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BOOKS - COMMENTS AND REVIEWS
Reviews of books and recommendations from readers.
| There's a new book out titled 1491 by Charles C. Mann which discusses native populations in the Americas before Columbus happened upon this continent.
I haven't started reading it yet, but here's a great quote from the dust jacket:
Take that LGT!
- Certain cities - such as Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital - were far greater in population than any contemporary European city. Furthermore, Tenochtitlán, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets.
- The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids."
If you have a look at the link to the book on Amazon's website it has a very interesting timeline listing comparative European/Asian and American advances. Unfortunately for LGT'ers the first 3 dates listed for the Americas side happened BEFORE 600 B.C.
This should be a good read...
| For those of you who have not read "y His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri," you must do so. I had been aware that the papyri existed and that there was a document purporting to 'translate' one of them character by character which wasn't correct. That's bad enough. But it is amazing, once you read this book, how much *more* incredibly overwhelming the case against the Book of Abraham really is. It's really mind-boggling.
One of the reasons it's so devastating is that so much of it is picture-based: pictures, pictures, pictures. You don't need to trust experts quite as much. You just look at it and judge for yourself. Even the online version of the book doesn't quite do this justice.
No, I'm not the book's official promoter. :-)
| Heinerman, John, and Anson Shupe (1985). The Mormon Corporate Empire. Boston : Beacon Press, c1985. xiv, 293 p. ; 24 cm, ISBN: 0807004065.
I read this book on my mission and it was definitely an eye-opener. As best I can remember the authors spent years calculating the LDS Church's financial holdings, tithing income, and net worth. The picture was/is truly shocking. If I remember correctly, their estimate for tithing income was approx. 5 Billion dollars a year, which would translate today into somewhere between 12-15 Billion dollars a year based on chur ch growth and inflation.
I believe that Shupe published another book in 1992 with the same theme. Did anyone else read this book? What are your thoughts?
| Out of the Shadows : A rape victim examines her life in and out of Mormonism by Pamela McCreary.
Heads up to all foyerites, this is an outstanding read. This is more what I expected Martha Beck's book to be like. Here is my review of the book that I did for amazon.com:
Mormonism permeates just about every aspect of a believer's life. Pam McCreary does an excellent job of relating, in a gripping and well written manner, what it is like to grow up in the Mormon church. She exposes the not so well hidden sexism that infects the church at all levels. And she describes how Mormonism requires its followers to sacrifice their individuality and uniqueness on its altar of obedience and conformity. She also poignantly tells how discovering the truth about the Mormon church fundamentally altered her life and forever changed her relationship with her parents, her spouse, and her friends.
As a former Mormon, I found that much of Pam McCreary's life mirrored my own and that she has successfully battled many of the same demons that I have. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is or has struggled with being Mormon or anyone who has a spouse, close friend or relative un
| Reading Charles M. Larson's book once again, I came upon the following in Chapter 9 (fifth paragraph):
"While some Egyptian words need no determinative, many have more than one; some words even require as many as three determinatives to express a single thought. Egyptian writing was thus cumbersome to use, and lacked any true depth of abstraction. That it was able to survive for more than three millennia was due more to its use within a stagnant society, than to any special merit of its own. Eventually its vast inferiority to other forms of writing, such as Greek or Hebrew, led to its disuse and ultimate disappearance."
Hmm, this sure sheds a whole lot of light on the reasons why Nephi and his family chose to revise their Hebrew language by adding Egyptian elements to make writing on the gold plates easier. Obviously they preferred writing in cumbersome languages with no depth of abstraction. Maybe they should have followed Brother Brigham's example and just made up an entirely new alphabet from scratch.
| Has anyone else read this book? I am floored. I am no brain expert. I am excited to see things so clearly now that I understand the mechanics better. I am on chapter 5 that explains the function of Ritual in religion or nationalism.
Newberg, D'Aquili and Rause methodically tear down the walls of the previously held mysteries within our skulls. Many preconceived notions fade away as they explain the compartments of the brain and lay out what goes on in the skull during any Ritual.
...every ritual turns a meaningful idea into a visceral experience. The ideas that animate religious ritual are rooted in ... myth.
"... scriptures provide a powerful basis for faith and an effective buffer against existential fears. But these assurances are, ultimately, only ideas, and even in their most potent state, can only be believed in the mind... The neurobiology of ritual, however, turns these ideas into felt experiences, into mind-body, sensory, and cognitive events that "prove" their reality.
"By giving us a visceral taste of God's presence, rituals provide us with satisfying proof that the scriptural assurances are real."
Then the explanation goes on to dole out plentiful information about the how the watch-dog brain function of the amygdala picks up on odd, out of the norm, behaviors found in rituals, becomes stimulated, and thus creates an arousal response.
This is hardwired biology stemming from our ancient need to be aware of danger in our surroundings. Flight or fight!
I am giddy. There is a certain elation that comes with the realization of how there is a rational reason as to why so many religions exist.
No culture has existed ever, that humans have studied, that does not also have myths to explain the unexplainable existential questions. (I am also in the middle of Campbell's The Power of Myth PBS series). These myths have always generated rituals. Why do they generate rituals? Because rituals generate a palpable feeling of collecive "we are on to something here" -ness. Rituals are the soothing balm. Rituals are our opiate to keepp us from running amuck in the streets in terror? I don't know how else to say it?
It makes perfect sense.
Now, with that, the fundies will clamor
"Yes, that is right! God is amazing how he designed us! He created us this way so he could tap into our neurobiological make up to communicate with us!"
To which I would respond that by that reason alone we can be done with dogmatic rules and regulations found in One and Only True churches. If a god is stimulating human brain amygdalas, hypothalamuses to placate our existential fears, then that certainly cannot make for proof that one religion is true over another. Rituals from prostrating ones body in Islam to Buddhist meditations, to the Catholic Eucharist to the mormon temple, to simple bowing of ones head in prayer to the common shaking of another's hand all generate a tangible human response.
This book shines a bright light on the human capacity to create our own calming "opiate" in dealing with our human condition. In religion, in patriotism, in common social greetings, in politics, in sexual mating attempts... to name a few.
This created response does not mean there is a god. The book, thus far, clearly highlights that. In fact, the explanation of the response mechanisms actually creates a case that there need not be a god.
Either way, the book makes excellent, factual, case building points. There are detailed and rational explanations behind the rituals I partook in the mormon religion. I never knew why I felt the way I did. I questioned how there could be so many religions in this world. I don't question anymore. Let the reader draw their own conclusions.
Ritual, then, is nothing more than a form of manipulation. By human biology or by god is up to personal preference.
| I just completed reading The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle by Kathleen Flake. This is the most interesting non-Mormon yet Mormon book I have ever read (surpassing Pragmatic Prophet: Joseph Smith III).
The book was engaging on multiple levels:
i) It validated many of the differences between Protestant views of religion versus the Mormon view that I so often felt as a convert. It was incredibly difficult to believe in the theocratic doctrines of Mormonism when I was raised in Protestant dominated Midwest where public schools taught that theocracies were lesser forms of government than democracies. Likewise, making morality subservient to ideology was an unresolved conflict as was the concept of there even being ‘one true church’.
ii) It illuminated the intense pressure brought to bear by Protestants and the sea change in Mormon culture, doctrine, and hierarchal politics that was required to end polygamy once and for all. If you could imagine the drama of Iran Contra hearings, the prevaricating of the Clinton impeachment trials, and the spectacle of the OJ Simpson trial you would begin to get a picture of the Smoot hearings and, in particular, the testimony of Joseph F. Smith.
Some of the best insight into the proceedings are provided by Smoot’s young secretary.
“I feel sick sometimes and sometimes I just feel unwell. The Committee is insisting that John W. Taylor and [Matthias] Cowley come and they ought to, but I do not want them to come and lie, and I do not know whether I want them to come and tell the truth. So there you are – the devil and the deep sea.”
iii) It itemized specific points of modern church belief and practice that were given birth via the death of polygamy. Specific among these are the codifying/promulgation of the First Vision which redefined the belief priorities of being Mormon, reassertion of the ‘one true church’ principle, and redefinition of celestial marriage from plural marriage to eternal marriage with attendant temple restrictions. Even seemingly minor Mormon cultural traits still found today, such as the unhealthy pursuit of perfection, are rooted in that period.
“If the Gospel will not make us better by obedience to its precepts, then it is no better than any other religion…The religion that makes men the best of all in the world is the best religion and that religion has been embraced by the members of this Church for it is the religion of Jesus Christ.” Pres. Joseph F. Smith
After reading this book I am much more knowledgeable about the death throes of polygamy and its effects. My knowledge of non-Mormon American history during this period was also increased.
As an Ex-Mormon I am sympathetic to the concluding argument provided by Utah’s other senator and lapsed Mormon, George Sutherland:
“The melancholy fact runs through all history that nothing has been too absurd, nothing too cruel, to be believed and taught and done in the name of religion… You can not reason with a false religious belief anymore than you can argue with a case of typhoid fever. It simply runs its course and mental health returns… when the false belief no longer appeals to the intellect.” In Flake’s words, “It was a low standard, but one the Mormons could meet.”
Amen Sister Flake. Amen.
| by Walter Kirn, who was at least raised Mormon but I don't know the rest of his story.
This book is about a quest by a young missionary named Elder Mason, who represents a secluded religious sect that needs converts and money to remain alive. In the specifics, the sect has little resemblance to Mormonism, but to we who were raised Mormon and know the history, the Apostles (as they call themselves) will seem very familiar. The way they believe is very folksy and charming perhaps like an idealized Mormonism of old, in contrast to the post-modern shifty Morg of today that seeks power and money instead of spirituality. This conflict is played out in the book on two levels: a schism in Mason's home community and also the conflict between Mason and his senior companion who, upon finding himself in the outside world for the first time, immediately discards the health code of the Apostles (seemingly their most important teaching) and gorges himself on candybars, soda pop, and medication. While Mason is a sincere believer, his companion is a charlatan. These conflicts were most appealing to me, and mayalso be to RfMers, because something similar has happened in the real Mormon church, with the money grubbing charlatans winning out IMO and converting a spiritual (although fraudulent, we all know) religion into a watered-down mainstream shell in order to bring home the cash. So read this book and see how it comes out for the Apostles, and for Mason.
The story is told in first person with a satirical voice that reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut. A lot of the satire is directed at the shallow Terrestrians (the gentiles) who eat processed flour and have been converted to too many religions already to give an ear to Mason. The peak comes when Mason has to take a part-time job as a "mystery shopper" at something like Super HomeDepo, when he has never in his life gone shopping.
I think this book will appeal to anyone who felt like their mission took place on another planet, or to anyone who once loved Mormonism, and maybe still misses it sometimes (even if you are now an atheist, like me).
| I just finished listening to Martha Nibley Beck's Leaving the Saints and compiled my top ten favorite Mo-quotes from her work.
10. My mother kept grinding away at the one occupation recommended for Mormon females – breed well in captivity.
9. Regarding DNA analysis of Native Americans beings of Asian origin rather than Middle Eastern: This is the time for apologists to rush in like white blood cells attacking a virus to defend Joseph Smith and the subsequent Mormon leaders. Nobody does this better than my father.
8. There are layers and layers of Latter-day Saint culture and niceness is only the top layer, the icing on a perfect home baked cake.
7. The only thing scarier than telling my secrets would be keeping them. When the sensitive information you carry is your own history, going mute to protect the system doesn’t keep you from being destroyed, it just means you destroy yourself.
6. Regarding her wedding day endowment: Everyone in the room simultaneously pantomimed the various modes of death that would be inflicted on us if we broke the vows of secrecy. This part of the temple ceremony used to be even gorier. One promised method of death was to have one’s tongue torn out by the root.
Now-a-days the whole murder/suicide pact segment of the ceremony has been eliminated. I think that’s a damn shame. I can’t imagine anything that can clean out your spiritual sinuses as fast a getting together with a bunch of clean cut normal as pie Mormons and performing a synchronized group mime of your own violent death.
I found it so surreal that it was truly marvelous. Like watching a episode of Leave It To Beaver in which June and Ward take just a moment out of their busy day to agree that if they ever leak the family secrets, they’ll hack off each other’s limbs.
5. I’ve always been perplexed that when my son with Downs Syndrome speaks gibberish people assume it’s because he’s mentally retarded, but when Mormon leaders do the same thing, Latter-day Saints assume it’s because the power and depth of their insight boggles ordinary understanding.
4. Mormons are absolute suckers for a juicy life after death testimonial and my father, a Mormon’s Mormon if every there was one, was talking more like Stephen King. On the other hand I remember that Mormons also believe in the literal resurrection of the physical body. Latter-day Saints never cremate their dead because on the morning of the first resurrection, when Jesus appears in Jackson County, Missouri (If you’d to get your tickets right away?) all the graves of the truly righteous saints will fly open and they’ll be raised up to meet Christ with their original flesh and bones but intriguingly, no blood, reanimated and restored to excellent condition, like a pre-owned Lexus.
3. A good Mormon woman has elaborately curled longish hair until middle age and a permed upswepted coiffure in later life. Either way, the highly sprayed hair moves as a unit like a padded, shellacked helmet protecting the brain from injury or information.
2. Regarding the September Six dissident purge: Mormon leaders made public statements that likened the intellectuals to ravening wolves among the flocks. I kind of like the wolf analogy myself. After all, wolves are cooperative social beings who control the population, baby sit each others puppies and develop life long friendships. I decided I vastly preferred being a wolf to being a woman who runs with the sheep.
1. I know a lot of people who claim that their families are weirder because of Mormonism, but I am one of a much more select group who can justifiably claim that Mormonism is weirder because of my family.
Martha Nibley Beck's Leaving The Saints: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/red...
| I am currently reading "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" by Bart Erhman, chairman of Department of Religious Studies at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. It concerns textual criticism, the science of determining the reliability of various biblical texts. Unlike so many books on the subject, it is written for the layman.
Dr. Erhman has been a prolific and popular author. He has written several books on early Christianity and its literature, some of which I own and have read. I like him because he is scholarly and moderate.
Of particular interest to me was the account of his evolution as a believer. He was raised as an Episcopalian. Through a high school Christian group, he became "born again". He attended fundamentalist Moody Bible Institute, then evangelical Wheaton College, and finally liberal Princeton Theological Seminary.
As a Christian fundamentalist, he believed the Bible to be inerrant. The more he studied, though, the more suspect this absolutist position became. Eventually, he concluded that the Bible is literature, not inspired scripture.
For his final term paper analyzing the gospel of Mark for a Princeton class, he attempted to rationalize a historical mistake. This involves the incident when Pharisees accuse Jesus' disciples of violating the Sabbath because they picked grain to eat. Jesus reminds them that King David and his hungry soldiers ate temple grain. "Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath." Mark mistakenly names Abiathar as high priest at the time of this event, when it was Abiathar's father, Ahemelech.
Ehrman writes, "In my paper for Professor Story, I developed a long and complicated argument to the effect that even though Mark indicates this happened "when Abiathar was the high priest," it doesn't really mean that Abiathar was the high priest, but that the event took place in the part of the scriptural text that has Abiathar as one of the main characters. My argument was based on the meaning of the Greek words involved and was a bit convoluted. I was pretty sure Professor Story would appreciate the argument, since I knew him as a good Christian scholar who obviously (like me) would never think there could be anything like a genuine error in the Bible. But at the end of my paper he made a simple one-line comment that for some reason went straight through me. He wrote: 'Maybe Mark just made a mistake.' I started thinking about it, considering all the work I had put into the paper, realizing that I had had to do some pretty fancy exegetical footwork to get around the problem, and that my solution was in facta bit of a stretch. I finally concluded, 'Hmm...maybe Mark did make a mistake.'"
Ehrman wouldn't have had this experience if he wasn't willing to challenge his fundamentalist beliefs by attending Princeton. "Once again I was warned by my evangelical friends against going to Princeton Seminary, since, as they told me, I would have trouble finding any 'real' Christians there. It was, after all, a Presbyterian seminary, not exactly a breeding ground for born-again Christians. But my study of English literature, philosophy, and history-not to mention Greek-had widened my horizons significantly, and my passion was now for knowledge, knowledge of all kinds, sacred and secular, If learning the 'truth' meant no longer being able to identify with the born-again Christians I knew in high school, so be it. I was intent of pursuing my quest for truth wherever it might take me. trusting that any truth I learned was no less true for being unexpected or difficult to fit into the pigeonholes provided by my evangelical background."
I feel a real kinship to Ehrman and his search for truth. Mine has led me to very similar conclusions concerning Mormonism, Christianity, and the Bible. Ehrman has been one of my many guides in this search, including my fellow "Ex-Mos".
| In Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith, Harris' argues that religious faith is the primary culprit for much, if not most, of the social evil that exists in the world, including specifically, but not limited to, the current terrorist activities of Muslim extremists. Faith, through its irrational commitment to sacred scripture, and its exclusivist dogma, drives religious institutions and individuals toward a false certainty of their belief systems, resulting in divinely sanctioned violence. Thus, according to Harris, "religion has been the explicit cause of millions of deaths in the last ten years." (page 26).
But it is not just the terrorist activity of institutional religion that bothers Harris. His complaint is against faith generally, including faith that pays lip service to non-violence, while espousing moderation, and religious tolerance. Thus, he states: "[T]he very idea of religious tolerance . . . is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss." (page 15) Moderation, for Harris, is only a willingness to turn a blind eye to the "literal tenants of one's faith." Thus, true Christians as well as true Muslims who take seriously their sacred texts must be committed to the violence and irrationality that are clearly and distinctly manifest in such texts. As Harris puts it: "This is a problem for moderation in religion: it has nothing underwriting it other than the acknowledged neglect of the letter of the divine law." (page 15)
It is not just that religious faith is the explanation of terrorist atrocities; Harris's issue with even moderate forms of religious faith encompasses the claim that religious faith is per se irrational. "Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the name 'God' as though we knew what we were talking about." For Harris, religious faith is irrational for the same reason that skeptics judge it irrational, because it is not supported by credible evidence, or more charitably by reasonable inferences from one's spiritual intuitions.
What is remarkable about Harris' book is that his attack on faith and religion is not a wholesale dismissal of spirituality. He believes that spiritual intuitions are valid empirical experiences, but that we can meet our spiritual needs by other, more rational means. Thus, he states: "There is little doubt that a certain range of human experience can be appropriately described as 'spiritual' or 'mystical.' (page 39) Moreover, "Many of the results of spiritual practice are genuinely desirable, and we owe it to ourselves to seek them out." Although such spiritual experiences are genuine, "the popular religious ideas that have grown up around them are as dangerous as they are incredible." (Ibid.) Thus, Harris seems to adhere to the currently popular concept of religious naturalism, cut loose from metaphysical religious implications.
There is not doubt that Harris' book appeals to our intuitive disgust of historical atrocities committed in the name of religion, as well as our more feverish frustration and fear over current religious violence, particularly 9-11. Of course, we all more or less share in such emotions. However, when a remedy is proposed that (1) selectively assigns blame to a single aspect of cultural social practice, (2) indirectly points the finger at a group of people, namely the religious generally, and (3) demands intolerance of such group as a remedy for the violence, one has to wonder whether Harris is trading one kind of intolerance for another. More importantly, such accusations and theories demand more than loose expositions of facts and evidence. What is needed, and must be demanded, is a thorough consideration of hard evidence, presumably from the social sciences, that establishes the necessary connection between violence and faith–particularly moderate faith. Moreover, he needs to provide evidence that there arenot other factors associated with terrorist violence, for example, economic, political, and social conditions, that contribute to violence in a manner that is isolated from considerations of faith. Finally, he needs to provide evidence showing that a removal of faith will reduce the quantity of violence, and its effects, without other undesirable tradeoffs. For example, although some violence would undoubtedly be eliminated by an eradication of faith, it is certainly conceivable that other forms of violence, for example, violence associated with adverse economic conditions, might actually increase. Despite Harris' reliance on isolated and ancient passages of religious texts, there is no question that religious faith and practice in the present age stresses non-violence, patience, and tolerance. It is quite conceivable that overall violence would increase, not decrease, if these values were undermined.
Harris' argument that faith is responsible for social violence is logically suspect as committing the informal logical fallacy sometimes called "hasty generalization." Harris is taking the premise that terrorist violence is driven by people of faith, and concluding that all people of faith are thus dangerous, or potentially dangerous. It is reminiscent of the argument that since all drug addicts started with marijuana, there must be something implicit about marijuana that leads to hard drugs. It is also reminiscent of the argument that since most violence involves guns, guns are per se objectionable. It just doesn't follow. The fact that in a relatively small number of cases vaccinations cause disease and death does not support the view that vaccinations must cease as a social evil. Similarly, just because extremist faith can and does lead to violence does not entail anything implicitly bad about faith, other than the fact that at times it can lead to violence. A thorough risk benefit analysis is needed, supported by evidence. This is not even suggested by Harris.
As a philosopher, Harris realizes that his argument requires a convincing and authoritative moral theory that can take the place of religious absolutism. Harris' book in itself is full of value judgments that by his own philosophical tone demand a rational explanation. Thus, he provides a kind of patchwork moral theory involving naturalism and intuitionism that never is rigorously articulated. Moreover, we have a right to be immediately skeptical. After over two millennia of effort, no such moral theory has been forthcoming. As the philosopher David Copp has noted:
"Although we have moral beliefs we have some reason to doubt that they are on a secure footing. For one thing, there is no culturally entrenched rationally appealing process, comparable to scientific method, that we can appeal to for an answer to our plea for an articulated and defended morality, or even for answers to specific moral disputes. . . . The existence of seemingly fundamental disputes between apparently rational and well-intentioned people and the absence of an appealing decision procedure provide us with some reason to doubt the rational basis of the whole enterprise of morality." (David Copp, Morality, Reason and Truth)
Consider also, the following statement by Bertrand Russell:
"Questions as to "values"–that is to say, as to what is good or bad on its own account, independently of its effects–lie outside the domain of science, as the defenders of religion emphatically assert. I think that in this they are right, but I draw the further conclusion, which they do not draw, that questions as to "values" lie wholly outside the domain of knowledge." (Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science)
Notwithstanding the widespread, and almost academically universal adherence to some form of moral relativism, Harris rejects such view out of hand, noting: "But most forms of relativism–including moral relativism, which seems especially well subscribed–are nonsensical." (page 178) This statement naively ignores the compelling reasons why moral absolutism has been rejected by non-religious philosophers, and why moral relativism has enjoyed such a commanding academic following. As is typical, Harris offers no discussion on the complexity of these issues. Instead, Harris adopts a form of moral realism based upon naturalistic principles. He thus states: "To be an ethical realist is to believe that in ethics, as in physics, there are truths waiting to be discovered–and thus we can be right or wrong in our beliefs about them." (page 181) Such a statement is just silly. The discussion of intuition as somehow grounding this naturalistic view gets him nowhere. Regarding intuitionist theories generally, philosopher A.J. Ayer has noted:
"A feature of this theory, which is seldom recognized by its advocates, is that what seems intuitively certain to one person may seem doubtful, or even false, to another. So that unless it is possible to provide some criterion by which one may decide between conflicting intuitions, a mere appeal to intuition is worthless as a test of a proposition's validity. But in the case of moral judgments, no such criterion can be given." (A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic)
Harris answers this objection by acknowledging the difficulty, and then merely insisting, that reliance upon intuition is not fatal to moral argument:
"The fact that we must rely on certain intuitions to answer ethical questions does not in the least suggest that there is anything insubstantial, ambiguous, or culturally contingent about ethical truth. As in any other field, there will be room for intelligent dissent on questions of right and wrong, but intelligent dissent has its limits."
Harris believes that rational moral discourse can be grounded through our intuitions about the ultimate value of happiness and love. Then, after grossly understating the difficulty of such view, he merely states: "Admittedly, the problem of adjudicating what counts has happiness, and which forms of happiness should supercede others, is difficult–but so is every other problem worth thinking about."
This dead end is unacceptable. First, there is no reason to assume happiness is intuitively acceptable as the foundation for ethical theory, let alone what might count as "happiness." (A personal example that comes to mind is the value of truth over happiness. No doubt at least in my own case, happiness would have been better served in my family had I been willing to fake an allegiance to Mormonism) Such views have been soundly criticized and refuted. Add to this the religious world view that invariably encompasses a context of happiness that includes a future life, Harris' moral theory gets nowhere, and we are left with only empty rhetoric.
A common theme throughout Harris' book is the idea that religious faith is per se irrational. This assumption is much more problematic than Harris realizes–especially if you accept the validity of "spiritual intuitionism" which he apparently subscribes to. We need an account of rationality here that encompasses a concept of evidence that is objectively and logically compelling. Invoking a scientific worldview will not do because there is nothing within science that suggests that such a worldview encompasses all of reality, or for that matter moral justification. (See Russell quote above) You need an argument that logically and rationally imposes evidentiary standards on belief systems–without begging the question by insisting on a scientific worldview.
Harris states: "Believing a given proposition is a matter of believing that it faithfully represents some state of the world, and this fact yields some immediate insights into standards by which our beliefs should function. In particular, it reveals why we cannot help but value evidence and demand that propositions about the world logically cohere. These constraints apply equally to matters of religion." (Page 51)
Note, however, that there is nothing about the intentional mental state of belief as corresponding to the world that demands anything–except perhaps logical consistency and coherence with other beliefs. If by "evidence" Harris means scientific evidence, his statement is just wrong. The terrorist accepts a worldview that is arguably consistent with and coheres with his other beliefs. Moreover, his evidence for such a worldview is, at least ideally, based upon his own spiritual intuitions, or his acceptance of the spiritual intuitions of others. Thus, Harris' discussion of logical contradiction and coherence does not support his thesis that religious faith is per se irrational. Much more work needs to be done.
Thus, essentially none of Harris' arguments have philosophical or logical merit. It reads more as rambling populist rhetoric than a serious and rigorous discussion of the relationship between faith and terrorism. This, of course, is not to suggest that there is no such relationship; and certainly not to suggest that terrorism itself must be tolerated. But to single out one of many contributing factors of terrorism, and then advocate without well-reasoned argument intolerance toward non-violent demonstrations of faith, is both unjustified and arguably irresponsible. Faith may indeed be a social liability; and it may be irrational, but Harris has not shown either.
| In the early 1980s sociologist Rodney Stark caused a considerable stir in academic circles by predicting the meteoric rise of Mormonism to the status of ‘world religion’ during the twenty first century, projecting a possible membership of 267 million by 2080 (63 million being the lower estimate). This book comprises a collection of previously published articles in which Stark defends and refines his views on the progress and basis of Mormon growth, with the addition of a couple of previously unpublished sections, including an introduction by the editor (Reid L. Neilson, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina) discussing the reception of Stark’s prognostications among Mormon and non-Mormon commentators. Most of the articles reproduced in this volume appeared originally in the _Review of Religious Research_, which is a particularly difficult journal to locate in British academic libraries: hence this volume opens up Stark’s essays to a larger audience. This book is therefore not a narrative account of the rise of Mormonism such as would have been comparable with Stark’s earlier popular treatment of the _Rise of Christianity_.
After nearly a quarter of a century Stark is very up-beat about the prospect of the Mormon church meeting his predicted levels of growth in the coming century. He understandably claims vindication against his critics on the basis of Mormon figures which have so far exceeded the upper level predicted by his model of exponential growth. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that even in the new sections of the book no attempt is made by Stark to confront mounting evidence that Mormon growth has slowed dramatically in recent years. Also disappointing is the failure to interact with a growing discussion about how to interpret the church’s official figures in view of a worldwide drop in membership ‘activity rates’. While new baptisms ensure that the total membership figure is always rising, this masks a growing nominalism within the church as many converts have drifted from the association and no longer consider themselves affiliated to the church. This phenomenon has been most dramatically demonstrated in various countries where census results have revealed that only a fraction of those on the church’s rolls actually consider themselves Mormons. Future discussions of Mormon growth by Stark or others must involve a more penetrative consideration of how to interpret official membership figures, supplementing these with other indicators of growth, such as activity rates and census returns.
Stark’s enthusiasm for the success of the Mormon church must be understood within the context of his wider contribution to the discussion of the fate of religion in the modern world. Rejecting formulations of the secularization thesis espoused by Bryan Wilson and Steve Bruce, Stark maintains that religion is still very much in demand and that fellow sociologists of religion who uphold the secularization thesis have mistaken religious change for religious decline. Hence the rise of new and successful religious groups, such as the Mormons, is central to Stark’s view that the current religious scene represents a buoyant and vibrant spiritual ‘marketplace’ in which religious innovators continually plug the gaps left by declining liberal churches. While Steve Bruce has offered compelling reasons for rejecting Stark’s contention that religion and belief in the supernatural in general are in good shape (see _God is Dead: Secularization in the West_), more detailed analyses of the specific examples that Stark commonly cites, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as the Mormons, is needed to demonstrate that they are incorrectly enlisted as supporting his rejection of the secularization thesis.
Although I have outlined the considerable weaknesses of Stark’s analysis of Mormon growth in particular, as well as the implications of his using this as a faulty basis for his general theory concerning religious supply and demand, I would be remiss not to mention some of the other redeeming features of this collection. Included in the volume is an excellent study of the factors that have contributed to Mormon growth to date, with careful attention paid to the social networks by which the church has expanded and thrived. Stark perceptively observes that personal contacts with outsiders by ordinary members have been much more successful in producing converts to the church than has the traditional cold-call tactics of missionaries or high profile church advertising campaigns. An article on the early growth and development of the church also demonstrates that close family networks have played a crucial role in the movement’s growth and cohesion since its inception. Although Stark has overstated the present and potential growth of the Mormon church, where he is on firmer ground is when he argues that a vital component of the church’s ability to achieve the status of ‘world religion’ in the future will be in the realm of successful public relations. While the Mormon church will probably never reach that predicted 267 million figure (or even the lower 63 million estimate), the church is in many ways already well along the road to establishing itself as a ‘world faith’ rather than a 'sect' in the twenty first century.
| Any comments about Maurine Whipple's novel "The Giant Joshua?"
It was published in 1942, and was reprinted by Sam Weller about 28 years ago. And, in truth, its a great read.
I was surprised a Mormon could write a novel like that, and get away with it. Whipple wrote it in the early 40s, when the church was more bloodthirsty than it is now. The brethren have always hated a rebel. Whipple was a rebel, to be sure, who wrote about "blood atonement,"polygamy as it was practiced (not happily), and life in the theocracy run by Brigham Young.
I read it in 1978, and it opened my eyes to many things--"blood atonement" in particular. I had not realized, until I read her novel, how it was used to keep Mormons in line. The heroine of the novel is in love with her husband's son (they are the same age) but the fear of "blood atonement" keeps them from doing anything, including leaving Utah.
The descriptions of life in Brigham Young's Utah police state are very painful. The wives detest each other, and are instantly jealous of a new wife. The husbands are horny buggers, "Priesthood" holders in the worst sense. And they don't know much about foreplay, as I recall. All they know is kingdom building, adding wives, and posing as great patriarchs-- like their role model Brother Brigham.
At any rate, its well worth reading. It made the national best seller lists when it was first published, and was read in more than just the U.S. The Brits read it as well. Whipple said that the Brits read it in the "tubes" while seeking refuge from Hitler's Luftwaffe. It is a real novel, not "The Work and the Glory" kind of kitsch. Mormonism has not produced another Whipple.
Oh yes, by way of information--its available on Amazon.
The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple.
| I just finished a book by a fellow ex-Mormon and I’m here to report.
The book is called Portals of the Night by Dennis C. Farley. He has posted here occasionally as Portal.
This book is creative, artistic and intelligently written. A reflective ex-Mormon could not ask for a better read.
The story is a multifaceted fiction thriller with great sub-plots. Maybe I should call it a psychological suspense story. Maybe I should call it science fiction or fantasy. Maybe a better description would be a story demonstrating important concepts from world mythology. Maybe it is an exposé of the LDS temple teachings. Perhaps I could call it a legal scandal tale since it involves making the LDS church accountable for what it teaches. I can say the symbolism in this book and the themes it presents are intriguing.
I’m still not sure I’ve captured this book for you. Imagine a mix like this:
Take a bit of Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage and add it to some Krakauer’s Banner of Heaven. Then add some of the intrigue of a Dan Brown mystery murder story and spice it up with some hints of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. Mix in some drops of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael series, the Story of B, and a pinch of existentialist philosophy. Shake in a healthy dose of musings on the subconscious. Stir with Greek mythology and applications of world mythology that would make Joseph Campbell proud. Add some law expertise and the perspective of an ex-Mormon who is remarkably talented. Blend throughout with LDS temple proceedings and Mormon culture.
Have I hooked you yet? If you read this book, please post about it because I’d love to discuss it!
For your information, you can order it from places like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or iUniverse and it will be ready in two to three weeks. It is a print on demand book. I ordered it from Barnes and Noble and picked it up at the store (no shipping charges) for $22.95.
The ISBN number is 0595344356.
Since this book is especially for ex-Mormons by an ex-Mormon, I’m hopeful this book can get some attention. I like to do what I can to support our ex-Mormon authors.
By the way, I do not know the author and have no agenda other than to share what I thought of this book.
I just ordered the book by Natalie Collins, which is next on my list. Thanks to the excellent authors who educate and entertain us with stories ex-Mos can appreciate!
| Obviously, the worst church books are "The Book of Mormon," the "Pearl of Great Fraud," and "The Doctrine and Covenants." If the church had any brains, they would deep six them. Even the most cursory reading shows them to be man made. The "Pearl of Great Fraud" is almost criminally insane.
But the works of Brother Joseph are not alone. There are other trashy works, some of which are gone, and some of which linger on and on and on and on.
My favorites are:
"The Autobiography of Parley Pratt." Long after I read it, I learned it was a fraud, and had been compiled by others. Old Parley was long gone, felled by an "assassin," which was church-speak for enraged husband.
"Essentials in Church History," is another book of fantasy. In fact, one of my companions called it "Essentials in Church Fantasy."
It has precious little history, but lots of folklore, propaganda, and party line. Joseph is like a god, moving among the lesser mortals. He does no wrong, and all the Mormons are unfairly persecuted. Its the party line writ large. I am not sure it would be that easy to find in print . It was so full of bias and propaganda it even embarrassed the church.
Another gem was "Man, his Origin and Destiny." Unless I am wrong, this came from the pissing contest between B.H. Roberts and Joseph Fielding Smith. Smith, of course, outlasted his enemy, and his view of the subject was around for a long time.
It presents the standard church fare--Adam and Eve, divine creation, and all the rest. Look at it now, and you cringe.
"Mormon Doctrine," has to be one of the nastiest books ever written. It did damage in many Mormon homes, and gave the church the image of being a Catholic hating organization. Many Mormons did not buy off on the "church of the devil" stuff, but enough did. Going to the temple reinforced the view.
I always felt embarrassed when a Catholic brought that touchy subject to my attention. And for good reason. It was one hell of a cheap shot.
"The Miracle of Forgiveness" has also done terrible harm to many people. It was always recommended by Bishops to sinners, who, upon reading it, felt even more guilt, depression, and despair. I wonder how many people committed suicide after reading the book?
The part about a woman needing to die rather than submit to a rapist is particularly cruel. How, in God's name, could anyone have written that? It could not have been more stupid.
The only comic relief in the book, besides the irony of the title, is the part about Cain appearing to be a Bigfoot type creature. That was funny. The rest of the book was not.
"Stand for Something," is the most recent bit of rubbish. This book was prepared to give Hinckley a nation wide audience. It was published for public consumption, which it did not get. The Mike Wallace blurb on the cover did not increase sales.
I glanced through it, and found lots of platitudes, Mormon stories disguised to fool any non Mormon readers, and too much of nothing. The book hardly seemed inspired. I would rank it with junk written by people like Robert Schueller. Hinckley wanted to be a public figure, a man recognized as a national religious leader. He did not make it. He came across as a platitude dispenser, a self-promoter in the Pat Robertson tradition.
While I was on my mission, my parents sent me a couple of books of the writings of David O. McKay. I enjoyed them. I read about Robert the Bruce, Robert Burns, literature, learning, kindness, and education. I threw out nearly all of my church books, but I kept McKay. I felt uplifted by his writing. It was broad, educated, and kind. What a contrast to the drivel from McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, Spencer Kimball, and Gordon Hinckley.
Mormonism has surely produced a lot of books. I "stand all amazed" at the number of books. Not many were worth reading. Compilations of Conference talks don't amount to much. Neither do silly novels, guilt inducing books on repentance, or dogmatic diatribes.
| I have only read three books so far on church history. That is to say, church history that the church does not approve.
No Man Knows My History
Under the Banner of Heaven
Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith
No Man made me laugh. I found it humorous for some reason. Perhaps because this was my first exposure to the naughty bits of Joseph Smith's life - which I found absurd. Money digging indeed.
Under the Banner depressed me greatly. It weighed heavily on my soul for quite a while.
Mormon Enigma infuriated me. I had nights I could not sleep. I was so very, very angry on behalf of this woman. All I'd ever heard in church about Emma Smith was "We don't know what happened. She lost her way. She married again to a person who was not very nice at all. Such a shame."
Emma Smith believed in her husband. After everything that happened, near the end of her life, she still professed that he was everything he claimed to be. She never lost her faith in the Book of Mormon. She stood by him. She was his scribe. For months the Golden Plates lay on her kitchen table, covered with a cloth. She lifted them but never looked at them. She had great faith in Joseph Smith's work. Her life was anything but easy. Many children died, they moved from place to place, she was estranged from her own family.
By all accounts Joseph and Emma had a pretty decent marriage. He seemed to value her greatly. UNTIL, yes, until he started marrying her friends without her knowledge. She heard rumors and spoke against plural marriage in Relief Society. As a result Relief Society was shut down for a decade. At some point in time she became aware of the hard cold truth. From that point until the end of her life she fought against polygamy. She fought with Joseph over and over. He brought home the prophesy on paper. (DandC 132). She continued to argue with him so much that he eventually burned the paper in front of her.
Joseph refused to endow her unless she humbled herself to this covenant. His brother Hyrum also tried to talk sense into her. Eventually she agreed to choose 4 wives for her husband. Ironically two of them had already married him. They had a second ceremony to hide this fact from Emma. Not long after she reached her breaking point and kicked them out of her house, making Joseph promise to no longer see them.
She refused to follow Brigham Young in large part because she would not support polygamy. She shielded her children from the covenant. As adults they asked her outright if their father was a polygamist and she replied no. She adamantly denied it even though many other people still knew differently. In the RLDS church it is widely believed that Joseph Smith was not a polygamist and this is why.
Her second husband did father a child out of wedlock. The child came to live with them. Despite the trash talk from every LDS member that traveled from Utah they seemed to have a decent marriage. Her children were fond of him. His letters to her were touching.
The very notion that God would not only condone this situation but insist on it is absurd. How anyone can claim that the one true church, the perfect gospel, would create such a situation is beyond my understanding.
How long will it be before my anger on behalf of Emma Smith goes away? Only time will tell.
| First, I am aghast at the callous manipulations and (I can’t find words strong enough), and unfeeling, selfish actions of a so-called prophet of God. I will bracket all of Todd Compton’s quotes [ ].
[Pg. 22, 23
The introduction was priceless, and I quote: “Gentile (i.e., non-Mormon) marriages were “illegal” of not eternal value or even earthly validity; marriages authorized by the Mormon priesthood and prophets took precedence. Sometimes these sacred marriages were felt to fulfill pre-mortal linkings and so justified a sacred marriage superimposed over a secular one. Mormonism’s intensely hierarchical nature allowed a man with the highest earthly authority – a Joseph Smith or a Brigham Young – to request the wives of men holding lesser priesthood or no priesthood.]
[Pg. 463, 464
At this point Smith proposed to fifteen – or sixteen-year-old Lucy demanding that she marry him . . .
. . . Smith saw that Lucy was unhappy and sought another interview . . . He told her that the marriage would have to be secret . . . He emphasized that this was not a proposal that she could accept or reject according to a romantic whim. To refuse him would bring damnation: “It is a command of God to you.” Furthermore, there was a time limit: “I will give you until to-morrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.”]
Next, what person believes such rot? Who would believe in a God so precarious, shifty, partial, and unfair as this god?
Next – I think the still “Mormon” Todd Compton makes a Freudian slip:
It fits him into the context of the broader “spiritual wife” doctrine of the Burned-over District, in which spiritual affinities between a man and woman took precedence over legal but nonsacral marriage.] (Freudian slip is next)
[Perhaps the Mormon doctrine of the pre-existence derived in part from this influence.]
What – Todd – a TBM does not think it came from God, that it is reality. That seems like a foundational belief to me – but who knows today. What was true then or even in the 60’s or 80’s is no longer true.
The saddest thing to me was how these selfish men kept these families in constant turmoil, adding to their already over-dramatic lives. Constant moving, constant fear, constant anti-cultural ways to live, constant poverty, constant upheaval, constant death (it had to increase with all the instability).
One polygamous wife wrote of polygamy – exactly the way she wrote about the death of her beloved baby. She knew that God was testing her; she knew that he would expect hard things and that she must endure and obey. She knew that her willingness to be obedient even when she did not want to was just her rebellious spirit and that God knew best.
Many of these women wondered if they were sinful to have so much to endure.
One last thing – the women that were married to Joseph were part of a very elite, exclusive club and were venerated and respected – because they had married the prophet. Initially, Joseph was revered, worshiped, and idolized beyond what I have experienced – and I have seen him worshiped, but this was sick.
They really thought that he would decide who would enter the CK and where they would go and with whom. Jesus was a secondary consideration to JS.
| I cannot remember who first provided the link to "Tell It All: A Woman's Life in Polygamy," and I want to let her know how much I appreciate the link.
I don't enjoy reading books online, so I looked in Amazon, and they have the book--a somewhat pricey reprint, but worth every cent.
It is one of the most eye-opening books I have ever read. The book has the ring of truth--the details she provides all ring true, and there is no doubt she wrote an honest account of her experiences as a Mormon. If you grew up in the Mormon church, you can feel her experiences with her. Most of the original framework is still in use. Little has changed, save the veneer of modernity.
Additionally, her observations of Mormonism are very shrewd. She saw the whole system for what it was, with all of its subtle and manipulative ways. Polygamy might be "gone" now, but the system is in place, and operates the same way. We still have the self-serving, and out of touch leaders. We still have the manipulation of the people, and the total indifference to the feelings, individuality, and concerns of the members. Its almost frightening to read about the church then, because its the same church now. This woman wrote the truth.
She also gives us detailed accounts of the handcart fiasco, the massacre at Mountain Meadows, "blood atonement," the bullying ways of Brigham Young, George A. Smith, Jedidiah Grant, and the reptilian Heber C. Kimball. These men were pigs, to be sure, and they had all the decency of frontier criminals.
She makes some other shrewd observations. Why, for example, did it take so long for the Salt Lake temple to be built? She says Brigham had the money, but kept putting it into his own account. She shows several ways in which the "Lion of Lord" used the people and the cult, to benefit himself.
What a book. Its remarkable reading, and I cannot begin to say how much I have enjoyed it--even though parts break the heart, and make the skin crawl.
Mormonism was made to provide huge doses of depression and unhappiness.
| I just finished reading the book “Good To Great” by Jim Collins ( see http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASI... ) and it struck me that the book was describing the central problems of the church as an institution. I thought it would be relevant for discussion here.
The book presents several concepts that the church excels at:
The “Stockdale Paradox” where the survival and success of an institution requires the unwavering determination for ultimate success; no organization exhibits this trait better than the church (and probably all religions). The leaders never falter in their view that the church will have ultimate success, in fact they are utterly convinced that the LDS religion will be the only one standing at the end of the race. This is the central reason for the church’s current success, and the central reason why the church moves through challenges and adversity so unharmed. They know they will succeed.
The “Hedgehog Concept” where the move from good to great depends on the institutions ability to focus on the intersection of three central areas of focus: 1. What are they most passionate about, 2. What they can do better than anyone else, and 3. What should be the central measurement or common denominator to track their progress. The church has done a tremendous job of excelling at this concept: They are passionate about building the kingdom; they can be the best at missionary work and socially structured programs for youth; and their common denominator for success is temple recommend holding members. These guys are good at this.
“Getting The Right People On The Bus” concept involves selecting leaders who exhibit the traits of the stockdale paradox and who are committed to the three circles of the hedgehog concept. The church excels getting the right people (zealot yes-men) in leadership positions, and you can bet that only the right people make it to the top quorums. This concept also involves getting the wrong people off the bus and that would be us (those who discover contradictions). The church is really good at marginalizing dissent.
So, as sad as it is, the church excels at some critical business model criteria for being a really good organization. They will probably be around for a long time.
The Church Can Never Become Great……
The book describes a critical trait that companies must have if they are ever to transition from good to great, and the church can never attain this trait.
“A great institution must have the ability to face the brutal facts about itself.”
The church has failed at this so many times that it should not even require elaboration. The top leaders are surrounded by cheerleaders and insulated from “the brutal facts”. Even when these brutal facts are presented, they are couched in terms of the work of the adversary against the kingdom, or the lack of faith on the part of the members…. Why are more and more people resigning their membership? Why are more young adults going inactive? Why is the rate of convert growth declining? Why are there no Lamanites? Why isn’t the Book of Abraham papyrus the Book of Abraham?..........
When I was reading the section of the book related to this idea of facing the brutal facts, it struck me that this is what will drag the church into a downward spiral. The top quorums move slowly, and can only move in unison, or not at all. The utter inability of the top leadership of the church to face brutal facts will make the church look more and more ridiculous as information expands and mythological proofs contract. The church is feeling the force of its own entropic mentality. Truth is falling more frequently outside of its reach , leaving it with a shrinking bubble of what it actually has to offer.
| I just finished "Behind Closed Doors" by our own Natalie Collins.
She has a way of building tension. It’s a page turner. It’s easy, fun and fast to read. It’s entertaining in lots of ways but for ex-Mormons it is especially amusing. I’m not kidding; practically every page has some little nuance about Mormonism that will leave you nodding knowingly. She starts with the gloves off and spills temple lingo. LOL! No wonder she is getting hate mail.
She captures all kinds of effects of Mormonism. Every character shows a side of Mormonism you will recognize. It’s got suspense. It’s a romance and will especially appeal to women who escaped Mormonism. It has murder and mayhem. If you want to escape and be entertained with a good story, check it out.
It’s another great addition to growing ex-Mormon genre. Support our exmo authors. Every book like hers helps educate as well as entertain.
PS to Natalie: Thanks for another great read! So many little things seemed like they were written as an inside joke just for me! For example, living in SE Idaho, we camp at Coulter Bay often. Names, streets, descriptions, and experiences described captured the LDS culture as we know it. Good job! I wish I had your talent.
If I said too much here, let me know and I'll delete it. I don't want to be a spoiler in any way.
| If you're looking for one more Xmas gift, may I heartily recommend "The Great Transformation" by Karen Armstrong.
For you theists, Armstrong's book is a treasure trove of historical knowledge about the great religions of today. She examines their genesis in the years 900 to 200 BCE a time referred to as "The Axial Age". These religions include Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Confucianism, Judaism, Daoism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity as well as much of Greek philosophy. This book is a gold mine!
For us atheists, "Transformation" is a comprehensive account of the inspiration, evolution and institutionalization of all these great religions. She recounts their amazing successes, dismal failures and the uncertainty of their future.
But one theme that impressed me the most was that absolutely every religion has, at its core, the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have done to yourself or some variation of that is the heart and soul of all religions. The fact that this simple philosophy has been grossly distorted or outright abandoned is not lost on Armstrong.
The concluding eleven pages are worth the price of the book. Its that good.
Having just finished "Transformation", I have realized for the first time the great failing of Mormonism. Here I am, eight years out of the church and I just had a "revelation" about why Mormonism was, is and ever will be little more than a marginal cult.
Mormonism is all about the plan of salvation, doctrines and dogma, the Word of Wisdom, tithing, endowments, sealings, baptisms, interviews and endless, mindless meetings. Mormonism is only peripherally about doing good unto others in a way that we would want them to do to us. Mormonism is all about the trappings of religion, the facade of religion, the appearance of religion and, as I have so often said herein, the smoke and mirrors of religion. It is only slightly about The Good.
So, if you are looking for a great book for someone else or if you want some great reading for yourself, read "The Great Transformation".
| An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, John L. Sorenson. Deseret Book Company, c1993. ISBN: 087747608X
An Insider's View of Mormon Origins. Palmer, Grant H. Signature Books, c2002. ISBN: 1560851570
By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, Larson, Charles M. Institute for Religious Research, c. 1992. ISBN: 0962096326
Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. Rev. and enlarged. Quinn, D. Michael. Signature Books, c1998. ISBN: 1560850892
History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Deseret Book Company, 2nd ed. rev., c. 1978. ISBN: 0877476888
In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Compton, Todd. Signature Books, c1997. ISBN: 156085085X
Joseph Smith. Remini, Robert Vincent. Viking/Putnam, c2002. ISBN: 067003083X
Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism. Bushman, Richard L. Univ. of Illinois Press, c1984. ISBN: 0252011430
Joseph Smith: the Making of a Prophet. Vogel, Dan . Signature Books, c2004. ISBN: 1560851791
Lectures on Faith. Joseph Smith. Covenant Communications, Incorporated. ISBN: 1577346378
Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, by Simon G. Southerton. Signature Books. ISBN: 1560851813
Mormon America: the Power and the Promise, by R.N. Ostling and J.K. Ostling. HarperSanFrancisco/HarperCollins, c1999. ISBN: 0060663715
Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, Prophet's Wife, "Elect lady," Polygamy's Foe, 1804-1879, by L.K. Newell and V.T. Avery. Doubleday, c1984. ISBN: 0385171668
The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Quinn, D. Michael. Signature Books /Smith Research Associates, c1997. ISBN: 1560850604
Studies of the Book of Mormon. Ed. and with an introd. by B.D. Madsen; with a biographical essay by Sterling M. McMurrin. Roberts, B. H. (Brigham Henry). Univ. of Illinois Press, c1985. ISBN: 0252010434
Witness of the Light: a Photographic Journey in the Footsteps of the American Prophet Joseph Smith. Text and photos. by S.F. Proctor; ed. by M.J. Proctor; designed by Kent Ware. Deseret Book Co., c1991. ISBN: 0875793894
Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900, by Edwin Brown Firmage, Richard Collin Mangrum, Univ. of Illinois Press, c.1988. ISBN: 0252069803
Reading list LDS Church history from their own authors. All found in the REFERENCE Section of the LDS Church libraries: Ward/Stake houses, Institute of Religion:
[own some of these in our private library] This is documented, reliable original material. Can't beat their own words!
"History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" 7 Vol's by Joseph Smith Jr
"A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"
6 Vol's by B H Roberts
"Readings in L.D.S. Church History from Original Manuscripts" 3 Vol's by William E. Berrett and Alma P Burton
"Journal of Discourses" 26 vol's
Others from my library:
Each one sheds light on some area of Mormonism and it's beginnings, and how it was lived initially.
"An American Prophets Record: The Diaries And Journals Of Joseph Smith" Editor: Faulring, Scott H.; Author: Smith, Joseph
"In Sacred Loneliness The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith" by Todd Compton
"The First Mormon" by Donna Hill
"Early Mormonism and the Magic World View" by D Michael Quinn
"Joseph Smith Begins His Work" Vol 1, 2 by Wilford C Wood
Contains the original: The Book of Mormon,The Book of Commandments, The Doctrine and Covenants, The Lectures on Faith , the Fourteen Articles of Faith
"No Man Knows My History" by Fawn Brady
"Mormon Enigma Emma Hale Smith" by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery
"Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith Psychobiography and The Book of Mormon" by Robert D Anderson
"Insider's View of Mormon Origins" By Grant H Palmer
. ...by his own hand upon papyrus Charles M Larson
This is one of several on the Hofmann Affair
"The Mormon Murders" by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
One of several on the Mt. Meadows Massacre
"American Massacre The tragedy at Mountain Meadows Sept 1857" by Sally Denton
"What the Mormon Missionaries Don't Tell You The Rest of the Story": by Gerald Paul
Misc - books on "the big picture" that are helpful putting Mormonism in perspective...
"The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell,
"Demon Haunted World" by Carl Sagan,
"Why People Believe Weird Things" by Michael Shermer,
"The Age of Reason" by Thomas Paine,
"The True Believer" by Eric Hoffer
| My family background contributed heavily into why we joined the Mormon church. I didn't know any of the following, when I joined in 1961. But, I had enough personal experience to understand Joseph Smith Jr and what he was most likely doing.
A little background on Mormonism and the times.
"Among the practices no longer a part of Mormonism are the use of divining rods for revelation, astrology to determine the best times to conceive children and plant crops, the study of skull contours to understand personality traits, magic formula utilized to discover lost property, and the wearing of protective talismans".
Early Mormonism and the Magic World View by D Michael Quinn
This account is documented in the B H Roberts history he wrote.
As a Mormon did you know this is how the "Nephite Record" and "Urim and Thummin" were recorded in the Mormon Church history books?
This is info from a standard history book of the Mormon Church:
" "A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." by B.H. Roberts
VOL 1 "How the Book of Mormon was Obtained"
These books are in the LDS Data base on CD, also in their libraries (Ward/Stake/Institute of Religion)in the REFERENCE section.
I own the whole set in paperback which I purchased in the late 70s before they were discontinued.
A few notes:
B H Roberts says that they were dressed "for riding" by taking the horse and spring wagon of Mr. Knight (some would call this stealing, as they did not ask permission of Mr. Knight who was a guest in his home) and went to the "hill Cumorah, and in he presence of Moroni obtained the Nephite record, the breast-plate and Urim and Thummim.
pg. 87, "Early the next morning, Mr. Knight discovered both his horse and wagon were gone, suspected some "rogue had stolen them. Lucy Smith volunteered no information as to Joseph having made use of the horse and wagon, but tried to pacify Mr. Knight with the idea that they were but temporarily out of the way."
When Joseph returned home, he took his mother aside and showed her the Urim and Thummim which he had evidently detached from the breast plate and concealed on his own person when depositing the plates...he seemed to have kept the instrument constantly about him after that time as by means of it he could at will be made aware of approaching danger to the record."
The next chapter is entitled:
pg. 88 Other Psychics Than the Prophet
"The fact was that Joseph Smith was not the only psychic in the vicinity of Palmyra."
He had previously asked Lucy (his mother) very early in the morning if she had a chest with a lock and key but she could not locate one.
This is the reason Joseph pg. 86 "concealed them temporarily, in the woods some two or three miles distant. He found a fallen birch log that was much decayed .....carefully cutting the bark and removing sufficient of the decayed wood to admit ...the plates, ...they were deposited in the cavity, the bark drawn together again and as far as possible all signs of the log having been disturbed obliterated."
Pg 93 - "The Breastplate of Urim and Thummim
"It has been several times remarked that with the plates on which a brief history of the ancient American peoples was engrave, there was an ancient breast-plate to which, when the Prophet took possession of it, the Urim and Thummim were attached.
This breast-plate it appears the Prophet did not bring home with him when he brought the record. But a few days later, according to a statement by Lucy Smith, he came into the house from the field one afternoon and after remaining a a short time put on his "great coat" and left the house.
On his returning the mother was engaged in an upper room of the house preparing oilcloth for painting - it will be remembered that this was an art she has followed for some years. Joseph called to her and asked her to come down stairs. To this she answered she could not then leave her work, but Joseph insisted and she came downstairs and entered the room where he was whereupon he placed in her hands the Nephite breast plate herein alluded to.
'It was wrapped in a a thin muslin handkerchief,' she explains, 'so thin that I could feel it's proportions without any difficulty'. It was concave on one side, convex on the other and extended from the neck downwards as far as the center of the stomach of a man of extraordinary size. It had four straps of the same material, for the purpose of fastening it to the breast, two of which ran back to go over the shoulders and the other two were designed to fasten to the hips. They were just the width of two of my fingers (for I measured them). and they had holes in the end of them, to be convenient in fastening. After I had examined it, Joseph placed it in the chest with the Urim and Thummin."
I highly recommend reading the B H Roberts books. They are filled with things you have never heard in church. The set comes with an Index, which in invaluable also.
It is no wonder these stories have been sanitized into faith promoting versions over the years. The real history is just too wild and crazy to believe! :-)
Most Mormons do not know any of this history. I sure didn't until I found the real church history and one of those account that is too bizarre to use today that is never quoted (just like the crazy stuff in the Bible.)
The power of the psychic and medium today.
We still have psychics and mediums. I would guess that more people believe in these powers than not.
Do psychics/mediums really believe they are talking to the dead or giving messages from the dead? You bet they do.
They are Spiritualist's churches. I have attended them.
What about Joseph Smith Jr?
Did he really think he was inspired and doing God's work? Sure he did. Just like the psychics and mediums today. Some are obvious frauds, doing magic tricks. Some are very sincere.
Or was Joseph Smith doing what psychics and mediums do today and giving the people what they want what they all ready believe?
The most validating part of my experience as a Mormon is that when I first heard the missionary lessons, because of my background in Spiritualism, I was sure Joseph was a medium and that was how he came up with his claims.
But, that was a taboo notion in Mormonism.
Imagine my great surprise to find out over 40 years later (after I left he Mormon Church) that he was known as a psychic in Palmyra at the time and it is documented in the original church history compiled by B H Roberts!
Joseph Smith Jr did what people were doing before him and are still doing: psychics and mediums presenting their information in the name of God, some starting churches.
Sylvia Browne comes to mine. I consider her in the same category as Joseph Smith in many ways, writing books, starting a church. Does she think she is doing magic tricks or is lying or is a fraud? I don't think so.
Some personal experiences that played into the easy in joining Mormonism.
Growing up I had many experience living in a household that felt spirits
and saw spirits in the house -- yard -- in the car, and on and on.
I can recount dozens of these kinds of experiences.
My grandpa had a painting by his room that he claimed the spirits added little drawings to. We would scan the painting looking for spirit paintings. He always found something "new" or something they were "working" on.
I don't know how all that happens within the human mind. I just know that people who are expecting to see or hear spirits, have a belief in them, very often hear and see them. Those are the ones that are shared, repeated, etc. Occasionally, people are interviewed that didn't hear or feel or see a thing! It is my view that those are the majority.
Everything that happened in our household could be connected to spirits and their influence.
One of the fist stories they told about me was that I was "rocked to sleep by spirits" in my cradle!
If something could not be found, it was because a spirit moved it. For instance, if a pear fell off the treat at night and hit the house, it was Uncle Roy (deceased!) teasing us or giving us a message.
If there were shadows or sounds in the household, it was spirits.
When I was a young girl, probably under four, I came in the house and described a man in the neighbor's back yard. Because of my description, the family was sure it was my great grandpa who had died right before I was born.
I had pretend, imaginary playmates that they claimed were little spirits that kept me company as I was an only child for several years, in a household of adults and no children in the neighborhood.
I sat in hundreds of seances, mostly in our home. I also attended spiritualist meetings outside the home.We were told the names of our special guides and how they helped us.
What do I think that was all about?
It's a belief system that is still held by Spiritualists.
Because of my life-experiences, and lots of practice (I know the patterns for cold readings) , naturally, can do them also!.
Watch Lisa Williams on TV (her show was produced by Merv Griffin before he died) -- she is one of the best that shows how the cold reading works. Watch how she asks a question, then verifies the answer, embellishes the answer and repeats it depending on the person's responses. These are highly emotional settings, and it is not hard to "read" the person's responses. The best readings are done for the believers, not the skeptics. They are more likely to recall the "hits" and be impressed.
Rarely do people keep track of the misses. They are looking for the validation of the hits, only.
There is a show on TV that is a contest of psychics. That one is fun to watch also. There are haunted house shows on TV, and psychic detectives. It is hard to know exactly how good they are, and how much they know or help as the purpose of the program is to show the success.
It is not hard to claim to be a ghost hunter, take a bunch of special equipment and test places in a building and claim that there is a spirit there -- with names, and stories to go with it especially if there is no way to valid the claims.
Some of the best audiences for psychics are Mormons. I have watched shows done in SLC for instance.
And so, it goes on!
| "An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton."
So often active LDS, even the thinkers, doubt anything in church history that is negative. If you suggest they read "No man knows my history" the response will be it is just an interpretation of Joseph Smiths life. "In Sacred Lonliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith" will be considered by the LDS skeptic as a "selective history" and not the full truth.
But this amazing book, is just a journal. The Journal of a loyal scribe of Joseph Smith. And it reads like a novel. Everyone on this board would love it. When William Clayton reaches Nauvoo, and gets into the heirarchy of the church, it becomes a soap opera and touches on many of those subjects no one ever learns in church. For instance.
Clayton takes multiple wives, and Joseph tells him to keep it a secret only for the elect to know about. He dreams about having sex with a 16 year old girl, then writes in his journal that he would essentially do anything for God if he can have her. He is already married to multiple women at this point. Thereafter he meets a 16 year old, marries her, and then goes to her house and "prospers" according to one short entry. His wife is pissed. He writes about how upset she is all the time. His wife wants to go off with another man. He writes in one entry that she is angry and "it gives me a headache." How touching. He speaks to Heber C. Kimball about his problem with his wife. Another guy is interested in his wife. He and Heber and they discuss how only the man of a higher priesthood can take a wife of a man with lower priesthood. He speaks to his wife, and explains that she cannot go off and marry some other guy, because he has not cheated on her. His marriages are legitimate.
He describes the endowment. It appears that it was more of a bath of oil than an annointing. But again, the polygamous stuff is scandelous, and allover the place. He went to speak to Emma after Joseph's death. Emma of course wants all of Joseph's property and is in a power strugggle to get it from Brigham Young and the 12. Clayton threatens her saying that he has information that she does not want let out. See, Emma knew about Joseph's fooling around in the name of polygamy, and she threatened and apparently tried to get revenge by seeking out other men for herself.
It is very ugly. Now, it is also full of info about his conversion, his travel to America, and eventually the trip across the plains. But that is a very good read as well. It is not boring.
So what could a member say? Here is a first hand account of a man who spoke to Joseph and reported about it repeatedly. From the book, the church clearly resembles the FLDS much more than the LDS church. It describes how Sidney Rigdon and BY fight for control of the church. Competing revelations about what should happen. It was a mess.
Just a thought. As you can tell, I loved the book.
| I’m going to call the author “GDS” so as not to confuse him with “Smith.” I have a fuzzy recollection of meeting, or at least seeing, GDS years ago at a Dialogue or Sunstone conference shortly after we moved to the Bay Area. I don’t know what GDS’s status is re the church, but I assume that he is exmormon. I read a blog comment (can’t remember which one) that referred to GDS as “an early 1990s grumper.”
Nauvoo Polygamy is an excellent reference book, but I have to subtract points for readability. His writing style is plain with much repetition, but perhaps he intended it to be so–something like an encyclopedia–but not as well organized. Happily, the footnotes are at the bottom of each page, saving the reader a lot of time in not having to flip back and forth to endnotes. He relies a lot on Compton, Quinn, van Wagoner, Carmon Hardy etc. Although he covers the same time and place as Compton, Bushman, and others, GDS intended this book to be a supplement to published biographies and histories.
In chapters two and three he goes through Smith’s accumulation of wives, including when he met them, how he courted them, and whatever information can be found on the marriages. He dismisses Fanny Alger as an adulterous affair and gives some evidence that Smith was involved with another young woman, Eliza Winters. While Smith had plural marriage on the mind in the 1830s, GDS doesn’t think he began actually taking wives until after 1840.
In later chapters GDS considers the admission of other men into the secret circle that Smith was creating, an interlocking family binding relationship through the elite of Nauvoo. He has many charts and lists along the way to help the reader keep track of the marriages. (550 pages of text, lists and charts account for some of this.)
Neither Joseph nor his scribes kept a record of the marriages, but reading between the lines and looking at diaries and other records, GDS reconstructs the record. William Clayton might have written something like: “Went to XX’s farm with Joseph in afternoon.” From a diary or letter Smith figures out what Clayton didn’t go on to say, that a plural marriage or conjugal visit took place. I’m sure apologists will pounce on this “reading between the lines”. These marriages were later “resealed” in the Nauvoo temple and the records survive.
In Chapter 7, “A Silenced Past,” GDS goes through the events that led to the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. He places the blame on polygamy and on Smith’s arrogance in dealing with the Nauvoo Expositor. Contrary to Dallin Oak’s analysis of the legality of the “nuisance abatement,” GDS says the destruction was contrary to constitutional and legal safeguards. Following the destruction, with multiple arrest warrants being dismissed on habeas corpus in Nauvoo, JS called together the Nauvoo legion and rode around town, making threats and showing off. This led to the charge of treason that ultimately led to Smith being detained in Carthage jail.
He also details the lies that JS kept repeating about polygamy. Joseph Smith was a liar. Period. GDS also presents a sympathetic portrait of Jane and William Law, two characters that I was raised to believe were wicked and evil. Law tried to get Smith to abandon his disastrous course, but Smith wouldn’t listen and ousted Law and his wife, along with others who questioned.
Here are a few things I didn’t know:
Smith knew many of his wives for years before marrying them. Often they were young girls who lived in the Smith home (of course we’ve heard of the Partridge and Lawrence sisters.) He was often in the home of friends who had young daughters, and at times hiding out spent weeks there. He knew a couple from age 5 and 7–the latter was Helen Mar Kimball. Reading this made me feel queasy. The man had years to earn the confidence of these girls and their families, charm them, then let them in on a wonderful “secret.” (The guy was definitely a sexual predator–GDS doesn’t say as much.)
I didn’t know that those in plural marriages were entered into a Quorum of the Anointed.
Because of the denials of Emma and Joseph Smith, in 1869 Joseph F. Smith went around and collected affidavits of women who had been sealed to his uncle Joseph, creating a record. In 1892 the RLDS and Hedrickites got into a lawsuit over the Temple Lot in Missouri. The Utah church had an interest in keeping the lot out of the hands of the RLDS, so although not a party to the lawsuit, the LDS provided evidence of plural wives based on these earlier statements, and also collected testimony from more witnesses.
After the Smoot hearings the Mormon church tried to put the practice of polygamy behind them, but in the mid-20th century researchers and historians began uncovering the true facts.
Why did nubile young women, or older married women, fall under Smith’s spell? Smith carefully cultivated his little flock. “Women found a sense of elite belonging when Smith invited them to join the secret religious order he had started among the high-ranking priesthood men. This Quorum of the Anointed was the repository of the secrets of plural marriage.” pp 390-1 Those drawn into celestial marriage sincerely believed Smith was a prophet and believe in his version of the afterlife.
The last chapter in the book is “Antecedents and Legacy.” GDS goes through the history of polygamy, spending a lot of time on Henry the 8th and the Anabaptists of Munster. I plodded through it, but the book would be much better with a condensed version. And of course, we have the legacy–the Fundamentalists.
While the Mormons were relatively safe from the public’s disapproval in 1852 Utah, the public announcement had a devastating effect abroad. European Mormons “were astonished and repelled.” British membership declined 50% in the 1850s, some of this from emigration, but baptismal rates plummeted by 88%.
The short index is not complete. The bibliography is a good starting place for a reader beginning a journey through early Mormon history.
Unlike most historical or biographical works I read, GDS doesn’t include any acknowledgements to those who read or reviewed his manuscript. The book would have been much improved with editing, critical suggestions for improvement, and some cutting. I hope he issues another edition because despite its faults, it’s a valuable book.
Here's a new book to go along with your worthless copy of Shaken Faith Syndrome.
"This frightening account of children abandoning their parents' beliefs and following paths of carnality and sin is played out in too many LDS families. Mormon made the point that no set of parents, not even the king of the land or the prophet of God, is safe from the effects of the plague of wayward children: “Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father….” 2 Clearly, Satan can reach into any family and snatch away any of our innocent children."
Or maybe your children are simply learning that the church is a fraud because the internet is opening up a new world of facts. Hard to say.
| An article I found at www.richarddawkins.net:
Introductory note (by Richard Dawkins):
I happened to have breakfast with Marshall Evans (not his real name) at the American Atheists conference in Atlanta in April 2009. He looks exactly what he is, an American military pilot, flying jets from aircraft carriers. Perhaps naively, I was surprised to meet such a man at an atheist conference, and I curiously asked him about his story. When I heard that he had been home schooled by fundamentalist parents, who had thrown away his treasured collection of science books because they mentioned Darwin, I wanted to hear more. When I heard that his atheism and his liberalism had caused his mother to disown him and his brother to sever all connection with him as ‘the enemy’, I was moved to ask him if he would like to write a brief account of his life for RD.net. He was modestly diffident about it at first, but I persuaded him, and here is the result.
Waking up in America
by Marshall Evans (this is a pseudonym, but the story is true)
I am an American Atheist. I don’t believe in miracles, holy books, superstition, or any kind of faith in the afterlife. But, I wasn’t always this way. I was brought up to have faith in Jesus Christ (the only way to salvation) and the “Holy Spirit” was to be my personal messenger, an inner voice to guide me through life’s tricky paths and lead me to God – the creator of the universe – who resided in heaven to welcome me to eternal bliss upon fulfilling my purpose in life.
Allow me a moment of special emphasis, I once truly believed all of this.
My mother recently confided in me that she thought I would be something special when she was pregnant with me. Perhaps this was the reason why my parents were more lenient with me than my siblings when I began to question things. You see, when I was raised in the Judeo-Christian faith, there was always one problem that kept coming up; my mind was always at work. My sister once remarked that she could see the gears turning in my head. Those gears were beginning to turn mechanisms of doubt. Even so, I was told by my parents that doubt was a natural consequence of faith and that it only made our relationship with God stronger. So I was able to make sense of things. There was a sentimental logic in God sending his only son to die for the world. This type of self-sacrifice was a message for the world. It was a beautiful message of love which seemed to get perverted at times by sinful men who made a bad name for Christ. Yet, even they could be forgiven. This simple message was such a wonderful thing, right?
Still, something was wrong. Eventually I would figure it all out. I could sense that there was something awesome about the universe. At that time in my life, all awe was taken up by God –about whose nature I could find only the most cryptic clues. Unfortunately for it, but fortunately for me, the Bible was unable to provide satisfactory answers for my increasing curiosity. I wanted to know everything I could about this wonderful world and the God who created it. Thus began my early interest in science.
I would collect everything “science.” My school library had a program for earning “book bucks” which could be used to buy used books. Sometimes, I would trade classmates my lunch for book bucks, and I suspect that my teachers, once they realized what I was up to, made sure that I was simply given more of them. By age nine, I had two shelves of science books and I imagined it would take me a lifetime to read them all.
Age nine was an important age.
It was that same year that my parents decided that my siblings and I should be pulled from public school and schooled at home. After going through my science books (remember my hard earned book bucks), my parents discovered something in all of them: Darwin. There were either brazen descriptions of evolution or arrogant references to the age of the earth being in the billions – instead of 6000 years (fundamentally derived from Biblical truth). I never had a chance to read much of those science books. My parents threw them all away.
As a momentary aside: In some circles of thought there is an evil in America that seeks to pervert and destroy God’s word. That evil is Darwin’s theory of evolution. Behind his theory lies a world view which subverts morality and causes society to act in the exact opposite of God’s word. Simply put, it is a lie from Satan that is being used by sinful men to pervert society and destroy God’s message – and eventually all of those who follow. At least that’s what my parents said.
“…savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”
-Acts, chapter 20, verse 29-30
I never fully questioned any of this as a child because it seemed like my parents knew what was best. When they talked about these things, the “friend versus foe” mechanism overrode critical thought. But I was still young and I had to be on their side. I would go on to become the “good” son. That, however, did not last.
At age 18, despite my homeschooling, I managed to get into a university to pursue a higher education and a better life, a pursuit I was able to continue through attaining a Masters degree. After finishing graduate school, I joined the military and went on to fly jets from the flight decks of one of the most spectacular displays of scientific and technological innovation, U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. My parents were very proud of my accomplishments and even made reference to me as their “self-made man.” This reference has a special kind of irony for me.
I actually went more than a decade calling myself an agnostic. One reason for that was the process by which I came to my non-belief in faith-based assertions of truth. More than that was a need to prevent division between my family and me. Agnosticism provided philosophical blinders to allow my family to view me as a “backsliding Christian” instead of a “traitor.” Eventually, I accepted that I am an atheist (under Dawkins’ scale, I am a 6 out of 7) and thus began my fall from grace. All of the taboos of thinking, formally part of my programming, have slowly eroded to a basic understanding of what we know versus what we don’t know – and this has helped shape my cultural and personal values. Now I have become, in the eyes of a few, one of the aforementioned “savage wolves.”
Once I accepted that this life is it and came to terms with it, the idealistic principles of making the world a better place became much more focused. I became a more liberal person. When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, my being a liberal as well as an Atheist was like I lived in Sodom and summered in Gomorrah to my family. Just before the election one of my brothers sent me email stating, “You are the enemy. Goodbye.” He then deleted me from his MySpace account. Then my mother called to disown me as her son. That conversation was painful. Not only did she disown me but said that I do not deserve to wear the uniform of a U.S. military service member because I had betrayed the Constitution of the United States, a document I swore to protect. I know what our constitution and our other founding documents say, and when I asked my mother how, specifically, I had betrayed our country, she couldn’t answer. I think the reason for that is that she has a religious idea of what the United Statesis about, not based on any particular item included by our founding fathers. It is true that America still faces an identity crisis, one that in my opinion will soon be resolved. Our country was founded on freedom and liberty, and I stand, now and always, behind those principles. In fact, I have discovered that the very reason to found a country on those principles was to preserve and protect the pool of ideas which have made our country great.
That wasn’t the first time I was attacked for my atheism or liberalism. The U.S. military attracts many fundamentalist Christians. About five years ago, I had a roommate (a military colleague) who saw himself as a kind of Crusader for Christ serving in the army of God. This is not a fabrication of his ideology. He once told me that the historical Crusades were a “just and noble time for Christianity” – his words, not mine. Others have joined our military for this same reason. While I was his roommate, he was intent on trying to convert me back to Christianity. He had been a philosophy major, so I can see how it became frustrating for him when, time after time, I defended my position. He once got so frustrated that his response was to tell me that I shouldn’t be in the military since, as an atheist, I had no bearing on right and wrong; argumentum ad hominem. Eventually we ended up in an altercation in which he punched me in the face and broke my nose. I am not one to go around and tell everyone around me whatmy views are or to create division so let me be clear: This guy meant to convert or destroy me. Though uncommon in the majority of American society, this type of person is much more common in our military.
As I said, I am an American Atheist, and the sad reality in America for many is that I have gone to the Dark Side. So here I am, trying to find my way in this life. How do I deal with such irrationality, from my family and colleagues, in a society that is meant to have enlightenment principles of liberty and freedom as its cornerstone? If you don’t know what it is then you probably shouldn’t read any more of this. I don’t want to spoil the trip for you.
My personal quest for truth could be a work on its own. Suffice it to say, I have never discovered any form of absolute truth in my thinking. Instead, my journey has led me to discover the process needed to point me in the right direction. In short, I have come to terms with ambiguity in truth because I have realized the difference between meaningful truth and blind faith in assertions of absolutes.
There was a moment at my university where I suddenly realized that my faith was invalid. It was a life changing moment. I can, and always will, remember the exact place, the exact time when, with absolute clarity, I saw that the enormity of possibility trumps any belief in truth that requires faith. I could never fully discover, not in a thousand lifetimes, all of the roads of possibilities without taking that shortcut of faith, a shortcut that dilutes the very idea of truth as a meaningful concept. My interest in science became a love affair on that day. For the first time, I could see how small I was in comparison to the universe of possibility. On that day I reconciled with my nemesis, which I now identify as the scientific process. I had made peace with it. Though science will never find all of the answers, we can now see the universe like none of our ancestors saw it before. Regardless of whether I find all of the answers to my questions, I have the conscious realization that I am only a small observer in a very big universe, a universe of infinite possibilities, and I am lucky to see just a glimpse of it. I am sure that someone has said that before, but it still seems profound.
Then there’s my family. When my own mother disowned me, that had to have been the most insulting display of ignorance that I have ever witnessed. I didn’t get mad. Somehow, I could see things through her eyes and realized that she is trying to hold onto something that is slipping away from her. To her, being an American has a very religious and ideological significance that isn’t written down anywhere. It is a deeply held belief that exists in a declining minority of people, started by the “Christian Revival” movement of the early 19th century. It’s a form of identity which is becoming irrelevant, as it should. Though I may rejoice in this, I still have empathy. I took a page from Jesus and turned the other cheek. After my mother called me, I sent her flowers for Mother’s Day, and wrote these words:
“All children come to differences with their parents at some point. That is just the nature of things. Whatever else you might think, I am still your son and you are still my mother. With Love and good memories!”
My mother responded within days and we have reconciled in a private mother and son kind of way. I didn’t realize, when I sent the flowers, how significant the message was; which is why I shared the story in this article. We all come from a very frightening and confusing past, but in the end we are a product of those things. It’s an evolutionary concept that has implications in social memes. Some ideas which strive to exist in a free society are simply irrelevant and will cease to be; it’s a probabilistic certainty. This is true for the American identity as well.
When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, I watched in tears as he proclaimed the very message that humanity should, and I think will, aspire to. It’s a powerful message that will live with me and will probably shape the historical identity of what it means to be American:
“To those – to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.”
-Barack Obama, 11-04-08
America has come a long way. To those who don’t understand the significance of these words, let me put it in perspective. I have lived in a country where the scars of slavery, racism, and injustice have been an unfriendly and inhibiting source of division. On that night, November 4th, 2008, I saw a change that was, improbable as it may seem, an inevitable consequence of a free society –words spoken beyond the scars and anguish from which they arose. This is the power of ideas. My own ideas seem irrelevant against ones that are so great, and they should be since mine are just a few from the countless possible ideas. I have come to terms with my atheistic worldview, but more than that, I have struggled with and finally settled on my own identity as an American. My parents tried to shield me from things that they see as evil, but I had the freedom to form my own ideas.
I am an Atheist. I am an American. Though I will never be perfect, neither will America. Ideas born within a free society are the closest we may ever get to sacred truth. Some ideas might even be immortal. Amen.
"...Smith took license to misinterpret some of the esoteric teachings. For instance, the secret alchemical practices concerning sexual polarity and sacred union became debased in the practice of polygamy. Smith was rightly picking up on the fact that yes, we can all have more than one mate, spiritually speaking, as sex doesn't only happen between bodies. Intimate relations can occur, and more often than not do, on the planes of emotion, mind, and pure spirit. Yet indiscriminate sexual intercourse does not automatically ensure that the mating is secured on the higher plane. And this is when the trouble ensued."
"After Smith's death, his disciple Brigham Young emerged as the next natural leader of the church. Young, like Smith, was a full-fledged master Mason....Though Young was a staunch defender of the practice of polygamy, pressure from the united States government forced the church to publicly abandon the practice in 1890. The church has never been the same since."
"How it evolved into the conservative, dogmatic institution that it is today is another story, and a complex one at that.....Being the fully trained occultist that he was, he was undeniably familiar with the metaphor and symbolism in revealing spiritual principle. Therefore, it is equally certain that he intended his followers to focus more on the inner meaning of the symbols and the allegory than a strict literal interpretation. But that is not what happened. His indolent flock began to relinquish the personal knowing of gnosis and divine self-revelation to blind faith, belief and obedience to religious authority...."
"Therefore, the imaginative vitality of the prophet's original revelations was effectively drained by Mormons looking to the church before the teaching and by valuing the preservation of the collective over the sanctity of the individual....."
Reviewed by Pamela Pierce, Utah State University, Logan
"...Walker, Turley, and Leonard's research is most notable for including Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson's field notes. Jenson was responsible for collecting accounts of the massacre in 1892. However, the authors' attempt to place the massacre within the psychological analysis of group violence needs more than the passing references they give...."
Couldn't agree more...
The trio's obvious purpose was to exonerate BY...period. Their dissection of the incidents' aftermath (e.g. not returning the children, not aiding prosecutors, no 'courts of love', etc) from the events leading up to the massacre and a sophomoric explanation of a local community gone wild makes this novel one that needs to be appropriately parked in the fiction section.
| Eric Hoffer-An American philosopher has written a book titled "The True Believer" which is an exploration of mass movements and how they develop. He investigates the Socialist Movement, The French Revolution, Religious Movements (such as Mormonism), Zionism and the Nazi Movement.
One of his interesting observations is below:
"Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves...all forms of dedication, devotion, loyalty and self surrender are in essence a desperate clinging to something which might give worth and meaning to our futile, spoiled lives...we can have confidence in ourselves, but the faith we have in our nation, religion, race or holy cause has to be extravagant and uncompromising. A substitute embraced in moderation cannot supplant and efface the self we want to forget."
Maybe one of the remedies for the crutch of Mormonism (Or any other) is simply to begin having faith in ourselves, and go about rebuilding our undermined self confidence.
Many of us here have been indoctrinated for so many years, being told that we are "natural men" inclined to sin, that we are under mental assault from the devil and that the only protection is to put on the armour of God (Including the shield of blind faith and the breastplate of self righteousness), that disagreeing with our priesthood leader is to question God himself (Whether by my voice or the voice of my servants it is the same constant nagging) etc etc.
So how hard will the journey to freedom of mind be?
My own experience suggests it's pretty tough, but when I consider the alternative of never really living a real life at all then the decisions an easy one.
I can highly recommend Hoffers book, it's a relatively easy read written with a bit of wit. It also offers some thoughts/insights that explain the historic success of Mormonism (amongst the other movements); and why so many of them now struggle to motivate their troops.
| I select these for their historical significance, their persuasiveness, and their rhetorical force. Not all of these would be considered 100% accurate today, but all were landmark events in the history of anti-Mormonism, and all of them pose a number of enduring difficulties for LDS apologists. |
1) The 1831 Ezra Booth letters. These chronicle a number of the great disappointments of the first few years of Mormon history, including the failure of a number of very important prophecies. They also expose the excesses of Mormon revivalism, the ambitions of Mormon separatism, and the Mormon obsession with secrecy. Booth writes very persuasively, and most of what he says rings historically true when compared with other documents. The early Mormons themselves recognized the publication of these letters as an utterly disastrous event.
2) The Hurlbut affidavits. Booth had mentioned Joseph Smith's interest in magic, but the publication of the Hurlbut affidavits in 1834 brought this to the fore in a whole new way. This remains one of the most problematic documentary collections in all of Mormon history, and much of what Hurlbut's witnesses said has only been confirmed-- even aggravated-- by further discoveries.
3) Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History. This was one of the great events of Mormon publishing history. Although Brodie largely followed in the vein of Riley before her, she wrote with great learning and in a very compelling and entertaining style. It's safe to say that she ushered in a new era of Mormon history and Joseph Smith biography.
4) Alexander Campbell's 1831 "Delusions". Still acknowledged as one of the most thorough and perceptive critiques of the Book of Mormon ever written, and a rhetorical tour de force to boot.
5) I. Woodbridge Riley's The Founder of Mormonism. Riley pioneered the psychobiographical approach later followed to some degree by Brodie and Vogel, and initiated the crucial shift from the Spalding theory to the Smithian authorship hypothesis. His work is lesser known than Brodie but no less significant as a landmark.
6) B. H. Roberts' 1921 "Book of Mormon Difficulties". It is partly Roberts' standing as one of the great apologists and a General Authority of the Church that makes his critique so significant, but it is also partly just the fact that it was just so thorough and learned a study.
7) The Nauvoo Expositor. William Law's publication exposed the secret practice of polygamy at Nauvoo. Not only were Law's accusations a devastating PR event for Mormonism, but the subsequent destruction of the press of course led to the martyrdom of the prophet.
8) Josiah Strong's 1885 Our Country. Strong revealed the "perils" of Mormonism to a frightened, nativist country. He showed how Mormonism was a constantly-expanding polygamous, theocratic kingdom with ambitions to rule the entire continent. I believe that Strong's 1885 publication was a major factor leading to the 1887 passage of the Edmunds-Tucker act, which dissolved the Church as an incorporation and seized all its assets, thus necessitating the Manifesto of 1890.
9) Franklin S. Spalding's Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator. Reverend Spalding got eight famous Egyptologists to absolutely blast Joseph Smith's interpretations of the Book of Abraham facsimiles. The contempt that bled through every page of these eminent men's statements provoked years of debate in the pages of the Deseret Evening News. During this debate the Egyptologists also predicted -- by determining which of the prophet's restorations were incorrect-- precisely where the lacunae in Facsimile 1 would turn out to be when the papyri were rediscovered years later.
And for number 10, I'll invite you to nominate your own favorites!
| The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion by Jonathan Haidt
From the Book Proposal:
"This book will be a friendly slap in the face to liberals and atheists, delivered by a liberal atheist who desperately wants his peers to wise up, drop their self-righteousness, and understand the moralities of conservatives and of religious groups. The central idea of the book is simple but its implications are far-reaching:
Liberals and atheists generally do not understand the breadth of human morality. They think morality is about decreasing harm and increasing justice and autonomy. But for most of the world, morality is primarily about binding people into cohesive communities with strong institutions and collective goals.
The book is based upon my empirical research in moral psychology. I have demonstrated that there are five innate psychological systems upon which cultures build their moral systems. The first two are Harm/care (involving compassion and nurturance), and Fairness/reciprocity (involving concepts of justice, which generate rights and autonomy). These two psychological systems account for nearly all research in moral psychology, and they provide most of the psychology needed to explain the long history of liberal moral theory in which society is a human creation, a social contract entered into by individuals for their mutual benefit and protection."
Definitely a book I will buy and read and encourage others to read. I don't get much out of the same old arguments by atheists and believers on RfM and hope that I will learn something from this and that we will have better conversations here--just having conversations rather than arguments will be an improvement.
| This is a quote that I keep uppermost in my mind in this long and arduous process of leaving the beliefs of Mormonism and creating my own very personalized World View!
I have taken my World View from my religious beliefs from Mormonism, Christianity, Spirituality apart and put it back together keeping what I like, and discarding what does not work for in my new World View. (One part of that was the process of rewriting and deleting the automatic scripts that ran in my mind from Mormonism -- which I have posted from time to time.)
Little by little, almost without a conscious knowing, I have been creating a World View that has some important components. Probably the most important one, the one that all else flows from is owning my own power--understanding what that kind of empowerment means in specific situations and with specific people.
I have weighted carefully what I want in my new World View. How do I understand my life and others in it. What is acceptable to tolerate and what can be ignored or discarded.
Part of that empowerment says that I am OK and other people's opinion (negative, critical, fault finding) is none of my business. I know who I am. I am the only one that knows who I really am.
A good part of owning my own power is knowing where it lies and where it has no control, where I have no power.
It is owning the power of gratitude. Seeing the best in people. Doing my best and reworking my program when it is not working.That I have complete control over. I own my self esteem, self respect, and self confidence.
Specifically, it means that I do not "take" offense, and take things personally, even if others are offensive, either on purpose or through their ignorance (not knowing). I can make that work in many situations, but not all. Someone somewhere always knows how to get under my skin!
I look for the best notions that are the most compatible with my natural personality and how my mind works. I know I am an extrovert (energized by people).
I know I am an optimist -- see the glass half full as opposed to a pessimist -- sees the glass half empty.
And works well with my sense of humor. That to me, is my very personal life-line to mental, psychological, emotional and physical health! Have to have that laughter! It is a requirement in my life like water! I can't life without it.
I like "The Four Agreements -- A Toltec Wisdom Book "by Don Miguel Ruiz as it fits very nicely with how I was taught in my family home growing up. There was no "Toltec Wisdom" but there was a lot of adages, common sense (horse sense) and advice on how to live with our fellow human beings.
He calls it: "A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom."I can't agree more!
His list of agreements you make with yourself:
1. Be impeccable with your word.
I grew up with the importance of your word: your word is your bond. This was a common saying of my family born in the late 1800's of Christian parents. Nobody needed a piece of paper or a contract. You said what you meant, you shook hands on it and you did it.
2. Don't take anything personally.
That was very difficult for me as a child. Dad (actually my maternal grandfather) used to say: "Don't wear your feelings on your shirtsleeve." That lesson has stuck with me, however, it was difficult to live even as an adult.
3. Don't make assumptions
We all assume, presume, have expectations.
I was taught as a child to ask for what I wanted. Nobody could read my mind. Just say what you mean and mean what you say. I couldn't read my children or my husband's mind either. They needed to communicate!
4. Always do your best.
I can't recall how many times I heard a member of my family tell me to "just do your best." And "where there's a will, there's a way."
I had to learn that my "best" was not something I could quantify. I had to figure it out on my own . I had to find that way to make things happen. It was my "will" in control. I had that power myself. Took awhile to figure that out but it was a mind set that got me through a lot of tough times growing up.
If we did our best, there is no self recrimination, no guilt, no regret.
And that is how I intend to live my life. I am sure I can do my best in whatever I set my mind to.
So what does this have to do with my very personal Exit Process from Mormonism? Everything. It is how I see myself in the Cosmos/Universe/world etc., how I find my place and know I am OK and I was OK all along. All of my life experiences contribute to who I am today. Mormonism is a big part of that and for that, I am very grateful.
In my process, (research, reading, study) I determined that Mormonism was best understood as a God Myth with a savior. It is created out of supernatural, metaphysical claims, magical thinking, claims of miracles, and super human feats. There is a lot more to it, but that's the bulk of Mormonism. That is true for most religious belief systems.
I realized that it was not important to have factual evidence for these claims. That has never been necessary. They are believed by faith just like other religions. They could believe in the supernatural events as if they were real and it was OK.
That got me to the next step:
What is my position on Mormonism in the Big Picture. I realized very quickly that I was passionate about Freedom of Religion, and Full Disclosure for Informed Consent and Choice.
There in was a big problem with Mormonism. I didn't get Full Disclosure, nobody does. That was not a fun time for me when I realized what had been left out. It was even more difficult to let go of any personal angst and anger toward anyone personally. That included Joseph Smith on down. But I knew that if I was going to have peace in my life I had to do it!
That was another problem for me to deal with. How do I deal with the "bait and switch" Building Relationships of Trust in Mormonism that I fell right into? Was I any different than anyone else?No,of course not. Human beings are prone to gravitate to a belief in a deity and that includes miracles, supernatural, angels, ghosts, metaphysical claims as well as the superstitions that go along with all of it.
What's in my World View now? How has it evolved?
I have evaluated my thoughts on Mormonism and concluded that there is no part of my World View that says there is some need to denigrate someone else's religious beliefs. I am not interested in tearing down Mormonism, hurling insults, name calling etc. Those are my Mormon friends and loved ones. If anyone would understand how cruel and nasty that is, I do! Mormons love their leaders and that is exactly as it ought to be. I can understand that. I did that also. So do other religious groups. They love their leaders.
How someone worships their deity is out of my control. That is where owning my own power comes in. Ranting and raving and hurling insults, calling their leaders disrespectful names etc etc. etc is not a recipe for success. I tried calling it all "BS" and it sure didn't get me any respect! Won't do that again to my friends and loved ones! It won't build a working relationship if they have doubts and want to talk to someone. But it will destroy a relationship with loved ones and friends. I can't get someone out of Mormonism nor do I want to. I have no desire to see Mormonism destroyed. That's just not in my World View.
I have to respect Mormons as people first. Understand, as only I can (because I lived it) that Mormonism is the way they construct their World View. That is what humans do. It is their right to do that, anyway they want.
If they want to go to the Mormon temples, wear the garments, believe in the BOM, that is their right. That is true for all other religions.
I can't begin to list the names of the religious beliefs I do not accept or believe, however, I will defend anyone to believe them if that is what they want. I will also assist and support anyone who wants to make a change. I know I have no way to determine anyone else's happiness. I do myself a great disservice when I start analyzing other folks, including Mormons. Nobody else is in charge of their lives but them. If they want to make a change, they will, if and when they can. There is a saying I like: "When the student is ready, the teacher appears."
I changed my mind about my religious views. I no longer need a religious World View to explain my life and how I fit in the Cosmos. But, I understand that others do. They have a right to my respect (have the same rights to their religious freedom as I do) and I would hope they would respect my difference of opinion.
Am I angry that there are no real Golden Plates from an angel or that Mormons think they are real and the Book of Mormon people and places and things are real? Nah. It struck my funny bone when I first read the real story on line on Dr. Shades, to be exact, back in 1999. I have been snickering and laughing about some of it ever since.
I understand that it is not necessary to the belief by faith to have real evidences. It isn't for any other religion either. They are based mostly on very old mythology and superstitions, the Bible included. Are there great lessons in how to relate to each other as humans in those book? Ya. Sure there are.
I'll make my choices in the people I want around me based on how they behave and how they treat me, not on their religious beliefs, no matter what they are. There are great people and jerks everywhere, it often has nothing to do with their religion.
Someone asked me why I post on this board. The answer is simple: it's my duty as I see my place in the Cosmo to "pay it forward" to "give back" to those who need or want help and support in their own personal process leaving Mormonism.
I will use that force inside me to continue to evolve and create my World View and continue to learn more and more about our humanness and how we relate to one another. And that, has resulted in making peace with it--all of my life, including Mormonism. I will continue to do my best and live by my personal code that is filled with gratitude for all of my life experiences. I want a life filled with joy and fun and a lot of laughter. That includes treating others the same way I want to be treated!
And anther quote : "May the force be with you."
And my favorite female leader of all time:
"You must do the thing you think you cannot do."
Want to read more of Joseph Campbell? Read my favorite book" The Power of Myth."
[These are my observations and conclusions. They are subject to change as I receive "further light and knowledge"!-]
| Found an interesting archaeology book from the past. It caused me to think that Mormons are really stuck in the 19th century.
The book is titled "Primitive Man in Ohio", by Warren K. Moorehead, published in 1892.
From the Introduction, pages iii to v:
"For many years the great majority of readers upon American archaeology and ethnology have believed in the existence throughout the Mississippi valley of a nation called, for want of a better name, "The Mound Builders." Hasty explorations of tumuli and enclosures in various parts of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys have been made by those desiring to further the popular belief. Books and numerous articles have been published in which the imagination was permitted to range unchecked. Statements were made without proper authority, speculations freely indulged in, and hypotheses were built upon foundations as unstable as those of sand. As a natural result, many persons were led to attribute a high degree of civilization to the moundbuilding tribes of the Mississippi valley. Fine relics or carved images taken from the mounds, the signification of which the collector could not satisfactorily explain, were accepted as evidence in support of the high status of these people. In spite of investigations and publications upon the part of learned institutions and private individuals, tending to dispel such deceptions, many intelligent people still retain false impressions while reading works that treat of primitive man."
"It is the purpose of our book to do away with certain of these illusions. In attempting this we are aware that a herculean task has been undertaken. But the time has arrived when men prefer facts to flights of fancy. We are therefore quite confident that our material, so carefully collected and thoughtfully weighed, will not be cast aside and its place usurped by the rash statements of hasty and incompetent investigators. Why there should be so much speculation and uncertainty concerning the life of our aborigines is inexplicable to us. No question of equal importance could have been more easily determined had the early writers given as much care and patience to mound exploration as is given at the present time."
"Some writers have misrepresented and distorted field testimony to uphold theories previously formed. As an illustration of this, and of the great damage that it has done, we need but call the attention of our readers to the famous "Holy Stone" of Newark."
"An enthusiastic archaeologist resided many years ago at Newark, Ohio. He was thoroughly in love with his work, and his life's ambition was to discover the origin of man upon the American continent. He believed the lost ten tribes of Israel to be the ancestors of the mound-building tribes. After opening mound after mound and finding no evidence what ever in support of his hypothesis, he became desperate. He purchased a Hebrew Bible and primer, and shortly afterwards there was discovered in a stone box, in a mound that he had investigated, a slab, on one side of which was a likeness of Moses, and on the reverse an abridged form of the ten commandments. The stone attracted world-wide attention, and many publications were issued describing it. No one doubted the genuineness of the affair until after the man s death. In cleaning up his office the administrator found in a small rear room bits of slate with attempts at carving Hebrew characters upon them. They also found a fair copy of the wood-cut of Moses used asa frontispiece in the testament."
"The influence of this over-zealous deceiver has gone throughout the length and breadth of our land, and one may still hear at lectures upon American archaeology statements concerning the Indian's descent from the Jew, basing such assertions upon the testimony of the supposed "Holy Stone of Newark," which, as is above shown, was simply a counterfeit."
The above book can be read online at this link:
About 118 years after that book was published, Glenn Beck pulled a publicity stunt that involved the Newark stone. It can be seen at this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGQ13c... (The Newark Stone is seen at 3:47)
His full program on this matter can be seen at this link:
In the Mormon world, there are the "Heartland" believers that play with the Newark stone. The Meso-American followers use similar flights of fantasy south of the U.S. border.
It is bad enough that the BofM is fiction, but even in the 21st century its influence still causes many intelligent people to retain false impressions of America's indigenous people.
| Extensions of Power is a very interesting albeit exhausting read but it does explain how the church has gotten to where it is today. Even though the author is one of the September 6 that was ex'ed in 1993, he is still apparently a believer.
But I find that much of his evidence goes a long way in explaining how the church is led by beaurocrats with egos moreso than inspired men of God. It does appear that those apostles with the strongest personalities are those that tend to overt the most control over the church.
Also interesting, is that the church is sort of backed into a corner in regards to leaders that speak out of turn. They can't publically censure them because that would bring into question the Apostle's calling but they also can't endorse them if they are doing or saying things that the other brethren don't agree with. To say the least, it's an interesting dyanmic. It also seems to explain why the current church leadership seem so uninspiring and bland - leadership has obviously learned to pick modern apostles who are moderate conservatives but that also are small risks at creating drama or turmoil. And while I'm sure that there are still disputes amongst the "Lord's annoited" I believe the church has gotten very good at covering its tracks.
Personally, I think it is this type of leadership that has led to an "obedience is the everything key to mortal success and post-mortal exaltation" belief that currently rules the day in modern church teachings. Gone are the days of personal revelation and free thought that existed in the early church. The truth is Mormons would crucify Christ just as the Jews did because of the "total obedience" to the Priesthood hierarchy.
| Book Review--Devil’s Gate, Brigham Young and the Mormon Handcart Tragedy by Davis Roberts
I saw this book at the library and had to read it since mos and their frikkin handcarts is one of my pet peeves (as in why brag about an act of sheer stupidity?).
This book addressed the two late summer of 1856, Willie and Martin groups where 200 of the 900 people died due to starvation and freezing and a large percentage was permanently disabled due to frostbite (gruesome stories of legs, feet, and hands amputated).
The author, based on other westward expansion books, estimated that the “successful” handcart companies had a mortality rate of 7% compared to 4% of westward travelers who went in covered wagons (and who often went further and who encountered hostile Indians, which the handcarts groups never did).
Young never claimed his plan was of divine origin, he created the scheme because he wanted enough Mormons in SLC to repel a US confrontation and he was cheap and it was the least expensive way to get foreign converts to Utah. He wasted lots of money on unsuccessful business ventures but human lives were expandable (which there truly were given the Danites and blood atonement). The divine origin of the handcart story was started almost immediately by Young’s toadies, and was spread to the clueless converts.
The book was written by a nomo, so it dealt with the mythology of the handcarts, including the author telling some tour guides that their stories were myths. Their reaction was wide eyed confusion and the comment–“Well, how does anyone really know what was true?” As in, don’t mess with my illusions, thank you very much. He also reported how the tour guides were prone to attacks of crying when describing the suffering of the early handcart mobots (suffering that could easily have been avoided) and that everyone should “feel the spirit” of the place where so many died (needlessly). My favorite comment was that the handcart travelers died in order to inspire people now---yeah, try telling that to some person dying from starvation and cold…Hey, bud, ain’t this great, you are going to die because it will motivate mind controlled cultists to give up their evil ways and stay in the cult?
The whole handcart concept was ridiculous from the start. The first handcart company was on the verge of starvation when wagons carrying food met them from SLC. This was considered as “success” so they kept dong it. The food allotment was insufficient for a person doing nothing, much less physical labor all day, and unless a supply wagon met them, they didn’t carry enough food for the journey. By the time the supply carts met them, people were given a few ounces of flour for the entire day. Young, of course, traveled to what would become SLC in a wagon, he never walked it, although he told how the travelers would get stronger and healthier so that they would walk 20 to 35 miles a day, when they actually averaged about 10 to 12. Because Young could not be wrong, the official references for the length of the trips was always under reported.
The flour that saved the travelers lives…..was not free, they had to pay it back, and the cost of the handcarts had to be paid back with 10% interest. Some people worked their entire lives and never paid off their debt.
Young knew that the two groups were leaving late, but did nothing to stop them. The letter documenting that the two groups were late was in the archives with the date it was received and Young’s secretary’s initials. After the fiasco, Young blamed everyone but himself. I guess he figured if they made it, good, if they didn’t, he could blame someone, and so what if a few of them died?
The travelers could have stayed in the town of Florence for the winter, but they were shamed into continuing the trip. In true Mormon fashion, the white washing and myth making started immediately. Those who survived the Willie/Martin trip did not publicly describe the horror of the situation until 22 years later, the year after Young had died. One survivor wrote a several part story in the newspaper in which he told the true story and voiced the opinion that those who were still paying off their handcart/flour loan should be forgiven for the debt (the morg is the church that keeps on taking…). The church never officially forgave the debts but it is believed that they stopped dunning the handcart survivors.
| Ignore any possible "permanently suspended" rumors on this one (Modern Day Danites aren't prone to violence, but they can be awful liars). This free presentation is the first in what is hoped to become a series honoring Utah historian Dale L. Morgan.
I'm honored to call Will a close friend (who even embarasses me with a compliment now and then); I'm in the middle of "The Mormon Rebellion: America's First Civil War 1857-1858" that he co-authored with David Bigler. For years, in talking with tourists and others interested in the subject (my apologies, RWG, I may have got some stuff wrong on that cab tour; as Mitt Romney's daddy once said, "I was brainwashed"), I told the story of the event as being "cooked up" by journalists back East with President Buchanan needing a "distraction" from the politics of slavery and the likelihood of an impending civil war breaking out over that issue.
This book delves into the actual complexities and demonstrates that the events were actually years in the making. Powerful factors the Mormons would rather have us ignore include Brigham Young's inflammatory rhetoric that can easily be interpreted as advocating treason and the difficulties Federal officials encountered when they entered Utah seeking to survey lands or establish consistent policies for treatment of Native Americans (Garlund Hurt was an early Indian agent, and he wound up fleeing Utah in the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre). The times were rife with conflict; Captain Gunnison was massacred in 1852 after publishing a book detailing Mormon polygamy to the Eastern public; the evidence probably exonerates Mormons directly, but when the Ute chief Wakara handed over six "guilty" participants (two blind old man, a woman, and three others), a Mormon jury brought back a "manslaughter" vedict (despite the judge's instructions), and the three convicted were never pursued after the escaped fromthe new territorial prison.
Mormons routinely vilify both Bagley and Bigler and claim they have an "anti-Mormon" agenda with their writings, but RFM readers are more discriminating on that issue. Just over a week ago, PBS here re-ran "The Mormon Batallion," a documentary narrated and produced by Ken Verdoia. Both men are featured prominently, and Will's admiration for the obstacles those men--and women--overcame is obvious (there are real tears at one point), as is Bigler's. I find myself in a similar quandry; I want to claim the pioneer heritage and accomplishments of my ancestors while distancing myself from the religious fanaticism that motivated them.
| || A Remarkable Book! FAIR Is Correct About 150 Years Of "Unchanging Anti-Mormonism" - John Hyde's 1857 Volume "Mormonism, Its Leaders and Designs." |
Tuesday, Jun 12, 2012, at 07:45 AM
Original Author(s): Sl Cabbie
Topic: BOOKS - COMMENTS AND REVIEWS -Link To MC Article-
| ↑ |
| Move over Benson. Have a seat, ex-Elder Packham, this guy beats us all by a hundred years. I should park my taxi and save on expenses for the you-know-whats. You other folks, too... JW, Baura, and JOD... Even the mighty Deconstructor has nothing on this author.
A few weeks ago another RFM regular sent me a link to John Hyde's 1857 volume--published in July, just before Mountain Meadows--"Mormonism, Its Leaders and Designs." I'm 2/3 of the way through it (it served as a nice "pipe cleaner" after reading the Turley/Walker/Leonard piece of historical fiction on MMM), and I am, quite honestly, amazed. Nightingale would doubtless say "gobsmacked." We who live in the 21st Century have no monopoly on enlightenment and critical thinking, and John Hyde wrote this one without an Internet.
Alternately, here's a digital on-line version; I downloaded the pdf file to my laptop, and it's held my attention since.
John Hyde was born in England in England in the 1830's, converted to Mormonism at age 15, and eventually emigrated to Utah after passing though Nauvoo and meeting Joseph Smith's mother and visiting Carthage Jail. In Salt Lake, he was ordained a Seventy and in 1855 was called on a mission to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).
He had already "determined to leave for California," but hadn't had the resources (he'd filled other missions including ones to France and the Channel Islands); his doubts had become overwhelming, and he became a particularly notorious apostate.
So notorious that no less than Heber C. Kimball denounced him and cast him into Satan's hands...
"There is a little matter of business that we want to lay before this congregation in regard to John Hyde, who went to the Sandwich Islands on a mission. There are a couple of letters that the brethren have received; we shall read a little from them, and give you to understand the course he is taking. (The letters were read.) You hear the letters and the testimony of our brethren in regard to John Hyde... By the consent of my brethren, I shall move that John Hyde be cut off from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I will put the motion in full; that is, that he be cut off, root and branch; that means pertaining to himself. When this motion is put, I want you to vote, every one of you, either for or against, for there is no sympathy to be shown unto such a man. Br. Wells.has seconded the motion I have made. All that are in favor that John Hyde be cut off from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that he be delivered over to Satan to be buffeted in the flesh, willraise their right hands. (All hands were raised.) A motion has been put, and unanimously carried...
Hyde, incidentally, left a wife behind in Salt Lake, determining he would not be permitted to leave with her.
Our friends at the FAIR funny farm mentioned John Hyde's work in their write-up of their 2002 Conference, noting:
In 1857 former Mormon John Hyde wrote an anti-Mormon book wherein he expressed amusement with a number of Book of Mormon items. His critique is laced with descriptive words such as “contradict,” “pretends,” “imposture,” “inconsistency,” “ridiculous” and “ignorant.” Among the many items that Hyde saw as sure “proof of imposture” would be included the horse, elephant, sheep and swine, Nephi’s compass, his ship and temple building, the Jaredite barges, the brother of Jared’s shining stones, and Lehi’s odd habit of renaming rivers and valleys.
Uh huh... Horses and elephants, sheep and swine... Oh my... These "BOM anachronisms" have trampled many earnest testimonies, and yet our FAIR fellow insists (Ah, I see it's Michael Ash):
Many LDS critics have not moved past these old chestnuts and canards, whereas LDS scholarship has grown by leaps and bounds.
Right... (changing bullchip filters per my regular routine)
A few years ago on this site, I remember a scholar friend of mine, singing the praises of Major Carleton's report on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, noting it was one of the earliest reports, and "it had it all."
This one has it all, too, folks. Well, except for DNA science which hadn't been discovered, of course, and the Book of Abraham "fragments and translations"; Emma still had possession of the papyrii and perhaps the mummies as well. I found a few modest errors, but the volume literally "gives the lie" to the faith-promoting history taught in Utah schools from the early 20th Century until the present.
On horses in the New World (p.224):
"We found upon the land of promise (Central America) that there were beasts in the forest of every kind; the cow, and the ox, and the ass, and the horse," Book of Mormon, p. 44. This is a palpable falsehood, and eminently displays the impostor's hoof. "When horses were first brought to Mexico, by Hernando Cortez, they were objects of the greatest astonishment to the aborigines, who thought they lived on flesh as well as their riders, and brought flesh to feed them with. They thought that they devoured men in battle, and that their neighing was a demand for prey" (Herera, Dec. ii., lib. vi.) "They invented a new weapon, with which to catch and fight them" (Ib., Dec. v., lib. viii., quoted Robertson's History of America). This occurs in a country and among a people, where the Book of Mormon makes horses quite common. The first horse the Utah Indians ever possessed, they tied up till it died of starvation; they thought it need not eat. South American horses have all sprung from those introduced bythe Spaniards. Cuba obtained her horses from Spain; Mexico got hers from Cuba. West American horses sprang from the Canadian, imported by the French.
But Smith not only makes all these animals flourish "in large flocks," just subsequent to the destruction of Babel, but on page 533, he says, "The people had silks, and all manner of cattle and sheep and swine, and also elephants and cureloms and cumons." What these cureloms and cumons mean it is impossible to decide. The present elephant is not a native of America, and never since the creation of man has it been an inhabitant of this continent. Prior to his advent on the earth, when the climate of North America was very different from what it has since been, gigantic species of elephants and mastodons lived, died, and left their bones in the post Pliocene formation of this country, as well as in northern Europe; but here, Smith pretends that so recently as shortly before Christ, the people had them and used them, when their forms are seen upon no ruin, carved on no temple, represented by no idol.
I suppose Ash's notion of "LDS Scholarship" consists of the whoppers told about pre-Columbian horses (Daniel Peterson is guilty of that one) and ridiculous stories of mammoths surviving until near-contemporary time periods.
Hyde also recounts in exacting detail how church doctrine and scripture taught that Native Americans were the surviving descendants of the Lamanites, and he even nails down some of Joseph Smith's "translation errors" reproduced from the KJV.
And he utterly demolishes the idea of "Reformed Egyptian," pointing out (p. 216):
When any thing is definitely known of this period, for the Book of Mormon to directly contradict it, must be a proof of imposture. Nephi states, Book of Mormon, page 1, "I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians." The almost foolish reverence felt by the Jews for their Hebrew language is well known. They used to believe that it was given by God to Adam in the garden, and spoken by man before the languages were confounded. It was in Hebrew that God had talked with Abraham and spoke on Mount Sinai. The imagery of Job, the tenderness of David, the expressiveness of Solomon, the sublimity of Isaiah, were all in Hebrew. They thought that while it was an especial gift, it was almost an especial sign to them. It was the only language in which they could name God. In the days of Hezekiah the pure Hebrew of Moses to David began to decline. Till 784 B. c. was the "golden age" of Hebrew literature. After this time it became corrupted with its cognate dialects. These were Aramaean, Syriac, Chaldee, Phoenician, Samaritan, but not Egyptian. The Egyptians were hated by the Jews. Briton slaves felt not a fiercer hatred to the Latin tongue of their masters than the descendants of the Jewish bondsmen to the language of their Egyptian taskmasters. For a Jew to adopt so thoroughly the "language of the Egyptians," that a Jewish prophet should call the Egyptian the "language of his father," is contradictory to every thing that is known of the time and people.
Okay, about those "errors": He has Samuel Smith still alive (but having apostatized), and his description of Edward Steptoe meeting with Brigham Young and then leaving for California omits the historical fact that 100 or so women fled polygamy with the Colonel's men...
He was probably on a mission when that one happened, and nobody was talking about it by the time he returned...
| Anyone remember this book? It was first published in 1965 by Deseret Book, with additional printings in 1966, 1967, and 1973. It is what it claims to be - a introduction to mormonism and mormons. I hadn't seen it for decades but just got a copy because my picture is in it and I thought it would be fun to show people, including my kids, how far I have come. (I was just a kid when they took the picture, but yes I am that old.)
So I just quickly read through the book. Those were simpler times, at least for mosim. The level of scrutiny was much less, and so was the amount of commonly known scientific evidence. And Mosim was more sure of itself. A few gems:
On page 29 there is a picture of Joseph Smith dictating to Oliver Cowdery on the other side of a curtain. The real fun is that at the bottom of the picture is an inset with a picture of "characters from the plates, which are in a modified or 'reformed' Egyptian." They printed the characters Joseph Smith made up right there for everyone to see. You don't see them doing that lately.
Then there is this amazing claim on page 40 discussing the people described in the Book of Mormon:
"Until only a few decades ago, relatively little was known about these civilizations apart from Book of Mormon history. When that record was first published, there was considerable skepticism by some concerning many of its claims.
But as archeology and anthropology began to explore these areas, the Book of Mormon claims-fantastic as some once thought them to be-were soon substantiated with concrete physical evidence. Buildings, fortifications, great highways, entire cities, and thousands of artifiacts are now known and can be visited on location or viewed in museums. The vast discoveries and extensive research of recent years verify the Book of Mormon story."
That's a far cry from the current approach of trying to explain away facts and saying you can only know it is true by spiritual means.
I did learn something though. On page 51 it discusses Joseph's last trip to jail and there is this gem:
""Joseph was urged by many to return, give himself up, and face arrest and trial on charges of treason that had been raised against him.
Joseph was not afraid of trial. Some forty-six times previously he had been arrested on false charges but had never been convicted on a single count."
I didn't know he had been arrested that many times - they didn't talk about that in church. He was, however, convicted at least once of being a glass-looker but maybe they didn't know that in the 1960's.
Also interesting is what is not there - the book tells the history of Moism from the beginning to the time of printing, but nowhere is polygamy mentioned. Not even hinted at. Not really a surprise there.
It has been a fun walk down memory lane.
| Has anyone else noticed that mormons are really willing to help other mormons, but that most other people are deemed unworthy of help (unless they are golden prospects)?
We were even treated to another mormons-helping-mormons story during the debate last night:
Ryan added yet one more story to the list of "proving Romney is human" stories. It was yet another tale of Romney helping a fellow mormon.
Yep, that's right, we still have NO tales of Romney helping human beings who are NOT mormon.
[Paul Ryan speaking] This is a guy who I was talking to a family in Northborough, Massachusetts the other day, Sheryl and Mark Nixon. Their kids were hit in a car crash, four of them. Two of them, Rob and Reed, were paralyzed. The Romneys didn't know them. They went to the same church; they never met before.
Mitt asked if he could come over on Christmas. He brought his boys, his wife, and gifts. Later on, he said, "I know you're struggling, Mark. Don't worry about their college. I'll pay for it."
When Mark told me this story, because, you know what, Mitt Romney doesn't tell these stories. The Nixons told this story. When he told me this story, he said it wasn't the help, the cash help. It's that he gave his time, and he has consistently.
This is a man who gave 30 percent of his income to charity, more than the two of us combined. Mitt Romney's a good man. He cares about 100 percent of Americans in this country. [end excerpt of Ryan speaking.]
The Nixons are mormons. That makes them worthy of Romney's help.
| From my perspective, an amazing (page-turning!) journey through the missionary application process, the MTC, and the experience of being a missionary is an extremely poor country.
I came to this book with at least some real world background: time I spent working in Colombia (which was always sad and often horrifying to me, even though at least part of my experience there was the "best" Colombia had to offer). HEAVEN UP HERE is about runtu's missionary experience in Bolivia...and it is several times worse in all kinds of ways than anything I experienced in (fairly "nearby," by South American standards) Colombia.
So many things I have wondered about (what is it like to go through the MTC...and to learn a foreign language at the MTC?), some of the missionary jargon I had puzzled over for a long time (and didn't understand even when it had been explained to me here on RfM), and the cumulative emotional and physical freight you take on when you are a missionary forced to spend all of your time with all kinds of people you don't necessarily have anything in common with, I now understand...at least as much as anyone can "understand" something they, themselves, have never experienced.
The insights he gained are spot on and tremendously important to those of us who have never been missionaries (or missionaries in Third World countries). I will never forget some of the things I read.
The details are here, explained if necessary, and not glossed over. Because of this book, I think I now DO "understand," to the fullest extent this is possible for someone who did not have these experiences.
I am very glad I read this book.
Thank you, John, for writing it.
| I have been reading Lost Legacy by E. Gary Smith and I highly recommend it.
The book deals extensively an ongoing debate within the Council of the 12 and the First Presidency between leaders who were descendents of Joseph Smith Sr. and those who were not, regarding the office of the Presiding Patriarch. Those with blood lines that could be traced back to Joseph Smith Sr. were generally in favor of an expanded role and position for a hereditary office of the Presiding Patriarch, while those who were not descendents generally favored limiting the office and expanding the pool of potential candidates.
After the 6th Church Patriarch, Hyrum G. Smith, died in 1932, the office was left open for ten years while leadership argued about the next appointee. President Heber J Grant, one who was in favor of limiting the powers of the office and expanding its candidate pool, favored the appointment of Joseph F Smith II and eventually got his way when Joseph F. Smith II was ordained to that position in Oct 1942. After ten years of back room negotiations Grant was successful in placing a candidate who would be less of a threat to the church leadership.
From the book pg 192:
When the new patriarch was ordained on October 8, 1942, the former acting patriarch, George F. Richards, Sr., noted in his journal, "At this meeting President Grant said he was sure that it was inspiration from the Lord that Joseph F. Smith had been chosen and set apart. He thanked me before the Council for initiating the move and for the information I had given them concerning the call of ancient Patriarchs etc. This I regarded as a very great compliment, as he acknowledged the inspiration in it"
4 years later Joseph F. Smith II was released when it was discovered he was homosexual.
So much for inspiration from the Lord.
By the way, an especially poignant portion of this book is where the author, E. Gary Smith, describes what his father, Eldred G. Smith, endured during this time due to the Church appointing someone else. Eldred G. Smith, according to both Church tradition and scripture, should have been the next appointee after his father, Hyrum G. Smith, died. As a result of the 10 year back room power struggle within the Quorum of the 12 over the next Patriarch and the appointment of Joseph F. Smith II, many lay members publicly wondered aloud if Eldred G. Smith was not worthy of his hereditary office. The Church never gave any public reason for not immediately appointing Eldred G. Smith to the office.
| INTRODUCTION: |
Last week I finished reading "Heaven Up Here" by John K. Williams. It is a chronicle of the author's LDS mission to Bolivia circa early 1984 to early 1986.
My own LDS mission being the centerpiece of my life even today, apostate though I am, I knew I had to purchase and read this book. I wasn't disappointed.
Although we all know, intellectually, that missions differ vastly from each other depending on pretty much every factor imaginable--different countries, climates, mission presidents' priorities, languages, time frames, etc. tend to do that--I was nevertheless struck by how different the author's mission was from my own, even beyond the obvious things like the native culture and standard of living. For just two examples, the author describes hugging missionaries and members of the opposite sex on a few occasions, which thing was utterly unheard of and strictly forbidden in my own mission. He also describes "roving" missionaries (he was one at the end of his mission), which was an alien concept in my own mission, too. Sure enough, my assumptions were challenged, and what I had formerly assumed were "givens" about missions were demonstrated by the author to be no such thing.
The author comes across as a very likeable young man, in whom there is no guile. The reader gets the impression that the author is simply doing the best he can at what he believes is right, even though circumstances are rarely, if ever, ideal. An underdog of sorts whom you simply can't help but root for. Classic "Man vs. Environment."
His descriptions of the living conditions in Bolivia were both detailed and horrific. Granted, however, some of his areas featured better creature comforts than others. Even so, although all of us non-Central or South American missionaries (I myself went to Japan) have heard about the typical living conditions south of the Rio Grande, reading about it in such vivid detail was unnerving, to put it lightly, made all the more so because it is a true story.
The author doesn't take a stand regarding the truthfulness of Mormonism, either pro- or anti-. He simply tells us what happened, nothing more. As such, there is plenty to shock the hardcore believer who thinks that all LDS accounts should be sanitized for posterity. Likewise, there is plenty to cause the hardened apostate to demand that the author turn in his "ex-Mormon card" with prejudice. That strikes me as indicative of a balanced narrative.
Similar to the above, Mr. Williams refrains from giving much, if any, after-the-fact commentary and sticks to how he thought and felt at the time, making the book come across as much more true-to-life.
Although this is the author's first book (to my knowledge), he is clearly a good writer. The writing is anything but amateurish. He is particularly adept at describing the characteristics of other missionaries with whom he worked. It's clear that he is perfectly at home with the written word.
The book's ending is absolutely perfect. ONLY a returned missionary could've penned it. EVERY returned missionary will recognize it immediately, almost like a Masonic secret sign. Although it's conceivable that a non-Mormon, non-returned missionary could write a fictional book about a fictional mission, the ending alone leaves no doubt (although there never was any to begin with) that the author is 100% "the real thing." I wouldn't dream of ruining it for you, but I can describe it in two words (with apologies to Stevie Nicks): "Hauntingly Familiar."
THE, UH, THINGS I WISH HAD BEEN DONE DIFFERENTLY:
The author is a technical writer in real life, and much of the narrative is direct and to the point. This may merely be a quibble based on my personal idiosyncrasies--maybe direct and to the point is your thing--but I sometimes felt that perhaps the author was up against a page quota and was trying to give us, the readers, as much information in as short a time as possible. Either that, or maybe the author was afraid of losing his readers' interest and wanted to get as much out as soon as possible before we dropped off. What I'm saying is that maybe the author himself didn't realize how interesting his own story really was. I personally would've loved to have many, many more details about pretty much everything, especially regarding Mr. Williams's personal thoughts, inner struggles, etc. that must've been triggered by the things that happened to him. In fairness, being as the book is self-published, maybe he really was working under a page quota (to avoid triggering a price jump).
Specific dates would've been a real help. I sometimes found it challenging to mentally reconstruct how many weeks he was with companion X, how many months he was in area Y, etc. Maybe the author was trying to avoid having the narrative seem "dated," but I think specific dates of certain events--at the beginning of chapters if nowhere else--would've more than made up for it. But then again, maybe this is a personal thing and perhaps every other reader had no problem with this.
Although the narrative is almost exclusively chronological, there were times when he "fast-forwarded" to give us the ultimate resolution of whatever topic he focused on at the time. This felt just a little tiny bit like "breaking the fourth wall" and I personally would've preferred a more strict chronological order. But, once again, this might just be a "me" thing and so the author shouldn't be faulted.
A cast of characters, sort of like a "person index," might have been nice. I found myself having to flip back in the book to re-acquaint myself with some names as they were encountered again, but I can hardly fault the author for that, since I can't think of any other book that does this either.
Similarly, a map of Bolivia showing the areas in which he worked and that he visited would've been a huge help. But again, since the book is self-published, maybe his budget didn't allow it.
For any of us with an affinity to the LDS mission experience, particularly all of us returned missionaries, this book is a must-read. It's also a must-read for anyone even a little bit curious about who Mormon missionaries are and what they do. But even more than this, this book is a DEFINITE must-read for anyone contemplating serving a mission. Anyone thinking of rendering such an all-encompassing sacrifice deserves to be dealt with as honestly as this book does.
But even more than the above, this book is an ABSOLUTE, DEFINITE, TOP PRIORITY, CODE RED, MUST-READ for any Elder or Sister who has been called to serve a mission in either Central or South America.
I heartily recommend this book.
("Heaven Up Here" by John K. Williams can be purchased by following this link.)
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