Sunday, September 25, 2011

Isn’t It Supposed To Be About The Truth??

In the past few months, I have received phone calls from some of the leadership of the local LDS Ward. First the High Priest Group Leader, and a Counselor in the Bishopric, came over. The HGPL had called a few days before, and indicated that he had come across my name on the interview forms for Temple Recommends (I had been Branch President a number of years ago), and wondered why I no longer attended. He asked if he could come over, and I said I’d be happy to meet and talk with him.

After a few pleasantries, I dove into the basis for my no longer attending Church. I restricted myself to a few specific areas: how DNA and Archaeological studies completely invalidate the idea that the Lamanites, claimed to be of Middle Eastern origin by the Book of Mormon, are the ancestors of the original modern-day Indian populations of North and South America. This has been clearly taught by Presidents and other General Authorities of the Church through the current day. I further explained that the Church was already back-pedaling on their previous position, as reflected in the change made in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, which used to refer to the Lamanites as the “principle” ancestors of modern-day Indians, but now speaks of them as “among” their ancestors.

I discussed Joseph Smith’s practice of both Polygamy (marrying multiple wives, many of whom were teen-agers, with the youngest being 14) and Polyandry (in that he married women who were then married to living husbands). I went on to clarify that even if one is willing to justify Polygamy as being a commandment of God, that Joseph’s actual manner of practicing it violated the specific stipulations governing it as shown in Doctrine & Covenants Section 132.

Lastly, I addressed how it can be readily demonstrated that the Book of Abraham which Joseph claimed was a translation of Papyri written “in his own (Abraham’s) hand” had absolutely no connection to the actual translation of those Papyri confirmed by multiple Egyptologists, both inside and outside the Church. Because of this, the Church Apologists propose the “catalyst” theory, suggesting that Joseph received the Book of Abraham as direct revelation, initiated by his viewing and studying the Papyri, despite the fact that this completely contradicts Joseph’s own words and actions.

A month or two later, I received a call from the Ward Executive Secretary, indicating that the Bishop wanted to meet with me. I again said I’d be happy to speak with him, and we set up a time for him to come to my home a week later.

We sat down, and I rehearsed the same basic set of information, demonstrating that the Church’s claims are completely contradicted by the evidence. Consequently, despite decades of trying to reconcile these matters, I had to draw the inevitable conclusion that the Church simply isn’t what it claims to be, and not what I thought and hoped it to be.

Now I wasn’t naive enough to think that my presentation of these facts would be sufficient to convince them that the Church’s claims were false. And I certainly didn’t expect them to simply accept that everything I said was accurate and factual. But what continues to astonish me is their complete lack of curiosity about any of these matters. They seemed unable or unwilling to understand that if what I presented were in fact true, the implications were huge!

They didn’t seem bothered by the fact that using the criteria of D&C 132, Joseph would have to be considered an adulterer. They didn’t seem bothered by the overwhelming evidence that both the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham were 19th century works of fiction.

They just stated that their “testimony” tells them that the Church is “true” and they’re content to just leave it at that. I tried to explain how their spiritual experiences were identical to those of a Baptist, a Catholic, a Jew, a Buddhist, or any other religious believer, whose testimony similarly convinced them that they had the truth. They were happy to just live in their little cocoon, and allow their mental blinders to avoid any contradictory information that might cause them to actually think and consider the possibility that some of their beliefs could be wrong.

Now, they are all good, honest, moral people, and I give them ample credit for this, but ultimately, isn’t the Church supposed to be about Truth? Aren’t they taught in their own scriptures that “The glory of God is Intelligence, or in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36), and that “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, P. 217)?

Sadly, what the Church teaches today is primarily about obedience and loyalty to Church leadership, with Truth not even a distant 3rd or 4th concern. Apostle Boyd K. Packer stated this pretty clearly when he said “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.” (BYU Studies, 1981). Further, these same leaders take the very self-serving position that it is actually evil to criticize them, as described by Dallin H. Oakes: “Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local... It does not matter that the criticism is true.” (Ensign, Feb. 1987).

As the title of my blog emphasizes, for me “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This disregard for truth is simply unacceptable. It is one thing to exercise faith and belief in the absence of evidence, but it is quite another to do so in complete contradiction of the evidence.

When I had received the call about the Bishop’s wanting to meet with me, I had the impression (which I previously would have called a ‘prompting of the spirit’) that my membership in the Church was the underlying issue. On that basis, I had prepared a formal letter of resignation, which included a brief summary of the reasons for my resignation. Toward the end of my meeting with the Bishop, he basically asked that given all that I had just explained, why did I keep my name on the records of the Church?

So my impression turned out to be accurate, and I then handed him my letter of resignation. I asked that it be processed promptly, and he honored that request. Technically, once I handed in the letter, my membership in the Church ended. But a few weeks later, I received the acknowledgement letter from Church headquarters, recognizing the end of my 39 years in the Church.

My search for Truth continues, and while I recognize that obviously it will never be completed, it is still helpful to identify those things which aren’t true, and which can safely be left behind.