Monday, October 10, 2011

Oh Say, What is Truth?

I was the perfect student. Whether it was primary, Sunday school, Young Women, Relief Society, or seminary, I could tell you the exact answers.  On top of that, I had nearly all the scripture mastery verses memorized by the time I was 14 AND I had started reading Jesus the Christ and all others sorts of wonderful side-along books.

When things didn't quite add up, or I felt uncomfortable with certain scientific/anthropological evidence, I would hide them under a blanket--like a child embarrassed by the mess they made.  I figured that everything would work out in the Next Life.

This lasted until this past January.  To learn more about my religion--because I wanted to be a better church member--I began reading articles and other related essays on the Book of Mormon.  I also started brushing up on my American Indian historical facts.  In about 3 days, I went from a powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon's truthfulness, to an overpowering sense of betrayal.  The book that I have defended for so many years has far too many flaws when it comes to it's claims of being a historical record for me to accept it as an inspired text--at least in the way I had believed for so long.  As there is an immense amount of information out there--many of it not anti-Mormon (despite common belief) as it comes from anthropologists and other scientists who are studying the native american culture and who have no vested interest in what Mormons believe or don't believe--regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon, I will not attempt to lay out everything I have learned.  Instead, I want to focus on my journey into disbelief.

In the previous paragraph, I mentioned that I wanted to learn more about my religion.  It goes further than that, at the time I began researching historical aspects of the Mormon church, I was going through a major crisis of faith.  I was praying, reading, and listening to General conference podcasts like no other person could believe.  It was not working.  I could not shove uncomfortable questions away; so, to alleviate my stress, I began doing what I do best when faced with tough questions: research.

Applying the research techniques and critical analysis skills I had learned at Brigham Young University (BYU), I read through countless research articles from both apologists and seekers of truth (who were usually believing members) on the Book of Mormon.  Each presented clear arguments, but the apologists often went against teachings of the Brethren (i.e. quorum of the 12 and the first presidency) which led to further angst as I realized I needed to choose between the church's hard stance on the truthfulness of the BoM or I needed to go with my gut and accept the conclusions from decades of research.  As I have never been one to side with falsehoods, I chose science.

As with all choices that lead one away from their upbringing, this hasn't been an easy exit.  I am very happy with my conclusions, but I am still working out what I learned as a child with what I know as an adult and trying very hard to not feel bitter toward the half-truths and outright lies I learned in various church forums.  Naturally, answers beget questions and these are some rhetorical questions I have written down in my journal (the audience varies for whom these questions focus on).
If you have read the BoM, do you have a testimony of it's truthfulness (in the claims it puts forth)?  And why/why not?  

Would you agree/disagree with my consensus that the BoM, with its outright declaration of white being "fair and delightsome" is an inherently racist book that propagated the horrible belief from the 19th century (and before) of the white race being the most advanced in all areas of development?

And, finally, is there a place for me, with my very doubting heart, in the Mormon church if I don't believe the BoM is a sacred and true text?  If I look at it like I see the bible: a wonderful story that has many applicable lessons with beautiful analogies but very limited historical accuracy? If so, do you think I would ever be allowed into the temple in the future since I cannot answer all the questions (regarding my testimony) with an honest yes/no?  

I know many people have read the Book of Mormon and I am curious as to how you would respond to these questions.  I ask these not with ill intent, but because I really want to know.  If you are a true believing Mormon, please answer without defensiveness, believing in the Book of Mormon has probably helped you more than harmed you and I find your spirituality an important piece to who you are; however, do not ask me to read/pray/fast more for answers.  I have done that part.  Right now, I am trying to frame my upbringing with a positive light and seeking to understand those whose testimonies I once relied on especially if they have thought about these issues as much as I have.

Outside Sources

Institute for Religious Research (Specifically the article Lamanites No More)

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Specifically the article Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events)


  1. 1. Yes. I have a deep and abiding testimony that the Book of Mormon teaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a book that proclaims truths that I find beautiful and lovely. Man is saved by grace after all that they can do. We have a loving Heavenly Father who allows us to hurt so we can feel joy, who allows us trials so we can grow through our experiences. Jesus Christ suffered through the Atonement for me as an individual so that I could repent in this life of my sins and not have to atone for them after I die, so I can live with a Father who loves me. This is not because I am clinging desperately to have hope. It is because I studied it out in my mind and knew it to be true in its teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in both my heart and mind. None of the authors/prophets in the Book of Mormon we

    re perfect, but neither did they claim to be.

  2. Stupid phone. Sorry.

    2. Those who used parts of this books to uphold their rascist beliefs were just rascist individuals. In my opinion, if you are going to look for rascist things, you are going to find them. For me, most descriptions iin the Book of Mormon are used symbolically. Scientifically, white is the presence of all colors in the light spectrum while black is the absence. Symbols. They're everywhere. My college degree is English, so I was trained to find them in all writings. Symbolism adds to meaning because it gives individuals the right to process them at the level of their understanding. So when I see the word "fair" I see in my mind's eye somebody who radiates the light of Christ. When people use it as a way to excuse their bigotry, I am quick to shut them down before they continue in my presence. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon that says "God loves all His children, unless __________." No. Whatever rascism or bigotry prevailed is solely from the frailty of the human mind.

    3. I don't hang my testimony on whether or not the conjectures of place, genetics or other scientific/historical

  3. Community's current finding is. There could be another discovery or theory that disproves what was proven yesterday. Science is about discovery and disproving last year's theory if necessary. I don't know. I love science and history, but there is so much we don't know yet that keeps getting discovered. I think i'd be a nervous wreck if I only relied on something so inconstant. Well, gravity seems pretty reliable. But I don't think that disproves my belief.

  4. 3 (cont). As for you and the Church? Well, I don't see that you can't go and I'm sure there are plenty of people who share similar doubts. And as far as temple worship goes, I think that is really between you and God. Don't you? That's not really something I feel comfortable passing judgement on.

    Good luck. Just try not to go all anti because I prefer open-minded discussion that you currently try to promote. :)

    Sorry for the multiple comment. My phone is super lame.

  5. Thank you, Tay! I don't feel like what I am saying is anti because it has been my journey. Sometimes I have anger/bitterness that flows out, but it ISN'T from the church. It's from working out everything that I have been taught versus how I feel now. That is where I am struggling.

    As for you answers--I am so glad that you have come to these conclusions. Science is based on theory, that is a fact (hah!), however if we didn't agree with these theories--like gravity or the rotation of the planets around the sun--we can, ultimately, forget how many years it came for scientists to conclude what they have. Yet, scientists will tell you that they are constantly working to discover new knowledge based on the theories they have now. If they didn't have a foundations, they would be struggling in the dark. So they base their research on certain fundamental principles (the movement of molecules through different media for instance) because otherwise we would have a hodge podge of theories that don't conclude anything. But that is beside the point because I see what you are saying and I understand where you are coming from.

    The basis for this post came from the constant criticism I receive from people telling me to read the scriptures more or what not. It bothers me because my conclusions have been SO different from yours and theirs and reading the scriptures just make things even harder--if that makes sense. However, I think their conclusions are great and I wouldn't tell them to search their heart for different answers--you know? So I appreciate your honesty and I also appreciate that you don't tell me I am wrong for my conclusions. : )

  6. I do have a testimony of the BOM, and I have faith that Jesus Christ lives and loves us. Every single one of us is important. None moreso than another. We are all children of God and we are all blessed with talents and gifts and we are also all blessed with agency. We choose how we live on this Earth and we choose which paths we take. My love of others is not dependent upon their race, or religion and I respect and value the opinion of others. You know how much I love photography, and life behind my camera has taught me that if I change the way I see things, the things I see will change. I truly believe that life is based on our perspective. It's based on the way we look at things, and if we're looking for something whether it's positive or negative we will find it. I could analyze things forever, but my upbringing was very different from yours. I didn't grow up in the gospel. I didn't grow up knowing all the answers or being the perfect primary student, and I still struggle to fit in as an adult in church because I don't feel I have all the knowledge that everyone else does, but my heart tells me that I do have a Heavenly Father that cares for me deeply. I have had sacred spiritual experiences in my life that I cannot deny. People in the church aren't perfect, but I know that doing whatever I need to do to make my family eternal is necessary for me. My testimony is based on my own experiences in conjunction with the BOM, and I know that having that right to choose to believe what I do is my gift just as it is yours. I respect who you are, and I respect your struggle. I will not tell you to pray, fast, etc... As you said, you have already done that and I believe that you will find your answer. All I ask is that you consider everything and all angles. Sounds like you are doing that, and no matter what choice you make know that you are loved by many. :)

  7. Hi Amber,

    You don’t know me (your husband taught my husband the missionary discussions), but I just came across your blog and felt the need to answer your questions from my personal experience. Please know that my heart completely goes out to you. I have been in a similar place, so I am not here to judge or tell you what to do. I just want to share a bit of my story and the answers I found for myself.

    Yes, I have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. In fact, it is my testimony of the Book of Mormon that kept me holding on through my own crisis of faith that almost caused me to leave the church.

    I grew up in the church, extremely active and valiant and believing I had a very strong testimony. But as a young adult, I struggled with depression and struggled to feel the Spirit, I had some heartbreaking experiences that devastated me at the time, and I had many, many questions. I attended BYU for a few semesters right out of high school and then attended a state university in Southern California, where I was taught many things that seemed to contradict my religious beliefs. I had more questions. I had a lot of doubts. I couldn’t seem to find answers. I prayed and prayed, I did my best to live the gospel, I kept going to church and acting like I was okay, but inside I often felt like my faith had been shattered.

    This went on for several years. There were many times when I felt like giving up and walking away from the church. If the church was true, why couldn’t I find answers? Why was I so miserable? Did God really want me to live my life feeling this way?

    Through all of this, every time I felt like I was about to give up, I would always end up going back to my testimony of the Book of Mormon. With all the doubts and questions that I had, I knew in my heart that The Book of Mormon was true. How? That is difficult to put into words. To say that I felt it in my heart, to say that I felt strength and power that came into my life when I read… I know that all sounds trite to somebody else. I know that doesn’t “prove” anything. It isn’t something I can prove. But it is something that is real and undeniable to me. (continued below...)

  8. 1) I thought I had an experience confirming its truth as a teenager, but have since disregarded it as a wishful interpretation. The real message was: "it's good," whatever that's supposed to mean. I've taken the meaning to be that reading it and about its history gives insight into humanity, which is good.

    2) I think there's certainly inherent racism in the BoM. There are also issues of gender, authority, and privilege. On the flip side, a record of archaic biases can help individuals see contemporary biases as well. It just requires the right lighting.

    3) I make a place for myself in the Mormon church, even though I'm not a straight-up TBM. I'll never say "I know the BoM is true." But I do have a testimony of it, since I can testify of its merits and divinity. (I can also testify about the divinity of various fictional novels...) And if they let someone like me be an ordinance worker in the temple, I know there's a place for you.

  9. (continuing my thoughts...long comments require being broken up, I guess)

    This is the approach I took when I was faced with questions about/challenges of the Book of Mormon and as I have run into other questions through the years. I am not afraid to engage the questions, but am unwilling to dismiss the spiritual answers and experiences I have had in my life. In being true to what I *do* know, I find myself more able to 1) accept what I don't yet know and 2) allow space for the tension with things that don't yet make sense 3) figure out what questions are worth shelving or not focusing on at all.

    To expand on #3, I have come to believe that not all questions and not all information are of equal value. I think part of the challenge of asking questions is figuring out what questions to ask, and how to ask them, and also sorting through all the information and resources available in a quest for truth. To me, truth builds on itself and also opens up more questions that then open up more truth. It's an exciting upward spiral process that also reinforces the reality of God (this is what truth means to me). To me, truth has a feel to it that excites and invites me to learn and grow and be better, and also builds on past experiences with truth. Some questions and some information, in my experience, have the opposite effect, although that isn't always obvious at the outset. I'm reminded of the scripture in 1 Tim. 3:7 warning of "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." I looooove to learn, and so this distinction is important to me:, and has been verified in my life: Learning itself is not necessarily going to lead to truth. And the more experience I have with what truth tastes like, the less inclined I am to spend time with questions that don't lead to such fruits.

    Anyway, them's some of my thoughts and experience with this. Best to you in your continued journey, friend.

  10. You've shared several times that you never questioned things in the church until after you were married. I remember my own moment of realization that everything I had been taught growing up may not actually be true. As a child, I had accepted every notion that came out of an Mormon's adult mouth to be truth. It wasn't until the summer before we met that I began to question a few things. Some realizations didn't bother me very much, others took considerable time to adjust to. But I do remember the one that struck me to the core. I was in Iceland (3 years after we had met) and was teaching the English Sunday School class about keeping the Sabbath Day holy. On our way home, I asked Xan about working on Sunday. I shared that I had always been confused by the teachings. I knew it was okay for doctors and nurses to work on Sunday, but then I knew it wasn't okay to work on Sunday. How could these two principles co-exist in God's teachings. My husband looked at me and said simply that God never said we couldn't work on Sunday. I was FURIOUS! "How can you say that?!" I exclaimed. "It's taught everywhere!" "No, it isn't. There is no law that says we can't work on Sunday. Only that we should keep the Sabbath Day Holy. How we do that is up to us and God." "I'll prove it as soon as we get home!" I was racking with rage, doubt, surety, and all sorts of conflicting emotion. I wouldn't even talk to him the rest of the way home because I was so distraught by what he had said. This principle had been something I had stored away as an absolute truth. Something that had been taught to me more times than I could remember. Something I had never thought to question because I knew it was true.

    We got home. I ran to my laptop. I searched. And found nothing. Tears streaming down my face, I turned to Xan and said, "It can't not be there. It's got to be there!" I don't remember how long I kept searching. It was the majority of the day, though. And by the end of it, my testimony was SHAKEN. Not my testimony in the church per se, but my testimony in everything anyone had ever taught me. Parents, Young Women leaders, Seminary teachers, ect. I was ANGRY at them. I remember asking Xan how I was supposed to know if anything I knew were true. He asked me why I was so shaken. He had seen much smaller versions of my behavior when other realizations had happened, but nothing like this. I explained to him that I had never thought to question when so many local leaders had told me to not work on Sunday. If this wasn't true, how many other things did I believe without question actually SHOULD be questioned. Where was I even supposed to start??? Reaching out with concern and sympathy, he said simply, "Right here. You start by studying the scriptures and the words of the prophets today and you learn from them." It took a few days, having that ADHD hyperfocus not letting me think of anything else, but I gradually was able to accept, with some semblance of calmness, that maybe not everything I had been taught was true, and life was still okay.

    Since then, I question ALL THE TIME. There are still MANY things that don't make sense to me. Or things that I can't quite make up my mind on what is right. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not black and white in the way we think. So many things are based on personal revelation, personal circumstances, cultural influences, and intent of heart. Even Nephi struggles after killing King Laban. He knows that God commanded him to do it yet, you can hear him still trying to understand how it fits in God's law as he's writing down the story YEARS later. I find my peace in holding on to the threads I know are true and wait for the day that it all makes sense and I can see the world from God's perspective.

  11. 1) Yes, I do have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. I grew up in the church and am unsure when I really came to know. Only that a couple of times a year, I find myself sitting back from my study and thinking, "I really believe this, don't I?" And somewhere deep down, I know that I do.

    2) I agree with a previous response that people will find whatever they are looking for in whatever book they are reading. Racism is a subject that I will never fully understand. To me, people are people. I believe that God feels the same way. We are his children. They are all important to him, regardless of race, gender, social status, ect. What does matter are our actions. God judges us by the intents of our hearts rather than our skin. It is man that has created racism. I also second that science is man's knowledge and changes all the time. Scientific knowledge today could be completely different tomorrow. God's word is the same today and forever. Sometimes science helps to explain God's laws, such as gravity. Sometimes science gives a reasonable idea of how things may be, like evolution... it could be possible. And other times, science is completely proven wrong, such as the world being flat.

    On an interesting note, when God speaks to his people, he speaks to them as they understand the world. God always speaks in terms of the world being flat in the Bible because that is how most people viewed it to be, with the 4 corners of the world. Though, He never actually says the world is flat. Just uses the metaphors to make His word easier to understand. My husband, the astronomer, explains it better but it is really fascinating to see.

    3) ABSOLUTELY YES, there is a place for you in the church. God does not expect unquestioning belief. He simply asks that we have faith upon the things we DO know are true. Just last Sunday, I heard a beautiful testimony about someone who shared her conversion story. She said that the church had interested her because she had a good friend who was a Mormon and admired her happiness and the choices she made in her life. This friend invited her to hear from the missionaries. She accepted on the premise that she could simply ask questions and learn about the religion but was very firm that she was not interested in becoming a Mormon. The missionaries gave her a Book of Mormon and asked her to read it. She said she'd get around to it. Seeing the Book of Mormon as a research tool, she began reading the stories. She found it interesting and thought it taught good principles, but she couldn't see it as a true, historical account and the actual word of God. That is, until she came to the story of Ammon. Something sparked inside of her. She ran to her friend and demanded another meeting with the missionaries, having refused any further meetings before. She told them that she couldn't say the book was true but somehow, she knew Ammon had existed. She knew he had been a prophet. She knew, if nothing else, that THAT story were true. It took her several more years before she was able to believe enough to commit to baptism. For years, her whole testimony was based on her one thread of knowledge: Ammon was real and had been a prophet of God. Slowly, she said, she had been able to add more threads of knowledge that she leaned on when she came across doubts, unanswered questions, and things that just didn't make sense to her. So yes, I do believe that there is a place for you in the church, with or without more than a thread of belief or even a hope to believe.


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