Sunday, December 23, 2007

December 23

For those that don't know, December 23 is an important date on the Mormon calendar. On December 23, 2005 Joseph Smith was born. By his own admission, Joseph Smith is the most important man to have walked the earth, save perhaps Jesus Christ himself. The appropriate greeting for this day when meeting a Mormon is, "Merry Smithmas to all, and to all many wives."

Thanks to RfM for informing me on the appropriate greeting.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Okay, I know you're just dying to know how my weight loss program and marathon training has transformed the Bull's body. The pictures don't lie. Nothing much has changed...

All Healed Up

I tweaked my calf at the Dallas Half Marathon so I spent last week doing my workouts in the gym on the elliptical trainer. By Thursday I felt good enough to run a couple of miles on the treadmill after 60 minutes on the elliptical. My calf was still a little sore, but it didn't hurt my running. The big day is fast approaching so I made the call that it wasn't up to the punishment of the 20 mile run I had scheduled for last Saturday. Instead I spent 4+ hours in the gym going nowhere on the elliptical with a mile on the treadmill thrown in for good measure every hour. The only saving grace was that I can read on the elliptical so I caught up on a huge backlog of magazines I had laying around.

Yesterday I resumed running with an easy 3.5 miles. No pain or soreness so I think I'm good to resume running. In fact, my legs feel fantabulously great.

This week is a recovery week anyway so I don't have anything tough planned until Saturday. Then it's a short run, but I'll be doing a race simulation with 10 miles at my marathon goal pace of 9:09/mile. I'll warm up for a couple of miles and then do one 10.1 mile loop of Town Lake at race pace to see if the pace is doable. It better feel easy or else it will be time to reset my goals and perhaps pull out of the Houston Marathon and focus on Austin the next month.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is the Mormon Church Honest?

I grew up thinking so. After all, I believed that it was God's true church and the truth has nothing to fear. Right?

However, I grew up fully aware, and embarrassed, of how different my religion was. After all, the basic premise of the Mormon church is that it is THE one true church and that all other churches, although they may have remnants or parts of the truth,
were false. Not only are they false, the Book of Mormon very clearly states that they are the whore of the earth and the church of the devil. Some think that this refers to the Catholic church, but the Book of Mormon clearly teaches that there are only two churches: the church of the Lamb and the church of the devil. If you aren't the true church, then you are part of the other one. Needless to say this didn't go over well with other religions and still doesn't. So the church doesn't exactly go around using this is as a talking point in its missionary discussions.

Anyway, a big part of my mission was overcoming my embarrassment about the church and learning to be proud and bold about talking about the church. After all, if it is true then there is no reason to be afraid. Blacks and the priesthood? No problem. The priesthood is God's power delegated to man. He get's to choose who to delegate it to. He has chosen prophets and told them who can and can't have it. He doesn't give it to non-church members. He doesn't give it to women. And until 1978 he didn't give it to blacks. God has spoken and who am I to argue. I don't know the reason, but he must know what he is doing. After all he IS God.

Do you get the point? The point of the Mormon church, first and foremost, is that it is led by a prophet of God who tells us God's will. It's not a debating society. It's not a democracy. It's the divine source of all truth and knowledge. So, if God's word runs against current social mores then it's an indication that society has strayed. It's not for the church to conform; the world needs to pray, humble itself, and conform to God's word.

In an election year, the church has suddenly been thrust to center stage by the candidacy of Mitt Romney. They have been given an unprecedented opportunity to boldly declare their beliefs and how they differ from the other religions of the world. They have an opportunity to proudly declare their beliefs. Fox News gave them a list of questions that focused on some of the church's controversial beliefs. Check out their answers. Most of them are simple lies. For the record I'll answer the questions for them since they seem incapable.

Q: Why do some call the Church a cult?

A: Because it meets almost all of the attributes of destructive personality cults such as the Church of Scientology. Because it exerts tremendous social pressure to exert control over all aspects of its members.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God?

A: Yes.

Q: Does the Church believe in the divinity of Jesus?

A: Yes

Q: Does the Church believe that God is a physical being?

A: Yes. It believes that God the Father and Jesus Christ are beings of flesh and bone and that they are perfected humans.

Q: If so, does the Church believe that God lives on a planet named Kolob?

A: Yes.

Update: I was wrong. Kolob is a star. All the scripture says is that it is close to God, whatever that means. In fact, read about it yourself in Abraham 3. If it makes any sense to you then you're doing better than me. Still, as far as I know this doesn't have any theological significance whatsoever to Mormons now or ever other than they claim that Abraham had a great deal of advanced astronomy revealed directly to him by God. However, as far as I know, no astronomers, not even at the Lord's university (BYU), have found that the Book of Abraham has been of any particular use in shedding light on the nature of the cosmos.

Q: Where is the planet Kolob? What significance does the planet have to Mormons?

A: They don't know, but the Book of Mormon, part of the Mormon canon, tells about it and its cosmic relationship to this world and the other worlds in this universe. It doesn't really have any theological role in the church.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe that God and Mary had physical sex to conceive Jesus?

A: It's not part of the church canon, but one of the church's prophets taught publicly that Jesus' physical body was conceived the same way as any other naturally conceived human body. The same prophet also taught that God and Mary were plurally married. Most members are unaware of the teaching, but the church DOES teach that Jesus is the literal physical son of God the Father. In the end, does it really matter if it was copulation, artificial insemination, or immaculate conception? God fathered a son with an unmarried woman. All Christians believe that. Non-mormons just seem to object to the idea that the Virgin Mary had sex with God.

Update: Here is a pretty good link summarizing the church's past teachings on the matter.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe Jesus appeared in North America after his crucifixion and resurrection?

A: Yes.

Q: If so, when did this happen? And under what circumstances?

A: Right after his ascension in Jerusalem. After three days of complete darkness Jesus descended in a pillar of light from heaven in America were he ministered to the people, ordained apostles, preached, instituted ordinances, and organized his church.

Honestly, this is the most perplexing answer that the church gave. This is one of their BIG selling points.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe its followers can become "gods and goddesses" after death?

A: Yes. They believe that God is a perfected man and that all people are his children with the divine nature to rise to become gods and goddesses. This is what the church calls exaltation and it is one of the key doctrines of the church.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe that women can only gain access to heaven with a special pass or codewords?

A: Their answer is a blatant lie. The answer is yes. The answer is also yes for men. Read Brigham Young's definition of the temple endowment. People must have the keywords, tokens, and handshakes in order to pass by the angels and enter into the highest degree of glory.

Update: Ok, first you have to define what you mean by heaven. Mormons scripture defines 3 heavens: telestial, terrestrial, and celestial. The celestial kingdom in turn has three degrees the highest of which is reserved for faithful Mormons who have been married in the temple. Mormon theology claims universal salvation for all except sons of perdition who openly, knowingly rebel against God. So, everyone, including murderers and child molesters will go to heaven although it might be the lowest. Still Joseph Smith claimed that if we knew how wonderful the lowest heaven was we'd commit suicide to get in.

Still, most Mormons aspire to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom when thinking of heaven and generally when they talk about heaven that is what they mean. Men and women need to be endowed and married in the temple and know the appropriate handshakes and passwords to get in.

Furthermore, men get to know one of the secret passwords of their wives (their new name) but the women don't know the husband's. I learned that men would use this key word to call forth their wives in the resurrection. Sort of as if the resurrection is a temple ordinance over which the men preside. I guess this is another reason why Mormon women should be hesistant about disobeying their worthy priesthood holding husbands.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe that women must serve men on both Earth and in heaven?

A: Until 1990 women had to covenant in the temple to obey their husbands in righteousness just as they would obey God. They are NOT equal in any way in the church. They are expected to be subservient and accountable to the male priesthood hierarchy. No matter how much the church states otherwise, the church makes clear differences between men and women with women always below men.

Q: Is there such a thing as Mormon "underwear"? if so, are all Mormons required to wear it? What does it symbolize?

A: Their answer here is tactful, but correct. They are called the garments of the holy priesthood and only members who have received their temple endowments wear them. They wear them as a constant reminder of their temple covenants and as a spiritual and physical protection.

A pertinent part of this is an enumeration of the covenants that are made. Romney, if he is active Mormon, wears garments and some of his covenants could be construed to conflict with the oath of the President of the U.S.A. People should be interested in knowing exactly what SECRET oaths and covenants Romney has taken in the temple if he is to serve in high office. If he is wearing garments it is an indication that he takes those oaths seriously.

Q: Does the Mormon Church believe in the existence of another physical planet or planets, where Mormons will "rule" after their death and ascension?

A: This is a clear lie. The canon teaches that exaltation is inheriting "worlds without end". All active, studious members know that this is a lie.

Q: What specifically does the Mormon Church say about African-Americans and Native Americans?

A: This is a clear lie. The Mormon church to this day teaches that the dark skins of blacks and Indians are the result of a curse for wickedness and were given as a sign to prevent the righteous from intermixing with them. Until 1978 a Mormon with even one black ancestor anywhere in their past was denied the priesthood and the blessings of the priesthood and as a result was denied exaltation or the highest level of heaven. This doctrine has NEVER been changed. It was only modified to say that the Lord has decided that the time has come where, finally, everyone could have all the blessings regardless of color. This has only been true since 1978. But even today, dark skin is a mark of unrighteousness.

Updated: OK, a clear lie of ommission. Their answer is true as far as it goes since 1978. But is incomplete and as such is a lie because it is simply non-responsive. For rather obvious reasons they don't want to give a complete answer.

Q: What are or were the "Golden Plates"?

A: The dissimulation here is that The Book of Mormon is a history of "peoples" in the Western Hemisphere. This is a modification of the original teaching that it was the history of all the people of the Western Hemisphere.

Again, the Book of Mormon is the whole reason the church was founded and is one its key doctrinal differences.

Q: Are consumption of alcohol and tobacco prohibited or simply discouraged?

A: The Word of Wisdom was originally a recommendation that wasn't made a commandment until the 1920s. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others were known to violate the Word of Wisdom.

Q: Does the Church also ban the consumption of "hot drinks"? And does that apply specifically to caffeinated drinks?

A: The current prophet has publicly stated that it applies to caffeinated sodas such as Pepsi and Coke.

Q: Why do Mormons go from door to door?

A: No problem here. All Christians should do the same. It's in the Bible.

Q: What do the Mormons believe about the family?

A: They forgot to state that families can be forever if the parents are married in the temple and sealed to their children. I'm surprised that they forgot this. It's only beaten into the head of every Mormon from the time they can first sing a song in Primary.

Q: Can someone who may never marry in life have eternal marriage?

A: Truthful in as far as it goes. The actual doctrine is that single women will be given as plural wives to righteous polygamists in the celestial kingdom in the afterlife. Otherwise they cannot be exalted.

Updated: Thanks for the comments from Mattman. But the answers are positively Clintonian in their parsing of words and careful phrasing and reliance on ambiguity and misunderstanding of how Mormons have redefined the common meaning of words such as "heaven" without revealing how they are interpreting the word in a way that they know the questioner didn't intend or doesn't understand. It's obvious that these questions are intentionally probing into weird areas of Mormon theology. But that some such as the question about the golden plates are core and even there they couldn't give a good answer.

The problem is that the church really IS weird. It is trying to mainstream, but to do so would require stripping it of everything that makes it unique and appealing to its believers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

An Apostle's Witness of Christ

Joseph Smith claimed that he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ. He founded the Mormon church and claimed that he received the authority to do so directly from ancient prophets including Elijah, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, and others. His church has claimed unique authority among the worlds churches and religions to represent God and its members regularly bear testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one and only true church on the face of the earth.

The divine visitations to Joseph Smith are very important to Mormons because they are central to Joseph's claim of prophetic status. Joseph's successors have continued to claim a prophetic mantle and the current presidency of the church and its twelve apostles are all sustained by the church members as prophets, seers and revelators. The apostles also claim the role as special witness of Jesus Christ.

Their is an aura of reverence and secrecy surrounding those claims. I can never recall a modern church leader claiming to have seen God face to face as a man, but church members assume that they have. Part of the belief is that it is too sacred to speak about. But the assumption is there and it is carefully cultivated. After all, if an apostle's faith is no different than a rank and file member's, then what makes his witness "special"? The "special" aspect is assumed by most members to be a personal visit by Jesus that allows them to proclaim his divinity with a certainty denied to those that must live by faith.

If you read the above church article you'll see how carefully the apostles choose their language to give the impression that their knowledge is different than that of a normal member. This is how Howard Hunter describes the role of the ancient apostles:

These twelve Apostles served a vital function in the Lord’s plan. They were special witnesses of the Savior’s divinity and of his literal resurrection. Not only did they know him during his mortal ministry, but they communed with him after his resurrection. The resurrected Redeemer appeared in the midst of his disciples in the upper room. They handled the Lord’s hands and feet and learned that Jesus was not merely a spirit but a resurrected being with flesh and bones. (See Luke 24:38, 39.)

These Apostles knew of the Lord’s divinity and of his resurrection with a certainty beyond all disputation. With this knowledge, born of experience and confirmed by the Holy Ghost, they were commanded to “be witnesses unto [Christ] both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
It is very clear from this quote that the function of an apostle was to be an actual eye witness of the resurrected Lord to those who have not actually seen him. Note that the Mormon church claims to have apostles that fulfill the same role. By implication the reader is left to assume that the modern apostles are also literal witnesses who have "handled the Lord's hands and feet." But note the careful way he states this.
In our day the Lord has again called Apostles. These Apostles have been ordained as special witnesses of Christ in all the world. They know of the reality of Christ and his redemption with a certainty born of the Spirit.
Note that here he uses the cryptic statement, "with a certainty born of the Spirit." Church members are taught that mortals cannot bear the presence of God except through the power of the Spirit. So what does he mean? He quickly follows with a quote from Joseph Smith,
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice beating record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father.” (D&C 76:22–23.)

The Prophet’s witness, born of experience and of the Spirit, has been proclaimed throughout the world, and the Holy Ghost has confirmed the truthfulness of that witness in the hearts of millions who have received the word with gladness. The pattern for proving spiritual things has been reestablished in our day. And an unbroken chain of succession has ensured that the apostolic calling has been with us continually since it was restored to Joseph Smith.
Are you following his logic? It's seems pretty clear that he's making the claim that he, as a modern apostle, follows the pattern and has had a similar experience to Joseph Smith and the ancient apostles. Here's his special witness:

As an ordained Apostle and special witness of Christ, I give to you my solemn witness that Jesus Christ is in fact the Son of God.


The resurrected Lord has continued his ministry of salvation by appearing, from time to time, to mortal men chosen by God to be his witnesses, and by revealing his will through the Holy Ghost.

It is by the power of the Holy Ghost that I bear my witness. I know of Christ’s reality as if I had seen with my eyes and heard with my ears. I know also that the Holy Spirit will confirm the truthfulness of my witness in the hearts of all those who listen with an ear of faith.

Parse the words carefully and note the "as if." As a faithful member would this increase or decrease your belief that the apostles have actually seen Jesus Christ? Everything leading up to this point is carefully constructed to give that impression, but he comes just short of making the claim. Many members would claim that he's too humble or that the experience is too sacred.

The only reason I bring it up is that he gave this talk on October 30, 1983 and only a little over a month later, while in the Missionary Training Center, I heard this same man during the Church's Christmas Devotional Broadcast explicitly state that he had never seen Jesus Christ and that his "special" witness was a spiritual witness that he felt was stronger than if he'd actually seen him. Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't seem like that is the impression he was trying to give or that apostles continue to try to give today.

So, I'll give him credit for actually publicly answering the question although I can't find any transcripts of that talk.

I'll also close by noting that just a few short years later this man became the president and prophet of the church. So, unless something changed in those years it's probable that the Mormon church is led by prophets that have never seen God despite the fact that they allow the perception to exist that they have.

Is it just me, or is that dishonest?

Friday, December 14, 2007

What I Believe

This is a continuation of three previous posts: What is God? The Mormon Version, Seeds of Doubt, and The Roles of Faith and Science.

This all started out with someone on another forum asking what we believe now that we've left Mormonism. I posted a short answer which but as I started to post it here I realized that it really didn't make a lot of sense without some context about my original beliefs and how they have evolved to reach the point where I am now.

If you believe in an omnipotent, interventionist God then you open a whole can of worms and God becomes very capricious, helping the unworthy while letting the worthy suffer. If he does intervene it is in a manner so inexplicable to me as to be useless to explain either good or evil. I don't see any magic recipe like that promised by Mormonism where we can bind God to bless us if we keep his laws. I just see too many instances where it doesn't work out. Either that or you are reduced to calling bad things trials when they happen to good people and punishment when they happen to bad people. It's not a terribly useful world view especially when no one is totally good or bad because there is no way to disprove it and it provides no predictive power.

It has always made more sense for me to believe that God set things in motion and then lets them play out according to natural laws. He created the laws and then we are stuck living with the consequences and the best we can do is to act in a way to make the world as good of a place as possible. If we want it better then we have to put in the effort. So I guess I've never put much stock in a interventionist God.

Now, I guess I mostly consider myself an atheist. If God exists I don't believe we can prove it because I don't think he interferes. And I frankly don't find magical thinking terribly useful in my personal life. To me God is the mysteries. He's the source of the universe. He defined the laws. He's order. He's the creative force.

To me Satan is the destroyer. He's the source of disorder. He's the perfect foil for God.

And I think we have the seeds of both natures in each of us. At our best we can create and organize and bring great beauty into the world. At our worst we are capable of incredible cruelty and destruction and ugliness. As Jesus said, "You are all gods."

But in the end, both are just a way to say, "I don't know." When I can't explain it and it looks like it simply can't be explained, I guess that is where God and Satan reside in my belief system. They are symbols for causes that are beyond my understanding.

I really don't pray, but I find myself hoping that ultimately good will prevail or at least will balance out evil. I find myself reaching out and trying to tap into the godly aspect of my nature and battling the evil part.

Rather than define myself as what I am not, a believer in God, I prefer to define myself as what I am, a believer in reason and evidence, a rationalist or an enlightened man.

How's that for an ambiguous answer? I'm truly not sure if any of that made any sense but it's my first attempt to express ideas that have been bouncing around in my head since I left the church.

It makes more sense for me to believe that God set things in motion and then lets them play out according to natural laws. He created the laws and then we are stuck living with the consequences and the best we can do is to act in a way to make the world as good of a place as possible. If we want it better then we have to put in the effort.

So, I guess I mostly consider myself an atheist. If God exists I don't believe we can prove it because I don't think he interferes. To me God is the mysteries. He's the source of the universe. He defined the laws. He's order. He's the creative force.

To me Satan is the destroyer. He's the source of disorder. He's the perfect foil for God.

And I think we have the seeds of both natures in each of us. At our best we can create and organize and bring great beauty into the world. At our worst we are capable of incredible cruelty and destruction and ugliness. As Jesus said, "You are all gods."

But in the end, both are just a way to say, "I don't know." When I can't explain it and it looks like it simply can't be explained, I guess that is where God and Satan reside in my belief system. They are symbols for causes that are beyond my understanding.

I really don't pray, but I find myself hoping that ultimately good will prevail or at least will balance out evil. I find myself reaching out and trying to tap into the godly aspect of my nature and battling the evil part.

Rather than define myself as what I am not, a believer in God, I prefer to define myself as what I am, a believer in reason and evidence, a rationalist or an enlightened man.

How's that for an ambiguous answer? I'm truly not sure if any of that made any sense but it's my first attempt to express ideas that have been bouncing around in my head since I left the church.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Roles of Faith and Science

This is a continuation of two previous posts: What is God? The Mormon Version and Seeds of Doubt.

In retrospect, spiritual experiences have pretty mundane explanations once you understand a little bit about human psychology. I would highly recommend Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind for a very interesting exploration of the wonders of the mind. But I'm pretty comfortable that what I was taught were spiritual experiences caused by an external power were actually exceptional, but normal products of human consciousness.

I have always marveled and continue to be awed by the beauty and complexity of the universe and its origins are beyond my comprehension. But my life has led me to believe that even though you don't have the explanation, one can be found. Sometimes explanations are elusive. Some have taken lifetimes to find. But the history of mankind repeatedly shows that when sought, explanations to even the thorniest conundrums follow.

I was raised in a Mormon church that coexisted comfortably with science and knowledge and as a result I was always encouraged to ask questions. The truth has nothing to fear from questions and careful probing because it has nothing to hide. Errors and falsehoods can't hold up to inquiry, but the truth has nothing to fear. The church of my childhood was fearlessly and unapologetically true. My church heroes were James E. Talmage and John A. Widtsoe, educated and thoughtful men who fearlessly sought and defended the truth.

I highly recommend B. H. Roberts' book, Studies of the Book of Mormon. B. H. was a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, the church historian, editor of The Comprehensive History of the Church, and author of many volumes that explained and defended the history and doctrines of the church. His unofficial title was Defender of the Faith. A person sent a letter to the church with some questions about the Book of Mormon. The questions were given to Mr Roberts to answer. Initially he assumed that it would be easy to answer these questions in a manner that would confirm the plausibility of the Book of Mormon as a history of the Indians. However the more he studied the more he realized that the facts were simply inconsistent with the story in the Book of Mormon. He was so concerned by the implications that he petitioned to discuss the issues with the highest leaders of the church. His concerns were dismissed. But he documented his concerns in the above book which was published posthumously. It is interesting that he concluded that there was good evidence that the Book of Mormon was a product of 19th century America and that Joseph Smith was capable of producing the book. While he never renounced his religion or his testimony, it becomes clear that he had serious doubts/concerns and that he felt that the questions were legitimate and that they needed to be addressed by the church. This is clear example of an honest man who understood that the truth needed to provide answers and not ask people to just have faith and ignore evidence against their beliefs.

The book is also interesting because the questions are really only problematic if you believe that the Book of Mormon is the history of the principle ancestors of the American Indians (the so-called hemispheric model). Modern apologists deal with the questions with a modern Mormon invention called the limited geography theory that states that the Book of Mormon is only the history of a portion (possibly quite small) of the original Americans that was possibly limited to an unknown, small geographical area which they suppose is in meso-America. Never mind that this directly contradicts the public teachings of every single Mormon prophet starting with Joseph Smith and the beliefs of most Mormons to this day; the educated Mormons realize that the hemispheric model is strongly contradicted by all available evidence and so the limited geography theory is the only plausible explanation unless you want to deny mountains of scientific evidence. B. H. Roberts was about as educated and knowledgeable as any person in the church in the early 20th century. If he had known of or accepted the limited geography theory or some variant thereof he would have mentioned it. But the fact that he didn't is pretty good evidence that he and others in authority in the church believed what the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith taught: the American Indians are direct descendants of Lehi and the primary ancestors of the hemisphere. Yet today's Mormon apologists pretend as if this is a simple misunderstanding of the church's founder and followers and that this is not and has never been doctrinal.

My point is, I was raised to believe that a belief in God and a belief in science are mutually compatible but somewhere I got the heretical belief that when faith and science are in conflict that science should win. Faith is belief without evidence, so when evidence conflicts with faith then the evidence should win out. My definition of faith was always a belief in things not proven that are true. If they contradict evidence then they are not true and thus can be rejected as true faith. I think that this is still a good definition to work with. I still believe in faith. I don't know everything, so I find faith very helpful.

The Mormon church today seems to have retreated into an intellectual siege mentality where the current president of the Quorum of the Twelve and next man in line to succession to the presidency has declarde that there are things that are true that aren't particularly useful and that those facts should be suppressed and that church members that publish those facts should be punished. Needless to say, this is not characteristic of the church of my youth and is not consistent with what I consider to be true faith. It is the worst form of dogmatism: blind belief.

Ultimately, I expanded my horizons and allowed myself to consider facts that contradicted my life long beliefs about the church. My core beliefs about faith and science didn't change, but they did force me to abandon my belief in the truthfulness of the Mormon church. In the end, its claims simply don't hold up to close scrutiny and its efforts to hide the facts just make it clear that it knows the facts aren't on its side.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Running With Friends

I did something a little different over the weekend and ran the Dallas Half Marathon with some friends. The running part wasn't different, but this time I wasn't running for a personal best but just to accompany them and enjoy the run. This wasn't just their first half marathon; it was their first race ever! Congratulations to them both for the great accomplishment. It was great to get together again, enjoy each others' company, and share a running milestone.

The only drama for me was that about 6.5 miles into the race I felt a little pop in my left calf that immediately hurt a bit and then got progressively worse even though I was just jogging along at a pretty slow pace. At 10 miles I picked up the pace from the 10:45 pace we were running and dropped down to the 8:00-8:30 range and my calf felt better. I actually felt really good. The weather has been so warm in Austin this year that it's been difficult for me to judge my fitness, but I was able to run the last 3.1 miles significantly faster than I would have guessed so I think I'm actually on track to be able to try to run under 4:00 in the marathon.

The bad news was that after I finished my calf immediately started tightening up and getting painful. Last night I was having trouble walking and couldn't raise up on my toes. I was a little worried, but this morning I'm walking without a limp and it's just sore. I'll get a massage tonight and take a week off from running to let it recover. In the meantime I'll hit the elliptical trainer hard so I can keep building fitness.

Last week I ran 41 miles. This week was planned to be a recovery week anyway. I plan on doing my first 20 miler of the year and a 22 miler this month and be ready to taper for the first couple of weeks of January in preparation for the Houston Marathon on January 13.

Seeds of Doubt

This is a continuation of my previous post entitled, What is God? The Mormon Version.

I had a couple of powerful experiences that convinced me that God existed and loved me. I also had many experiences where the church's teachings seemed so right and resonated with my soul. I felt strongly that if the world would just embrace the gospel as taught by the church then most of its problems would simply go away.

However, beyond that I never observed anything that I found miraculous in the sense that I believed that God had intervened. I never observed miracles or anything that defied a natural explanation and required a supernatural explanation. Growing up I heard accounts of miracles, but for some reason I never found them very compelling. For example, there was the tearful testimony by a man who blessed a person with cancer. Subsequently the cancer went into remission and the person was cured. However, I knew that not only did many non-Mormons and non-religious people spontaneously remiss from their cancers, I also knew that many people received blessings and subsequently died. From what I could tell, blessings had little effect beyond comforting the sick person. Beyond that, nature ran its course and the best choice for the sick was to receive the best medical care they could obtain.

This train of thought carried over to historical events that I read as a church member. One that stands out was the account of Joseph Smith miraculously healing the sick in the malaria ridden settlements of early Nauvoo. It was hard for me to see anything terrible miraculous because I knew that there was a terrifically high mortality rate. It seemed more like everyone got blessed and then the church cherry picked the cases where people were healed and recorded them as miracles. What about those that died? If God healed some, why did he let so many other people die? It was much easier for me to believe that God wasn't that capricious and that what people chalked up as miracles were just random chance; some people get better, and some don't.

I can't explain some other experiences. But I also know that just because I can't explain them doesn't mean that they can't be explained and doesn't mean I must accept the supernatural. For example, my father once told me a story about a troubled family that he was visiting as a church home teacher. Apparently this family had many problems and my father thought that there was something satanic going on there. He told me that one time he was on the phone at home sitting on his bed and while talking to them he felt the whole bed shaking and coming off the floor. My mental picture was like something out of the exorcist. Did it really happen? If so, that would be pretty tough to explain. My father isn't prone to fabrication but I've learned that his beliefs strongly color his perceptions of everything so maybe his account is an accurate description of his perceptions of something that was less incredible. I'm willing to say I don't know and I'm not too proud to admit I could be wrong. It just seems extremely unlikely.

I've also had very vivid dreams, usually in the twilight of sleep where the mind is awake but the body is still slumbering. I first remember these during my mission where I was immersed in religion and religious reading. While I was reading Jesus the Christ I had a vivid dream of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane coming to his slumbering disciples. This was a strong confirmation of my beliefs, but I was troubled when later in my mission I had a similarly vivid dream that my father, who was a member of the bishopric at the time, was having an affair and cheating on my mother. I awoke and remembered every detail of the dream and it had a palpable sense of reality. I was distraught because I just knew that it was true. I knew it every bit as much as anything else religious that I'd experience. I have never asked my father about it. Part of me is afraid to discover that it might be true. If so, maybe the dreams really are true and I need to reconsider my current lack of faith. But, I was fairly certain then and am more certain now that that particular dream wasn't true and this led me to doubt some of my earlier spiritual experiences since it seemed that they could be equivocal. Part of me knew that my spiritual experiences could have more mundane explanations, but I didn't want to believe that.

I attended Brigham Young University which is the crown jewel of the Mormon church's educational system. I received a top notch education in engineering and enjoyed almost every aspect of my college years. Strangely, for me at least, the low points of my college experience were the religion classes I was required to take. Some of the classes were good, but some were incredibly bad. The worst ones were not the ones taught by random professors who were not part of the religion department; the worst ones were taught by the faculty of the religion department. Ironicly, Mormonism is founded on a deep seated distrust of professional religionists and my experiences at BYU confirmed those beliefs.

While a missionary, a member had smirkingly (I thought) asked whether it was true that Joseph Smith had 23 wives. I admitted that I had no idea although I thought it could be possible since Joseph received the church's revelation allowing polygamy so it made sense that he would have been the first person to practice it. Even if he did, I didn't think it was a problem. After all, all the other Mormon prophets from Brigham Young to Heber J. Grant had practiced polygamy openly. That means that out of 15 church presidents, 7 of them were polygamists and they governed the church for 115 years of its 177 year history.

One of my last purchases in Utah before graduation from BYU was Mormon Polygamy: A History by Richard S. Van Wagoner. When I saw the book in Deseret Book (I think) I immediately picked it up because it was the first treatment of the topic I'd ever seen. I wanted to know more. Given the importance of the practice in 19th century Utah and the central part it had in the church's revelation on celestial marriage it had always struck me as strange that it was never really discussed in church. Part of me believed that if there was nothing wrong with it, then there was nothing to be ashamed of. But the silence on the topic created a suspicion that something was being hidden and I wondered what the story was and whether the church was hiding something. I made it part way through the book, but I never finished it. I had trouble reconciling the details with what I'd been taught about the character of Joseph Smith. I could easily see how the doctrine might have been introduced as a justification for Joseph Smith's lusts and desires and it became apparent why the church didn't have Sunday School lessons about the origins of polygamy in the church. I came away with a belief that the church was embarrassed by polygamy and just wanted to bury the topic.

Around this time I also read an article in the church's magazine, The Ensign, written by Milton V. Backman, Jr. Bushman that included the different versions of Joseph Smith's First Vision along with an apologetic explanation that while the stories were different they were substantially the same and that if they had been more similar then it would be evidence of a fabrication. I remember thinking, "Those stories aren't substantially similar at all. They are completely different. The only similarity is that he had a religious experience."

I had doubts, as I've no doubt most Mormons have had, but I'd done with them what I had always been taught to do; I put them on a shelf with confidence that at some point, perhaps in the next life, all my questions and doubts would be explained. After all, I'd accepted my spiritual witnesses as evidence that the church was true. It it was true, then there must be an explanation even if I didn't have it.

This process came to a skidding halt in 1990. The bishop announced from the pulpit in sacrament meeting that all temple endowed members should make arrangements to go through the temple as soon as possible. Changes had been made and due to the sacred nature of the temple he obviously couldn't say what they were, but he promised that they were wonderful. I wondered what could change. What could they have added? I'd always found the temple endowment disturbing and perplexing. My wife and I went and I was amazed to find that they hadn't added anything. Instead they'd removed many of the parts that I'd always wondered about. How could this be? The church teaches that its ordinances were given by revelation from God and that they couldn't be changed. If the endowment was the highest and most sacred ordinance, they how could it be changed? If God revealed it, then it should be correct. If it wasn't, then maybe it wasn't really from God. If the prophet can't get the most sacred and holy ordinances right, then what could he be trusted to get right? God is supposed to be unchangeable, so why would the covenants of the temple need to be changed. Furthermore, it seems like the ordinances had been changed because they were found to be offensive by some members. If the ordinances were from God, wouldn't that indicate a problem with the members taking offense? Shouldn't they humble themselves and accept what God was requiring? If God and church members face off, shouldn't God win? Why was the church changing God's revelations in response to public sentiment? The rather obvious answer, to me, was that the temple ordinance must not be from God. From that point on the underpinnings of my religious belief were undermined because here was a clear contradiction. I simply couldn't reconcile this with everything I'd been taught about the church and God.

It took another 13 years to finally dig deeper and go beyond strong doubts and look for more evidence of deception. But once I looked it became crystal clear that I had been deceived my entire life.