Probably the catalyst was that my son read the book and loved it. He said he thought it was a shame that I hadn’t published it. Yes, I would have preferred to publish it through a “real” publisher, but this is good enough.

So, no apologies. I am happy with my book, and I’m glad other people have enjoyed reading it. And in case you missed it, it’s available for everything from Kindle to iPod to PC:

Heaven Up Here

It should be available for the Nook in the next day or so, and when that happens, I’ll post the details.

Thanks again, everyone, for supporting me. It means a lot.

Heaven Up Here

October 18, 2011

Heaven Up Here

My book is officially available:

Heaven Up Here (Kindle Version)

Heaven Up Here (Nook Version)

It feels really good.


October 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens on Mormonism. Brutal.

Romney’s Mormon Problem

Seen in Provo

October 14, 2011

I saw a button yesterday that said, “COME AS YOU ARE! LDS Institute.”

Immediately, I thought, “Come as you are; leave as we want you to be.”

Why I Left

October 12, 2011

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.

Are Mormons Christians?

October 12, 2011

Sorry for the recent foray into politics, but I feel very strongly that people should not make a political issue out of someone’s religious affiliation. I care about principles and policies, not theology.

So, with that out of the way, the question arises, “Are Mormons Christian?” We’ve been told in the last week that Mormons are not “real” Christians and are a cult. Leaving aside that loaded language, I thought I’d just share my thoughts. I’m not going to cite anyone but myself here, so you can take this as my considered opinion.

I grew up in a mostly Jewish neighborhood in Southern California. There were Catholics and Protestants and a few Muslims (mostly Iranian exiles), but the largest religious group in my neighborhood and in the schools was Jewish. For that reason, Jewish holidays were also school holidays, simply because almost half the students would not show up anyway on those days. I went to bar-mitzvahs, ate lots of wonderful and (to a Mormon kid) exotic Jewish foods, and learned a lot about Jewish culture and people. (It doesn’t need to be said, but Jewish people are diverse in their lifestyles and beliefs as any other group, and stereotypes don’t work.)

We Mormons were a distinct minority: we weren’t Jewish, and we weren’t Catholic or Protestant or Muslim. But everyone I knew, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, lumped us in with the Christians. I certainly considered myself a Christian. I believed in the Bible, and I accepted Jesus as my Savior who suffered and died to atone for my sins. We read about Jesus in the scriptures, and we sang about Him in church, and we trusted in Him for salvation. I prayed in His name, was baptized in His name, and each week partook of the sacrament in His name and promised to always remember Him.

It wasn’t until I participated in a regional “dance festival” at the Rose Bowl (I’m pretty sure it was 1980) that I learned that some people didn’t think I was a Christian. My friend Corey and I came out to his car late that night to find an anti-Mormon pamphlet stuck under the windshield wiper. I was 15 and didn’t even know there were people out there who actively worked against our religion. But I read this pamphlet, and I honestly didn’t recognize the church they described. Some of what they said was a distorted take on what we really did believe, and some of it was gleaned from obscure quotes from long-dead church leaders from the nineteenth century. This was my first exposure to Ed Decker and his “Saints Alive in Jesus” group. I laughed it off because it was all so ridiculous and divorced from what our church was and believed. But there it was in print: We weren’t Christians because they said so.

I didn’t think much about it after that because the only person I knew who thought Mormons were evil was this really odd guy in my high school class who never bathed and who wandered around school in combat fatigues emblazoned with “GOD SQUAD,” calling everyone to repentance. He actually came to our ward one Sunday and announced to our Sunday School class that he could feel Satan’s power in the room.

But, as far as I can tell, the organized effort to demonize and marginalize Mormonism was in full swing by then, with Walter Martin’s books of the sixties and seventies (has anyone else noticed that he had the same haircut as Pastor Jeffress?), and Decker’s book and film “The God Makers” in the early 1980s. Part of that effort involved proclaiming that Mormons weren’t Christians. The effort has certainly been effective, as by the time I moved to Texas in 2000, my neighbors and coworkers were shocked to find that I read the Bible, believed Jesus is my Savior, and celebrated Christmas.

In response to this effort, the LDS church did two things: First, they revised the missionary discussions so that discussion of the divinity and mission of Christ came first (previously, that material was covered in the third discussion), and second, they added “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” to the title of the Book of Mormon.

As I said in an earlier post, Mormons do come out of historical Christianity, in that they sprang from the Restorationist movement. But they are neither Protestant nor Catholic, and many religious groups consider Mormons to be at best heretical, at worst a cult. I’ve been called worse, so that really doesn’t matter to me. I rolled my eyes when Mr. Jeffress was on CNN the other day because he wasn’t saying anything new.

Evangelicals have given me many reasons why I’m not a Christian (or at least wasn’t when I was Mormon). One is that Mormons do not believe in the Trinity, which of course is an extra-Biblical extrapolation based on Plato’s ideas of form. From what I read in the Bible, a Christian believes Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth in the flesh and died on the cross for our sins. I don’t know if I accept the Trinity at this point, but I really don’t think it matters. Why would God require me to believe something that is not in the Bible? And does anyone think a just God would say to someone, “No, I’m sorry, you followed me, you put your faith in me, but you got the technical details wrong, so you’re going to hell”?

I’ve been told that my beautiful wife, who has more faith in Jesus Christ than anyone I know, is going to hell. Why? Simply because she’s a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The scriptures tell us that God judges the heart. If you believe in Him, surely he knows who is a Christian, no matter what their religious affiliation.

People have said that I believed in the “wrong Jesus.” I’m still not sure what to make of that one. I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, the one spoken of in the New Testament. I wonder which Jesus they believe in? Jesus of Kansas City?

But Mormons believe in “another gospel,” right? Not really. The gospel, or “good news,” is that Jesus died to take away our sins. Mormons believe that. Yes, they believe in modern revelation, but again, how does that disqualify them from being Christian? They believe that the revelations the church has received come from Jesus. If they said they were coming from Xenu, they wouldn’t be Christian at all. But that’s not what they’re claiming.

It’s obvious that there are huge theological differences between Mormons and mainstream, orthodox Christians. And I am the first person to acknowledge that Mormons are definitely not mainstream, orthodox Christians. No Mormon I know would argue with that. But the bottom line is that we call people who believe in Jesus “Christians,” whether they are Catholics, Methodists, Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Above all, it bothers me that some people think that when Mormons proclaim their Christianity, they are somehow being disingenuous and sneaky, like they’re trying to put one over on the “real” Christians. That is simply not true. I don’t care if you think my wife or my mother or my children are Christians. God knows His own.

Me? I’m a lost apostate soul. But for some people, that’s better than being a Mormon.

Well Done, Pastor Jeffress

October 12, 2011

Last night the eight Republican candidates for president of the United States held a debate about economic policy. Given the media focus in the last few days on Pastor Robert Jeffress’s controversial call for people to vote only for “real Christians” and his subsequent clarification that he meant we shouldn’t vote for Mormons (and Mitt Romney in particular), I figured the issue would have to be dealt with in one of two ways:

1. Texas Governor Rick Perry (who is most closely associated with Jeffress) would have to address the issue by repudiating Jeffress’s remarks. As Charles Krauthammer said, it’s not enough to simply disagree that Mormonism is a cult; we should all agree that urging people to vote by religious affiliation cannot be tolerated in American political discourse. Of course, Jeffress put Perry in an awkward position with Evangelical voters, many of whom think Jeffress was right on the money. From what I’ve seen from Evangelicals in various places, if Perry repudiated Jeffress, he would be seen as pandering to political correctness.

2. The much more likely response would be for Perry to ignore the controversy and hope it goes away. If asked, Perry can say that he’s already deal with this issue (saying that he doesn’t think Mormonism is a cult) and move on. Ignoring the issue allows him to avoid offending Evangelicals and, he can hope, will simply make the issue disappear.

Either of these responses is a net positive for Mitt Romney because, in a single afternoon, Pastor Jeffress has taken Mormonism off the table as a political issue, legitimate or not. A lot of people across the political spectrum are uncomfortable with voting for a Mormon candidate (oddly enough, 22% of Mormons said they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon candidate), but Jeffress has effectively driven such discomfort from political discussion. It was bad enough that he used loaded language such as “real Christians” and “cult,” but he encouraged a religious test for candidates and then when given the chance, said Christians shouldn’t vote for Jews, either, unless they had to. So, post-Jeffress, expressing discomfort with Mormonism has the taint of anti-Semitism and narrow religious fanaticism. Again, the Romney campaign could not have scripted it better.

As it turned out, the subject came up only once in the debate, with Jon Huntsman joking that he wouldn’t bring up religion, “sorry, Rick.” Perry and the other candidates have clearly decided to ignore the Mormon issue, not wanting to be associated with Jeffress’s smiling but poisonous bigotry. They wisely want this issue to go away, and so it will.

Back in 2007, Mitt Romney gave a speech discussing his faith and values, and some called it his “Kennedy moment,” referring to John Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960. However, four years later, Romney’s faith was still an issue. Until now. Pastor Jeffress made sure Romney wouldn’t need a Kennedy moment.

Even if Romney doesn’t win the nomination, Jeffress has done a lot to ensure that a candidate’s Mormon faith will be far less a legitimate issue in the future. And that’s as it should be.

Rick Perry Imploding?

October 11, 2011

I don’t comment much on politics, but the last couple of days have been really instructive as to the political instincts (or lack thereof) of some Evangelical Christian conservatives. To recap, Pastor Robert Jeffress told a conservative political gathering that they should vote for “real Christians” over someone who, although a “moral person,” was not a real Christian. When asked to clarify, Jeffress said he meant Mormons, whom he described as belonging to a cult. He also said Christians should vote for a Christians over a Jewish candidate and stated that Catholicism was a corrupted version of Christianity.

So much to deal with, but the important point is this: he clumsily injected religious intolerance and prejudice into political discussion, something most Americans find at best inappropriate. Perry, when asked about it, said only that he didn’t think Mormonism was a cult, but offered no opinion on the notion that real Christians shouldn’t vote for a Mormon.

Reasonable conservatives from Bill Bennett to Charles Krauthammer have called on Perry to repudiate Jeffress’s remarks. At a press conference today, Mitt Romney and New Jersey governor Chris Christie both expressed disgust at Jeffress’s comments, Christie saying that any campaign that would associate itself with such a point of view “is beneath the office of the president.”

Reaction from some Evangelical conservatives in comments at the National Review website and elsewhere seems to be that Romney is being whiny and playing the victim, some even accusing him of political correctness. It’s all a ploy to discredit Perry, they say.

I should say that I don’t know who I’ll support next year, and Romney has never been one of my favorites for a number of reasons. But the Romney campaign is, I’m sure, loving every minute of this. They probably can’t believe their luck.

Mormonism was inevitably going to be an issue in this campaign. Romney tried to head it off in 2007, but there is no doubt that Evangelical bias against Mormons hindered his campaign. This time around, however, he didn’t have to head it off. Instead, Jeffress’s clumsy and bigoted remarks brought up Mormonism in the best possible way for a Mormon candidate: he made being uncomfortable with Mormonism seem unfair and narrowminded and explicitly linked anti-Mormonism to anti-Semitism. Brilliant move. Romney probably didn’t even need to say anything about the remarks.

Jeffress intended to sway Evangelicals toward Perry, which he may well have done, but then Romney was never going to get a large chunk of that voting bloc. But for everyone else, Jeffress is another in a series of bad miscues for the Perry campaign. First, he’s been terrible in the debates, and then there was the Niggerhead controversy, and now this.

It’s not like Perry’s campaign couldn’t have seen this coming. Jeffress has a long record of bigoted and intolerant statements about Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and just about every other group that is not Evangelical. They had two weeks to vet this guy, and yet they approved of his introduction, with its unsubtle call for religious prejudice, with Perry afterward saying the pastor “hit it out of the park.”

If nothing else, Perry’s campaign is showing itself to be inept and clumsy at best. And at worst, it may be intentionally fanning the flames of religious intolerance. Sorry, but that’s not what I want in a president. But he does have nice hair.

Stephen Fry on Temple Square

October 10, 2011

I absolutely love Stephen Fry, and I particularly love this little anecdote:

Stephen Fry’s Mormon Encounter


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