So what happened? How did I become disaffected? At the outset, I should note that I am disaffected not because of any gross or malignant sin in my life or any desire to commit such. I am disaffected not because someone at church has offended me in any way. Nor am I disaffected because I find enduring to the end too difficult a course to maintain. I have lived the life of an active, faithful Latter-day Saint for a decade and a half and see no reason why, if I continued to believe the doctrine, I could not endure to the end of my “mortal probation.”
I am disaffected because I now realize that the spiritual experience I describe above, which I interpreted at the time to mean that the Book of Mormon was literally true and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was “the only true and living church upon the face of the earth,” is outweighed by the mass of evidence that suggests otherwise. Those who investigate the church’s foundational truth claims by weighing the evidence rationally and dispassionately invariably conclude that the evidence stands overwhelmingly opposed to the church’s claims. Only those who are willing to suspend reason and embrace a subjective spiritual or emotional experience as a means for determining truth ever gain a testimony of the church’s foundational claims. At one time I was willing to let my spiritual experience submerge all evidence to the contrary. No longer.
I do not deny the spiritual experience I had when I prayed about the Book of Mormon. I simply have come to question whether such an experience is a legitimate means of ascertaining truth; or, put another way, whether such an experience outweighs the objective evidence now available to me. I suppose that a spiritual experience might be a legitimate means of acquiring truth in the absence of any objective evidence to contradict the information received. But in the case of Mormonism, an analysis of the evidence arrayed against the foundational truth claims of this religion makes reliance on a subjective spiritual experience an unjustifiable act bordering on foolishness. Simply put: I cannot know what I now know and continue to believe what I once believed. I now realize that in comparing one set of extraordinary claims without supporting evidence (Joseph’s story) to another set of similar claims (the Bible), I was engaged in a serious logical fallacy. The question is not whether Joseph’s claims are any more outlandish than the spectacular portions of the Bible; the question is whether it is justifiable, based on the available evidence, to accept Joseph’s claims on nothing more than a good feeling accompanying a heartfelt prayer.
closely examined the church’s history and doctrines and I find them
wanting. Years of study have yielded,
bit by bit, piece by piece (I might say “line upon line, precept upon precept”),
evidence the honest appraisal of which leads me to the inescapable conclusion
that Mormonism is not the “only true and living church on the face of the
earth.” The Book of Abraham was not
written by Abraham, the scrolls have nothing to do with the text produced by
Joseph Smith, and the text is riddled with anachronisms. It quite simply cannot possibly be an
authentic ancient work. That fact alone
discredits Joseph Smith and calls into question his other prophetic claims. After 175 years of searching, archaeologists
have found no physical evidence to directly tie a single site to the Book of
Mormon text. And again, the book is
riddled with anachronisms and wildly implausible historical claims. Meanwhile, discoveries continue to be made
showing where Joseph Smith obtained the ideas contained in the text. The Book of Mormon thus stands as a testament
to Joseph Smith’s lack of credibility. Numerous other examples from the life of Joseph Smith lead to the
inescapable logical conclusion that he was a man acting as man and nothing more
than a man. While he may have believed
himself a prophet and may have been a remarkable historical figure, he was most
assuredly not acting under the guidance and direction of a divine mentor.
And this much is certain: the church’s foundational truth claims do indeed stand or fall upon the veracity of Joseph Smith’s supposed revelations. If the Book of Mormon is a creation of his own mind, however fertile his imagination may have been, and if the same can be said of the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses, and his other revelations, then the Church’s claim to be the sole authorized distributor of God’s received wisdom is false. This is not to say that the Church itself, as an institution, is wholly without merit. The Church through its members can be, and often is, responsible for doing much that is beneficial. But the realization that the Church’s foundational truth claims are specious frees me from any obligation I might otherwise feel to give unyielding and unquestioning loyalty to Church leaders (past and present).
I now can no more believe that Nephi and Mormon and Moroni actually lived on the American continent 1600-2600 years ago than I can believe that Zeus sits atop Mt. Olympus hurling thunderbolts through the sky. I can no more believe that God told Gordon B. Hinckley to spend $1 billion on a shopping mall than I can believe that God told Brian David Mitchell to kidnap Elizabeth Smart. I can no more believe that God told Joseph Smith in the 1800s to take other men’s wives and 14-year-old girls to wife than I can believe that God has told Warren Jeffs to do the same thing today.
Accordingly, I refuse to cede any longer my individual autonomy to an organization of men who believe in fairy tales and demand that I do the same. It matters not to me the extent to which those men may be inspired or how godly they may be in their deportment and demeanor. Next to life itself, the freedom to direct that life is the greatest of all gifts. And I will not yield control of my life to other men based on an unjustifiable belief that they are somehow anointed by an invisible power. I will not yield to pressure tactics or institutional guilt trips and fear mongering. I will worship on my own terms, in my own way, according to the dictates of my own conscience, not out of fear or guilt but in a spirit of truth and freedom.