Friday, July 27, 2007

Disaffected with disaffection

In April of 2003, Hinkley said:

Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing. -- Gordon Hinkley, Loyalty, April, 2003

For a long time, I thought that was a weird thing to say. Could he be that shallow in his thinking? I doubted it--I figured he was keeping it simple for the masses. A couple of days ago I read the Oaks and Packer interviews from the PBS documentary. I was quite surprised to find almost the exact same declaration from both of them. I have decided that I will have to believe that Hinkley is being completely honest when he says things like that.

So, here's a great example of why I disagree. I had a very interesting experience reading the latest (or possibly one earlier) edition of Dialogue. I was flipping around when I came across a short essay about the recollections of a woman whose sister died of polio in her youth. I read it standing in my kitchen and openly wept.

A minute later I noticed it was in the Fiction section of the journal.

I was furious.

I felt like my emotions had been jerked around. Like I had been used or manipulated in some way. Here I was, emotionally connecting with a phantasm, a figment of someone's imagination!

But it was well written, so a couple of nights later I read it aloud to my wife. I couldn't get through it because, again, I wept. (But less than the first time--I'm not hopeless!) I found this fascinating in a new way--knowing it was fiction, and that I had been annoyed by that, I still was emotionally connecting with the characters in the story! That's the great thing about fiction--it tells truths in a way that simple facts cannot. An author can write, "I am sad," and that may be a fact, but it is nothing like writing an essay about the trials of a fictitious character (or a metaphorical poem). By doing that, I will actually feel what the author is feeling.

So, I can accept the Book of Mormon as fiction and still find value in it. At the moment I don't find much, mainly because I'm also in a state of rebellion against the literalism that is "required" by the church, but if I were having a conversation with others who also approach it as fiction I think I could find more to value. It becomes a commentary on 19th-century America and Joseph's (and/or a co-author's, if that's your fancy) interaction with that society. It's just set in a fictitious pre-Columbian society (which is yet another commentary on 19th-century America!)

There clearly is a middle ground--I live in it, and so do many people that I know and love. It's not the easiest place at times, but ease has never really been my top priority in life.


Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

It's interesting that you would define President Hinkley's thinking as shallow by this statement.

Isn't this statement true? Considering all the wild claims made by Joseph Smith and others I have to agree with that statement, that there is no middle ground. How can you be on the fence with a church that was founded on the claims of a fourteen year old boy that he saw God and Jesus, that he spoke with them, and recieved revelations from them? How can you find middle ground with a church that claims to be the one and only true church of God upon the earth, and that all other churches are wrong?

Hinkley is 100% correct. If Joseph made it all up then the Church is a total fraud, and we're all fools to belong to it. The only alternative is that he was telling the truth. Well, in that case there can be no questions or vacilating back and forth.

I'm glad you can find value from the Book of Mormon despite the fact you consider it to be a work of fiction. I like your story of weeping over a made up story only to be outraged when you discovered it wasn't true. I get the feeling you are likening this to someone weeping while reading the BOM and taking that as concrete proof that it's true. You are illustrating that just because something makes you cry when you read it, doesn't make it true. You're right. Crying isn't proof. I've never cried while reading the BOM, but I tend to get teary eyed towards the end of watching The Lord of The Rings movie. The part where Frodo and Sam are lying on a huge rock surrounded by lava and Sam laments that he never got the chance to court Rose Cotton. That part always gets to me. But, of course I know it isn't true.

I don't know where I am actually going here with this. I don't really disagree with any or your points here. Deciding the truth of the Church and the BOM is a personal soul-searching journey that one has to do on his own. For me crying or weeping isn't proof at all. Tears for me are hard to come by, God prompts me through other means I guess.

July 28, 2007 at 8:10 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

SS, I've given more thought to Hinkley's dichotomy. Perhaps he's just trying to present the alternative as a straw man. A fraud? That suggests that someone is "in the know" but keeping it hidden or lying. He doesn't say "true or a mistake." That's significant. Smith clearly lied about things to his followers (e.g. polygamy), but I think most members today are completely ignorant a lot of contrary evidence and genuinely believe (i.e. they're being honest), so it's obviously not a "fraud.". But that doesn't make it correct either.

"How can you be on the fence with a church that was founded on the claims of a fourteen year old boy that he saw God and Jesus, that he spoke with them, and recieved revelations from them?"

Well, the church obviously wasn't founded on the claims of the First Vision. There was a lot between then and 1830. It wasn't being told the way it is now when the church was founded (and wasn't really talked about much at all until the Utah period), but this is all a red herring. I'm not dealing with the church of 1830. It's a completely different organization and culture. The only thing in common is the myth of Joseph's prophetic calling and the BoM. So I evaluate its morality and the truthfulness of its claims as a modern organization independent of its foundation myths. Many church leaders seem to think that that's impossible, but here I am! And I'm not alone. I suspect that learning that some of the myths of the American Revolution weren't accurate reflections of the actual facts didn't make you decide that you had to move to Canada!

I don't know why you believe as you do, but I wasn't suggesting that crying makes things true, only that fiction can be powerful and personally relevant. I suspect your indications of truth come from other feelings such as confidence and elevation, but again, I don't really know.

July 29, 2007 at 8:58 AM  
Blogger paranoidfr33k said...

Great post. I love the title.

I have to disagree with shadow spawn. I also live in the middle ground. All of my beliefs about the Church and the BOM and Joseph Smith were deleted upon my realization that the entire thing was a scam. Is there good that has come from the Church? Yes. Can all of the Ensigns and New Era's and scriptures help people to become better human beings and treat others with love and respect? Yes. Is it all based on fact and honesty? No. But that doesn't mean that we can't take something from it and store it in our database of understanding and experience that leads us to do good on a daily basis.


August 7, 2007 at 8:44 AM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

I don't think the statement about there being no middle ground means that people like yourselves don't exist. If you want to use the Church as simply a good organization that you can get some good out of, than good for you.

But just think of the claim the Church makes of being "the one and only true church" That doesn't leave much room in terms of middle ground. It either is the only true church or it isn't. That isn't a doctrine that you can ho-hum about. The fact that you choose to attend a church that you don't believe in except for it's value in as far as it's social teachings on morality, etc., doesn't mean you are on "middle ground" or that you are proving Hinkley's quote as false.

Imagine if the mob persecutions of old were to resurface, or the Church leadership were to start asking us to make long treks via handcarts into the wilderness where a percentage of our children were likely going to die. Where would that leave you so-called middle grounders? Are you going to continue to associate yourself with a church you don't believe in...possibly placing your life and the lives of your family in peril?

I don't see how you could if you didn't truly believe or have a testimony of the Gospel.

President HInkley is spot on. "It is the Church and Kingdom of God, or it is nothing."

UJ: I believe that if Joseph was lying about everything and that if he was a fraud, then the current higher-ups would be aware of it. You don't become a prophet seer and revelator of the Church and not realize it's a fraud if it that is indeed what it is. If it's not real, HInkley knows it and so do the apostles. That makes it a fraud.

August 7, 2007 at 7:28 PM  
Blogger paranoidfr33k said...

Shadow Spawn,

There is middle ground simply because there is plenty of things in the church that I see are "true" and plenty that I see as "false". If it were all true, then thats one extreme, and it were all false, then that would be the other. The middle ground exists because the church has become more mainstream since Joseph Smiths time and has had to appeal to the masses.

Now, I will agree with your original comment that "If Joseph made it all up then the Church is a total fraud". Its quite possible that the basis for the church is a total fraud, but I have come to look at things differently, without blind faith (I'm not saying you are) and have come to realize that each doctrine or teaching can be evaluated to determine its own validity. When you look at each doctrine, you hold on to those that appeal to you. There are some that you might not agree with fully and they may drop by the way-side. Because of this, its possible to have the middle ground that I'm referring to.

As for your comment: "Church leadership were to start asking us to make long treks via handcarts into the wilderness where a percentage of our children were likely going to die." -- This has less to do with "following the prophet" and following your heart. You may think that they are one and the same, but for us "middle grounders" it isn't. Its very possible that my heart would tell me that I would need to make the trek, especially if my family was being persecuted or if our lives were in danger otherwise. That decision would be made with my family's best interest at heart and its difficult to say for sure what I would do in that situation until the it actually occurs.

Also, your last comment about higher ups; its completely possible that they know that Joseph Smith was lying. Its also completely possible that they have heard all the evidence and choose not to beleive it. You have to realize that I used to beleive everything that was told me by the church. I never questioned anything because I "knew" that the church was true and nothing that came from it could be false. I've turned a 180 on that philosophy. Because of that, I look at things completely different than you now, so its probably not possible for us to come to an understanding on this point. We simply look at things from different eyes. I beleive that many of the higher-ups have a pretty clear picture of how the church began and choose to beleive what they dish us, regardless of its truthfulness, because they are 100% dedicated to the church. They have put their whole trust in the church, for better or for worse, and they simply won't turn their back on it.

I've rambled a bit, but I hope my perspective makes some sense.


August 8, 2007 at 7:50 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

SS ~

If the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve know that they don't actually get revelation, and they aren't hearing God's voice as we all assume they do, and if they know things about the origins of the church that point to fraud, there are possible reasons why they would not share that with the general population. They are paid to be who they say they are. They benefit from this in many numerous ways, such as power, status, prestige, homes, cars, travel all over the world, etc. Of course they work hard too, but I can see why it may be tempting to keep up the charade if that's what it is.

August 8, 2007 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...


Yes, I think you are right. If the Church is indeed founded on lies and fraud, and the current leadership are aware of it, and still choose to perpetuate the lie just to maintain their status, wealth, and power, then that makes them the worst kind of frauds, liars, and crooks. It makes them corrupt and reprehensible people.

Fr33k - That leads me to your comments. I understand your philosphy of picking and choosing the doctrines you agree with in the Church, and discarding that which you don't believe in or disagree with. Consider the above comment I just made to SML. How can you listen or agree with anything the church leadership would have to say if that were the case? That's where I have a problem with people who say they are on the middle of the road with the church. It's either the true church it claims to be, or it is not. If it is not, then it's extremely likely that the current leadership is merely perpetuating a huge lie to take advantage of people and maintain positions of power.

If I were to discover for myself that the whole thing was one big lie, and the leadership were all a bunch of corrupt crooks leading us all on, I would have NOTHING to do with such a church. Regardless of how much it's changed since 1830, or regardless of some of its teachings. I wouldn't be middle of the road, I'd be on an entirely different road altogether.

I just think the people who say they don't believe in the Church anymore, but still want to follow some of its teachings and not all of them are fooling themselves a bit. Sorry. I actually respect SML for at least going one way or the other. She made her deciscion ( I disagree with her assesment ) and got on with her life, instead of hanging around in limbo, or in the middle of the road.

Just to be clever, .....If you hang out in the middle of the road for too long you're bound to get hit by a truck eventually. = )

August 8, 2007 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Thanks for the respectful words about me, SS. I appreciate where you stand right now also, because I believed exactly as you do for 34 years before I got to where I am now.

I find it fascinating to compare the almost frantic pace of revelation that came during Joseph Smith's time as compared with the prophet now. Why do you suppose we aren't getting a bit more revelation, SS? It seems that people today are capable of handling more if there were any more. Do you think we've received all there is?

August 8, 2007 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger paranoidfr33k said...

shadow spawn,

Fooling myself? A bit? I can't believe you said that... oh, ya, maybe your right. :) I am fooling myself. Although I've decided to abandon the dogma taught to me throughout my life, I have not decided to completely leave the church. I feel for good reason. If I were single, was not married and did not have children, then I would be able to leave the church with no fanfare. However, I have a wife and two children who I do not wish to be hurt or dragged through experiences inflicted on those who decide to leave the church when they come from a large TBM family. Why do you think I go by the name of paranoidfr33k? I'm currently in the middle road because I'm choosing to determine which teachings and ideas that I see as beneficial to my life. I'm trying to deal with things responsibly and keep my family from being hurt in the process. This is exactly why I'm trying to work through all of these issues.

As for the church claim to be 100% true or else it is 100% false... from that strict sense I guess we can agree. However, I feel that my earlier assertion that many of its teachings, such as taking care of your body, teaching your children right from wrong, taking care of your wife and children, all of that stuff that the church doesn't have copyrights on, is still a valid point and one that I feel makes it possible for me to stay "in the church" but not be "of the church" at the moment.

This is something that a lot of current members deal with. We see the benefit that the church provides and feel comfortable, at the moment, in continuing to associate ourselves with it. I am not angry at the church, in that sense, so I don't feel as though your comment about "If I were to discover for myself that the whole thing was one big lie ... I would have NOTHING to do with such a church." applies to me. If I were on my own, that would certainly be easier to achieve, but I do not have that luxioury.

Also, SML has a completely different story than mine so you can understand why we might be at different points in our journey... SML's husband was not a member which would make it easier to leave. My situation is different, not better, not worse, just different, and I don't feel that I can leave the church just yet.

Also, re: your comment about hanging in the middle of the road... it reminds me of a line in Karate Kid... where Miyagi says "Daniel-san, must talk. Man walk on road. Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk down middle, sooner or later, get squished [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Same here. You karate do “yes,” or karate do “no.” You karate do “guess so,” [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Understand?"

I understand. Maybe I'll be squashed like grape if I stay in the middle, and maybe I'll be squashed even if I choose one side or the other. I'm paranoid you know. I'm like that.


August 9, 2007 at 7:40 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

PF ~ You make a good point. It may be that I have a lot less to lose by choosing the path I took. Were I to be in a happy marriage with someone who could leave me over my leaving the church, the stakes would be higher and I'd have a much different decision to be making.

August 9, 2007 at 7:56 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Of course, the stakes are exactly the same no matter what, if we look at eternal salvation in the Celestial Kingdom as the prize we forfeit by walking away.

August 9, 2007 at 9:36 AM  
Blogger paranoidfr33k said...


You are right, but I do not beleive that those are the stakes any longer. The stakes are the relationships I have with my wife, children and family as whole. I can deal with my change in beliefs as I stay in the church as long as I know that my family will stay in tact.

My thought process probably doesn't make any sense to a TBM as their comments usually attest to. They think that is either one extreme or the other, but life just isn't that easy most of the time. Its very complicated when lifes are intertwined and my actions can have ill effects on those I love.

I do not wish to hurt those I love. That, as complex as it is, is very simple to me.


August 9, 2007 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

A man was interviewing drivers for his expanding distribution business.

"How close can you get to the edge of the road?" he asked the first candidate.

"1 foot!" was the entusiastic reply.

To the second applicant, the question was the same.

"8 inches!"

To the third candidate, "How close?"

"I don't know--I stay as far from the edge as possible."

The offer was extended immediately.

August 9, 2007 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

I think the suggestion that the FP or Q12 are somehow "in the know" that this is all a big lie is ridiculous. (I know that nobody is actually suggesting that, but you certainly see it in the more radical parts of the DAMU.) Plenty of regular members know about the dirty laundry of the church and certainly continue to believe that they themselves receive revelation from God--I don't see how the leaders would be different. Hinkley doesn't claim to meet God face-to-face; in fact, he describes it (in detail) as feelings and ideas. GA's have experiences, just like members of all religions, that reinforce their biases--a sudden urge to do something which turns out favorably--ergo, was inspiration.

As for a hypothetical, "renounce Mormonism or die," scenario, that doesn't require the truth vs. fraud thinking either. I would merely think, "Well, affiliation with this church has been great and helpful to me, but it certainly isn't worth dying for." It's not unlike any other charity. If I work at a soup kitchen, but someone threatens to kill anyone who works there the next day, I won't be there. It's not as important as other values. If, on the other hand, someone says, "testify of Joseph Smith or we will kill you," I would probably do it. I've got too much to live for to worry about debating evil people. (Honesty toward an assailant is not a virtue.) There are things I would die for rather than deviate from, but my relationship with the church is not one of them. Voila--the middle way.

Myths are not frauds--they're how we all navigate an ultimately incomprehensible reality.

August 9, 2007 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

I will NOT say the perfect man is a myth...I will not say the perfect man is a myth...I will not say the perfect man is a myth...

;) Just teasin.'

August 9, 2007 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

The trouble I have with the church is that I don't see it as a "charity" endorses sexism, homphobia, and racism in its core doctrine, something I find as far from charitable as it gets.

August 9, 2007 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...


Going by what you said, I still don't think you are "middle of the road" You flat out don't believe in it anymore as a "true church" and are only finding it difficult to extricate yourself due to your family situation. I can appreciate that. To me middle of the road kinda means undecided, or wavering....someone who could go one way or the other. I would describe you as someone who is on one side of the road while doing your best to pretend your on the other side for the sake of your family. Hinkley's comment still holds true. You aren't undecided or wavering, you've made your choice. You just aren't sure what to do about it now.

UJ -

I stand by that, you cannot take the position of prophet seer and revelator of the one true church and not come to the realization that you really aren't a prophet, seer and revelator eventually unless you really are such.


"The trouble I have with the church is that I don't see it as a "charity" endorses sexism, homphobia, and racism in its core doctrine,"

And that's my point. UJ has made these same accusations against the church, but still wants to be "middle ground". I don't think you can be middle ground as Pres. Hinkley said. UJ and Fr33k are not middle ground. They've made their choice what side of the road they're on but because of their family situations they continue on the "wrong side of the street".

August 9, 2007 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...


I've never said that racism or homophobia are "core" doctrines. They are vestiges of a less morally-enlightened past. Sexism, yes, is a core doctrine.

You are suggesting that if the leader of the church is deluding himself, he will know it. Umm, that would mean he isn't deluding himself. I'm saying he lives a myth, like all of us. Of course he believes it. That hardly makes it ultimate truth.

This insistence on the exclusive use of the label "true" in relation to a church is what I find most perplexing. Am I a true human? Am I the only true human? Is the church a true church? Sure. The only one? Obviously not--I pass lots of true churches (they could be movie-set facades, but they appear to be legitimate buildings with people pouring in and out on Sundays) all around my town.

Perhaps you are suggesting that the myths presented by the church are the most accurate representation available of ultimate reality. Well, there are lots of myths in the church. Treating the body as sacred is a good myth. Recognizing humans as the offspring of the Ultimate Good is a good myth. Encouraging us to help and serve those around us is a good practice, supported by other myths. Teaching that women are not allowed to help and serve the same way as men because the Ultimate Good doesn't want them to is a bad myth. Teaching that a black woman can be sealed to Joseph Smith as an eternal slave is a bad myth. So, some parts are good, and some are bad. The church isn't a monolith--it's an organization of people who actually, once you scratch the surface, have a broad range of myths. Some are more common than others. Some are diametrically opposed. But looking at that big messy collection and saying "fraud" or "the only Truth" just doesn't make sense to me.

August 9, 2007 at 7:45 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

And yet I see their points as well, don't you, SS? Do you have a wife? What if you knew there was a very real possibility that you would lose her for life and possibly custody of your kids if you didn't support the church or at least appear to as she insists?

I think anyone can belong to the church and make it work for them. Hell, I believe that those who BELIEVE it's true while still knowing the disturbing less-known historical issues, and knowing about the Book of Abraham fraud issues etc., are basically finding a way to make it work for them against the odds.

So why can't Uj and Fr33k take what they know and make it work for them too in whatever way they feel works for them?

August 9, 2007 at 7:49 PM  
Blogger paranoidfr33k said...

shadow spawn,

I think we have an understanding, although from different perspectives. Can we agree that the Church, as it claims that it is either the one true church or not, is accurate. Yet its still possible to take the good from the church and leave out the bad for those of us who no longer beleive in its foundational claims?

I think that will settle it as we are really talking about two different things and we will never come to an agreement unless we align what it is we are both trying to make a point of.

My point about taking the good and leaving out the bad is something that Mormons are not allowed to do, in the strict sense of that meaning. Other churches are not that strict and many church goers of different faiths do this all the time. As a Mormon, you are expected to beleive everything that is taught by your leaders. Of course you are expected to pray about everything you are taught to determine its validity, but you are not allowed to question doctrine taught by anyone in authority. In other denominations, people take what they like and ignore the bad all the time. Its just not possible to do so in the LDS church without taking on all of the baggage that ultimately will be yours, unless you fake it until you've just had enough.

I'm not middle of the road when it comes to my belief that the church is false. I do not beleive that it is the true church and that the Book of Mormon is what the church claims it is. However, I do see a lot of good that the church does and I have chosen to take that good and use it in my life. In that way, I can continue to keep the peace in my family without being resentful every time I attend church.

SML, thanks for helping me clarify my point and help me with my explanations.


August 10, 2007 at 8:04 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

I'm still trying to place myself in your shoes and consider why someone would's different for everyone, I agree. I'm still trying to become someone who is understanding and accepting of others, no matter what they choose for their own lives and happiness.

I know I've been judgemental and stubborn many times on this blog. Hopefully I'm broadening my mind even as we speak.


August 10, 2007 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

I understand being in their position. I understand they are between a rock and a hard place.

I actually feel sorry for people in this situation. It's sad.

August 12, 2007 at 7:45 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

SS ~

I don't feel sorry for them, I am very happy for them being true to themselves and embracing life the way they see fit.

For me, the pity and sadness I feel is not for the people who leave the church, or the ones who stay even though they don't believe it all. Rather, I feel pity and sadness for the church organization itself, because its hardball, black & white, non-progressive policies and practices are what hurts it (and its members) the most. It insists on full conformity to rigid, outmoded, harmful strictures that alienate many people today who wish to practice Christlike acceptance and love of others, as well as equality for all.

You may be reading this and thinking to yourself that it's God's ancient law...his way is unchanging.

I argue that if there is a God, and he loves us all as he claims, then he'd change it to make it so ALL people could find a safe haven within the church. It simply isn't so, therefore I must do what my conscience dictates. I wish there weren't so many people within the church who are hurt by the policies that are in place. It's tragic.

August 13, 2007 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger paranoidfr33k said...

SML, you are right.

Its "sad" that 100% obedience is required within the church to be accepted by it. That obedience is through action and belief. I wish I could be accepted by the church and continue to attend when I want without being attacked or cuddled. This is not the way it is, so I fake it so that I don't have to deal with all of the crap that comes from not being one of them.

The church changes to make things easier on themselves, but they won't change to make things easier on its members.


August 13, 2007 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

The difficulty in arguing this point about a loving God changing the church to include people and make them happier is this:

People who believe that God is who the church claims he is feel that we are SUPPOSED to embrace changing ourselves into what we are expected to become by the laws and rules and guidelines of the Great Plan of Happiness the church supposedly is. They even have a ready answer for those of us who say we never actually felt the happiness that rigid conformity and "righteousness" supposedly produces.

Yes, I DID do all I was supposed to do. I did follow God's plan for me. Wonder why it wasn't happiness I felt.

August 13, 2007 at 1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Church authorities are in denial. No evidences support the origin stories of the church nor the BOM. " For the politics of science/history and public policy, see Denialism.

Denial is a defense mechanism in which a person is faced with a fact that is too painful to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. The subject may deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether (simple denial), admit the fact but deny its seriousness (minimisation) or admit both the fact and seriousness but deny responsibility (transference). The concept of denial is particularly important to the study of addiction."

September 16, 2007 at 9:30 PM  

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