Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lexapro Dreams

Can a dream seem so real that it can be mistaken for reality? Can memories incredibly vivid yet wrong? Can perfectly sane, stable people believe things happened that really didn't?

These are very important question in day to day life, but they are particularly important when trying to understand religious experience and belief.

I started taking an anti-depressant, Lexapro, this year and one strange side effect has been incredibly vivid, lucid dreams. Sometimes I'll wake up in the morning from one of the dreams and it seems very real. This isn't my first experience with dreams like this, but the Lexapro seems to make it happen much more frequently.

When I was on my mission in Bolivia, I was reading "Jesus the Christ" by James Talmage during my spare time. One morning as I lay in bed I dreamed that I was in the Garden of Gethsemane and I witnessed Jesus in agony as he suffered and then walked back to awaken his slumbering disciples. For me, it felt incredibly real and part of me hoped that this was the Spirit opening up a vision to me to strengthen my testimony while another part wondered whether it wasn't a dream brought about my my immersion in missionary work and scripture study. After all, I had gone to bed reading about this very part of the New Testament.

Later in my mission I had a similarly vivid dream about my girl friend who was back in Utah at BYU and waiting for my return. The dream led me to believe that she was moving on with her social life and would soon be dumping me. Time proved that the dream was prescient.

Later on in my mission I dreamed of a conversation with my father in which he confided that he had cheated on my mother. I awoke startled and worried. I was so worried that I considered confronting my dad with the information. It seemed crazy and yet it seemed so real. As a missionary trying to feel the Spirit and receive revelation and inspiration from God all the time, I was quite concerned. I've never discussed this with my dad, but part of me is curious. Was it a true vision that revealed his dark secret? I'll never know, because I don't want to know the answer.

As a believing Mormons I strongly entertained the notion that these were visions. As a non-believer I now believe that they are no different than my current Lexapro dreams, constructs of my mind that reflect my inner thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires.

My experiences have strong parallels with "alien abductees" who firmly believe that they have been abducted and experimented on by alien visitors. Experts who have interviewed some of the abductees have been convinced because the victims are completely convinced that the experience was real. Carl Sagan in "Demon Haunted World" talks about this phenomenon and concludes that while the experiences seem real, they are really vivid dreams.

Now, I'll take another step. Martin Harris and David Whitmer claimed that they saw the Book of Mormon in vision with their spiritual eyes. Martin Harris is reputed to have said that none of the Book of Mormon witnesses saw the gold plates with their physical eyes, but rather with spiritual eyes. Given their beliefs and their total immersion in the translation of the Book of Mormon is it possible that they had similarly vivid, visionary dreams like I have had? Would their beliefs cause them to believe that those visions are just as real as anything else they have experienced? I can testify that it would be easy to believe that. Those dreams feel as real as anything else I experience; they are as clear to my perception as when I'm fully awake and walking around. Heck, maybe I've been led astray. Maybe those dreams weren't dreams. Maybe they really were visions. Maybe I should have that conversation with my dad...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Feeling the Spirit

Slate had a fascinating article on the emotion called "elevation". Here's how they describe the sensation:
...a feeling of spreading, liquid warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat.
They theorize that this feeling is caused by stimulation of the vagus nerve. Now, does that sound at all like the following:
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must astudy it out in your bmind; then you must cask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your dbosom shall eburn within you; therefore, you shall ffeel that it is right.

D&C 9:8
Mormons believe that this sensation is the Spirit of God causing a burning in the bosom to testify of truth.

Here's what the Book of Mormon says on how to discover truth:
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how amerciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and bponder it in your chearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would aask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not btrue; and if ye shall ask with a csincere heart, with dreal intent, having efaith in Christ, he will fmanifest the gtruth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may aknow the btruth of all things.

Moroni 10:3-5
I find it interesting that science is now shedding light on the source of this sensation and unfortunately it doesn't seem to have a mysterious, supernatural, divine source.

Damn it. This would really piss me off if I hadn't already figured it out on my own. Unfortunately, this feeling is supposed to be a more reliable source of truth than anything else in the world. So where does it leave those who believe in religion because of these feelings? I mean, maybe it's the Spirit stimulating the vagus nerve. But that might disappoint the religious who didn't support Obama because it seems that the Spirit testifies of him.

It's Official: I Can Run

Well, I've been good the last several weeks and not run. Instead I've been ramping up my walking and last week I walked every day for a total of 18 miles. On Wednesday I got the good news from my physical therapist that it was safe for me to gradually start running. I celebrated by heading to the gym and hopping on the treadmill. The sad news is that running at 12 minute mile pace was getting my heart rate quickly into the upper 150s so I ran for 1 minute at a time and walked for 2. That gave my heart a chance to recover into the low 140s before the next running interval. That gives you an idea of how far off my conditioning has fallen, but it is still nice to be on the road to recovery. I'm hoping to see continued steady improvement until the spring races I have planned.

On the weight loss front the best I can say is that the weight gain has been stopped and seems to be slowly dropping. The long term plan is to gradually lose weight and try to get down to 205 from my current 236 by June.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Physical Therapy

I walked into physical therapy and Troy greeted me with, "So, did you run last week?"

Me, sheepishly: "Just a little bit."

Troy: "How little."

Me: "Just one minute."

Troy: Knowing smile.

Me: "At a time..."

Troy: "Come on, how much total?"

Me: "Only five minutes in all with one minute of walking in between."

Troy: "I knew you would. That's why I told you no. I knew if I said yes you'd overdo it."

Me: "So I can start running now?"

Troy: "No. But I know you will anyway, just try to take it really easy."

Seriously, I get winded just walking and with just the little bit of running I do once a week I can feel that my foot, ankle, calf, and lower leg aren't ready to sustained running so I'm doing the elliptical trainer, stationary bike, and walking. My ankle was still swollen from running yesterday so today I just did the bike. My ankle is feeling really good though, it just swells up quite a bit when I overdo it.

Protests in Front of LDS Temple in LA

It's no surprise, given the church's involvement in Proposition 8, that people would protest against the Mormon church. I do find it telling that the only reported violence was a group of apparently South Pacific Islander Mormons who assaulted some female protesters. You can follow the link above to the LA Times web site for text and video including an attractive woman with a bloody nose being cared for by paramedics.

The church has been persecuted in the past, but this current incident gives insite into the type of things that Mormons past and present have done to incite the anger of their neighbors. Of course, they see this as just another example of the armies of iniquity fighting against the truth.

I found out about this from an email that was forwarded to me by my in-laws. I thought that it would be interesting post it to show how the faithful feel about the protests.

A Letter from a Worker at the LA Temple

As additional information for those who missed the news, I was at the temple assisting in the security efforts and it was quite an experience. Our temple is safe and no damage was done on the grounds.It was a site I never expected to see. At one point we had let in about 20 police vehicles through the gates because they were afraid their vehicles would be damaged as civilian cars were being vandalized. I removed the Utah plates from my truck just so I could drive through the mess and park blocks away. Two fullsquads of LAPD in riot gear set up their base inside the temple grounds while SWAT vehicles and hundreds of officers followed the crowds run up Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards. I've heard that the crowd was estimated to be over 2,500. The officers inside the temple grounds made a line on the front lawn by the fence. At one point, with 7 news and police helicopters overhead, the crowd began to climb the fence and it looked like there was going to be a lot of trouble. We had, it seemed, a good fourth of a Polynesian ward there so it could have gotten very interesting very fast. While I was there, I was not aware of anyone actually breaching the fence, but we were asked to move far across the parking lot as they were anticipating the need to shoot tear gas canisters. I never thought I would see the day when police officers would sit perched on the spire of our temple as lookouts. All of this happened at about 7:30 PM. It should be remembered that most likely many of the law enforcement were not in favor of our stance on Proposition 8, but nevertheless, the men and women were there doing their duty and protecting our property. For that we are grateful. And yes, there was an incident with some of our members who had gone to remove the protest signs from the front fence. One of the protesters did initiate physical contact with one of our sisters so the details are uncertain as to whether the response was fully justified. The lesson to be learned is that it's important to anticipate and avoid such confrontational situations. Remember the world is watching our reaction and the media is everywhere. In the end, when we keep our cool, the video footage speaks the truth regarding which side is really intolerant and appears hateful whenwe simply do not respond or do so in a loving and controlled manner. I can testify that I felt the presence of others protecting the temple..those we could not physically see there tonight. We areprotected and our Father in Heaven is mindful of our efforts and willingness to withstand persecution. As far as the temple being open or not, I do not have any official word. The decision to close it today came from Church headquarters in the afternoon and I imagine they will have to evaluate the situation day to day. Since protesting has occurred the past 2 days, I imagine in will happen again tomorrow and as long as people can keep it up without losing their day jobs.
My response to the email was:
Wow. First blacks, then women, and now gays. When will the church learn...
It's difficult to feel sympathy for the church for when it supported stripping rights from people through a campaign of systematic misinformation. Now they act surprised that people are exercising their rights to fight back.

I've posted before on why I think the church does this. The reason is retarded, mind you, but it makes since to them and their sexual purity obsessed culture. To them marriage equals permission to have sex and if you allow gays to marry then you are saying it's okay for them to have sex. And for them that's unacceptable. So they see it as a moral fight to continue to officially and legally condemn homosexuality. It doesn't affect them, but for them it's a moral struggle and they see losing that battle as a downward spiral into immorality. All the other reasons are simply pretenses as the rebuttals to their propaganda have shown.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I Still Don't Understand It

I started this entry months ago and finishing it has been difficult because it admits something that I don't every like to admit: weakness and vulnerability. But reading about friends struggles have made my personal struggles particularly poignant and I want to share my experiences on this subject in part to let them know that they aren't alone, in part to help someone who might read this, and in part at a catharsis.

I've written about my sometimes turbulent upbringing, but it wasn't all bad. I sometimes wonder if it was really bad at all or if it was all my perceptions and just in my head. Part of the point of my recollections is to remind me that at times it was actually bad and that I had some reasons to feel fear, anger, hatred, and sadness. But I don't know if it really justified the sometimes overwhelming feelings of loneliness, unhappiness, and hopelessness that I remember growing up with.

I remember often crying myself asleep as a child. I felt unloved. I was incredibly unhappy and didn't foresee anything ever changing and wishing I could die. I remember thinking about suicide. My dad had a huge Bowie knife that I'd imagine pushing up under my rib cage into my heart. He had a 32 caliber pistol in the top of his closet. We had rifles and shotguns around the house along with ammunition and none of it was locked up. Taking my life would have been easy and part of me really wanted life to just end. I knew I could do it and the main thing that stopped me was the sheer futility of the act.

It seemed to me that God had perpetrated a cruel joke. My Mormon upbringing had taught me that I'd always existed as a spirit child of God and that my spirit was eternal and could never die. I learned that life was a time of forgetting and probation where I was being tested to see if I was worthy of the greatest gift God could give: becoming a god myself. There were really only two alternatives, exaltation and godhood or eternal damnation as a servant of the exalted in various degrees of lower glory. In the grand scheme of things, there was no escape. Suicide was just an illusory escape from a mortal torment to an everlasting one. As soon as I died, I knew I'd wake up in the spirit world feeling just as unhappy but with the bitter knowledge that I was now damned for all eternity. I found myself wondering why God didn't leave open the option to just cease to exist. I found it a bitter pill to just have to be long suffering, not only for this life, but forever. Instead of providing comfort, my religion made me feel even more hopeless; it was like a grand eternal game that I just couldn't win. I thought that if God really loved us then he'd give us the opportunity to just end it all and blink out of existence.

The greatest blessing in Mormonism is to have an eternal family. However, in our family we prayed together daily for harmony in the home and rarely seemed to experience it. The thought of spending forever with my family usually didn't seem like a blessing. One of the happiest days of my life was the day I left for college at BYU. I had hurried through high school in 3 years mainly so I could escape my house and unhappy public school experience and move out on my own. My mother was crying as I got into the car with my dad to make the 1000 mile trek to Utah and it was a struggle to keep from laughing out loud and busting out a huge smile because I was so incredibly happy to finally be making my escape.

College, by and large, was great. My social awkwardness still left me with few friends, but being in control, studying what I wanted to study, and setting my own direction felt great. I associated with the people I wanted to and did the things I wanted to do when I wanted to do them. I even became very marginally active in church for quite some time. Strangely, to me, I felt very happy on Sunday mornings reading my scriptures with the dorms to myself while everyone else was at church. It seemed strange to me at the time that I felt more spiritual and comfortable in the quiet of my room than I ever did in the meetings.

I exercised regularly, played intramural sports, and carried a very heavy load of engineering classes while keeping my grades up to maintain my academic scholarship. I didn't date much because I'd left my first true love back in Iowa. I was at peace, but I don't know if I was very happy. I do remember times of extreme sadness and loneliness however. I remember one instance where I was so depressed that it felt like I simply couldn't get any lower. In the depths of such sadness I found myself on my knees praying and I felt a wash of warmth and elation flood through my body. This had to be the burning in my bosom, the Comforter, that I'd learned about in the scriptures. It felt like pure love and convinced me that God loved me and cared.

I experienced peace and comfort from reading the scriptures and pondering how I could apply them to myself to be happy and to make those around me happy. My religious experiences drew me back into church activity even though they rarely provided the same comfort as my private studies and after two years of college I left on a church mission to Bolivia.

From time to time I post recollections of my mission. It was very hard in every way imaginable, but I had a sense of purpose and it gave me a confidence and brightness that I'd never had before. I lost a lot of my fear of social situations and matured into an adult and gained experiences that helped form me into who I am today. I suppose that it helped that I completely believed in what I was doing and teaching without any doubt. It was no cake walk, but I loved the experience and was proud of my service.

But through it all, I struggled to find happiness. In some ways I think I'm a "can do" person who tries to find the positive in things and tries to make the best of situations. I've tried to focus on things that are within my control and ignore those that aren't. So, why have I always struggled with these periods of unhappiness and gloominess?

A few years ago a friend related that anti-depressants had literally saved his and his wife's lives. This surprised me because he seemed like such a positive, happy guy. But apparently he struggled with deep depression and managed it successfully with happy pills. I wondered if they'd help me and he encouraged me to talk to my doctor.

Over the years, our society has become much more accepting of happiness through better pharmacology. I've read many articles explaining the dangers of depression along with the little 10 question pop quizzes to assess whether you might be depressed. I always felt dismissive of them because the quizzes seemed like they were designed to diagnose everyone as depressed. At least they always seemed to show me to be moderately to deeply depressed every time I took one. Since I felt normal I figured that it was just part of a publicity campaign to sell more drugs.

This spring, when marathon season was over, I felt burned out. I figured it was just from the effort of a long, aggressive training season and the stresses of work and family. But I just felt no motivation to train, I was constantly tired, and all I wanted to do was sleep or watch TV. I'd be riding along on my motorcycle and wonder what would happen if I crashed and realize I didn't really care. I'd come home and not want to walk through the door. I felt pretty hopeless and sad and like I was sleep walking through life. I felt so crappy that I went to the doctor because I was convinced I was anemic, or had diabetes, or hypothyroidism or some other physical malady that was causing me to feel so bad. I just felt like crap, all the time. I didn't want to come home, I didn't want to go to work, I really didn't want to do anything. I was just going through the motions and figured something must be wrong.

The doctor listened to my symptoms and ordered up blood work but then he said, "What do we do if the blood work comes back and everything is normal?" I said that I didn't know, but that I guess I'd just have to get used to the fact that the way I was feeling was normal. He asked if I'd considered that I might be depressed. He started to say there are no tests they can do, but then stopped and pulled up a list of questions on his PDA. I laughed as he started to ask the questions because I knew where it was going. They were the same questions I'd answered before and they showed the same thing they always had. I was depressed.

I left the office with a some samples and a prescription for an anti-depressant. The next day the doctor called to tell me that all my blood work was normal, but I already guessed that it would be and had already filled the prescription. Fortunately, previous conversations with my friend and reading had left me with at least the intellectual understanding that the drugs might help me. I also suffer from migraines, so I'm particularly aware of how altered brain chemistry can affect mood and perceptions.

The pharmacist and the enclosed literature suggested that it might take several weeks before I'd feel any difference. It didn't. Within just a few days I felt much better. Things didn't bother me as much and, it's difficult to describe, but things just felt normal. But normal without feeling down. I felt alive normal. Not magically happy or anything, but the things that I thought were making me unhappy no longer seemed to matter. I had more perspective and things felt good, rather than hopeless.

My family doesn't see any difference. That bugged me at first because I thought surely everyone could tell. I kept waiting for someone to notice or comment. But I think that the main thing that changed was my internal view of the world and how I perceived it. I guess my behaviors, good and bad, are ingrained, but I feel better.

After a little while, the blues came back, and when I went in for a prescription refill I increased my dosage. Things evened out again, but the drugs have a niggling side effect for me; they make it difficult for me to have an orgasm and in fact make sex much less pleasurable. I've been feeling so good that recently I tried cutting the dosage back. Sex returned to being great, but I slowly drifted back down into a deep depression. All of a sudden things that had receded into the background emerged front and center and once again took on a significance that they had ceased to have for while. I still felt normal and my feelings seemed legitimate and I found myself wondering if the anti-depressants weren't masking legitimate issues that were the real source of my unhappiness. But I resumed my normal dosage and the feelings receded. Maybe those feelings weren't so objective as they seemed.

This is so weird and part of what I struggle with. Part of me feels weak for needing anti-depressants. Shouldn't I just be able to control my emotional balance on my own? With all I've accomplished, mastering my own emotional climate shouldn't be beyond me, should it? But then, I also realize that I have to wear glasses to see clearly. If what the medical community claims is true, and depression is a manifestation of an imbalance in my brain chemistry, then I'd be a fool to not use the drugs. It would be like not wearing glasses when I need them or for a diabetic to not take required insulin. Feelings seem real. Are they? It seems strange that this since of "I" can be so influenced by a little white pill.

So, that is where I'm at right now. I'm resigned to taking a little pill each night to prevent a state of mind that I'd grown accustomed to for my whole life and trying to learn a new normal. And I'm thinking that the second half of my life seems much more hopeful than the first half did. I just wish that I'd taken that step 20+ years ago.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Ran 1/4 Mile Today

At lunch today I excitedly told a friend that I ran a quarter of a mile this morning. He looked at me kind of funny and said, "That's not very far." Well, maybe not for him, but it's the furthest I've run since the beginning of August when I found out I needed reconstructive ankle surgery and it felt pretty damn good!

It's been a while since I posted so I'll fill you in on how it has gone. I had surgery on September 8 and I spent the next 4 weeks on crutches and wasn't allowed to put any weight on my foot and I had to wear a bit boot on it so I couldn't move it. After 4 weeks they put me in a lighter brace that let me move my foot up and down, but not side to side and they allowed me to put partial weight on my foot.

When I started out it felt like the sole of my foot was a big sponge full of goo that squished out when I put it down. It was a weird sensation but didn't really hurt. It was more of a pins and needles type of sensation. I still had quite a bit of swelling in my ankle at first, but as I started walking, even with crutches, it helped pump some of the swelling out of my lower leg, ankle, and foot. I started out at 1/4 weight the fifth week, then 1/2 weight the sixth week. On that Thursday one of my crutches broke so I walked with just one crutch with about 3/4/ weight on the ankle.

I had been planning on running the Kansas City marathon on the 18th of October which was at the end of my sixth week post surgery. I took the crutch along, but I cheated some and walked some short distances without it. It was weird. The most painful part was my heal where the achilles tendon attaches and by the end of the weekend my left calf was really sore and stiff.

The next Tuesday I showed up at the physical therapist with no crutches. He was funny because he checked the calendar to make sure I wasn't jumping the gun. Apparently some patients have a problem with patience and get ahead of themselves.

Over the last two weeks progress has seemed glacially slow, yet somehow in only two weeks I'm walking without a limp and I'm putting more trust in my ankle. I'm actually more comfortable walking now than I was before the surgery so that is good. My range of motion is nearly back to normal. I still have swelling after exercise, but apparently that's okay for now.

The most painful part of my ankle ever since surgery has been the front of the ankle and my heel. Right after surgery I couldn't hardly point my toes down at all and until the last couple of days, that has been the most painful area. I had to be very careful going down stairs or ramps because of the pain, but over the last couple of days that pain has almost completely disappeared. I suspect that it was caused by the device they used to pry open the joint to drill the fracture out inside the joint.

When I got off the crutches I started going to the gym again. For the last two weeks I've been doing very light (30 pounds) leg presses for about 10 minutes to help with range of motion, riding a stationary bike for cardio, and doing light weight lifting. At the end of last week I tried about 10 minutes on the elliptical trainer. That felt okay so I started working up until I got to 20 minutes yesterday and 30 minutes today.

Last Friday I tentatively tried a very slow jog and felt pain immediately and stopped. Yesterday I tried jogging on my toes and that was okay. I gradually let my foot strike move back toward the heel until I was using a normal foot strike. After 1 minute at 4 mph I called it quits and called it a success. Today I went for two minutes a little faster and ran nearly a quarter of a mile. My foot and lower leg were fatigued even from that, but I didn't have any pain and only a little swelling afterwards. Considering that I've only been walking without crutches for 2 weeks I'm pretty excited by how good I feel.

Overall, everything is feeling very good and I'm finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm really, really out of shape and my legs aren't ready for running, but I'll slowly work up to it and everything should be fine.

I have my last visit with the doctor tomorrow. About my only concern right now is the swelling and whether that indicates a problem or if it is just a symptom that the joint still doesn't have full range of motion. I'd also like to finish up with the PT because the cost adds up and we're not doing anything that I can't do on my own at home and in the gym. So, I'm going to suggest that the PT give me a list of exercises to do on my own with followup appointments only on an as-needed basis.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Purpose of this Blog

This isn't a ministry. If you are Mormon and happy, then I wish you peace. I'm not trying to steer anyone out of a path that they find comforting. I don't go out on the weekends passing out tracts or knocking doors hoping to convince people of the ridiculousness of their religious beliefs.

But if you find yourself on this blog it is probably because you have had some doubts or questions. I'm here because I want Mormons struggling with their beliefs to know that they aren't alone and that their doubts are well justified and reasonable. I want them to understand that they are among the many Mormons who are suddenly getting access to good information about the church's origins that was previously difficult to find and that are confused by what they've found.

I want you to know that it is perfectly fine to doubt and to question. I want you to doubt and question. If the church is really true then your research will confirm your beliefs and resolve your doubts. But if it just creates more questions and doubts then it's time to consider that maybe it isn't true.

If you reach that conclusion then you'll have joined the many Mormons that are leaving the church just like a child who realizes that there is no Santa Claus and moves on with a more mature world view. You'll find that you haven't really changed, but that you'll suddenly have more time and resources to devote to the things that really matter to you.

You won't suddenly be morally adrift. You won't suddenly lose the Spirit and be unable to differentiate between right and wrong. You won't lose access to your intuition and judgment that allow you to make tough decisions with incomplete information. If you lose anything in the process, then you never really had it anyway.

You may lose friends. Family may shun you or disrespect your decision. You will certainly cut yourself off from the network of support offered by your ward or branch. You will probably spend a lot of time rethinking your beliefs. You will feel loss and pain and will go through a grieving process. It won't be easy.

But, you aren't alone.

That's one reason I'm blogging.

The other reason is that I've found that I like putting my thoughts and experiences down in words and sharing them semi-anonymously here on the web. If others find them entertaining or useful, then that's great, but it's really all about me. A lot of the time this is my therapy and my attempt to organize and make sense of my thoughts and feelings.

What Would Convince Me?

I recently wrote three posts about what I feel are particularly damning evidences against the divine origins of the Mormon church:
  1. Joseph's use of a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon (see Rock In A Hat).
  2. Joseph's claim to have translated Egyptian hieroglyphics even though the church now has a portion of the papyrus he used and the text of his "translation" bears no resemblance to the papyrus (see Translation Strike 2).
  3. Joseph's practice of polygamy which included marrying other men's wives and young teenagers (see 38 year old man, 14 year old girl).
The church's apologists believe that they have thoroughly dealt with these and many other issues. However I've read their explanations and found them to stretch credibility far beyond my breaking point. They ask me to ignore the most obvious explanation of these facts and instead believe that while lesser men might have been wrong, Joseph Smith wasn't because he was a prophet.

So, what evidence would convince me?

On the first point, I have to admit that there isn't much that would convince me. I don't believe that Joseph Smith was ever able to find lost treasure using his seer stone and that his use of it was outright fraud and deception. I guess you'd have to show me evidence that that seer stone can actually do what Joseph Smith claimed it did. This isn't implausible since the current church prophet still has this seer stone and claims to be a prophet, seer, and revelator and to have the keys to all spiritual gifts. So, he could theoretically pull out the brown seer stone and demonstrate his abilities but I won't hold my breath.

On the second point I'd be convinced if the church could produce the papyrus from which the Book of Abraham was translated and impartial Egyptologists could authenticate the papyrus and the translation. Again, I think the church already has the correct papyrus and that they clearly show Joseph Smith to be a fraud. But if the church can produce the evidence, I'll clearly recant.

On the third point, like the first, I simply find the history of the institution of polygamy to be antithetical to any kind of moral behavior and evidence of the craven nature of Joseph Smith and how far he'd fallen by that time in his life and how much power he had over his followers so that they would do things that they would otherwise find to be abominable. The answer of the apologists seems to be that it can't be wrong if God ordered it. But the more pertinent question to me is, if the prophetic status of Joseph Smith is the question, then isn't his immoral behavior the answer? It is to me.

The above three issues rise to the top for me, but there are many, many, many other issues. Once I allowed myself to consider the facts without prejudice, I started asking, "Are these facts more consistent with the church being true or false?" What I found was that all the facts were consistent with the church being an earthly invention of Joseph Smith and that I had to swallow all sorts of improbable explanations in order to believe that the church is divine. It's really no contest.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gamma Party

Obrajes had been "tracted out" when I arrived, meaning that previous elders had already knocked on every door and reaped whatever converts were to be had. Of course, the same could probably be said of just about any place where Mormon missionaries have been working for very long. My trainer and I buckled down to work.

Our house was at the top of a steep hill, a cliff almost, above a road that wound up a valley, across a river and into a neighborhood of adobe houses called Bella Vista. The road was paved in a way I'd never seen before, but was common in this part of the world. The soil was mostly rocks with a little clay to hold it together and as they dug the road bed they harvested fist sized round river rocks which they then laid back down as the pavers. This made for a nice, hard surface but it was really uncomfortable to walk on because it wasn't really flat and the stones dug into the balls of your feet and made your ankles roll.

Every morning we would eat our breakfast of war bread and carrot tea, descend the switchbacks from our house to the road, cross over and take a shortcut up the trail from hell into Bella Vista. Both my feet still hurt from the muscles I'd torn playing basketball at the MTC and climbing almost straight up at 13,000 feet altitude made my legs burn. Every morning I'd say a little mantra as I climbed that hill to help me believe that God would give me strength to keep up with my companion who was already conditioned to the altitude and endless walking.

Health in the navel
Marrow in the bones
Strength in the loins and in the sinews
Power in the priesthood be upon me and upon all my posterity
through all generations of time and through out all eternity

I'd repeat this over and over in my head as I climbed believing that God would fulfill his promises and give me strength if I would just put in the effort.

Bella Vista was typical of the areas I worked in Bolivia. It was a tightly packed warren of houses made from adobe bricks with corrugated steel roofs. The dirt for the adobe was dug from the ground on the home site so its only cost was the back breaking labor which the Bolivians could afford. However they could afford little else so the houses usually had no plaster to cover the adobe. The houses were dark and were sparsely furnished. Many had a single room with a bed, a table, a few chairs, perhaps some pictures of the Virgin, and little else. Many cooked on kerosene stoves and with few windows the atmosphere in the house was sometimes toxic.

Wealthier neighbors had homes built of rebar reinforced frames and red ceramic bricks. Some of these homes left the bricks exposed, but some were covered in stucco or plaster.

We worked every day from Tuesday to Saturday, going door to door knocking and trying to share our message. We taught a lot of first discussions, but very few second ones. On Sunday we attended church in the Obrajes Ward which met in a nice two story brick building that the church rented. The bishop was a Bolivian who went to college in the United States and worked in the church office building in La Paz. The meetings were well attended by a core group of about 30 or 40 members out of the 500 plus that lived in the ward boundaries. As in most of Latin America, the elders had been very successful in baptizing many converts, but not many of those converts ever remained active in the church resulting in a substantial number of members of record and an abysmal activity rate.

Sunday wasn't a day of rest for us because after church we were supposed to do missionary work like any other day. However, we often took the day off from tracting and only went to appointments we'd made during the week or visited with members or read scriptures or studied.

Monday was our day off. We called it P day, for preparation day. The missionaries get the day off to take care of their personal business and to have some recreation. For many it was basketball. My companion was a slim, athletic blond southern Utahn who loved to play ball so we always met with other elders for pick up games in the morning. After that we'd usually have lunch at a downtown restaurant and then shop or write letters in the afternoon. The day off ended early because the day ended with a zone meeting in the evening with the zone leaders and all the missionaries in your zone.

December in La Paz is the middle of summer because Bolivia is south of the equator and someone forgot to tell me to bring sunscreen. Even though the weather wasn't particularly hot, the sun was fierce and by the end of the week my ears were peeling and bloody and cracked from sunburn.

I'd only been in Bolivia for a short time I had a bout of altitude sickness. I woke up with a pounding head ache and nausea. After I threw up my breakfast I went back to bed. The lady of the house brought me in some tea made from anise and coca. I'd heard about it in the MTC and although I'm not a fan of the licorice flavored anise, it made me feel better and withing a couple of days I was back trudging through the hills and knocking doors.

The mission had all kinds of lore, and I was skeptical of most of the fantastic stories the elders were constantly telling. Over time I learned that most of them were true. One piece of lore was the gamma party. One week after zone meeting my companion and I headed over zone leaders' house for a gamma party.

Bolivia is an area were you can easily get exposed to hepatitis. I have a friend who contracted hepatitis while serving in Guatemala. At the time there was no vaccine, but the church provided gamma globulin so that the missionaries could receive regular injections to boost their immune system. The syringes and vials were generally kept at the zone leaders' house and the mission ritual was that all self respecting elders had to inject themselves.

A large group of elders paraded to the ZLs aparment thrilled to show a greenie (me) his first gamma party and how to do it. They filed into the ZLs aparment, got a syringe, dropped their pants, and sat on the bed. The ZLs brought the gamma and the elders filled their syringes. The mission manual had detailed instructions on how to inject the stuff into the quadricep muscle of your leg. The first elder swabbed his thigh with alcohol, slapped it hard with a loud "Yee Haw!" and jabbed the long, thick needle to its hilt in his thigh. After pulling back to make sure he wasn't in a vein he slowing pushed the thick syrup into this leg. This was repeated over and over for my viewing enjoyment. Some elders had recently done it, but did it again just to show off.

I was fresh out of the MTC, so I didn't have to do it then but a few months later my time had come. I had a new companion by then and he was an expert. We did it in our own apartment, just the two of us, and it wasn't pretty. I tried the slap and stab method, but every time I would instinctively pull the needle back out leaving a blooding hole in my thigh. By the time I'd done this about 6 times my companion was rolling on the floor laughing. Embarrassed, I sat the needle on my leg and began to slowly push. With now surprise I was able to keep from pulling back as my skin tented inwards further and further. I watched in amazement as the skin pushed in at least a quarter of an inch, maybe more before the needle suddenly snapped up around the needle. I let go and cringed. OK, I was in. Worst part over. Only an inch and a half to go. Once through the skin there was just a dull ache as the needle slowly burrowed through muscle. Then I could feel the gamma filling the muscle and leaving a lump as I slowly depressed the plunger. No problem pulling the needle out. It was over.

My comp was so entertained by my wimpiness that he grabbed two syringes, prepped both legs, and with a needle in each hand slammed them into both thighs at the same time. He then stood up while I took a picture and he flexed his legs to make the syringes dance up and down.

I went through this ritual regularly throughout my mission and grossed out every companion I had with my slow and steady technique which was the only way I could manage. But I always did it myself.

I may have to post some gamma party pictures if I can dig them up.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

38 year old man, 14 year old girl

This is the third in a series of posts about what I consider solid evidence the Mormon church isn't true. The first was Rock In a Hat and the second was Translation Strike 2.

The title of this blog entry links to a web site dedicated to the wives of Joseph Smith and to one in particular, Helen Marr Kimball. Helen was the daughter of apostle Heber C. Kimball. Joseph Smith initially proposed to take Heber's beloved wife Vilate as one of his plural wives. Heber tearfully agreed and then to his great relief Joseph told him it was just a test. However, he then asked for his 14 year old daughter Helen. Heber consented and then convinced his daughter to agree. Joseph Smith, 38 years old, was then married to this 14 year old girl.

This is merely one of Joseph's many polygamous marriages, but one of the more shocking because of the age of the girl. He also married other men's wives. Some of the women he proposed to, such as the wife of apostle Orson Pratt, refused him and threatened to expose him. He then tried to ruin their reputations through libel and threats. When his first counselor in the First Presidency, Willian Law, found out that he had proposed to his wife he created a paper, the Nauvoo Expositor, to expose Joseph Smith's practice of polygamy. Joseph excommunicated William Law and his wife, declared the Nauvoo Expositor a public nuisance, destroyed the press and paper and created an atmosphere that caused those who refused his polygamous advances to flee the city.

The church has always acknowledged that Joseph Smith instituted polygamy, but details aren't to be found in church lessons. This can perhaps be put down to the fact that the church no longer considers polygamy an important doctrine and no longer practices it among the living, but it is also conventient that the details are so damning. As a result most members learn of the details and are shocked because they seem so out of character for what the church considers the greatest prophet in the history of the world.

Probably the best reference on the topic is "In Sacred Loneliness". Don't trust the FARMS review of the book which borders on libelous unless you also reads the author's rebuttal of the review. The book is thorough and if anything biased in favor of the prophet.

I recently read some of the apologetic explanations to refresh my memory of how they respond to Joseph's practice of polygamy. I want to talk about two defenses in particular because it's difficult for me to imagine them being put forward with a straight face. In fact, I can't imagine that in my most faithful, believing state of mind I could have ever even considered these defenses.

1) It wasn't uncommon in that place and time for girls as young as 14 to get married.

Perhaps, but it wasn't common either and it was very uncommon for them marry a man 24 years older. It was even more uncommon if the 38 year old man was already married to a dozen or more wives.

Seriously, read the accounts from Helen and it becomes clear that the idea of marrying Joseph was repugnant to her and that she only did it because she was told that it would ensure the salvation of her family and that it would be a marriage in name only.

2) It wasn't about sex. There were other reasons such as dynastic marriages.

There is something wrong about this whole line of reasoning. Does it imply that if it was about sex then there WOULD be something wrong? It tacitly acknowledges that if sex were the primary marriage that it would look bad. It would make Joseph Smith look like so many other false prophets and powerful men who use their power and influence to gain sexual access to their followers. Think David Koresh and Bill Clinton for religious and political examples.

First of all, the church in Utah went around and got legal affidavits from as many of the surviving widows of Joseph Smith as it could to confirm that he did have real marriages including sexual relations with them to contest the RLDS accusation that Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy.

Also consider, if it wasn't about sex, then what was the outrage about? If these marriage didn't include the right to have sex, then why were the husbands so outraged to have their wives married to Joseph? Why was Emma, his first and only legal wife, so upset? Why did he have sex with some of them? It's possible, given the quantity of marriages and requirement of secrecy, that not all of the marriages were consummated, but it is clear that the marriages allowed sex. Heck, read D&C 132 and the Book of Mormon. It's clear that polygamy was about having sex and children. The possibility that not all the marriages were consummated simply allows Mormons to believe that Joseph may not have been bedding young teenage girls. However he was caught in the sack with other teenage wives who weren't much older. In fact, he married sisters that he was the guardian of.

So, I guess you can believe that God was the author of all of that. If so, then why not. God can do whatever he wants.

But if you just heard about Joseph Smith's polygamous practices, does it really seem to have the hand of God involved?

Still confused? Consider the fruits of the church's practice in Utah which ultimately resulted in the church being disenfranchised and nearly destroyed. Consider that the world is still plagued with Mormon fundamentalists that still believe and follow the church's original teachings.

To me it is too much to swallow and the apologetics involved are simply whistling past the graveyard; they are completely unconvincing to me.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Somebody Play With Me! Please...

No running for the last month means the dog is unhappy. Can you tell?

Even the cat is getting to know me and hang out on the bed.

Alive! (Queasy alert: One picture of closed surgical incision)

I was very nervous prior to my surgery on Monday. I've never had a general anesthetic or surgery so it was more fear of the unknown than anything. I was also a little nervous about pain management. They prescribed Percocet (oxycodone) which I had after I snapped a collar bone and it didn't do the trick. It's supposed to be about 7 times stronger than Vicodin, but the vike seemed much more effective that time.

I showed up at the surgical hospital at 10:30 am, filled out some paperwork, and was quickly called back because the doctor was running ahead of schedule. I stripped, slipped into the oh so hot gown, and put all of my belongings into a plastic bag. Then they gave me a compression stocking to go over my good leg. The pre-op area had a row of beds separated by curtains and they led me past a few waiting patients to mine. They took my vitals, put on ID tags, wired me up for an EKG monitor, shaved my ankle, and put in an IV. The doc came by to say hi and we were ready to go. The nurse anesthetist shot some sleepy juice into my IV and they wheeled me out of the pre-op area and down a hallway. I was talking, wondering what was next...

A nurse was asking me if I was OK as I started slowly waking up from a deep sleep. She told me my throat might be a little sore because they had put a breathing tube in. I opened my eyes and I felt a little disconnected, like I often do after a migraine. She sat me up and covered me with a warm blanket. I wiggled my left toes and they were still there. I glanced down and I had a large black boot on my ankle which was gently aching. As I woke up the ankle started hurting so she pushed a pain killer into my IV. I continued to chat until I was feeling pretty alert. Then they helped me into a wheel chair and moved me into the discharge area where they sat me down in a recliner and propped up my ankle. My wife came in, I got dressed, and they wheeled me out the the car. All told I was at the hospital from 10:30 to 2:45, but it only felt like about 30 minutes. The rest of the time I was completely unconscious.

I spent the next three days in bed with my leg propped up while downing oxycodone at regular intervals, surfing the web, watching TV, and working. This is how the world looked:

On Wednesday I decided to see how long I could go without the pain meds and made it through the day without any. I guess I lucked out and am not experiencing really any pain. I haven't taken any more since Wednesday night at bedtime.

I went for my post operative visit on Wednesday and snapped the following picture of my ankle. As you can see it's not too swollen and the incision seems to be healing well. Notice the magic marking writing on my leg to identify that it is the leg they are supposed to be working on.

All's well except I can't put any weight on the ankle for 4 weeks and hopping around on crutches sucks.

Also, the doctor said that the cartilage over the OCD was intact and in good shape so he didn't have to drill out much bone. He did have to cut away some scarred cartilage in the joint, but overall the surgery went well and with no complications.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Translation Strike 2

I previously wrote about what I consider pretty strong evidence that the Mormon church is not, as it claims, the only true church on the face of the earth. It seems that the church and its apologists and historians agree that Joseph Smith used his treasure hunting seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon even though most members don't seem to know it. I simply don't believe it for the same reason that I don't believe he could find treasure with it.

Now I'm going to give the next piece of evidence against the church's divinity that I find very nearly indisputable. The fact that the church doesn't have an official response to this issue and the fact that its apologists have so many competing explanations and have written so much about it should give an idea about how difficult the issue is to explain away.

I'll be brief about it because the issue is actually quite simple. Joseph Smith and the church purchased some mummies and papyri after Joseph revealed that the papyri actually contained the ancient writings of no less than Abraham and Joseph of biblical fame. Since he'd translated the Book of Mormon and since at the time no one could read ancient Egyptian he proceeded in fits and starts to translate the Book of Abraham which is canonized scripture in the Mormon church.

Two unexpected things happened. First, after centuries of trying scholars deciphered Egyptian. Was the Book of Abraham and the papyri the Rosetta Stone that broke the code? Well, no, actually it was the Rosetta Stone. Second, after being lost for many years fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri were found.

The undisputed facts of the matter are that the papyri are common funerary texts that are part of something called the Book of the Dead and that the Book of Abraham has absolutely no relationship whatsoever to the discovered fragments.

Church leaders were initially excited that they would finally have concrete, irrefutable evidence of Joseph Smith's ability to translate, but that excitement quickly turned to dread when their own scholars translated the papyri and discovered that they didn't contain the Book of Abraham.

Game over, right? Well, over the years Joseph's defenders have put forward many explanations the most plausible of which is that only a portion of the papyri have been found so the missing parts must contain the Book of Abraham. That is a reasonable and plausible explanation that is, I suspect, what allows most Mormons who know of the papyri to continue believing. However, other evidence exists that seems to refute the explanation. Most notably, the church also has in its possession an Egyptian alphabet and grammar that was an attempt to use the Book of Abraham in the same way the Rosetta Stone was used to decipher the hieroglyphs. It contains the translation with the glyphs written beside the text. Guess where those glyphs are found? Right on the papyri that the church has in its possession which indicates that whoever created the grammar believed that those glyphs were the source of the Book of Abraham.

Since that is obviously not the case, the apologists claim that the grammar was not written by Joseph Smith and therefore it must have been an uninformed and mislead attempt. However, to accept this you must accept that Joseph Smith's scribes and confidantes didn't get any help from Joseph in matching glyphs to translation. Again, this seem highly unlikely to me.

Apparently to at least some of the apologists too because they've produced even more unlikely explanations that include the possibility that even if we had all of the papyri and they still didn't contain the Book of Abraham then it still doesn't mean anything because the papyri may have just been the inspiration that caused Joseph Smith to receive a revelation that he believed was a translation but actually wasn't. I shit you not.

In other words, the refuse to consider the most likely explanation: Joseph Smith couldn't and didn't translate.

The issue is really quite simple to anyone who doesn't already have a great emotional and spiritual investment in believing. It only gets complicated when you are put in a position of trying to refute the known physical evidence and its most straightforward interpretation.

I actually learned about this in BYU and read the apologetic material and believed it at the time. Unfortunately, I assumed that since the church was true and it had nothing to hide that the material I read was accurate and completely represented the facts. I've since changed my mind.

I think that you can find the church's side of the story represented on the FARMS web site. If you are unfamiliar I actually encourage you to start there. Then I'd encourage you to read the following book: By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri. It's only $12 on Amazon and it's worth the price for the color photos of the papyri alone.

For me this is solid, nearly irrefutable, evidence that Joseph Smith couldn't translate. If he couldn't translate the Book of Abraham then it adds further evidence against his ability to translate the Book of Mormon.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Rock In A Hat

I was recently asked what evidence could convince me the church is true. This post, and maybe following ones, is meant to present what I consider strong evidence against the church's truth claims. The problem for the church and it's defenders is that it's much easier to prove something false than to prove it true and a bigger problem is the insistence of its leaders that you have to accept all of it as true or reject it all as false (a false dichotomy if ever there was one). Sorry for the long post and I apologize if it's not terribly coherent.

Some of you may be multi-lingual and have experience in the difficult task of translating written text from one language to another. If not, then trust me, it is very hard. I am intrigued with the process Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon, which he said was done through “the gift and power of God". Unfortunately other than that rather nondescript phrase he seems to have been rather tight lipped about how he actually did it.
“Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted ‘seers’ in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.” (JS—H 1:34–35.)
The text of the Book of Mormon talks about interpreters that were used by its prophets to translate records written in lost tongues. According to Joseph Smith those interpreters were hidden away with the gold plates to facilitate their translation. Joseph Smith didn't start calling the interpreters Urim and Thummim until a couple of years after the Book of Mormon was published (Joseph Smith History wasn't written until 1838) and the term is a mouthful so I'll stick to interpreters.
I was under the impression that the interpreters were used to translate the Book of Mormon. Joseph seems to give the same impression. According to a second hand account, Oliver Cowdery described their use as follows. It is from a 1977 Ensign article.
“He represented Joseph as sitting at a table with the plates before him, translating them by means of the Urim and Thummim, while he (Oliver) sat beside him writing every word as Joseph spoke them to him. This was done by holding the ‘translators’ over the hieroglyphics, the translation appearing distinctly on the instrument, which had been touched by the finger of God and dedicated and consecrated for the express purpose of translating languages. Every word was distinctly visible even to every letter; and if Oliver omitted a word or failed to spell a word correctly, the translation remained on the ‘interpreter’ until it was copied correctly.”
Oliver Cowdery was the scribe for most of the book and he was also one of the three witnesses. When the church was founded he was a presiding elder and then co-president of the new church along with Joseph Smith. He was a first hand witness of all of the seminal events of the church including the production of the Book of Mormon, priesthood restoration, church founding, and many of its revelations. So, this account should be pretty trustworthy.

At one point the Lord granted Oliver the opportunity to attempt translation. He failed. Joseph Smith received the revelation in D&C 9 explaining why. He apparently thought that the words would just magically come, but the revelation said you must first study it out in your mind and ask God if it is right. This seems like a rather unlikely method of "translation". Instead it seems to describe a method for inspired authorship. After all, with zero knowledge of the original script and language then there is nothing to study or ask about. It really sounds like the "translator" is formulating ideas in his head and then seeking divine confirmation that the words are correct. It seems at odds with the description given above where visible words appear that can then be read to the scribe. This method has another problem because the original Book of Mormon contains thousands of spelling and grammatical errors that have subsequently been corrected. The process described indicates that the translator couldn't proceed until the scribe had correctly written the words. So, either God wasn't able to correctly spell or use proper grammar or else the method described above isn't they way the translation was actually done.

However, things get even a more confusing when you read the following account. This is quoted from a talk by Mormon apostle Russell Nelson given in a seminar for new mission presidents in 1992 that was subsequently published in 1993 in the church's magazine The Ensign.

The details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights. David Whitmer wrote:

“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)

David Whitmer was another of the three witnesses and like Oliver Cowdery was a partipcant in the translation of the Book of Mormon and the founding of the church. If you're a fan of South Park and have seen their episode on Mormons then you'll recognize the rock in the hat method of translation. However, most members of the church wouldn't. In fact when I told my father about this, his response was, "I can't possibly believe that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon with a common field stone." How is it possible that he, I, and so many other members of the church were ignorant of this fact? Now, why couldn't he believe that? An apostle of the church apparently does and the David Whitmer was a firsthand witness of the translation and one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon and went to his grave believing in the divine origins of the book. The above account is what he published to the world.

Mormon apologists like to point to articles like this one to point out that the church isn't hiding or concealing its history and that if members don't know about this stuff then it's their own fault. I'll partially concede the point. The church periodically does publish articles like this one about problematic historical issues, however, it often doesn't tell the rest of the story and it also doesn't incorporate quotes such as the above into lesson materials and missionary discussions. The result is that most members find out about this method of translation from anti-Mormon sources or from non-Mormons. Maybe it's because they emphasize the JSH account that refers to the interpreters in most of their materials and because most of their artwork shows Joseph Smith at a table with the gold plates beside him dictating the transaction to a scribe. In other words, they prefer to emphasize the Cowdery account because it is more consistent with the Book of Mormon itself and because the rock in a hat methods sounds a little silly.

It is a little confusing and disconcerting and inconsistent. Well, it is if you believe that the Book of Mormon is a translation. It's pretty easy to understand for most other people and anyone who has dealt with a pathological liar or con man.

Missing from the church articles is further information about the seer stone. Joseph Smith found it when he was a teenager and digging a well for a neighbor. He claimed to be able to use it to find buried treasure and apparently gained some notoriety as a seer. It's difficult to tell how involved he was in this activity, but he was at least well enough known that a farmer in Pennsylvania had heard of him and hired him to come down and help him find a lost silver mine. While there he met his future wife Emma Hale and her family. While there he was also arrested and convicted of in 1826 "glass looking" which was a crime. Apparently seers were common enough that laws had been passed to make it a crime. I guess they considered it a kind of fraud.

That, I think, is the explanation for my father's reaction to the rock in a hat story. If Joseph came to any of us and told us he could find buried treasure with his rock in a hat method we'd simply laugh at him. But Oliver Cowdery and the rest of the Mormons believed that he could. Richard Bushman in his faithful biography "Rough Stone Rolling" posits that Joseph's career as a treasure hunter was like a preparatory priesthood that prepared him for translating the Book of Mormon and also prepared a following for him who already believed in his extraordinary powers as a seer. Of course, that rationalization cuts both ways. It seems to presuppose that he could acutally see buried treasure. On the other hand, if he couldn't translate then Bushman is also right and ait was an excellent preparation in how to defraud people.

Ultimately I guess my father sides with Bushman. Or perhaps he simply accepts it as a mystery. However, I simply can't swallow this. Joseph never successfully found any treasure although he claimed to be able to do so. I don't believe in seer stones or folk magic and don't believe that there is any evidence for it. And I don't think that that stone magically started working for a holy purpose.

I count this as very, very strong evidence that Joseph Smith was a fraud.

The problem for me, is that, grammar and spelling aside, the Book of Mormon is an exceptional book and quite an accomplishment. So, how can I explain how it was produced? I can't. And I don't have to. The burden of proof is not on me. But I certainly don't believe it was done using a rock in a hat.

If you want a thorough academic treatment of the translation process by the church's apologists I would highly recommend "Joseph Smith's Translation of the Book of Mormon: Evidence for Tight Control of the Text" by Royal Skousen. He explores the various accounts of how the translation was done as well as analysis of the actual manuscripts that resulted. His conclusion is, "Evidence from the original manuscript supports the traditional belief that Joseph Smith received a revealed text by means of the interpreters." I assume by interpreters he includes both the ancient ones found with the gold plates as well as Joseph's seer stone. I encourage you to read the article to see if the evidence leads you to the same conclusion. I found the evidence more consistent with either a pious fraud or outright deception on the part of the authors.

A longer manuscript was written by LDS general authority B. H. Roberts. Here is one choice quote:

"One other subject remains to be considered in this division... viz.—was Joseph Smith possessed of a sufficiently vivid and creative imagination as to produce such a work as the Book of Mormon from such materials as have been indicated in the preceding chapters... That such power of imagination would have to be of a high order is conceded; that Joseph Smith possessed such a gift of mind there can be no question....

"In the light of this evidence, there can be no doubt as to the possession of a vividly strong, creative imagination by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, an imagination, it could with reason be urged, which, given the suggestions that are found in the 'common knowledge' of accepted American antiquities of the times, supplemented by such a work as Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, would make it possible for him to create a book such as the Book of Mormon is." (Studies of the Book of Mormon, pp. 243, 250)

"If from all that has gone before in Part 1, the view be taken that the Book of Mormon is merely of human origin... if it be assumed that he is the author of it, then it could be said there is much internal evidence in the book itself to sustain such a view.

"In the first place there is a certain lack of perspective in the things the book relates as history that points quite clearly to an undeveloped mind as their origin. The narrative proceeds in characteristic disregard of conditions necessary to its reasonableness, as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter disregard for consistency." (Ibid., page 251)

"There were other Anti-Christs among the Nephites, but they were more military leaders than religious innovators... they are all of one breed and brand; so nearly alike that one mind is the author of them, and that a young and undeveloped, but piously inclined mind. The evidence I sorrowfully submit, points to Joseph Smith as their creator. It is difficult to believe that they are the product of history, that they come upon the scene separated by long periods of time, and among a race which was the ancestral race of the red man of America." (Ibid., page 271)

This is quoted from UTLM and the emphasis is theirs. The book they quote from is an impressive analysis by B. H. Roberts and despite the above quote it's questionable that he ever lost his belief in the Book of Mormon. However, I respect the fact that he earnestly investigated a number of issues, acknowledged the problems, and honestly considered the possibility that a case could be made that it is not what it claims to be.

If you are interested, I invite you to look into the above information further and make your own judgement. But I find the evidence persuasive and rather overwhelming that the Book of Mormon is not a translation of an ancient record.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Call Me Butterball

The doctor's office called today. They had a cancellation and can fit me in for a preoperative visit tomorrow and on Monday they are going to carve me up like a Thanksgiving turkey. I decided not to go to Indianapolis for the MotoGP and wanted to go ahead and get the surgery taken care of so I can get on the road to recovery.

Since my diagnosis I've completely stopped running and am swimming instead. I've worked up to 1400m in 42 minutes which is probably pathetically slow, but it's a good workout, I can do it without stopping, and it's really helping my messed up shoulders. However, my ankle isn't any better and some days I think it's worse. Going down stairs is particularly scary because sometimes the ankle hurts so bad I nearly fall.

You can go to the following Podiatry Today article if you want to see pictures of what the surgery entails. Warning, it includes graphic pictures of a surgery which I think are pretty cool, but which apparently make some people swoon. I originally included a couple of the pictures here, but I've taken them off so you don't have to see them unless you want to.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"They leave the church but can't leave it alone"

Ever wonder why Mormons have such a low opinion of former Mormons? Check out the title link. The possible reasons for apostasy listed are:
  • Having once been enlightened their minds are now darkened
  • They are Judas like (traitors)
  • They just don't believe the gospel
  • Having once had a testimony they never deny it. A testimony cannot be reduced to an illusion.
  • They're using intellectual reservations to cover behavioral lapses
  • One loses his testimony only by listening to the evil one.
  • They leave because they have sinned.
  • They left by the instigation of Satan and are now in his service.
I'm actually OK with being called an apostate, because that is what I most definitely am. However if you look at the list above you can see why within the church apostates have a bad name and why apostasy has such a negative connotation. After all, if you trust the church and its leaders then apostates are under the influence of the evil one and knowingly rejecting the truth.

It sort of explains why my father came up to me and my young nephew this summer and said, "Don't believe a word he says, you can trust Uncle Bull." He laughed. My nephew looked puzzled. Perhaps he thought it was just a teasing joke. But who says that? Would he have said that if not for my apostasy?

I'll credit the author of the post with a couple of isolated instances where he concedes that some apostates can leave the church alone and that there may be reasons why they can't (family, etc.) and that they might not all leave because of sin. But the overall tone of the article is pretty consistent with the way the Mormon church, like many other religions, portrays apostates.

By the way. I am a sinner. I won't burden you with a confession here, but trust me that I'm guilty of plenty of problems. But it has nothing to do with my apostasy. My disbelief has nothing to do with my personal faults. In fact I continue to try to improve today just like I did when I believed.

Maybe the Mormons are right. Perhaps my mind has been darkened by Satan. Maybe I've lost the light of the Spirit (whatever that is, presumably anything that makes you agree with Mormonism). But it sure doesn't seem like that to me. I simply became aware of additional facts that I never learned while a member that caused me to re-evaluate the facts and come to a different conclusion. I changed my mind.

By the way, it wasn't easy to make that change. Changing beliefs in such a dramatic way isn't easy and wasn't done casually. And perhaps that's why the attitudes toward apostates irritates me so much. It seems like they want to demonize people like me rather than concede that perhaps I had valid reasons and left for good reasons.

Friday, August 29, 2008

2 Simple Questions (Okay, 3)

When discussing beliefs it is important to consider a couple of questions. The first question can be put a couple of different ways, but it is basically meant to evaluate whether the person is even willing to attempt to be objective and fair. The second is really meant to evaluate the sincerity of the answer to the first question and establish a framework for any discussion of the beliefs. Here are the questions.

1a) If what you believe is wrong, would you want to know?
1b) Can you consider that your beliefs might be wrong?

2) What could you convince you that your beliefs are wrong?

Now, why are these questions important?

First of all, if you yourself can't answer the first question with an unqualified "yes" then you need to do some soul searching. It suggests that you are not objective and are unwilling to consider the possibility that the other person might be right or even that you both might be wrong. It also suggests that you are not going to be listening to the other person or trying to understand where they are coming from or the logic behind their beliefs. Your intent is likely to show the other person they are wrong and as a result you won't be listening to them very well.

If the other person's answer to the first question is "no" then you are wasting your time talking to that person if you are trying to change their mind. Their mind is already made up and it is important for both people to understand that fact up front. If the answer is "no" then all you can really hope for is to try to understand each other's beliefs without any hope of changing them. It also helps to understand that their beliefs will color their interpretation of everything you tell them resulting in seemingly bizarre reactions from them. My next post will give a poignant example.

If the answer to the first question is "no" then the second question is by default, "nothing." However, if the answer to the first question is "yes" then perhaps there is hope. Depending on the answer you can focus on the issues that might persuade either of you to change your minds.

I've only had the opportunity to ask these questions 3 times that I recall.

The first time was during an email exchange with my TBM father.
Me: It's pretty simple in the end if you consider the simple possibility that Joseph Smith made the whole thing up.

Dad: I can consider that possibility and then reject is as utterly false. I and tens of thousands of others have had personal experience that is "evidence" that God lives - will you deny that? - that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior and redeemer of all - will you deny that? - by instituting the resurrection of all, good and wicked, and the resurrection was witnessed on both continents - will you deny the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon? and We have personal experience that the Book of Mormon is true and wholesome - and it is LUDICROUS to state or believe it was "made up" by a liar.
So, basically, he can consider he might be wrong, but then he can reject that as ludicrous because he has personal experience that God lives and that the Book of Mormon is true and wholesome. For him, personal experience is the ultimate evidence. After that I gave up. After all, I can't change his personal experiences and he is simply arguing from a standpoint of surety and that my position is LUDICROUS. After this I was regaled with the following nice assessment of my own objectivity.
You have reached a state of mind where you only allow witnesses in support of one side. How fair or logical is that? It is bizarre. You reject what I and others have, out of hand, with derisive and insulting and unsound language about how "less logical we are", not by refuting our evidence with stronger evidence.
If he were correct in his assessment he'd be justified in his outrage. But it's a more than a little frustrating when what he's saying pretty well describes what he does. However, I've spent more time, in retrospect, investigating both sides of the issues than what is justified by the evidence in support of the church.

The second case was a friend who was questioning his testimony. I'd learned from my experiences with my father and asked the first question. We talked for at least a couple of hours and I never got him to answer the question. It was a good discussion, but I tried to mostly listen to his concerns rather than give him any new evidence. After all, what's the point until he's willing to look at it critically and with a mindset that it might be wrong.

The most recent case was in the comments for I'm An Ignorat Dumbass. Here's his response.
1) If the church isn't true, would you want to know?

I favor intellectual honesty. This question, frankly, can seem offensive, which is why I assume your relatives etc. aren't fond of it. I've been asked these questions by many critics, it seems to be a popular sticking point, especially for those who lean towards agnosticism and atheism. The answer is "of course."

2) What evidence would you accept that would convince you that the church isn't true?

I would accept solid, incontrovertible, decisive, evidence.
I can understand that people can feel insulted that you are questioning their objectivity. But, for gosh sake, we're talking about religion. Religious people don't have a history of objectivity when it comes to their beliefs. The whole point of the question is to get that out in the open and dealt with.

I'll repost my comment on his answer to the second question.
The standard of "solid, incontrovertible, decisive, evidence" would seem to be an impossible standard for a belief system predicated on faith. I wouldn't even insist on that as proof that the church is true. But surely you see the problem. In the same way I can't provide that to you, you can't provide it to me either. The best that I've been able to find is systematic factual errors and deception on the part of the church and a large body of evidence that calls its fundamental claims into question.

Am I 100% sure the church is false? Nope. But my standard is more one of likelihood and preponderance of evidence. I haven't found any facts that can't be more reasonably explained in a naturalistic way than by the supernatural.
Naturally LifeOnAPlate disagrees and finds naturalistic explanations more problematic. On that we'll disagree. However, my burden of proof isn't that high.

In the meantime, realizing that I can't produce what would be needed to influence his beliefs I understand that I shouldn't waste any time trying to persuade him, even if I was so inclined. And that really was the point of the questions: to figure out whether or not it would be a waste of time to engage.

However, he has inspired me to post what I consider some of the most persuading evidence against the church's truthfulness.

BTW, I value these questions enough to have added them to my banner.

Guerilla Marketing Idea

While showing my "artistic creations" to my wife and daughter, it occurred to me what a minefield Nike has sown for itself with NikeId. Companies go to great lengths establishing an image, copyrighting, trademarking, marketing, and protecting it. A company like Nike spends bazillions of dollars on it. That's why their products are relatively expensive. You can rest assured that anything with the Nike swoosh on it has been vamped to make sure that it enhances the brand.

So here comes NikeId and all of a sudden idiots like me are allowed to bastardize their product and then, horror of horrors, slap their logo on it symobolizing some kind of corporate approval of my exceedingly bad taste in running shoes.

You know what I'd do if I was a marketing exec at Asics? I'd order boxes and boxes and boxes of tastelessly colored NikeId shoes and then dump them on the market in select, highly visible markets until people began to think of Nike as that company with the horrendously poor taste in shoe colors.

So, I'm going to take advantage and stock up on shoes that only I can appreciate before Nike realizes the errors of its ways and shuts down NikeId.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cool Shoe Geekdom

Nike has a pretty cool idea for people like me who are continually disappointed by the color schemes used on running shoes. I like bright, flashy shoes. My theory is if I can't be fast, I'd at least like to look fast. Nike created a web site just for me so I headed over to nikeid.nike.com and designed my own shoes. Tell me what you think.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I'm an Ignorant Dumbass

I wound up on an apologetic blog reading a post about a fireside by Bushman, author of Rough Stone Rolling. Bushman stated how he was amazed at how many members were unaware of Smith's polygamy. I commented to the effect that it really isn't a wonder since the church does a good job of concealing the fact. Of course, I was courteously responded to with lengthy quotations and links to articles on FARMS, FAIR, etc. about polygamy as well as links to institute manuals and church books on the topic. I guess it was a polite way of saying, "Sir, you are an ignorant dumbass." After all, there is so much information out there that the church can hardly be accused of hiding its history.

They have a point.

And yet...

I was active in the church from birth to age 40. I rarely missed any meetings: priesthood, sunday school, sacrament meeting, ward conferences, stake conferences, general conferences, mutual, early morning seminary, institute, etc. I went to BYU for 4 years and took religion classes as required there. I served an honorable full time mission in Bolivia. I taught early morning seminary for three years. I read all of the church's standard works multiple times as well as the missionary bookshelf, and many church books such as Doctrines of Salvation, Mormon Doctrine, Comprehensive History of the Church, etc. I literally have stacks of LDS books that I read over the years. Yet somehow I didn't know that
  • Joseph Smith had an affair with married Fanny Alger.
  • Joseph Smith married a 14 year old girl
  • Joseph Smith married other men's wives
  • Joseph Smith arranged sham marriages to hide his polygamy
  • Joseph Smith married sisters living in his house for whom he was the legal guardian while spending their inheritance
  • Joseph Smith lied about his polygamy and hid it from his wife
  • Joseph Smith destroyed the Nauvoo Expositor because it exposed his practice of polygamy
  • Joseph Smith may have been tarred and feathered because he tried to have improper relations with a teenage girl living in the house where he was living as a guest. He later married this woman while she was married to another man.
  • Joseph Smith ruined the reputation of the wife of an apostle who rejected his polygamous proposal and then threatened to expose him.
  • Joseph Smith excommunicated his first counselor in the First Presidency when he tried to expose the polygamy.
There's more, but isn't that enough?

Okay. You can go to FARMS and FAIR and apologetic web sites and find this information. But the only reason you can find it is because the apologists have been forced to respond to the critics and historians who have brought the facts to light. However, good luck finding this information over at lds.org. I invite you to go look.

I'm sorry, but I may be simple minded, but I had problem accepting Joseph Smith as a prophet once I had all of the facts.

This is just one topic. There are many others where after a lifetime of membership I was completely ignorant of the rest of the story. I suspect I'm not the only active member of the church that didn't know those things. I don't remember those facts ever being presented to me. I think I would have remembered.

So the question for Bushman and the apologists really needs to be: How can a lifelong, active member not know these things? I guess they would argue that it's really not important and that if I wanted to I could have found the answers.

So, I'll accept the criticism of the defenders of the faith. I was an ignorant dumbass. But I'm not ignorant any more and I suspect therein lies the rub. As soon as I discovered the truth my eyes were opened and Joseph Smith no longer seemed like such a swell guy and I saw the church for what it is. I suspect the reality is that the church doesn't want its members to have a complete knowledge of the facts. And, to me, that is fundamentally dishonest; witholding information because you know it will cause people to reach conclusions you don't want.

Oh, the other reason I'm a dumbass is for even trying to comment on that blog. The patronizing, insulting responses made my blood boil. What the heck do I have to be defensive about? As I pointed out above it's not like I wasn't trying to read and know my religion. My only problem is that I never ventured into the realm of anti-Mormon literature and apologetics where the real information comes out.

Blessings of Paying Tithing

My PocketPC cell phone was getting long in the tooth, but Sprint didn't have a compelling enough upgrade for me to replace it so I've been living with my adorable little brick despite ridicule from my coworkers. That came to an end when it suddenly completely died. Rather than pay the $50 deductible to get it repaired I decided to go ahead and upgrade so off to the Sprint store I went. The sales lady took it back to the service center to see if they could repair it and I went to look at the latest smart phones.

I picked out the latest version of my PDA phone and got the sales lady busy completing the upgrade. But when she went to activate the phone it wouldn't work so she went back to the service center to get help. She came back with a smile and told me that since they couldn't repair my phone and they don't have replacements for it, they were going to upgrade me to the latest phone for free. Whoopee! Saved me $250.

When I told my dad about it he said that normally he would attribute it to the blessings of paying tithing, but in my case he guessed that wasn't it. Haha.

In logic that is what is known as confirmation bias. You notice the things that confirm your beliefs and ignore or downplay those that don't.

For example, when growing up we would never travel on Sunday while on vacation so we could keep the Sabbath holy. So, if the car broke down on Saturday or Monday we could count our blessings that if we'd been driving on Sunday we'd have been stranded, but since it was a Monday the shop was opened and we could get it fixed right away.

It always struck me as silly. When good things happen you are blessed. When bad things happen you are being tried or punished depending on how devout you'd recently been.

Of course, in the case of my phone it was the result of paying $7 a month for 3 years for the protection plan. A fair bit better deal than paying 10% of my gross during that time.