[This is the text of the keynote address at the fifth annual Exmormon convention, held in Las Vegas, Nevada, the weekend of February 24, 2001. When actually presented, parts of the text as given here were omitted due to time constraints]
ODYSSEY - THE CONTINUING JOURNEY
I am the oldest of five children of devout Mormon parents, and the only apostate among them. My youngest brother was called a few years ago to be a bishop, at about the same time I became active in the exmormon recovery movement. We are friendly and respect each other, in spite of our differences in religious views. When I told him a little bit about what I was doing, he seemed quite impressed. But he always sees everything in Mormon terms. His comment was, "In other words, you're sort of like a stake president."
If he were to see me now, he would probably consider me the equivalent of an apostle, speaking in General Conference.
Thank you for inviting me to speak. Let me emphasize, before I begin, that my remarks today are entirely my own, and they have not been approved by any correlation committee. You are free to disagree with anything I may say. I am certain that some of you will. I am not claiming to speak as one inspired by the Holy Ghost, nor am I a mouthpiece of God. I am not a prophet, in spite of my recently proven prophetic abilities. I repeat the words of Montaigne: "All I say is by way of discourse, and nothing by way of advice. I would not speak so boldly if it were your obligation to believe me." You're on your own, take it or leave it. In other words, it's not like general conference.
Like most children, I sometimes thought of what I wanted to be when I grew up. One of my favorite games as a child was "playing school" with my sister, two years younger, and my very patient grandmother, when she was staying with us. I was always the teacher, and we would set up a schoolroom, with my little blackboard at the front, and I would give my grandmother and my sister paper and pencils and some old schoolbooks of my dad's from the 1920s, and I would make them read aloud and do arithmetic problems. I thought it was great fun. I was probably subconsciously training myself to become a general authority: telling others what to do, disciplining them, explaining to them what they didn't understand. I don't know why my sister agreed to play school with me, but she did. I realize now that I cannot blame her emotional problems entirely on the Mormon church.
I actually did become a teacher, and I taught college for over thirty years. But there were times, as a young man, before I had made my final choice of profession, that I dreamt about other kinds of work. I love to play the piano, and I often thought I would like to be the piano player in a cocktail lounge - although, being a good Mormon boy, I had never ever actually been in a cocktail lounge, but I had seen them in movies: the handsome piano player, in his tuxedo, playing Gershwin or Jerome Kern at the baby grand, and the sophisticated, sexy woman in the evening gown, carrying her martini or her manhattan, sidling up to me, leaning over the piano, entranced by my rippling fingerplay, whispering, "Do you know, your music makes me tremble?" and I reply nonchalantly, "No, but if you hum a few bars, I'll try to fake it."
Another version of that professional dream was being a bartender in a high-class lounge. I still had no personal experience of lounges, of course, but I thought it would be very satisfying to be the guy behind the bar, polishing the glasses, and this unhappy looking man sits down at the bar, and I say, "You look like you've got troubles," and he says, "Yeah, give me a double scotch!" And I pour him his scotch, and he pours out his heart. And with his scotch I also dispense to him the wisdom I have acquired from pouring out, shot by shot, hundreds of gallons of scotch and gin, and listening to those who drank it to find peace. And he has another, and another, and finally leaves, perhaps wiser, definitely drunker, leaving me a nice tip.
I think that my brother the bishop has achieved in life the dream that I had. After all, as a Mormon bishop, he is not much different from the bartender that I wanted to be: he has his regular clients, they come to him with their problems, and he serves them up a dose or two of a dangerous concoction that perhaps makes them feel good for a while, but really doesn't solve their problems. But they keep coming back for more. They are as addicted as any alcoholic. And the bar tab is ten percent of their income.
Sometimes I feel that I have realized that dream, too, but without the scotch. I get dozens of e-mails a month, in response to my web page on Mormonism, and also because I am listed among the helpers on Eric's web page. People in distress, people needing emotional help and support, people dealing with problems that somehow have to do with Mormonism. They reach out, and pour out their hearts, and they want advice.
In reading my e-mail, and in listening to exmormons who attend these conferences, I have learned a lot about exmormons. What do we all have in common? We are exmormons. What does that term mean? It is simply a negation: we are no longer mormon. The word has no intrinsic positive meaning - although being one certainly has positive value. The word means what we are NOT. It implies what we once WERE, and that we are that no longer. It says that we made a choice.
The theme of this conference is the exmormon Odyssey. My post-graduate education was in linguistics, and so I am naturally interested in words, and their meanings, and their histories. The word Odyssey is the name of one of the great books of the world, the story of the adventures of the ancient Greek hero Odysseos, whom the Romans called Ulysses and who was more recently known as Kirk Douglas. The Odyssey is the story of his long journey home after the Greek victory in the Trojan War. The author of the book is unknown, but it is attributed to Homer. Homer's works, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were, to the Greeks, what the Old Testament was to the Jews. Along with the works of Hesiod, they preserved for the Greeks the stories of their ancestors and their dealings with the gods and with their fellow humans.
The Greeks, like most people who have thought about it, could not quite decide whether we are governed by our fate, as decreed by the gods, or whether we are masters of our own destiny, whether we could choose. That question still plagues philosophers and theologians. The Bible supports both positions, of course, and there are at least a dozen biblical passages that can be cited, supporting each side of the question. The doctrine that we have no real choice is called determinism. The opposite doctrine is called free will. Religions tend to come down on the side of determinism, since it seems to be a necessary corollary of the omniscience of God: if God knows what I am going to do, then I can't very well choose NOT to do it, can I? Even science, relying on the strict notions of cause and effect, has tended to reduce the scope of our free will. It is only in this last century, with discoveries in quantum physics (which I do not understand) that it appears that there are certain events on the subatomic level which have absolutely no discernable cause. So perhaps certain subatomic particles really do have free will. I suppose we should find that comforting.
It seems absurd, however, not to think of ourselves as having choices, at least to a limited extent. And we certainly act as though we have choices. Our entire criminal law is based on the notion that we are free to choose whether to obey it or not, and that it is society's right to punish us if we do not. Even there, however, when someone commits a crime because of his insanity, society admits that he really did not have a choice, and a successful insanity defense results in a verdict of "not guilty by reason of insanity." The cause of insanity may be genetic, or drugs which alter the brain chemistry, or emotionally devastating experiences, or even intentional brainwashing by others.
The problem with making choices, of course, if we really have them, is that by choosing one thing we are rejecting other possibilities. As a college teacher I often had the opportunity to talk to young people about their plans. (Almost none wanted to be a bartender in a high-class lounge. Or a Mormon bishop.) Often these 18- or 19-year-olds would have plans to do a double major and become a doctor and a concert pianist, or a psychiatrist and a professional sculptor. It was sometimes difficult to convince them that pursuing such double careers might not be practicable, and that they would probably have to choose one and give up the other.
The same problem exists with romance, and choosing a mate. It is easy to be in love with more than one person at the same time, but, unless you live in certain small towns in Utah and are male, you have to choose. And that means giving up something or someone that may be very desirable.
But you must choose.
Ulysses' journey, in some respects, is similar to our own as exmormons. And it may help us, in our journey - our Odyssey out of Mormonism - to look at how our journeys are similar to Ulysses', and how they are different.
Both we and Ulysses have begun our journeys after a great struggle - Ulysses after the Trojan war, we after the struggle to escape from the grip of Mormonism.
Both of us find temptations and trials along the way. Ulysses was tempted to stay with the nymph Calypso by her promise to grant him eternal life. We have all had similar promises.
Ulysses knew clearly what his destination was: his home in Ithaca, which he had not seen in ten years, and where his faithful wife Penelope was waiting for him.
Some of the other great works of world literature also deal with the adventures of heroes seeking a destination or a goal, but so esoteric that it is almost impossible to reach: Jason and the Argonauts, seeking the Golden Fleece; the knights of the Round Table, seeking the Holy Grail, Dorothy's journey to the Emerald City. Some quests of this kind are actually historical, such as the Spanish conquistadores' search for El Dorado, or Stuart Ferguson's search for Zarahemla.
But what is our destination? Do we know where we are headed?
In one sense, I suggest that it does not matter. Edna St. Vincent Millay's attitude was, "There isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going." To see the value of a journey only in terms of its destination is to risk missing out on the experience of the journey itself. It is usually the children, on a long automobile trip, who bury their heads in the comic books in the back seat, continually whining, "Are we there yet?" and ignoring the scenery that passes by. As more mature adults, we can enjoy the journey, and know that eventually we will arrive at the destination.
Setting out on a journey or a new venture can be exhilarating, but it can also be frightening, especially if we are not sure about the destination, and we are sometimes tempted to preserve the status quo, which we know, even though it may not be ideal, rather than risk adventuring into the unknown.
And so sometimes we are reluctant to leave at all. I once had a revelation on that very subject. It was as near to being a direct revelation from God as I can imagine, because, for one thing, it was in writing. It happened like this. When I graduated from law school in 1974, I was offered a part-time job in a small law firm in San Francisco. I was teaching in the morning at the college, and I practiced law in the afternoon with this firm. After I had been there about a year, and - as far as I could judge - had been doing a satisfactory job, I asked the partners for a raise. They said they would think about it and let me know. In a couple of days the junior partner came into my office, closed the door, and sat down, very friendly. He said that they had decided to give me the raise I requested. But they had also decided that they wanted someone full time, and I could take as long as I wanted - a month, two months - to find something else, and they were very appreciative of the fine work I had been doing. He smiled and left.
Of course I was stunned. I had been fired. I had never been fired from a job before. I just sat there at my desk in a daze - I don't know for how long. But then I shook myself back to reality, and realized that I still had work to do. The particular case I was working on that day required me to have some old archived files that were not in the current filing cabinets. The secretary told me that they were in the old files, stored in the building's basement. I had never had occasion to go down there before. She gave me the key and pointed me down the stairs. This old brick building was in the historic Jackson Square area of San Francisco, and had survived the Great Fire and Earthquake of 1906. The basement was dark and dank, piled high with cast-off furniture and debris, and stacks of boxes, one of which was supposed to contain the file I needed. But which one? The single bare light bulb did not help much, and I was almost in tears, with this additional frustration added to my earlier disappointment. But as I rummaged around in the trash and debris, I noticed a small blue card lying among other trash on the floor, and I picked it up. It was one of those postcards with fortune-cookie type sayings that tourists buy on Fisherman's Wharf to send to friends. I looked at it, and I realized that it was a message intended for me, perhaps even from God. I took it with me, and I still have it. It said: "You will never get anywhere else if you don't leave where you are now."
Ulysses could have left Troy at any time; he was not physically a prisoner at Troy, but something held him there captive: his honor and his commitment to his comrades. He made a choice to stay until the war ended. We also were kept in Mormonism, technically free to leave, but still, in a sense captive. What held us? How did we break free? How did we make that choice, and what prevented us from making the choice earlier?
We were held captive in Mormonism because we had actually surrendered our free will to someone else. If we were born in the church, we really had no free will to start with. I vividly remember the afternoon when I was about six years old, and it was time for me to leave the house and go to Primary (it was held on Tuesday afternoon in those days). I told my mother that I didn't feel like going to Primary that day. She took me by both shoulders and stared me in the eye and said, "YOU ARE GOING TO PRIMARY!" Of course, I went to Primary that day, and every week afterward. It never occurred to me again that I would not attend every meeting.
If you were a convert, something about the circumstances of your life at the time of your conversion convinced you to make the choice of surrendering the control of your life to the church. One of the recurring themes in the stories of exmormons who joined the church as converts is that the missionaries happened to find them at a time in their lives when they were very vulnerable, hurt, suffering, alone, abandoned, drifting, emotionally unstable. At first, the church was a haven, and may have been very comforting. But you relinquished control. Perhaps you thought you were making a free choice. But were you? Were you what we call in the law a victim of temporary insanity?
Whether born in the church or a convert, as a Mormon you had relinquished part of the very fundamental nature of your humanity: your right to think for yourself and to control your own life, your right to make choices. You were trained from that point on, not to think, but to obey. You were trained not to trust your mind, but to trust only those feelings which the church labeled as the feelings of the spirit.
We have cast off the mooring lines to begin the voyage. But where are we going? What is our destination? Is there one? Or are we just going to drift, with no goal in sight, no destination - however distant - in mind?
Let me suggest to you now what your destination is, whether you are consciously aware of it or not: you are journeying into yourself as well as into the great world around you, and your goal, your holy grail, your El Dorado, is to find your own self, your soul, your own inner being, and to make it truly, completely your own, to become aware of it, to acknowledge it with all its faults, and to let it be your guide. Your destination on this Odyssey is your Self.
As someone posted recently on the list, "I realized that I didn't know the real me; all I knew was that I wasn't this Mormon me."
This is not a new idea. In fact, it is very ancient: the inscription over the entrance to the great temple of Apollo at Delphi was: "gnothi seauton," "Know thyself!"
Montaigne said: The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.
Shakespeare has Polonius say: "To thine own self be true."
Mormonism, however, discourages self-knowledge. A Mormon's goal is to determine what God wants him to do: "I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord, I'll be what you want me to be." A Mormon must allow the leaders to make the basic decision, obey their instructions, and keep the commandments as given. A Mormon must judge his feelings and desires and goals and ideas against a very limited and narrow standard laid down for him. A Mormon man's goal must be to be worthy to have dominion over worlds that he has created, and over his limitless posterity. A Mormon woman's goal must be to be a helpmeet to her god husband and to produce his spirit children throughout eternity. Until Mormons accept these goals, they are unworthy.
Let me put it very bluntly: as Mormons we were suffering from a form of mental illness.
One the most important symptoms of mental illness is the lack of connection between the self and the world of reality, the inability to come to grips with the real world by drawing upon one's own inner resources. Mental illness is abandoning a rational view of reality and substituting something else, usually irrational emotions, or - in the case of Mormonism - someone else's view of reality.
One of the great lies of Mormonism, usually unspoken, only implied, was the assurance that if you obeyed all the commandments and were faithful and true, you would be happy, prosperous and safe. Mormonism promised you that Heavenly Father was in charge, and would take care of you. An important part of recovery from the mental illness of Mormonism is recognizing that lie. There are no such assurances that one can safely rely on. The reality is this: the world we live in is both friendly and hostile, both good and bad. There are no guarantees of safety or happiness, except those we make for ourselves. Anyone who would tell you otherwise should be suspect. It is up to me to find myself, my soul, my place. I can get help from others, but I am the one responsible. Even Paul wrote, in the epistle to the Philippians, "Work out your own salvation."
William E. Henley's marvelous poem Invictus ends with these lines:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
The human being is fundamentally a thinking and rational being, although we all know enough specimens to make us sometimes wonder. It is our ability to think, to reason, that has enabled our species to progress as far as we have, to survive and even flourish in this basically hostile world. To suppress our thinking processes, to view them as evil, and to convince ourselves that our ability to reason and our common sense is not as reliable as artificially induced feelings, or as someone else's ideas, is not only a symptom of mental illness, it is a prescription for it.
And that is why Mormonism is a form of mental illness. Dr. Nathaniel Branden, in his books The Psychology of Self-Esteem and The Disowned Self lists the essential elements of mental health. They are: self-awareness, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, and self- assertiveness. To the extent that any of these are lacking, unhappiness, depression, fear and neurosis are the inevitable result. Mormonism is not the only religion, of course, that is dangerous to mental health. Dr. Branden blames any religion that, like Mormonism, is "anti-sex,... anti-mind, anti-self- esteem, anti-intellectual self-confidence, ... basically,... anti-life." (The Disowned Self, p. 165). As a psychotherapist with many years' experience, he asserts: "Anyone who engages in the practice of psychotherapy confronts every day the devastation wrought by the teachings of religion." (loc. cit.)
The Mormon message is that self-esteem (usually called "worldly pride") is dangerous; there have even been sermons and Ensign articles on the dangers of self-esteem. And yet self- esteem is the single most important ingredient for happiness and sanity.
I realized how opposite the Mormon attitude is when my brother sent me a "critique" of Henley's poem ("I am the captain of my soul") that had been circulating among good Mormons, showing how it was contrary to good Mormon doctrine. I took that to be evidence that Henley was right.
I am not suggesting that all Mormons are suffering from symptoms of mental illness. Just as there are some people who can drink alcohol regularly without becoming alcoholics, and just as there are some alcoholics who are able to function day-to-day reasonably well, so too there are many Mormons who can live relatively happy and productive lives. Who has the right to tell them that their lives would be richer, fuller and happier outside of Mormonism?
And some people would collapse without that crutch. My sister hangs onto a relatively sane existence only by the thin thread of her Mormon testimony. I would not want to see that thread cut. One Mormon convert assured me that before the missionaries found him, he was an evil, hard-drinking, wife- beating, dishonest scoundrel. I assured him, on behalf of all of us, that I am sincerely glad that he has found whatever it takes to keep him from robbing convenience stores and raping our women.
Years ago I acquired a reputation among my friends and teaching colleagues for my habit of finding analogies for everything. I would listen to a conversation, whether serious or casual, at a party or in the faculty lounge, just listening. (I have been married for a long time, so I have a lot of practice in listening and not talking.) And when I finally spoke, my contribution would often be an analogy: "Well, that's just like .... (whatever)." Of course I tried to make my analogies clever or humorous, as well as wise. I eventually became known as The Great Analogist. That is probably the reason why I was invited to a lot of parties. Or the reason why I was NOT invited to a lot of parties.
Over the years I began to notice that my analogies often took the same form: when I said, "Well, that is sort of like ..." I found that I filled in the blank with the same word, again and again. I realized then that I had perhaps made an important discovery, like Newton observing the falling apple. I modestly named my discovery "Packham's Principle."
I want to introduce you now to Packham's Principle, because it will help me explain to you a point I want to make later. Here is the formal statement of Packham's Principle:
"To clarify, elucidate, or better understand any situation, it will be helpful to remember that everything in some way is sort of like SEX." The shorter version, which you can conveniently carry on your key chain for everyday use, is: "It's just like sex."
I'll give you some examples of how the Principle can be applied to things Mormon:
Home teaching is just like sex: you're supposed to do it with your partner, but sometimes circumstances force you to do it with a substitute, or even by yourself.
Taking the missionary discussions is just like sex: unless you take precautions, it can have serious consequences.
Paying tithing is just like bad sex: sometimes you feel like you're doing all the giving, and you're getting nothing in return. (This example illustrates that sometimes it is helpful to insert an adjective like "bad" or "poor" before the key word.)
That "burning in the bosom" - it's just like sex, or, more specifically, like an orgasm. It either happens, or it doesn't. Trying harder doesn't help. If it doesn't happen, there's somebody who will tell you it's YOUR fault. You can't really describe it, sort of a tingling all over your body.
Comparing testimonies and arguing over who has the stronger testimony (especially a Mormon arguing with a non-Mormon) is just like comparing who has the better orgasms. There's no objective way to compare them.
Going to the temple is just like sex. That first time, you are so looking forward to it and wondering what it will be like. It's supposed to be so wonderful. And then it's finally happening! To start, you have to take off all your clothes. And you have wear this thing that is supposed to protect you from awful things happening to you. And the whole thing is just weird. All those awkward movements and gestures you have to make - Momma didn't tell you about that! And when it's over, you think, That's it??? And you have lots of questions about it you want to ask, but you're not supposed to talk about it. And you're supposed to do it regularly ever after, at least once a month (but the men, who are in charge, of course, say that it should be at least once a week). And it gets just boring, same routine every time, you sometimes have to fight to stay awake.
You see how it works?
It wasn't long before I found that another word was almost as frequently appropriate as the first, and so I had "Packham's First Principle" and "Packham's Second Principle," sort of like the First Law of Thermodynamics and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
Packham's Second Principle is exactly the same as the First Principle, except instead of "sex" the key word is "marriage": "It's just like marriage."
Mormonism is like marriage: you get in with a nice ceremony, but you sometimes have to go to court to get out.
Mormonism is like marriage: some people are happy in it, but it's not for everybody.
Mormonism is like marriage: it demands total commitment, a lot of emotional energy, you don't have a lot of time to yourself, you don't see as much of your old friends, and it's very expensive. And somebody is always telling you what's wrong with you.
Mormonism is like a poor marriage: you try, you give it your best, but it still doesn't work, and you find yourself asking, "Is this what I really wanted?"
I have also discovered a third key word, that is, a Third Principle, and that one is the most important one in understanding where we are in our odyssey out of Mormonism.
That key word, for the Third Principle, is "divorce": "It's just like divorce." For example, our last presidential election was like a divorce: it starts out friendly, you think it's going to go smoothly, but it ends up in court. One party ends up getting the house, but nobody really wins, and everybody is bitter.
And leaving Mormonism is like divorce. But rather than just tossing that off as a clever quip, I would like to elaborate on that analogy, because I think it can help us understand our experience better.
Some of you may have had the personal experience of a divorce. I have. All of you, I am certain, have close friends who have been through this painful process. Here are some of the ways in which our journey out of Mormonism is like a divorce. Perhaps not all of them apply to each of us, but I suspect that many will:
You wonder at first whether you are doing the right thing, whether you haven't made a terrible mistake.
When my Mormon brother (not the bishop, the other one) announced that he was going to divorce his Mormon wife after thirty years of marriage, five children, and quite a few years of serious suicidal depression, I was one of the few in the family who supported his decision, even though he made it clear to all of us that he was doing this literally to save his life. I happened to be in town for a family reunion just after this announcement, and he had spent one last time with his children viewing family home movies and videos of birthday parties, family outings, and Christmas celebrations. This sentimental journey into the past had obviously upset him. He said, "Am I doing the right thing? I'm giving all that up. I'm losing that."
This is frequently the feeling that an exmormon has when leaving the church, remembering the good times and the warmth of belonging in the church. My answer to my brother also applies, I think, to those who have decided to leave Mormonism. I told him: "In one sense you have already lost those days gone by, whether you divorce or not. They are past and can never return. You cannot bring those days back, regardless of what you do. But, in another sense, you will always have them, since they are precious memories, and your memories cannot be taken away from you. And that, too, is true regardless of what you do now. So do not let the past, or the fear of its loss, determine your future, because your past is your past, forever with you, for good or for bad, but still forever gone, no matter what you choose now."
For most of us, our lives as Mormons were not totally without some redeeming features. Many of us learned a lot of valuable lessons and acquired valuable skills: foreign languages, music, public speaking skills, people skills, sales skills. Some Mormon teachings are beneficial, whether the Mormons actually put them into practice or not: family closeness, love of others, guarding the health of our bodies, respect for education, the belief that "man is, that he might have joy." There is no reason why we cannot do as Paul advises, at 1 Thessalonians 5:21, "hold fast [to] that which is good."
Just like after a divorce, after leaving Mormonism you know that there will be a lot of your friends and family who will not understand and think you are doing something morally wrong.
It turns out to be a lot more painful than you thought it would be when the process started.
When it's over, even if you are the one who wanted it, you realize that you have no longer have something that occupied a large part of your life. There is a huge empty space.
There is the temptation to try to fill up that empty space as soon as possible. After a divorce, it's the sometimes almost desperate search to find a new mate so that one is not alone. This is so common that it has a name: marriage on the rebound. After leaving Mormonism, it's the question, almost the plaintive plea, "So what should I believe now? Which church IS the true church? How am I supposed to figure out how to live my life, now that I don't have the gospel to guide me?" But just as marriage on the rebound is usually a mistake, I suggest that immediately trying to find a new ready-made belief system is also a mistake, especially if you are tempted to commit totally to a new "truth."
The German dramatist and thinker Gotthold Ephraim Lessing said that if God offered him the choice between certain knowledge of the absolute truth and the continual search for the truth, even with its risk of being often wrong, Lessing would choose the search for the truth rather than the certain knowledge of it, because absolute truth belongs only to God.
Therefore, more important than finding the truth is learning to recognize error. This idea is actually the basis of the scientific method, to which we owe our modern technology and our longer life spans. The scientific method tests any hypothesis or claim by trying to prove it wrong. It is only by doubting, by skepticism, that we can hope to learn what is true. Even Paul said (1 Thessalonians 5:21): "Test everything. Keep what is good."
So, then, what do we do? How do we conduct ourselves on our long journey?
Just as Ulysses was confronted with temptations on his journey, and as my brother was tempted not to divorce, so will you be tempted. The song of the Sirens will beckon you, the Sirens of Mormon friends and family, memories of the highs you remember from the days of your addiction to Mormonism. The recovering alcoholic will be urged by his former drinking buddies to "just have one." Ulysses knew he would be tempted, and he protected himself by having himself lashed to the mast as his ship sailed past the Sirens' seductive singing. You, too, can and should protect yourself. I suggest that you arm yourself with knowledge. Prepare yourself to respond when asked or challenged about your choice to leave.
You do not have to become an expert in all areas of Mormon criticism. Mormonism is really an easy target, since it claims to be one hundred percent true. Just one hole in the hull is enough to sink the Mormon ship. I suggest that you spend some time becoming knowledgeable in just one of those areas, such as the first vision problems, the Book of Abraham problems, polygamy, the treatment of blacks. In our group we have experts in biology, archaeology, logic, church history, theology, and other fields. Learn from them and arm yourself.
My expertise is in linguistics and law, and thus it is easiest for me to show Mormonism's problems by demonstrating its fundamental ignorance of language and with its violations of the rules of evidence.
I can bring my linguistic training to bear, for example. Language has fascinated mankind from the beginning with its mystery. We feel that words have divine power, and thus blessings and curses are possible. The gospel of John begins by repeating the Greek belief that the Word - that is, language - is God, the creative power. In Genesis, it was by God speaking the words "Let there be light!" that the Creation began.
Even the origins of language are shrouded in mystery, and the myths of many cultures include a myth about how men learned to speak. (It is interesting that the Bible contains no such myth.) Actually, it is probable that our primitive ancestors, when they realized that they could make different sounds with their vocal equipment, began to assign names to things around them: "tree," "rock," "rabbit," "deer" (if he had been a Nephite, of course, he would have said "horse").
Words are our main means of communication, and thus, also, our main means for lying. It's odd that humans are the only animals that can lie so effectively, because we have language.
Mormonism has so many examples of linguistic ignorance that we can use them to show its falseness.
Just one example: in Mormon doctrine, and in the temple ceremony, Lucifer plays an important role. For Mormons, as for some Christians, "Lucifer" is the name of Satan. The word "Lucifer," however, is Latin, and appears only once in the King James translation of the Bible, at Isaiah 14:12, "How thou art fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" The King James translators were working here from the Latin Vulgate translation, which Saint Jerome had made in the fourth century A.D. from the Greek Septuagint. In the Greek version, the word was "phospheros," and was there used to translate the original Hebrew word "helal," which was the name of the morning star, the planet Venus. The Greeks called that star "Phospheros," which literally means "light-bearer," and the Latin word "Lucifer" is a literal translation of the Greek word.
Now, what does this have to do with Satan, the devil? Nothing. The passage where the word occurs is addressed to a fallen Babylonian king, and is used to mock his pride and his former glory, as bright as the Morning Star. It was not until the middle ages that the erroneous idea arose that this passage referred to Satan, and it was only then that "Lucifer" began to be used as a name for the devil.
And yet, this translation error has become an important part of Mormon theology. The Isaiah passage from the King James version appears in the Book of Mormon at 2 Nephi 24:12, and "Lucifer" as the name of Satan is confirmed at D&C 76:26.
Using my legal training, for example, I can compare the claims of Mormonism to a trial case in court. Now, apologists of all stripes will immediately object that the knowledge of spiritual matters cannot be judged by worldly tests. But why not? Truth is truth. Either something is true, or it is not true. All human progress, since mankind began to use his brain more than his instincts to survive, has been marked by the development of the reasoning skill. The rules of evidence - whether applied in a court of law or in a scientific laboratory or in a scholarly journal - are not arbitrary or capricious, but the result of centuries of trial and error. We use them because they give us results that we can reasonably rely on. Without them, we would be at the mercy of our instincts and our ignorance.
In American law there are differing standards of evidence, depending on the kind of issue being tried. In an ordinary civil case, such as a suit for damages for injury or breach of contract, the plaintiff, in order to win, must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence. That is, his evidence must simply outweigh the evidence of the defendant. This is called the burden of proof. If the evidence for each side is equal in weight, the plaintiff loses.
Certain issues require a higher standard of evidence, where more is at stake. For example, in a criminal case, where the defendant is subject to possible punishment, depriving him of his freedom or even his life, the prosecutor must convince the jury of guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." This is highest standard because the stakes are high. If the jury has any reasonable doubts that the allegations of the indictment are not true, they must find the defendant not guilty. There may be a great deal of evidence against the defendant. But to find him guilty, the jury must have no reasonable doubts.
What standard should be applied to Mormon claims? If Mormon claims are true, then it is a matter of spiritual life or death. If they are true, I would give up my freedom and ten percent of my income. Should we not insist that Mormon claims be rejected if they cannot be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt"? Whether you can find "reasonable doubt" is, of course, up to you: you are the jury. We are not expecting Mormons to prove their case with absolute certainty. But they should at least be able to remove our reasonable doubts. Of course, they cannot.
It is sometimes said, in religious debates, that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" or "miraculous claims require miraculous evidence." I think that is a mis-statement. Evidence for any claim, even the claim of a miracle, does not have to be anything more than ordinary facts, so long as they are reliable, material and relevant.
You may well never actually find yourself in a discussion with a Mormon about the church. I have found that none of my Mormon friends or family want to discuss it. But, if you do, I have found only two approaches to be effective with Mormons, whether friend, family, or stranger.
In any discussion, of course, you will help your argument by remaining calm and rational. I suggest that you avoid using emotionally-charged words such as "cult," "morg," "robot."
One approach is to bear your testimony, using the same terminology that they use. Like my brother the bishop, they understand things better if you can fit it into their Mormon terminology. "I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with every fiber of my being, that Joseph Smith was not what he claimed to be, and that the religion he founded is based on lies and deception. My testimony is the result of much careful and sincere prayer and study, and the Spirit of Truth has testified this to me, and continues to confirm it to me more strongly as each day passes. This knowledge has enriched my life and brought me joy and happiness such as I had never known before. Would you like to know more??"
I actually sometimes say that I followed Joseph Smith's example, obeying the Epistle of James, and prayed, asking which church was true, and I received the answer "None." And when I asked, "Not even the Mormon church?" I got the answer, "Especially not that one!" If the Mormon asks skeptically whether I actually saw or heard a heavenly being, as Joseph Smith did, I can confidently reply that Gordon B. Hinckley has said that even he, the prophet, doesn't actually see or hear anything special, as he said, in a 1997 interview in the San Francisco Chronicle:
"...if a problem should arise on which we don't have an answer, we pray about it, we may fast about it, and it comes. Quietly. Usually no voice of any kind, but just a perception in the mind."That describes exactly what happened to me.
Another approach is to ask for a universally applicable test for a false church or false religion. Usually they are thinking about tests for the true church, so this throws them off. This is actually just a variation on the scientific method, which requires any hypothesis to be falsifiable.
Here's the challenge I make that I think should be easy to answer: Supposing I have no religion at all, but am sincerely examining all religions. Suppose I am willing to accept the possibility that there is some kind of deity. Tell me: how can I identify a FALSE religion? So, for example, how would I know that Religion X is false, without having to accept some OTHER religion's beliefs or scriptures in order to judge? I have never gotten a satisfactory response to this challenge.
The test cannot be rigged so as to be partial to any one religion. For example, if you suggest that "A false religion will not have a savior who died for your sins," you are obviously trying to rig the test in favor of Christianity. One must then ask, "Why should that be a test of the truth of a religion?" One could just as easily - and with just as much justification - suggest that "A religion which requires a bloody sacrifice for the atonement of the sins of others is obviously false, since that would be abhorrent and absurd."
The best argument, of course, will be to live a better, fuller, happier and more rewarding life, as evidence of the falsity of the Mormon claim that apostates inevitably suffer misery, degradation and povery.
It is difficult, of course, is when we see those we love still bound in Mormonism. Ultimately we may have to admit that they may never come out, and that there is nothing that we can do about it. In those situations we should perhaps remember the Twelve-Step "Serenity Prayer": "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
My family will not listen to me on the subject of Mormonism. "A prophet is without honor," you know. That's one reason that I have become active in this recovery movement. In helping strangers who will listen to me, I can hope that my loved ones will be willing to hear from some other stranger what they would not hear from me. "Cast thy bread upon the waters..." (Eccl. 11:1)
And so I do what I can, indirectly, just as you can, if you wish. For example, you can occasionally run a classified ad in the "Personals" or "Announcements" section of your local paper. A three-line ad for a week is usually not very expensive. Something like: "Mormonism: see www.exmormon.org" or "Mormonism: What the Missionaries won't tell you" with a mailing address and a request for a stamped, self-addressed envelope. I use a post office box, and you can also use it: Box 422, Roseburg, OR 97470. I will answer all inquiries.
|Update January 2007: This P.O. box is no longer a valid mailing address.|
Another effective and satisfying act is to donate books on Mormonism to your local library. All it takes sometimes is reading one book to bring a Mormon out of the church. I know a number of Mormons who began their journey out of the church by reading one book that they found in a public library. For a relatively small amount of money you can provide your library staff with a wish list, and they are usually happy to accept the donation and add those books to their collection. If you need such a list, I will be happy to provide you with my suggestions.
Forming your own local exmormon group enables you to have a presence in your community. Sam in Vancouver, Jeffrey in Idaho Falls, and others elsewhere have done this, with good results, both for the exmormons in the group and for those in the community.
Our choices determine our fate, and we must learn that our choices are our own responsibility. We cannot allow others to make them for us. We do not have to conform to others' ideas or opinions.
Robert Frost could have been thinking of us when he wrote:
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
May the roads you choose always make a difference, and may each step you take on your odyssey lead you closer to your destination, to your true self.
One final comment. There are two kinds of after-dinner speech. One kind is pleasant, entertaining, educational, even memorable. The time passes quickly, and it's over before you know it. Afterwards, you're glad you didn't miss it. With the other kind, you find yourself constantly thinking, is he ever going to finish? In other words, it's just like sex. In any case, I have finished.
The full text of William E. Henley's poem Invictus:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
The Mormon response was the following:
The Soul's Captain: The Answer
.by Orson F. Whitney
Art thou in truth? Then what of him
Who Bought thee with his blood?
Who plunged into devouring seas
And snatched thee from the flood?
Who bore for all our fallen race
What none but him could bear--
The God who died that man might live,
And endless glory share?
Of what avail thy vaunted strength,
Apart from his vast might?
Pray that his Light may pierce the gloom,
That thou may see aright.
Men are as bubbles on the wave,
As leaves upon the tree.
Thou, captain of thy soul, forseooth!
Who gave that place to thee?
Free will is thine--free agency,
To wield for right or wrong;
But thou must answer unto him
To whom all souls belong.
Bend to the dust that head "unbowed,"
Small part of Life's great whole!
And see in him, and him alone,
The Captain of thy soul.