Sunday, November 11, 2007

My epiphany regarding the LDS Church

Short Answer: Book of Abraham

Long Answer:
I used to be an amateur Mormon apologist and I believed strongly in the witness of the Spirit. It was my perception that I had more experiences with the Spirit than most members. On countless, various occasions I felt the warmth of the Spirit in my chest, peace in my heart and mind, overwhelming love, what I can only describe as a brightness and clarity in thought, a sure confidence, a connection with God that was so real that it approached tangibility, a knowledge that God was my friend and father, excited joy, a passion for helping the Lord prepare for his Second Coming, a sense of the immensity and beauty of God's plan, heart-aching in prayers, crying out of amazement and gratitude, I gave beautiful priesthood blessings that meant special things to the recepient that I was not aware of, people recovered from their illnesses and sometimes were given instant pain relief and peace, I felt my ancestors prompt and cheer me in my family history and temple work, I had what I believed to be an angelic visitation when I was 9 years old, I sometimes sensed that certain things would happen before they did, I miraculously got unexpected scholarship checks when I needed them, etc. I knew and loved the scriptures and tons about church history. I read "Joseph Smith Papers" (Joseph's diary) because I so wanted to know the man and be able to receive the revelations he received. I even tried to find my own peepstones so that I could learn how to focus more intently on the still small voice.

In my intense interest to soak up all things related to the Church and Kingdom of God, I read a lot of original works and got exposed to many issues that cause members to question Mormonism. Due to all of my spiritual witnesses and insight I felt I had gained, I always dug for the explanation, the way to understand why certain things were done the way they were (i.e., how polyandry was right and approved by God, how God used Joseph's interest in peepstones to train him to listen to the Spirit, etc). And with every issue I came across, there was always some way to interpret or explain the data in a way that was favorable to Joseph. That was until I came to the Book of Abraham. After 6 months of studying all apologetic and critical and original sources, I had to face the fact that there was no workable hypothesis
that sustained Joseph that did not ignore data. The Book of Abraham was not only not a translation, in all likelihood it was not a revelation, and the evidence points to it being a knowing fraud by Joseph.

Well, that shook me to the core. This wasn't some "prophets are imperfect" situation. This was the chosen leader of this dispensation while acting in the office of prophet, seer, revelator, and spokesman for God, at a time when he is supposed to be as in tune with God as ever, purposefully fabricates false scripture that has been cannonized and accepted by the whole Church. I had previously had a spiritual witness that the Book of Abraham was what Joseph claimed it to be. This witness met all the requirements that we have been taught to be a true revelation and not some feeling I had created and mistook for the Spirit. Presumably there would be many members, even Presidents of the Church that had had the same witness, and yet I now knew that we had all been duped for the BoA is not anything close to what it is purported to be. This is not to say that it does not contain passages that can be meaningful and give comfort to people, but that does not make it scripture.

So, at minimum, I had to conclude that the experiences that I had previously called the Spirit were unreliable as a method for discovering truth, not only for me, but apparently for modern day prophets as well. This is not to say that those feelings are wrong every time, but I could not tell when they were right and when they were wrong (and apparently neither could anyone else), so they should not be relied on. I thought back on the many personal experiences I had had when I interpreted the Spirit as telling me something and I was wrong. For example, on my mission I was certain through a powerful spiritual witness that when I blessed a convert of mine she would be healed of her endometriosis; or another time when I just knew by the Spirit that I would marry a particular girl. Neither thing happened. These things happen all the time in the church but we right them off as lack of faith or hormones or whatever. What if we did not find some excuse for them but stare them square in the face?

Those were big struggles for me at the time; I doubted myself after they happened and concluded that I was out of tune or did something unworthy to make the prompting not come true. But, now when I reconsidered those experiences, maybe I had not done anything wrong or was out of tune, maybe this unreliable Spirit never speaks to anyone and it is all in our heads. So, I tried out that theory. What if the Spirit isn't real? Can I account for everything in a purely naturalistic world? I found that I could. I have never come across any hard physical evidence that does not have a potential natural explanation. Now, is that explanation the right one, sometimes we may never know because we cannot cross-examine or replicate in a controlled environment. I have found tons of problems with interpreting reality with a supernatural component. I find the naturalistic view much safer and will stick with it, until compelled by evidence that naturalism is incapable of accounting for all observations. I don't want to be fooled again or taken advantage of by opportunistic charlatans that claim access to supernatural worlds.


Anonymous said...

The Bible talks about the gift of discernment as a means for interpreting spiritual meaning. The desire to believe often times can dull and overwhelm plain common sense. As a believer who believes in the spiritual gifts, I often get frustrated with the misuse and abuse and manipulation that can occur.

Hüffenhardt said...

Thanks for your comment. I no longer believe in spiritual gifts, but like you, I also get frustrated by manipulation attempts.

johdan said...

It's my testimony that your 'epiphany' resonates so strongly with the human condition you should expand and write a book.

What you've written reminds me of the best-seller, "Eat Pray Love".

dlowther said...

I take an institute class in Mesa, Arizona from a teacher who worked with and was a neighbor to Nibley. He can read many ancient languages and has done many investigations for the Church including tracing the papyri that the Book of Abraham came from back to the Egyptian tomb that they came from. This is what he might say about the external proofs to the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses:

1. The original amount of papyri that Joseph had was enough to cover the floor of the Mansion House parlor. What the Church currently has could only cover a sacrament table area. Much went missing in the turmoil of Nauvoo.
2. The work that Joseph translated from the papyri for the Book of Abraham agrees very well with the recent discoveries in the Naghmadi Library finds and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
3. There is one story in the Book of Moses about a man named Mahijah (Moses6:39-40) that is in no other works except in the Book of Enoch from the Dead Sea Scrolls. In that book it tells of Mahijah seeking the answer of who is Enoch as the giants in the land were so afraid of Enoch that they compelled the Mahijah to ask Enoch questions. How could Joseph have made that one up 140 years prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Catholic priest who translated this particular part of the Dead Sea Scrolls did not want to answer Nibley’s question about the story of Mahijah and said he had no idea how Joseph Smith could have come up with the name and the story.
4. Facsimile #2 was damaged and missing the upper right hand corner of it. This type of record was commonly found inside a sarcophagi facing the dead person. They tell of the plan of salvation. They are usually different from each other. One of the criticisms has been the fact that this facsimile does not perfectly match others – but most of them do not match each other. However, Joseph had to tell the wood cutter how to fill in the missing part of the upper right corner. This institute teacher in his quest to find the true history of the papyri (Michael Chandler lied as he did not really own the papyri but had borrowed them so had no right to sell them) led him to be able to search through many libraries and museums in France, Italy and Egypt many ancient manuscripts. In doing so, he did find one that was exactly the same as the facsimile 2 that had never been published. Again, most do not agree with each other but Joseph had correctly completed our facsimile to agree with another one. How did he do that?
5. Temple texts are in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
6. There is much more…

Beyond the external truths are the truths that we gain from spiritual witness. Please do not dampen or doubt these because you temporarily feel you have found reason to logically doubt. There are knowledge answers to all if you diligently seek them but that will not save you or bring you joy. The spiritual journey the gospel brings is much more fulfilling than a quest to prove or disprove Joseph Smith. Continue on the spiritual journey within the gospel and you will find happiness and peace that you can not find in any other way.

In my experience spiritual gifts are two edged swords that can bring great beauty but also great challenges into your life. Do not deny them just because you cannot always understand with your brain. The heart is often a much clear eye.

Stephen said...

The preceding comment was left by my soon-to-be-ex-wife. I sent her an email regarding your post. I am sure she is earnest in what she says, but there really needs to be some background given here.

Like many TBMs, she has a distinct tendency to go into denial mode. In fact, her Mormon Denial Mechanism (the ability to suppress cognitively dissonant dichotomies) has at times left me in awe. This unfortunately also has dealt with ethical situations that has left me with a keen sense of disappointment in her.

This is the email I wrote her concerning her post:
Do you have ANY documentation on this or is he just supposed to take yours and Porter's word for it? As they are, your claims can only be viewed as faith promoting assertions with no foundation whatsoever. Unfortunately, critics of the Church are painfully aware that the "Lying for the Lord" phenomenon is disturbingly rife throughout the Church's history, particularly its early history. This fact can be easily documented with mountains of evidence, and was even addressed in a talk by Dallin Oaks on how prevalent it was in early Church history especially about polygamy. (If you need documentation for this claim, I would be glad to provide it for you. However, I have already shown you several examples of it that upset you. Nevertheless, if you want the documentation, just ask.)

However, for now you can view this by Jim Day, PhD: I particularly like Jim Day's website because he often includes an apologist's response.

Stephen said...

Remarkable claims like you are making, Dianne, require solid verification. Nibley has been largely debunked because an extraordinary amount of his sources, most notably the sources for his foot notes in his books, have proven to be entirely non-existent. In short, the venerable Hugh Nibley simply made them up. His daughter, Dr. Martha Beck, addresses this well-known and embarrassing fact in her book. Unfortunately from what I have seen, Nibley's camp carries on this obfuscating tradition practiced in the Church of "Lying for the Lord". In that Bro. Porter is squarely in Nibley's camp and that he seems to want to be identified as a scholar, he should be aware of the necessity and importance of validating his sources. To date, I have seen nothing from him in the way of substantiation. This includes his website from what I remember in last viewing it. Porter seems to be a congenial sort, earnest and quite intelligent, but his scholarship has not impressed me.

Apologists are more than notorious for making claims they can't back up. That is why when I was an apologist, that I was ethically forced to become a critic. However, sometimes critics of the Church are loose with the facts as well. I would never have made any important decisions about the Church without going directly to the source. Thankfully, most (say, 90%) of the sources used by critics can be found in Church publications. As you have presented here, I suggest your own standards could use more rigor. I would love to eat my words here, however. All you have to do is ask Bro. Porter to produce verifiable references and I will provide my own fork and salt & pepper shakers.

Stephen said...

Dianne claims:
*** Beyond the external truths are the truths that we gain from spiritual witness. Please do not dampen or doubt these because you temporarily feel you have found reason to logically doubt. There are knowledge answers to all if you diligently seek them but that will not save you or bring you joy. The spiritual journey the gospel brings is much more fulfilling than a quest to prove or disprove Joseph Smith. Continue on the spiritual journey within the gospel and you will find happiness and peace that you can not find in any other way.***

Thomas Jefferson said:
"Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck." -
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." - 1 Thessalonians 5:21

It is unfortunate that you and many others have surrendered your reason to endorphin induced "feel good" claims of divinity. I have felt these in abundance as well. However, those of us who have the courage to self-scrutinize have found good feelings to be very unreliable. You yourself stated that Heavenly Father told you to marry me for time and eternity, yet you are seeking a divorce which is expressly in violation of the covenants you made in the temple. It seems the TBM attitude is do what feels good, and Heavenly Father will let you find exceptions to the rules as convenience dictates.

You seemed to ignore Hüffenhardt's thesis that "spiritual witness" is unreliable. You have given him reassurances that a "spiritual witness" feels good. However, is something true just because it feels good? A child's belief in Santa Claus is promoted by adults because it feels good and is even fulfilling to the child, but it is still a socially acceptable lie. No matter how good it feels to the child or how much she believes it, it is still a lie.

Should not our emotions be the results of our logical choices rather than the reverse?

Another link by Jim Day, PhD. (He actually quotes me here towards the bottom.):

I can tell you now, you are a long, long ways from understanding this young man. He has heard what you have said a hundred times as he was raised just like you were, except he was able to discern something wrong. I am confident you have no understanding of Mormon epistemology. If you want to understand him, to be able to reach him, you need to understand his point-of-view. Bob McCue, a former Bishop, Stake President and practicing attorney wrote a very interesting, very scholarly treatise on the subject. A little study here will give you the tools to be able communicate intelligently with Hüffenhardt, the young man whose blog you commented on:

Another piece of writing by the same author that is very relevant: