Los Angeles Mensa Discusses Temples and Family History Centers
Remember when I was asked to speak to Mensa in the Los Angeles area about topics related to Mormonism?
Last year, I wrote about that experience and posted recordings from that presentation to this website. Well, that talk was such a success that they asked me to come back and speak to them again, and rather than trying to cover the entire playing field like I did the year before, this time I focused on temples and family history, which is something I barely mentioned in the talk from 2006.
The talk, incidentally, took place on Saturday, February 17, 2007 in Los Angeles. Shortly before that, Simon Wiesenthal's name had appeared in the IGI, and was subsequently removed, and I used that event as a springboard for the presentation I gave.
Before I go much further, I should reiterate that Mensa does not endorse The Exmormon Foundation, and officially holds no opinions, and that neither Mensa nor the Foundation is responsible for my remarks at the Mensa gathering. I am solely responsible for what I said there.
Once again, I recorded the whole presentation. The recording of the main presentation is available here:
I also have a recording of the question and answer period which followed, which lasts for about 45 minutes. That recording isn't on this website, so if you're anxious to hear it, please contact me directly.
While preparing and presenting this talk, I felt that it was important to respect the beliefs of our Mormon believing friends and family members by not revealing keywords, signs and tokens, although I did mention that the purpose of the endowment is to present those things to participants so that they can pass by the angels who stand as sentinels in heaven. I mention this so that you'll know in advance the level of detail that you'll get from this recording. I don't want you to be surprised, listening to this talk, that I don't spell out the keywords, signs and tokens, in case that's what you were expecting, because that wasn't my intent.
A number of web addresses were mentioned in that presentation. For reference, here they are again:
- The article “Mormons ‘baptize’ Simon Wiesenthal” was at http://jta.org/ at the time I gave the presentation, but I don't see it there now.
- “Mormons remove Wiesenthal from baptism database” by K. Connie Kang appeared in the Los Angeles Times on December 19, 2006; however, now that it's been archived, you have to register to read it.
- “Wiesenthal's name is off LDS database” by Elaine Jarvik and Wendy Leonard appeared in the Deseret News on the same day.
- “The Mormon/Jewish Controversy: What Really Happened” by Gary Mokotoff appears on http://www.avotaynu.com/mormon.htm and is fascinating reading and highly recommended.
- One member of the audience asked me for Richard Packham's article on the growth statistics of the Mormon Church. I wasn't expecting that to come up during the presentation, so I didn't have it readily at hand, but it's available at http://packham.n4m.org/growth.htm
- Like I say, I didn't go into much detail about the content of the endowment, although I mentioned that people who are interested in those details can find them on the Internet. One such source is at http://lds-mormon.com/compare.shtml.
I also briefly presented a number of web addresses in my PowerPoint slides:
As before, I welcome questions, comments and corrections regarding anything I had to say in that recording. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you'll let me know what you thought of it.
Brian Madsen, Treasurer
How to Resign from the Mormon Church
A frequently-searched term here on exmormonfoundation.org is "resign from church" or "resigning from the church". Here are some resources to help you in your quest to leave the Mormon church.
By linking to a site, we are not promoting or endorsing the content therein. Often, sites educating about Mormonism are also promoting a competing religious agenda. As a non-sectarian Foundation, we are not promoting any religion, philosophy, or political standpoint.
- Kathy Worthington's MormonNoMore.com. Kathy maintains an excellent page discussing instructions, a sample letter, legal precedent, and how best to avoid the run-around in resigning from the church.
- Richard Packham's instructions on how to leave. His page also deals with other alternatives, including lapsing into inactivity, and continuing to attend without actually believing.
- The Utah Lighthouse Ministry maintains a page on an effective exit letter.
- The New Covenant Ministries' sample exit letter.
- Timothy Oliver's exit letter and instructions, care of the Watchman Expositor.
We're trying something new out here at the Exmormon Foundation: presenting articles and stories of general interest to the community of people in transition from Mormonism. This is the first in the series.
I originally wrote these twelve steps as a bit of a joke. Then, as I re-wrote them, distributed them, and Richard published them on his web site, I realized that they had become something more: some good, non-sectarian advice for struggling through recovery. Those familiar with the twelve-step program of other organizations will notice something missing from these steps. There is no assertion of any particular religion. I found that directly adapting existing suggestions failed when approached in a non-sectarian fashion, and I think this is, at this point, a pretty good summary of some of the steps people go through when recovering.
I hope you enjoy them. Suggestions of changes are welcome.
- Do you think all of the twelve steps are essential for recovery?
- Do you think you experience these steps once, or repeatedly?
- What do you think are the differences between recovering from Mormonism and recovering from addictions?
Twelve-Step Program For Recovery From Mormonism
Thousands of people suffering from the devastation of alcoholism have been helped by following the "Twelve Steps" developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Many other programs dealing with recovery from drug addiction, over-eating, and other addictive behaviors have adapted AA's Twelve Steps. Those leaving Mormonism usually are dealing with similar problems of recovery, and the following is an adaptation of the Twelve Steps for help in recovering from Mormonism.
- I admit that I am powerless to change the fact that I have been Mormon for a good part of my life, whether because I was born to Mormon parents, or because I voluntarily converted.
- I realize that I have within me the power to free myself from the harmful part of my Mormon past (with the help of a higher power if I believe in one), and that I am no longer bound by promises or covenants which I was induced to make based on the false promises of Mormonism.
- I make to myself a firm promise to listen in the future only to reason, rationality, and factual evidence in making decisions about how I should live my life, rejecting all emotional appeals, guilt-inducing threats, myths, pretty stories, promises of castles in the air, and superstition.
- I make a searching and fearless moral and intellectual inventory of myself with the purpose of recognizing in myself those weaknesses which induced me to remain Mormon for so long.
- I itemize (preferably in writing) to myself and to a trusted loved one (and to a higher power if I believe in one) the specific reasons why I can no longer be Mormon.
- I make the decision to do what is right, and to accept whatever the consequences may be for acknowledging the truth and living accordingly.
- I begin working through each of my Mormonism-related problems of mind, body, relationships, and (if I believe in such a thing) spirit.
- I make a list of those for whom it would be important to know of my decision and the changes I am making in my life, and prepare myself emotionally to discuss my decision with them all, realizing that many may react with hurt, anger, emotional outbursts, or other unpleasantness.
- I discuss my decision with them (except in those cases where I think it would cause greater harm to do so than not) in a calm, friendly and loving way, without argument.
- I continue to take personal inventory, and where I find artifacts of Mormonism, I carefully consider whether they should continue to be a part of my life, or whether I should discard them.
- I seek out truth wherever I can find it, whether religious or secular.
- Having had an awakening and renewal as the result of these steps, I try to be helpful to other recovering or doubting Mormons, and to practice these principles in all of my affairs.
-By Matt B and Richard Packham
The Big Lie by Richard Packham
A recent newspaper article in the Sacramento [California] Bee reporting on the groundbreaking for the new Mormon temple there mentioned that the church is "among the fastest-growing religions" in America. Another recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the open house at the new temple in Manhattan also referred to the growth of the church in similar terms.
It seems to be a pattern.
I did an internet search for the term "fastest growing church" with "mormon" and got 837 hits, roughly half of them from pro-Mormon sites (the other half seemed to be trying to disprove the Mormon claim). But a search for "fastest growing church" produced almost twice as many hits. Does this mean that people can talk about the "fastest growing church" and NOT mention the Mormons?
Where do journalists get the idea that the Mormon church is "among the fastest-growing religions" in America? From the church, of course. A visit to the official website of the church at www.lds.org, and a click on "For the media", followed by a search for the phrase "fastest growing" will produce the numerous press releases from the church itself where this claim is made. Unfortunately, journalists apparently assume that the church is telling the truth.
What are the facts?
According to figures published by the U.S. Census Bureau reporting the number of Americans who identify themselves as adherents to the various religions in 2001, and comparing those figures with data from 1990, the Mormon church in America had a growth of 12% during that period. That rate was the same rate as the growth of the Presbyterians (who do not have a full-time missionary force proselytizing in the U.S.). The Roman Catholic church increased at almost the same rate, at 11%, also without a massive American missionary effort.
But the Mormon growth rate pales into insignificance compared to the increase during that period of some other religions: Church of Christ 48%, Assembly of God 68%, Eastern Orthodox 28%, Mennonite 47%,
Unitarian-Universalist 25%, Scientology 22%.
The real "fastest growing religions" in America? Not the Mormons! How about the Disciples of Christ at 242%, Quakers 223%, Bahai 200%? Even the category "no religion" beats out the Mormons, increasing by 109%. The truly fastest growing religion in America? The Wiccans, at 1575%!
But the church obviously follows the advice of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister: If you tell a big enough lie and tell it often enough, soon it will be accepted as the truth.
One of the important goals of the Exmormon Foundation is to counter such Mormon myths. Unfortunately, the Mormon church has the funds to pay an outside public relations firm. The Foundation must rely entirely on membership dues and donations. We may be the David against the Goliath, but we have to fight the Big Lie.
A Review of Julia Sweeney’s Production, Letting Go of God
The beauty of this world, the complex nature of man and the intricacies of our human experience were masterfully encapsulated in a recent performance by Julia Sweeney in her now famous, "Letting Go of God." I had wanted to see this production for some time, and when word came to me that she was going to be performing in the nearby Sodom and Gomorrah of Utah, even Park City, I had to go.
Finding my seat next to a very dear friend, the performance began, and I found myself engrossed in Julia's journey from ardent believer to a rejecter of all things metaphysical, better known in faith-filled circles as an atheist. Her story was poignant, touching and thought provoking, leaving me feeling very connected to her story and journey. It was hard not to notice the many parallels in my own life, which led her from her faith and firm conviction of deity to expressing a rejection of her former heavenly friend and constant companion.
Hers was not an easy journey. It was not a simple renouncement and moving on to other views and opinions, it was a journey fraught with challenge, difficulty, sadness, uncertainty, courage and humor. However, in the end, she dared to go where few are willing to tread. She looked outside of herself, her faith and community and into the world and minds and faiths of others and found her own path despite the personal cost to her family, faith and personal comfort.
I revel in the courage of those who forge their own paths in life. I draw encouragement and comfort from the experiences of those who have gone before into the unknown and returned colored with the patina of experience, wisdom and growth. Julia in her own way conveyed that message through humor and passion which left me feeling confident and comforted in our shared experiences on the path of independence and mental liberty.
In a final segment of Julia's monologue, she comes to the realization that there may not be a god in charge of this world, and through her fear of that notion began to question what that meant for her and for the world at large. "No one is in charge!" "No one is minding the store!" "We are on our own!!" were just some of the thoughts she expressed regarding this new found concept. She then turned her thoughts to her own existence and the very real possibility that when she dies, there will be nothing more of her that goes on following this existence. There would be no more Julia, she would cease to be and that was that.
My companion turned to me and said, "This is very hard for me to hear. I don't know what to think of this. It's just so hard to comprehend and accept that when I'm dead, there will be no more me." The pain of dissonance on this issue has bothered me as well, but in the end, we are left with the understanding that there is nothing we can do to know one way or the other on this subject until we find ourselves staring out into the great beyond where a further existence awaits or that nothing more than the comforting silence of oblivion. Either way at that time, we will be certain one way or another.
Julia further expressed, "Life is so cheap and so precious" which struck me as the most important statement of her performance. Life is so very fleeting. So very brief, so incredibly precious and rare. The beautiful and profound words of Carl Sagan come to mind which he expressed regarding this little oasis of life we call earth,
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
-Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
A picture of the Pale Blue Dot can be found here: http://www.humanistsofutah.org/images/PaleBlueDot.jpg
Tears well up in my eyes as I read those words. The profundity of that statement and the weight it carries should not be ignored in my opinion.
I find myself in the non-religious camp of agnosticism. I feel most comfortable with that approach to life, leaving all ideas and concepts open for scrutiny and observation. My world is far different from those perceived sun filled days of my Mormon existence, where thought, debate and inquiry were not required. Where a life on autopilot was celebrated, and deceptions were actively embraced.
Now I comfortably stand at the edge, peering into the depths and feeling peace.
- by Chad Spjut
Free Speech and Excommunication
The Dichotomy of two Mormon Values
by Ray Anderson - November 2007
It is somewhat ironic that the LDS church, whose membership overwhelmingly embraces democratic ideals, especially the freedom of speech, would excommunicate a member for expressing dissenting views or writing on controversial issues concerning church history or doctrine. Even at church-owned BYU, students are introduced to the scientific process and are taught to weigh evidence, consider alternative view points, think clearly, communicate effectively, and argue persuasively. Though these students will use these critical thinking skills throughout their lives to examine and make sense of the world around them, they will likely never apply them to their own religion. Sadly, seeking truth about the church and seeking the “church’s truth” have proven to be two different things.
Instead of welcoming debate and embracing honest dialogue concerning its rich history, the modern LDS Church has been conspicuously quiet about anything controversial. For many devout but conflicted members, the silence is deafening. There is no official forum for such discussion – no publication where the church openly confronts, confirms, or refutes information that challenges the historical and doctrinal underpinnings of its faith. The church provides its members with no tangible defenses against the steady flow of evidence against its claims. Instead, it endeavors to comfort questioning members with all-to-familiar platitudes, such as “answers to any question can be found in the scriptures,” or “these things are ultimately a matter of faith, and require fasting and prayer to work through.” It is not uncommon to hear assurances from priesthood leadership that “anti-Mormon” publications should be avoided as they have no merit and will only deflate and discourage. Besides, they are the products of bitter, disaffected ex-Mormons with “axes to grind.”
True, we have ancillary organizations like the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies at BYU that confront controversial academic issues. They do not speak for the church, however. After wading through volumes of apologetic rhetoric from university scholars, the questioning member is still left to wonder what the brethren have to say about the issue at hand. He must be content with scholarly conjecture and hypothesis when what he needs is an official, definitive, and even inspired position from the church itself. Even so, FARMS offers the investigating mind years worth of reading material, but even a cursory examination of its publications will reveal a “defense of the faith” that is often transparently polemical in nature. Many of its book reviews are replete with character assassination and diversion while failing to adequately confront core arguments posited by the authors. Daniel C. Peterson, a highly respected representative of FARMS, has acknowledged and defended the use of polemics, exclaiming that he and his fellow scholars in the faith are engaged in a war for souls.
The Church may not defend itself through words, but it does try to protect itself through action. The most lethal tool the church has is excommunication, and although it is a procedure intended to be administered discreetly and locally, it has at times had all the stealth of a sonic boom. This was certainly the case as news leaked out about the many carefully coordinated, high-profile excommunications of Mormon scholars in the early nineties. This very public show of rigidity and intolerance left the press with no shortage of provocative material to write about. Their suspicions and outrage were only fueled further by the church’s move to restrict access to highly sensitive documents in the archives and to require certain patrons to sign agreements that gave the church the right to censor any materials leaving the property. Certainly, this was not only repugnant to a 1st Amendment-loving press, but also disconcerting for many members that for the first time began to wonder if the church actually had something to hide. If, as Boyd K. Packer has pointed out, the Lord’s hand has been felt at every turn in the church’s history, why not continue the open-door policy and let the past speak for itself? What could we possibly find down there that we could be ashamed of?
Apparently, that’s a question the church would rather not explore. Refusing to confront and address content, it remains fixated on conduct. Excommunication for apostasy is the only real self-defense mechanism that the church seems to employ. It matters not if what the dissident is writing or saying rings true. He is a dissenter and that is enough! It is quite paradoxical that a membership whose social and civic values have been shaped largely by democratic institutions and processes would tolerate such authoritarian tactics. In any other setting, a typical Mormon would emphatically denounce this kind of abuse of power. For instance, he would likely be familiar with a legal system that allows its citizens to appeal a judge’s decision on the grounds that a law applied in his case is unconstitutional. The case would then be weighed in a court of appeals, and those judges would examine the constitutionality of the law itself and decide whether to uphold or reverse the original decision. In short, the citizen can confess that he is “out of line,” but also argue that the line should not be drawn where it is.
In a church court, however, the lines are drawn in concrete. The doctrines and narratives handed down to us from a string of inspired prophets and apostles are beyond reproach. There is no middle ground for the individual that challenges the historicity of the Book of Mormon but believes it to be inspired 19th century literature, for instance. If he dares to talk or write about his rebellious ideology, ecclesiastical scrutiny is sure to follow. He will no doubt be called into an interview and be enjoined from further digging, speaking, or writing. The fact that he might have a legitimate argument with mountains of evidence is irrelevant. The church simply won’t budge on his behalf. The decision is his – move in concert or move on.
To be fair, the LDS Church is a private organization and should have control over its own rules for membership. The church has the right to remove whom it will. Likewise, if members disapprove of anything at all, they should be free to leave, as they are. The problem is that many of its dissenting historians, scholars, and lay members don’t want to leave. They love the church, both for what it is and what it could be, and are fully integrated into its cultural and social structure. They still adhere to many of its values and beliefs, and wish to be active in its many worthwhile programs. But these members are forced to make a tough choice: Report the truth as they discover it and risk being cut off, or endure the disquieting effects of self-censorship and preserve full fellowship.
The church clearly allows the individual in question to make his choice. Ironically, though, the church has not granted itself this same freedom – the freedom to critically examine or redefine itself, even as waves of historical and scientific discovery beat at its door. Sadly, the church has backed itself into a corner and allowed little room for accommodation - 175 years of prophets and apostles have drawn their lines in the concrete! Simply put, the church has presented itself as a giant monolithic pillar of truth to be either wholly accepted or entirely rejected. As a result, it is not prepared to deal with members who view its history as a dynamic, intricate web of stories, developments, circumstances, conflicts, and flawed personalities that is both an inspiring piece of art and a mangled mess at the same time.
For the most part, the church is not willing to ask its members what they want their church to be (with the exception of the breakthrough temple survey in 1990 which resulted in the removal of several controversial elements in the endowment ceremony). Instead, members are constantly reminded that it is not their church - it’s the Lord’s church. He stands at the head of it, and he is an “unchangeable” being. An astute member may point out as many historical “changes,” embellishments, inconsistencies, misrepresentations, and outright fabrications as he wants, but if he is not careful, he may soon be doing so without his priesthood. The choice is his.
Other Articles by Ray Anderson
Post-Mormons are members of a rapidly growing community of families and individuals who have voluntarily left Mormonism.Post-Mormon.Org