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Bearing Witness: My Journey Out of Mormonism

My parents named me after Spencer W. Kimball, who was the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at the time I was born. The church derives its informal name, Mormonism, from the Book of Mormon, which is purportedly the work of Hebrew prophets in the ancient Americas (though it’s not clear where, exactly). Mormons believe that Joseph Smith, the church’s founder, translated the Book of Mormon from golden tablets that the angel Moroni helped him discover. Near the end of the Book of Mormon is a passage known as “Moroni’s promise”:

And when you should receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:4).

Many people say that God has fulfilled this promise to them. What it’s like to receive an affirmative answer varies. Or at least descriptions of it vary—precisely what occurs in the privacy of people’s minds is difficult to know. Mormon scriptures describe the spirit as a “Burning in the bosom” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8). In Sunday school, I was told to expect a “still, small voice,” though it would probably be internal, not literally audible. Some report the burning in the bosom, others hear the voice and still others feel a sense of peace. All who receive affirmative answers agree that the spirit is recognizable and that it confers knowledge whatever its specific manifestation.

On the first Sunday service of every month, the faithful are invited to “bear testimonies”—share their convictions—from the pulpit. Some smile cheerfully and say “Good morning, brothers and sisters”; others, overcome with spiritual emotion, start sobbing before they so much as adjust the mic. What typically follows in either case is a series of knowledge claims, for example: “I’d like to bear my testimony. I know this church is true. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know that Gordon B. Hinckley”—the prophet for most of my youth—“is a prophet today.” The testimony-bearers always conclude with “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” The congregation always echoes: “Amen.”

My family attended church almost unfailingly, so I was very familiar with this ritual as a kid. Over time I noticed that testimony-bearers tended to use the same cadence and intonation when they spoke. The words “I’d like to bear my testimony; I know this church is true,” which were always said in a particular way, seemed to be wearing a deep groove into my brain. I wasn’t very old before I came to dislike testimony meetings. I couldn’t bear to see adults cry in front of other adults. One especially excruciating testimony stands out in my memory: an old woman tearfully described how she had prayed for relief for the puss-filled spider bite on her cheek. Thankfully, the swelling went down—evidence, she thought, of God’s concern for her.

Photo by Igor Rodrigues on Unsplash

Sometimes when the weepy ones started, I would rest my forehead on the pew in front of me and wait for them to finish unbosoming. My mom would tap me on the shoulder and tell me to sit up straight. I might have silently prayed for God to hurry one or two of them along. The “testimonies” of the young children, the smallest of whom could barely speak, disturbed me more. Sometimes kids would go to the pulpit themselves. In other cases, parents carried them to the pulpit, held them up to the microphone and whispered words in their ears, which they repeated: “I’d like to bear my testimony; I know this church is true” in that same cadence. This was common though the church leadership officially frowned on it. The congregation seemed to find it adorable. But did they, or anyone, believe that young children were in a position to testify to us?

Notwithstanding the small fissures that were beginning to form at the edges of my belief system, aspects of the religion appealed to me. I liked the idea that righteous humans could be Godlike, increasing in wisdom and power for all eternity. I wanted to believe this. When I was twelve years old, I finished reading the Book of Mormon on my own for the first time. I prayed for personal revelation when I got to Moroni’s promise, and felt disappointed when I could discern none of the signs I’d been told to expect. I did feel calm—unsurprisingly, because I was quietly praying and introspecting—but not remarkably so. When I reported the null results to my parents and Sunday school teachers they reassured me. It didn’t happen the first time for everyone. But it didn’t happen the second time, either. Or the third time.

Adults told me that the spirit probably was bearing witness to me, I just wasn’t recognizing it. Curiously, the signs were supposed to be compelling enough to justify accepting all of the church’s teachings and yet so subtle that they could easily be missed by an attentive person. Occasionally, and with increasing frequency as I got older, a more insulting explanation was offered: perhaps I had not prayed “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ.” I thought that my prayers were sincere, though occasionally I second-guessed myself. Maybe deep down I didn’t want a testimony and the responsibility of bearing it, which might involve crying in front of people.

By the time I was 14, I was the only one of my peers in church who had never born his testimony. I felt like I had the spiritual equivalent to late-onset puberty (an ironic malady for someone with a prophetic namesake!). Adults would ask, with a note of concern, whether I’d ever born my testimony and whether I was intending to serve a two-year proselytizing mission when I turned 19, an obligation for males. I told them honestly that I intended to serve a mission and that I would bear my testimony as soon as I received it. They’d often reply with well-meaning words: “a testimony comes in bearing it.” In other words, if I would bear my testimony to others as an act of faith, belief in what I was saying would follow.

That couldn’t be right, I felt instinctively. Surely I should know that my beliefs were true before I asserted them for the edification of others. I even had a scriptural basis for my objection. I understood the decalogue’s prohibition on bearing false witness to forbid testimony given in bad faith, even if what was said happened to be true. Some of my superiors, who thought I was overthinking things, assured me that the Holy Ghost would flood me with certainty the moment I started speaking. But I would still have to walk to the pulpit, signaling that I had a testimony to bear. Wouldn’t that constitute a kind of false witness? And what happened if the certainty didn’t come immediately? The temptation to continue anyway would be strong, and then I would be speaking falsely.

One Sunday when I was 15, push came to shove, so to speak. My dad was serving as bishop of the Pocatello, Idaho 3rd Ward. Mormon bishops preside over the regular church service, more like a Catholic priest than a bishop in that faith. Since there is no paid clergy in the Mormon church, at least not at the lower levels, laypeople are “called” to serve in various positions. In the case of bishop that was for about four years. On this Sunday, whoever had been asked to give the sermon, another distributed responsibility, finished early. My dad, who was seated behind the pulpit facing the congregation, not in the pew with me, my mom and my three younger siblings, announced that we would now hear the testimonies of three people. The last name he said was “Brother Spencer Case.”

The first two dutifully bore their testimonies. They probably said the regular stuff in that familiar cadence. I don’t know. I wasn’t listening. I just sat there in horror. He’d given me no warning. I looked at the carpet, which I recall was a reddish-orangish color. The second speaker sat down. It was my turn. But I didn’t budge from the pew. The church was quiet. Whether it was my fault or not, I still didn’t think I had a testimony to bear. Maybe my mom gave me some words of encouragement, but I don’t remember for sure. I only remember sitting there for the eternity of a minute or so, feeling the weight of the congregation’s collective expectations bear down on me. Then I started crying, my head in my hands.

At that point, dad came to my rescue. He rose to the pulpit and apologized to me and the congregation: “Sorry for putting you on the spot, Spencer.” Then he bore his testimony in my place. I may not have known that the gospel was true—yet—but he had no doubt. Someday neither would I. Temporarily, I was reassured. I looked forward to the time when I had his certainty. My doubts would dissipate like fog, liberating my mind from anxiety. I don’t remember being very angry with him, at least not for very long. I knew that his intentions were good. Besides, he apologized in front of the congregation. But my doubts persisted, even mounted, and so did the social pressure to sweep them under the rug.

At the beginning of ninth grade, which I believe commenced a few weeks before this incident, I enrolled in Mormon “seminary,” the only subject that I took five days a week every year that I was in high school. This wasn’t training for a clerical career, as the name might suggest, since no such career track exists in Mormonism. Mormon seminary is rather a four-year high-school level religious instruction class for Mormon students. Because religious instruction is not allowed in public schools, Mormon students in Pocatello High School and other high schools with large Mormon populations take an hour of “release time” every school day, during which they are no longer enrolled in the public school system, then cross the street to a church-owned building.

The teachers, dressed in suits and ties, tended to be young and popular with the students. I especially liked Brother Walker, who played guitar and sang songs to help us remember scripture verses. We played games like “scripture chase”; players would receive a prompt like “flee temptation,” then we would scramble to be the first to open our Bibles to Genesis 39:13. (Joseph rejects the adulterous entreaties of Potiphar’s wife.) Winners could do this in less than ten seconds. We were encouraged to chase down our testimonies with similar tenacity. The teachers bore their testimonies in class, as did students, the most enthusiastic of whom also attended extra-early morning testimony meetings in church attire, though I refused. Girls were advised against dating anyone who did not have a strong testimony.

I sometimes lingered after class to talk to the teachers about the “testimony problems” that gnawed at my interior, now compounded by the terrestrial fear of being left without a mate. They listened sympathetically but had no satisfying answers. Some suggested that I go on a mission to find my testimony, which sounded to me like “a testimony comes in bearing it.” I felt like I didn’t relate to the other Mormon students, many of whom usually seemed assured in their faith. Some seemed indifferent, but I don’t recall meeting anyone who seemed to struggle with it like I did. Many of my non-Mormons friends found me hilariously conservative and sheltered, easily shocked by any talk of sex, marijuana, or pornography. One of my seminary teachers had declared masturbation to be “a sin like unto murder.”

In my junior year, I read Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, and unexpectedly came across a passage that spoke to my situation. Washington described how literate African-American men in the Reconstruction period would frequently receive calls to preach at church: “Without warning the one called would fall upon the floor as if struck by a bullet, and would lie there for hours, speechless and motionless.” Word of these events traveled quickly and served as great advertising for a career in ministry. Washington wrote that “While I wanted an education badly, I confess that in my youth I had a fear that when I had learned to read and write well I would receive one of these ‘calls’; but, for some reason, my call never came.”

Although Washington dismisses these apparently lying Reconstruction preachers as “immoral men”—a harsh judgment, given the difficult circumstances they found themselves in—it’s possible that some believed that their calls were veridical, or perhaps came to believe that after acting the part for a long enough time. I never believed that most of the people who said they had testimonies were lying, but I had begun to worry that subtler forms of self-deception were at work. A Mormon teenager hoping to receive a testimony, partly for social reasons, might feel an ordinary sense of peace and think to himself, “Ah, that must be the Holy Ghost.” He repeats this to others, dropping important qualifications, and gradually becomes more convinced himself.

Once I discovered the gap between religious experience and justified belief—something that dawned on me only gradually—it was the beginning of the end of my identification with the Mormon church. I continued to attend seminary and graduated at the end of senior year. The certificate attesting to this is somewhere at my parents’ house. I defended the church when I heard non-Mormon friends criticizing it, and even proselytized to a couple of them, dimly aware that it was myself I wanted to convince, to no avail. Faith seeped inexorably from my mind like water through cupped hands.

After high school I enrolled in Idaho State University and transferred to a singles ward. I carpooled to church with a couple of sisters in their twenties (they were actually sisters, though all female members of the church are referred to as “sisters,” just as male members are “brothers”). The older one said she was good at feeling the spirit. I asked her to point it out to me if she ever felt its presence while we were together. One day she did. It was at a “fireside,” which is a church meeting that takes place Sunday evening after the ordinary service. The choir was singing beautifully and she sat next to me on the pew. “Now,” she said, “the spirit is so strong in this room right now. It’s like electricity! Can’t you feel it?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, after pausing. “I just don’t feel it.”

I continued to discuss my doubts with my dad and with my new bishop, Bishop Olson, both of whom admonished me to go on a mission. At that point my departure would have been imminent. I recall one phone conversation with Bishop Olson in which he inadvertently nudged me to part ways with the church. He said the fact that I was still in the church having these conversations with him, seeking the truth, was proof that I really did know that it was true. Otherwise, what was the sense in my still going to church? Why would I continue seeking? He had a point. He ended the phone call with “See you in church this Sunday.” I never went back.

When I was 18, at the beginning of my second semester of college, I enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve. This was in part to delay the decision about whether or not to go on a mission, though this route looked increasingly unlikely as my belief dwindled and I gravitated toward atheism. It’s somewhat surprising in retrospect that I never considered joining another religion. I assumed that they would all commit me to believing unjustifiable claims and that sooner rather than later I would again be plagued with doubt. Comfortless atheism came with at least one consolation: having no faith, I would be subject neither to the intellectual burden of maintaining it, nor the pain of losing it.

Shortly after my 20th birthday, I deployed to Iraq with the 207th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. My primary responsibility was to be a photographer and writer for the base tabloid, Anaconda Times. Logistical Support Area Anaconda, where I spent most of my time, was subject to regular mortar attacks. Although they rarely injured anyone, they could be unsettling. An alarm system capable of detecting the trajectory of the mortars would sound if they were expected to land within a certain radius—I think 1,000 feet. When you heard this, you took cover, preferably in the concrete above-ground shelters created for this purpose, and waited to hear—and sometimes, when they were close enough, feel—the impact. The insurgents usually fired two at a time, sometimes more. The most unnerving seconds came right after a close one had hit, but before its companions had.

During one of those attacks, alone in my sandbag-reinforced trailer, I momentarily felt tempted to pray for safety. I believe “tempted” is the right word. I got down on my knees, but then decided I would be capitulating to a base and irrational instinct toward self-preservation. I was struck anew by the amount of capricious destruction in the world. How could such a world be the subject of a divine plan? Where was the evidence of a loving personal God? Mortars land where they land, irrespective of human welfare. I had, of course, known that there was badness in the world. But sensing the precariousness of my own existence, the contingency of everything that mattered to me, caused a paradigm shift. Perhaps this episode amounted to a kind of anti-religious experience, the opposite of what I’d once hoped for.

The other mortars impacted. There was a prolonged quiet, followed by the “all clear” signal. It came from above like the voice of God. The angel of death had passed me by. Not only that, it had left me a bit more alive than I had been. Having finally capitulated to the skepticism I had so long feared and resisted, I discovered the limits of my own skepticism. I’d been told my whole life that morality depended on religion; I feared that if I abandoned religion, I’d be in nihilistic free fall. But it soon became clear that my sense of right and wrong, that there was a moral dimension to reality, wasn’t going to desert me. I continued to believe that some things were right while others—such as bearing false witness—were wrong. I’d pushed away a false pillar and the ceiling hadn’t come crashing down on top of me.

What have I taken away from Mormonism? Certainly, the nursery songs that remain lodged in my brain. I refuse to believe that there’s an ex-Mormon alive anywhere who can’t hum the tune of “Give Said the Little Stream.” My philosophical interests, particularly in questions of ethics, owe something to this background, too. As far as that’s concerned, Joseph Smith said one thing that I still agree with: “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” I’m still a non-believer, though I never officially left the church because that would have needlessly pained my family. I love them and they love me despite my unofficial apostacy and innumerable oddities.

One recollection, and I think only one, still kindles anger. When I was around 17-years-old, I attended an “Especially for Youth” weekend church event, which featured a series of speakers. One of them, a seminary teacher from somewhere else, told the congregation of hundreds of Mormon teenagers that he was tired of hearing youths confide their doubts. He said that he now gave “rude” responses to such enquiries, such as: “Why don’t you know it? If you don’t know it’s true by now, it’s your fault! Go and find out that it’s true before you come back to me.” He raised his hand to illustrate how he could barely restrain himself from hitting the person asking the question. The congregation laughed heartily, though the speaker insisted that he was serious. I certainly didn’t find it funny.

I feel proud when I recall my refusal to bear false witness. That pride is tinged with sadness, however, since so many others appear guilty. Mormons are not so different from other humans in this respect. Most of us fear that our most cherished beliefs might turn out to be wrong. We want to hear people affirm the things we want to believe. We feel annoyed or disturbed when others fail to do this. We profess beliefs to encourage conformity as well as to exchange information—behold social media virtue signaling, much of which resembles “bearing witness” from a digital pulpit. We are haunted by the delusion of epistemic safety in numbers, the idea that if enough people agree with us, our convictions must be true. We might vanquish doubt in crowds, but we will never find knowledge this way. Integrity requires each of us to bear witness with honest hearts.

 

Spencer Case has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Colorado Boulder. You can follow him on Twitter @SpencerJayCase.

69 Comments

  1. Gary Nichols says

    I’m a recovering Baptist myself. Everything you said I totally get. If a thing is simply not believable, then it is not to be believed. Period.

  2. AlexP says

    This was a well-written essay. For those of us raised in secular households it may be hard not to laugh when reading about how the Mormon church operates but for those who have been immersed in it since birth it’s not so easy to break away.

    • Rev. Wazoo! says

      @alexP

      Indeed.
      But the subtext throughout, made explicit near the end, is that the avowedly secular (oxymoron intended) are equally prone to the phenomena he artfully describes.

      Substitute Diversity Worskshops, Social Justice Seminars and Gender Studies classes for ” firesides” and weekend youth events at church and you’ll find the same immersive environment replete with ‘bearing witness.”

      ” I believe in climate change,” ” I recognize my male privilege” and “trans-women are women” are all offered as statements of faith and failure to proffer such testimony is similarly shunned.

      • I was chuckling, but then when “I believe in climate change” became a statement of faith I burst into full-on laughter. Thousands of peer-reviewed pages of research =\= a feeling in your bosom.

        • Yup. World is ending in 12 years if we don’t abolish fossil fuels, have governments take over the rest of the economy, go vegan, and adopt Bien Vivir. That’s IPCC’s SR-15, and all who disbelieve are science deniers.

  3. Tom Smith says

    I’m a practicing Latter-day Saint and I thoroughly enjoyed this article and I appreciate your honesty and openness. Also there wasn’t any hostility coming from the article which is sometimes common in ex-members. So I very much appreciate this kind, respectful, and well written article.

    I would like to address a few things.

    First, a small thing, they were not golden tablets, they were golden plates, which are thin sheets of some form of gold-metal alloy. (and there were anywhere from 15 to 20 people that can be considered as witnesses to the physical reality of these plates).

    Another small things is the Church is trying to move away from using the term “Mormon” other than its proper uses, like in the name “The Book of Mormon”. For short, the Church can be called “The Church of Jesus Christ” and members can be called “Latter-day Saints”.

    Also, I too am very uncomfortable with the concept of “you’ll find a testimony through bearing it” if it includes the bearing of a false witness. Some of the more powerful testimonies I’ve heard are ones that are honest and say something along the lines of

    “I honestly don’t know if it is true. I want it to be true and I hope it is true. It definitely brings me happiness and purpose to my life, so I keep attending. But honestly I don’t know if it is actually true.”

    And I totally agree that the pressure or shame that can sometimes be felt or pushed on those who are struggling with believing is completely inappropriate. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a lifetime journey, not something you figure out as a teenager and then you are set for life.

    Also, the Church very much encourages hearing and considering points of views of others, its not strictly conformity to the point of shunning outside viewpoints (unless that’s simply a cultural artifact). In the main manual used for instructing missionaries “Preach My Gospel” it has a chapter on obtaining Christlike attributes. In that chapter it has a sub section for Charity, which state that those with charity “will try to understand [others] and their points of view.” So the Church encourages members to try to understand other points of view and sees this as a form of Charity, which the Book of Mormon defines as the “pure love of Christ”.

    And finally when it comes to obtaining a testimony, a leader in the Church put it really well by saying:

    "There is something else to learn. A testimony is not thrust upon you; a testimony grows. We become taller in testimony like we grow taller in physical stature; we hardly know it happens because it comes by growth.

    It is not wise to wrestle with the revelations with such insistence as to demand immediate answers or blessings to your liking. You cannot force spiritual things. Such words as compel, coerce, constrain, pressure, demand, do not describe our privileges with the Spirit. You can no more force the Spirit to respond than you can force a bean to sprout, or an egg to hatch before it’s time. You can create a climate to foster growth, nourish, and protect; but you cannot force or compel: you must await the growth."

    God likes to test us, and he tests us all differently as individuals. For some a testimony comes very easily (like the people I taught on my mission) and for others it comes very difficult (like for me and many other people that are born in the Church).

    Also, thank you for your military service, and I’m happy you’ve found happiness and purpose outside the Church. And again, that you for you kind and respectful article

    • Matthew B says

      Great comment Tom. I agree with you and the author.

      My best friends from high school are Mormons. All of them are great people from great families and they’ve had a huge influence on my life and my own philosophy. In my experience, LDSaints are some of the most honest, open, pragmatic and virtuous Christians I’ve met. They actually live what they believe and are honest with themselves and others when they fail.

      In my opinion, in many ways, they’ve dialed in many of the facts and realities of living a joyful, faithful human life.

    • “First, a small thing, they were not golden tablets, they were golden plates, which are thin sheets of some form of gold-metal alloy. (and there were anywhere from 15 to 20 people that can be considered as witnesses to the physical reality of these plates).”

      Or maybe not.

    • MrHankeyLives says

      Really appreciate your nuanced response to the author. I am a convert to the Church. I see his point about “canned” testimonies, but I’ve heard many powerful ones that are not only based in scripture but also vividly and heartfully shared–I often think of them in trying situations. I’m finding it next to impossible to publicly express doubt. Too often “Mormon culture” and the religion overlap, which is natural, but I wasn’t raised in that culture. Rules are important, sure, but we tend to get mired in strictly following them and in the process act counter to the Church’s own official policies. Being part of this faith has brought me closer to God and Christ, but too often in Relief Society and in conversations with fellow members I hear platitudes that are meant to comfort but end up turning me away. You are absolutely right that building one’s testimony is a lifelong process that members should ideally be able to experience on their own time. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

    • Corbin Mcmillen says

      Bull…they dont even tolerate divergent views when it would result in children being safer.
      The exd Sam Young and did nothing to Joseph Bishop

    • Nathan says

      Nice try Tom. None of those 15-20 witnesses of the plates would hold up in court, as there are many contradictory things said about the supposed plates, and whether the witness of them was literally physical or with the “spiritual eyes”.

      Also Mormonism does not truly foster real consideration of other ideas. It may go thru the motions but the script is pre written to always arrive back at a position of affirmation of the religion. Cmon, you know this.

      I spent 18 years in the church and read the Book of Mormon cover to cover and prayed about it. It is simply not a genuine ancient record. It’s actually incredible how claims of authenticity persist. It disproves itself by verse 4 of 1st Nephi when it mentions Zedekiah as being a king who preceded any Babylonian invasion. Zedekiah was installed by the Babylonians. I won’t even get into the profuse KJVisms that the BoM depends on.

      Suffice it to say Mormonism is a pragmatic fiction,

  4. Lightning Rose says

    Wonderful essay–really enjoyed it, I can relate as my sister-in-law and nephews “bolted” from the Mormon Church at more or less the last moment before deep and irrevocable commitment. The fact that my nephews have grown up fine, outstanding, moral and well-adjusted young men I do attribute to the strong influence of that Church in their formative years; but it does demand a great deal of people. I must say the Mormons mostly DO walk their talk.

  5. Matt W says

    As an ex-mormon myself I can relate so strongly to what you shared. Thank you for doing so.

    Without exposing my own story in full, I’ll just say that I’m what you would have become if you had chosen to bear false witness. I did go up and bear my testimony many times hoping that I would find it in the bearing of it. I have struggled for literal decades to find my testimony before I finally gave myself permission to stop seeking. A huge weight lifted off of me when I felt like I could live honestly and not profess things I didn’t know. I just wish I would have done it before I went on a mission, graduated from BYU (Church run university), married in the temple, raised young children in the Church or served as Young Men’s President in my ward. While there are a lot of positive things that have come into my life as a results of those things, there is also a lot of difficulty that is in my life now as I try to balance being an ex-mormon within my own mormon family.

    Thank you again for sharing.

  6. markbul says

    I’m still waiting for an Internet article about a Mormon who DIDN”T leave the church. Apparently, they aren’t allowed online. Also, just once I’d like to hear from someone who went to their prom and had a great time. It seems as if the Writers’s Union won’t allow anyone who fit in with the crowd during high school to get their papers.

    • Tom Smith says

      I’m a Latter-day Saint who didn’t leave the Church. There’s actually lots of us haha. And Latter-day Saints are on the higher end of retention rates when compared to other Christian religions.

      https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/chapter-2-religious-switching-and-intermarriage/pr_15-05-12_rls_chapter2-02/

      And at the moment I can’t find the pew article, but I do believe seeing that when normalized with population growth, Latter-day Saints are the only religious group that is neither growing nor shrinking in the US, every other group is shrinking (If I remember correctly).

      While its true the Church is struggling with population growth in the US when compared to the past, that not a unique Latter-day Saint problem, rather that’s simply response to an overall secularization of society.

      Although outside of Western Nations the Church is doing better than ever (population growth wise).

      And Latter-day Saints are definitely allowed online, not sure where you heard that. Full-time missionaries even have smart phones and online proselyting is part of their daily activities.

      • sestamibi says

        I’ve noticed that. In places where I’ve lived, the open computers at the local public libraries all seem to be very popular with young LDS missionaries.

        • Brad Denton says

          Yes. Typically they contact their families weekly by email. And public libraries are a great place for that.

      • Again, your points are generally sound and appreciated, but I would like to gently push back on a few.

        rather that’s simply response to an overall secularization of society.

        Informal scholarly artifacts produced or contributed to by LDS scholars such as Terryl and Fiona Givens, Clayton Christensen, and Greg Prince (e.g., https://faenrandir.github.io/a_careful_examination/documents/faith_crisis_study/Faith_Crisis_R28e.pdf) suggest that much of the loss of members today may be attributable to the ease with which uncorrelated, but often accurate, information about the Church’s history and truth-claims is now available online. So secularization is only part of the picture. The availability of data which run counter to or undermine traditional LDS narratives is also part of the problem.

        And Latter-day Saints are definitely allowed online, not sure where you heard that. Full-time missionaries even have smart phones and online proselyting is part of their daily activities.

        But they are discouraged somewhat from investigating critical claims. In addition full-time missionary internet access devices almost certainly block all major critical (or critical leaning) sites such as the CES Letter, MormonThink, and Mormon Stories. The 2017 mobile device standards (https://mormonleaks.io/wiki/documents/b/b6/2017-Mobile_Device_Standards.pdf) outline standards to dissuade investigation:

        Always sit or stand so that you and your companion can see each other’s screen when using devices. Be aware of your companion’s contacts, messages, and communication. Also make sure that your companion reviews anything you plan to email, post, comment, or message except for letters to your mission president and emails home. …

        With your companion, create a culture of helping each other be safe by regularly and thoroughly reviewing each other’s devices. In reviewing your companion’s device, look at his or her app histories, recent contacts, photos, notes, usage information, and so on. Do not reset your device or erase your online history. As directed by your mission president, missionary leaders may also conduct device reviews. …

  7. I think it’s brave of you to write about this. I tend to be a “leave others alone” type and was raised in a libertarian free will, non deterministic God church and home. You rarely find that anymore and I miss being around those types. They are hard to find. I would visit other churches with friends growing up and was shocked at how authoritarian they were or presented.

    “Up From Slavery” is one of my many favorite biographies. In it, he also relates that one of his biggest barriers to recruiting students to Tuskegee were….black pastors. Some things never change. It’s about control over others. My biggest pet peeve.

  8. waterloo says

    @SpencerJayCase may I suggest https://creation.com/ it is a very interesting resource for open, honest minds. Honest as in truly logical and thoughtful individuals.

    • Frank Knarf says

      We can only assume that your comment was intended humorously. At least we hope so.

  9. Cedric says

    Great article. Thank you for sharing your story and perspectives.

  10. Tulklas says

    My primary observation is the author seems to miss the forest for the trees when it comes to the purpose of religion. He seems hung up on not being able to feel some magical witness. Are the ten commandments not helpful? Are Christ’s teachings not helpful? Do you feel like they will not help you live a fulfilling life? Have you tried them out? If you have tried these things and come to the conclusion that these things are not helpful it would be interesting to read your thinking. But throwing everything over because of the lack of some ethereal witness I find odd and shallow.

    The other issue is the authors skipping over of any discussion of why religious belief does not qualify as justified belief. The first half of the article is full of anecdotes about this individuals church experience (and feels like he is cherry picking the negative ones) and then just assumes that religious experience is antagonistic to justified belief.

    • The overwhelming emphasis on a belief experience is something impressed on the author by the Mormon church, not by himself. And Mormonism is not alone in that insistence on witnessing.

    • Nathan says

      I think you’re quite unaware of the unique aspects of the Mormon belief structure where the formation of a personal testimony and a spiritual witness accompanying it is quite central to the whole thing. Author is not discounting the general value structure of judos Christian tradition. This is an article about how we know what we know.

  11. FuzzyLogic says

    As a life-long (50+ years), active member of the Church of Jesus Christ, I respect and appreciate the honesty and subjectivity of this article. It resonates with my experiences. I had a good friend who struggled greatly with his testimony and I had immense respect as he bore his feelings at a youth conference testimony meeting once of his hope to gain a testimony. At some point in his life, he came to “know” as he served a mission and has long served as an early-morning seminary teacher (lay members in less member dense areas are “called”/asked to teach prior to going off to their gainful employment) in the greater Chicago area. It meant a great deal to me at the time that he publicly acknowledged as a youth the struggle you and so many others face growing up in the faith.

    I long-since reconciled that I would never fully “know” the Church is ‘true” in all aspects and accepted that my life and every other life I touched would be better because I remained an active, believing member who tried to follow most of the ethical/moral precepts taught from the pulpit. It has also allowed me many opportunities to serve my fellow-man.

    Much respect and appreciation for your honest depiction.

    • Tom Smith says

      I’m in your same boat FuzzyLogic. There’s a certain thought experiment by a philosopher I can’t remember the name of that helps frame the issue for me. Anyways, it goes something like this:

      You are in a runaway carriage going down a hill at a high speed, you have two choices, either jump out or stay in. You attempt to gather information on which one would be safer, but really its hard to tell. A decision simply has to be made. Since you don’t really know, either jumping out or staying in are rational decisions. Ultimately, whichever decisions seems even slightly more correct, that’s the one you should pick. Once you make the decision, you should behave as if you are 100% certain. You can’t hang out the carriage halfway thinking you are taking the middle road, that’s actually probably the most unsafe decision. If you’ve come to the decision to jump out, even if you are full of doubts and are barely sure its the right decision, behaving as if you were 100% certain is the best option.

      It’s the same in the Church. Rationally speaking, being a member of the Church and living the gospel simply has to be the best option available, even if your confidence in that decision is very low. But once you have decided its the most rational option available, you should then live as if you were 100% confident. Regardless of whatever doubts or low confidence you have, that’s still the most rational position.

      Also, the very concept of “knowing” something to be true is complicated. In the purest essence of the word, you know nothing except that you exist, whatever “you” are being unknown. (This is known as epistemological solipsism). However, using this strict definition of “know” makes the word useless. So I wouldn’t worry too much about whether you “know” the gospel is true, its a difficult question to answer. Philosophers for thousands of years have stared at their own hand and fretted whether they can know their hand actually exists.

  12. I am also exmo but a woman. Any magic ended for me at age 13 when I learned of Joseph Smith’s 34 wives, many of whom were married to other men and one who was not yet 15. Not only was it distasteful but it didn’t ring true. Always women, isn’t it?
    Thanks Spencer for the earworm-“Give, oh give. Give, oh give.”

    • Tom Smith says

      If it helps, the available evidence suggests Joseph Smith had very little sexual relations with his wives and probably none with a majority of them. Also the evidence suggests that the younger brides and the ones already married didn’t involve sexual unions. And the average age of Joseph Smith’s wives was like 29 years old. Although this is a complex issue I won’t be able to dive deeply into in a comment reply. Hopefully it provides some prospective.

      And Latter-day Saints led humanity on women’s rights. They were among the first to grant them the right to vote, 50 years before the rest of the US. The first women to hold public office in the US were to a large degree Latter-day Saint women. 1800’s Latter-day Saint controlled Utah had the most liberal divorce laws in the country which actually favored women. And during this time Women were challenged by the Church to become doctors and scientists when the rest of the US would see this as blasphemy. These are just a few examples.

      So when it comes to Church history and women’s rights, the Church was way ahead of the society around it.

      • K. Dershem says

        Tom, do you think women will ever be ordained to the priesthood in the mainstream LDS Church? Blacks were able to become ordained as of 1978; is it possible that women will be eventually be allowed to become priests as well?

      • Jay Salhi says

        “If it helps, the available evidence suggests Joseph Smith had very little sexual relations with his wives and probably none with a majority of them.”

        No, it doesn’t. So he only screwed some of the other men’s wives, not all of them? And maybe he didn’t really rape that under 15 year old bride? Very comforting. That’s a rather low standard to set for an alleged prophet of God. And how could anyone today possibly determine the frequency of sex he had with these wives? “Available evidence”, indeed.

        The available evidence also suggests that Smith was a fraud and a conman. Mormons are kind, decent people. I’ve never met I Mormon I didn’t like. I cannot say that about any other denomination (and I’ve lived all over the world and interacted with people of numerous faiths). None of that changes the fact that the LDS is a borderline cult predicated on the fabrications of a charlatan. And its teachings on race are problematic to say the least notwithstanding God changing his mind about black people after Jimmy Carter threatened to take away the church’s tax exempt status.

    • Katherine says

      S, you mention that Joseph Smith’s relationships with women killed Mormonism for you.
      I share the majority Christian view of Mormonism as a regrettable distortion based on the teachings of a single unstable person (Smith), with apologies to the feelings of the Mormons here…

      I want to share a quotation with you which refers back to the person who is really at the centre of Christianity:

      “Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.”

      ― Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society
      https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/783218-perhaps-it-is-no-wonder-that-the-women-were-first

  13. Lightning Rose says

    Great comment, Fuzzy. I see a parallel here between your experiences and those of the article’s author, to the early Puritans of New England who were not deemed “true” members of their all-important Church (indeed, the “Elect of God!”) unless and until they had a “conversion experience.” This was commonly described as an ecstatic visitation by the Holy Spirit, and since this was a pretty dour bunch normally their “witnessing” must have made for great Sunday morning theater!

    Given the utterly central role of the Church in early New England life, you can imagine the feelings of ostracism common to the “unconverted,” who were deemed unworthy of many civil posts as well.
    It’s also not hard to imagine that faked “conversion experiences” were as common as fake orgasms among those less spiritually honest than the both of you. GREAT reading, thanks!

  14. Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

    At least Mormons/LDSians have a sense of humor. Can you imagine a Broadway musical called “Book of Mohammed”? Heads would be rolling!

    • Dave Bowman says

      Just a point: I’m sure you imagine that, between your well-rehearsed ad-lib one-liners and your super-comic nickname here, you’re a very funny person.

      You’re not.

      You’re welcome.

  15. Andreas K. says

    I’m given to understand that I’m more religious than is socially acceptable, so in that capacity, I would like to express my puzzlement. I’m afraid I just don’t understand the tendency among many of the religious and irreligious alike to equate belief with a strong feeling of what is, essentially, emotion. Emotions are in motion, they’re always changing, they don’t stay still, that’s literally why the -motion part of the word. I’m familiar with how sometimes feelings rise out of a belief, but for it be equated with belief itself…? Well, I believe Canada exists, though I’ve never seen it. However, I certainly have no strong feelings one way or the other about it. No emotions about it at all. Leastwise not until my maple syrup supply is endangered. I’m religious, yes. It’s part of what I do, certain things that my behavior, personal conduct, and my manner of interacting with the world incorporate. Like how my secular behavior incorporates the existence of stop lights, the provisions of the US Constitution, etc. But feelings…? That’s hardly a 24/7 event. Certainly not the foundation or definition of my religiosity.

  16. “How could such a world be the subject of a divine plan? Where was the evidence of a loving personal God?”

    Good and reasonable question. Theological questions. To which many solutions have been suggested. But not by the seminary teacher the author describes.

    And amen regarding conformity and virtue-signalling. The author’s upbringing clearly encouraged him to seek and speak the truth and paradoxically to thereby call into question much of that upbringing. One wonders how ‘hollow’ Mormonism is, what proportion of Mormons profess outward belief without inward reality. Likewise any other belief system, religious or otherwise.

    Thanks for this article.

  17. I could have written my experience growing up with Mormonism and it would have read almost word for word identical. This was like reading my own life. Except I served as a wild land fire fighter instead of the military. But had a similar experience when we thought we might be caught in a crown fire.

  18. Doug Bancroft says

    Thank you for sharing your story, Spencer. I really think it’s best to officially resign one’s membership in the Mormon church, however. The Book of Mormon is not at all what Smith claimed it was, and many of the church’s truth claims are almost impossible to sustain under the glare of science, history, archaeology, and well, reality.

    By staying a member, you allow yourself to be counted among the membership, and the best thing to do with organizations like this is to vote with your feet (as it were). You could be an even greater inspiration to others who’ve quietly been going through the same internal dialogues as you did.

    • Dave Bowman says

      By staying a member, you allow yourself to be counted among the membership, and the best thing to do with organizations like this is to vote with your feet (as it were)

      Bravo.

  19. Jazzfox says

    I respect the author’s well written and sincere article. I don’t want to minimize their experience, but just provide a counter-experience to anyone who reads this far. I’ve been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a while now, and consider it a very important part of my life. Its done amazing things for my family.

    Growing up I never felt my concerns were minimized, but always encouraged to learn for myself what is true. Its too bad the author had a different experience.

  20. Thank you Spencer for this thoughtful and heartfelt account of your experience in the LDS church. I have had many LDS friends and acquaintances over the years, and they have been genuinely kind and considerate people. As other commentators have noted, they generally walk the talk of Christian charity.

    I was raised Catholic and converted to evangelical Christianity at the beginning of my senior year of high school. By the end of my second year of college, I had abandoned my Christian faith, such as it was. By my senior year I was reading Nietzsche of my own accord and professing atheism. No professor of mine had ever assigned Nietzsche and his name had only been mentioned in a negative association with Nazis, but his philosophy spoke to me on a very personal level.

    Nietzsche rejected faith in general, and Christian faith in particular, quite viciously as is well known. Though I so earnestly wanted to be a believer in my youth, I always harbored doubts that I could not ignore. Nietzsche advocated a harsh, elitist ethic that embraced the anxiety of relentless skepticism as a sign of strength, the antithesis of Christian faith. Nietzsche also mocked the concept of discipleship and exhorted his readers to question the authority of mentors. I took this ethic to heart.

    I have since softened my hostility to religious faith and accept it in good faith. I have also learned to avoid living in a state of constant anxiety. I harbor no animosity toward religious faith or believers. The human capacity to love and be loved can manifest itself in a variety of belief systems.

  21. Brad Denton says

    I appreciate Spencer’s sincere article. Religion is an intensely personal thing, and it’s unquestionably true that some religious people (including some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) conflate emotional feelings with spiritual ones; it’s common enough that in the Mormon congregation I attend, young people are often warned to be careful not to confuse one with the other.

    In my own spiritual life I’m always on the lookout for confirmation bias or confusing emotion with spiritual guidance. But I can honestly say that I have learned from the Spirit, in a way beyond anything emotional, that God does live, cares about me, and has a plan for me. It’s not the sort of thing that can be proven to anyone else, and I think it’s supposed to be that way. This life is designed to help us build faith and be more like our Father in Heaven. Faith isn’t easy to build.

  22. Jochen Schmidt says

    This article reveals what religion is all about. It has nothing to do with faith, nothing with belief, and of course nothing with truth.

    It’s all about social community. Pretense is required – as an investment in the trust and cooperation of other people.

  23. northernobserver says

    Spencer, complete your journey, come to the Church of the apostles and the Emperor, come to the Church of the beginning and the end, join the Orthodox Church. I have joined Greek Orthodox through marriage but there are many national flavors to choose from. If the deviation was corrupted perhaps you can find what you seek at the root.

  24. M Heeton says

    An honest account. I don’t think there is any doubt that there are people, like the author, who genuinely cannot experience any sense of the transcendent. But transcendent experience is an observable phenomenon common to all times and all cultures. It cannot reasonably be dismissed as so much play-acting, which is essentially what most modern atheists say. An atheist who says “I don’t feel it and therefore it does not exist” is in no way different from the religious adherent who says “I feel it and therefore it is true.” They are both at base emotional arguments. One stems from the absence of emotional reaction, the other from its presence. An atheistic confession is no different and on no higher intellectual plain than a religious one. Both are statements of belief.

    • K. Dershem says

      I disagree. Atheism is a statement of nonbelief, not a statement of belief. It’s entirely possible that nonbelivers are “spiritblind” (comparable to being colorblind), i.e., there’s a transcendent dimension of reality that they’re incapable of perceiving. However, it’s also possible that “transcendent” experiences are not veridical. Religious experiences are undeniably similar across different eras and cultures, but this does not prove that they’re “real” (i.e., derive from a source outside the mind).
      Different traditions use similar methods (prayer, meditation, fasting, ecstatic rituals, psychoactive substances, etc.) to generate mystical experiences. These effects can be replicated using non-religious means, such as drugs and direct brain stimulation. The same is true of near-death experiences. All of the common features of NDEs (a tunnel of light, a sense of oneness with the universe, out-of-body sensations, visions of loved ones) can be explained and stimulated scientifically. It’s possible that the souls of people who nearly die are transported to heavenly realms and return with transformative memories of that journey, but it’s also possible that the brain sometimes produces a set of hallucinatory experiences when it’s under severe stress. If you’re already committed to believing in theism and an afterlife for other reasons, it’s perfectly reasonable to interpret religious experiences and NDEs as confirmation for your belief. If not, however, I think that Occam’s Razor favors the naturalistic explanation.

      • M Heeton says

        I know this argument and you have stated it well, but I think you are still stuck with a definition of verifiable that rules out transcendance a priori; you hold transcendence to a standard of material proof. Yet is not the acknowledged shared transcendent experience of peoples across time and cultures also not proof to be considered? I think the ongoing efforts to reduce these phenomena in biological processes is always tenuous since there is simply no biological understanding of consciousness itself. Describing a biological sub-routine in the context of an immense over-arching mystery is not proof of anything, I say. Curious, yes, but not proof.

        • K. Dershem says

          Consciousness is a mystery from a scientific perspective, but (in my view) religious explanations simply compound that mystery with additional mysteries. Do humans have a soul? If so, what’s its nature? How does it interact with physical matter? etc. We know beyond any reasonable doubt that minds are dependent in some sense on physical brains. I believe that consciousness is an emergent property of the functioning of brains. You might argue that brains are the means by which souls express themselves in the physical world, comparable (perhaps) to radios tuning into broadcast stations. Again, I think that Occam’s Razor favors a naturalistic explanation in the absence of independent reasons to believe that souls (or something like them) exist.

          I’d be more impressed with the evidential value of shared mystical experiences if they led to convergent conclusions about the nature of divine reality. Instead, the specifics of religious beliefs seem to be completely determined by human cultures. For the record, I’m not ruling out transcendence a priori — I’m an agnostic, not an atheist. I think that supernatural explanations and naturalistic ones are both viable possibilities. Based on my understanding of the evidence, however, I’m convinced that the latter are far more plausible than the former.

          • M Heeton says

            I am totally in agreement with you in the opening half of the first paragraph above. We unquestionably have physical minds with observable physical properties. The frontier of understanding of the physical world creeps outward in some cases, and, if we are being honest, atrophes in others. The frontier wiggles back and forth over time. I think it is a great error to assume that the burst of technological knowledge in the last century is somehow permanent and irreversible, or that we have not recently lost significantly in other areas of knowledge. That’s just the arrogance of the present moment.

            We come to Occam’s Razor. This is really the point of divergance. You have quite honestly stated “I believe that consciousness is an emergent property …”. The verb in this sentence is ‘to believe’, in other words, the secular world view is just as much an act of faith as a religious confession. After the statement of belief, the rest of the argument flows quite naturally and is well stated.

            I simply can’t accept Occam’s Razor because it makes no sense to me. I see it as a needlessly constraining principle that is far more difficult to apply than its proponents admit. Of course it is useful in our age of hyper polemical argumentation, but I really think it postulates a false dichotomy.

            Please take the last word. I have throughly enjoyed this discussion. Thank you.

  25. kerdasi amaq says

    There’s a book “Mormonism Unveiled” on the origins of that faith.

  26. Caleb says

    I appreciate the authors fairness as illustrated by this statement: “I never believed that most of the people who said they had testimonies were lying, but I had begun to worry that subtler forms of self-deception were at work.”

    I was raised in a similarly strict denomination and have since left that environment with many of the sentiments expressed in this essay. My life changing crisis did not involve mortar shells, but it did result in a continued belief in the person of Jesus Christ.

    Thank you for this read.

  27. ODAAT says

    Thank you. Your experience tracks well with my experience in the Christian church. I originally left my religion at Age 19 because I had concluded there was no way to prove the existence of God. I remained an agnostic, albeit a hopeful one. I neatly avoided the subject until age 41, when I admitted I was an alcoholic. I returned, first to God, then to the church, then to Jesus, but when I reached The Bible everything came to a screeching halt. I decided that if God existed and if he took a personal interest in me, the very least I owed him was an honest relationship. I couldn’t find a church that welcomed my serious, honest, probing questions about inconsistencies in what they called holy scripture. On the contrary, I was met with anger. This time I left the church for their good, not mine. I didn’t want to raise anymore shitstorms in small groups.

    Today I remain an even more hopeful agnostic. I still pray because I believe that there is a God and he may hear me. I also pray because regardless of whether God exists or not, it changes me in a good way.

    What touched me most about your article was the fact that you saw what I saw: So many good people pretending, not daring to question their belief structures for fear of being different from the crowd.

  28. Pingback: Bearing Witness: My Journey Out of #Mormonism https://quillette.com… | Dr. Roy Schestowitz (罗伊)

  29. More than this... says

    As a church going Mormon – I get Spencer’s point of view. It’s a jungle in there – so much pressure to be perfect and to “live up” to the ideals of the faith. Even with a stout testimony of the Church I hate the culture that has developed in just my lifetime. As I’ve grown as a person I can see the big picture and I’ve quit sweating the small details of what is true or not true.

    My personal conversion within the church has evolved from being a white shirt RM – to a blue shirt nihilist who realizes there is more going on behind the scenes. I still go to church because its fundamentally good – but it comes at a price of being amused by the zealots whose every move is to please God and gain his blessings through faithfulness – all the while they forgot to live life and enjoy the small moments.

    I even think the church is holding back truth. There’s more to what they let on – or at least if it’s a church with a conduit to God – there should be more information and revelation. If the church doesn’t know the full truth – then its claim on “only true” is more hopeful than factual.

    What is this truth they’re holding back? The true meaning of the Tree of Life. It’s out there… figure it out and you’ll be amazed what the Tree of Life really represents.

  30. Katherine says

    Spencer, please write an update article in 20 years – might be just me but I have a feeling that religiously speaking your journey isn’t over yet…
    (feel free to write before that 🙂

    • Spencer says

      Interesting suggestion. I am sure I will write many things in the next 20 years. I probably will revisit it. Also I am not a philosophical materialist.

  31. asdf says

    I considered converting to Mormonism, even knowing that it probably wasn’t true. It seemed like Mormon’s lived well and it was a good place to raise a family. I guess you could say I was looking at religion instrumentally.

    The testimonies were what turned me off. At a certain point they basically pressure you to make a choice, and when push came to shove I just found the testimonies to be a turn off. It drove home that “not true” part. Maybe joining the church would have been a good way to get a family going, but if they don’t have access to “the truth” then it’s just another social club that could have totally different tenants 20 years later. And I got the impression from the testimonies that Mormons might well go along with “we’ve always been at war with Eastasia” if it came to that.

  32. Brent Swenson says

    These kinds of stories crop up with some regularity and the more I see them, the more they suggest to me that the authors are still conflicted about their beliefs, otherwise why go to so much effort to defend the stance they are portraying?

    I m an atheist but, perhaps ironically, I believe in the importance of religion. Whether true or not, religion offers comfort to great swaths of people in a world where comfort is often an uncommon commodity. I realized some time ago that it is neither my duty nor my right to deprive someone of that comfort simply to reinforce my own convictions.

    Perhaps this article was only intended to provide commiseration with others who may still be struggling with doubt. On the other hand, such a motive does not require relating a struggle with a particular religion but merely with spiritual faith in general so it makes me wonder about that motive in this case. Confession may be good for the soul but it need not be a public process. Faith – or its absence – should be a personal attribute and, to my mind at least, is best practiced as Christ described for prayer: in the closet not the streets.

    • Dave Bowman says

      My view is, that’s not sad – it is the best aspect and reason of all.

  33. Alf says

    It saddens me to read your experiences in the church, Spencer, and makes me grateful that I have had very different ones. I grew up in a “less active” family, which means my parents only attended church once a month, instead of every week, as is more common and expected. I did not value the church nor its’ teachings, and I did not feel I fit in with the other boys of my congregation. However, I also had severe social anxiety, and interpersonal relations, in general, were a struggle. I wonder what other factors, psychological or otherwise, Spencer neglected to mention that may have played a significant role in his church experience.

    In my adolescence, I was very fortunate to have great friends who were active in the church and who had high standards, which helped me avoid many pitfalls current youth fall into (e.g., drugs and premarital sex). I too attended seminary, though I pretended to sleep through most of it as an anxious-avoidance strategy. My teachers meant well but weren’t trained to recognize or ameliorate psychological issues.

    Thanks to the influence of my friends and church leaders (who spent numerous hours serving without pay mind you), I went through the process of repentance and, as Dr. Peterson would say, “got my life in order.” I confessed, made retribution, apologized, and forsook many sins I had been carrying for years. It was a painful and humbling process that I did of my own free will in preparation to serve a mission. I was instructed to gain a testimony before leaving for a mission, at least about the Book of Mormon. I had made several meager attempts to gain a testimony before I went through the sincere repentance process, but to no avail. Once I repented, I felt a huge burden lift and began to feel very differently. As I tried to truly live as Christ modeled and instructed, I could feel my insides being somehow purged or cauterized, if you will. I became more open to spiritual promptings or revelations. I felt God’s hand in my life and did gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. I can’t say I know without a doubt it’s 100% true (faith is not to have a perfect knowledge), but I can say that the more I study it sincerely AND try to apply its’ principles, the more I feel content and prepared for this life. I’ve been studying what it can teach us about agency, or the ability to make choices or have free will, which has been an inspiring and illuminating endeavor that I highly recommend.

    I, to this day, am an active disciple of Jesus Christ and member of his church. My discipleship has waxed and waned over the years. If I am completely honest, the times when my faith & dedication have waned the most are when I have either returned to old sins or embraced new ones. Those are also the times I have been selfish, full of pride, and “past feeling.” Those are also the times when I have felt some (temporary) pleasure, a huge dependence on electronics and media (they are arguably drugs), and the least amount of joy. In contrast, when I really strive to live the gospel as Christ would have me, I put my wife and children first, I feel more at peace, and I’m tired because it’s hard work! I wonder if you (Spencer), like me, have some sins holding you back from reaching your true potential and from being able to get that testimony that has dogged you for years. There’s at least one way to find out.

    I don’t know if the church is true. I hope that it is. I DO know that living the gospel and being active in the church gives me meaning and purpose and peace (which happen to be pretty strong protective factors against depression). I act as if the church is true and I act as if Christ is the savior of the world. I humbly invite you, Spencer, to honestly evaluate your life and consider whether there was anything in the past, or present, that was holding you back. Faith and repentance may be the first principles of the gospel, but don’t underestimate the power of their proper application. I would encourage you to study the life of Enoch, there’s a lot to learn there.
    Regards,
    Jason

    • Dave Bowman says

      I wonder if you (Spencer), like me, have some sins holding you back from reaching your true potential and from being able to get that testimony that has dogged you for years

      Congratulations.

      Having missed the entire point and logical thrust of the main article – and quite apart from the fact that everything you have “reasoned” is a palpable nonsense repeating the very same logical errors and inconsistencies of thinking which the author has laid out crystal-clear as having been in his own experience – you have now also compounded your own error and stupidity by following it up with very careful, polite, gentle, courteous – and deeply un-Christian – guilt-tripping.

      But I have no idea whether you will even understand the problem. I suspect not.

      • Alf says

        Inviting others to repent is one of Christ’s primary messages. I’m not sure it gets much more Christian than that…

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