THE MORMON CURTAIN
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BOOKS - COMMENTS AND REVIEWS - SECTION 2
Reviews of books and recommendations from readers.
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.
| 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.
| 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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