Truth be told, I've never written to someone based upon their web page, but yours is just too good.
My name's Garett Jones, and I'm 25. I was quite active in the church during high school and at BYU. I actually had a lot of great intellectual experiences within the LDS church. I'm sure other people have had bad experiences with LDS leaders, but mine, almost without exception, encouraged me to read widely on the issues of Mormonism. I argued about LDS theology a lot, both with my Mormon and non-Mormon friends. My high point was when Dr. Walter Martin, radio's "Bible Answer Man" and author of "The Maze of Mormonism," hung up on me on live radio. I read a lot of anti-Mormon and academic writings about the church, but was never really troubled by many of the issues that a lot of the people on your page seem to have been troubled by.
The temple ceremony, for example, struck me as just the kind of ritual that the God of Old Testament would come up with. And sure, the ceremony might be influenced heavily by Joseph Smith's immediate (Masonic) environment, but I'm sure Jesus wouldn't have made analogies about camels going through the eye of a needle if He had been born in England instead of the Middle East. The same principle applies elsewhere: Any intellecutal or historical problem that existed for Mormonism seemed to apply at least as strongly against Christianity or Judaism. This made Mormonism look less like the mere fraud that its opponents often claimed it was, and more like an authentic religious tradition. The LDS faith might turn out to be false, but it ranked no lower in intellectual respectability than the other monotheistic faiths.
I guess my point here is that part of the reason I stayed in Mormonism so long was that the people arguing against Mormonism were using such ridiculously bad arguments. I tried to find the most rigorous reasoning and the strongest research that opposed LDS theology, but the best they could come up with was stuff like horses in the Book of Mormon. It's so easy for a Latter-Day Saint to simply write the horse references off as either a slight mistranslation or a gap in current scientific knowledge that that kind of "evidence" wasn't worth the time of day to me. And for every horse problem there was something like Hugh Nibley's "Two Shots in the Dark" or Eugene England's work on Lehi's alleged travels across Saudi Arabia, apologetic works that made Mormon historical and theological claims look vaguely plausible. There were bright, thoughtful people on both sides of the Mormon apologetics divide, but the average IQ was definitely a couple of dozen points higher in the Mormon camp.
And despite the desire of many post-Mormons to believe that they were brainwashed in an especially thorough manner, I don't think that the bad reasoning used by many Mormons is any more egregious than the bad reasoning used by atheists or Republicans or feminists or whoever. Bad reasoning on critical issues -- and the reinforcement of bad reasoning by peer groups -- is a common human trait. I was never convinced, and am still unconvinced, that a religion is false solely because it has stupid people defending it. Some people are addicted to Mormonism, and others are addicted to reruns of "Welcome Back Kotter." But people give up both of them all the time. And remember, fewer than 50 percent of Mormons are active in the Church at any given time, so it can't be all that oppressive.
I would agree, though, that the Missionary Training Center fits a lot of the standard criteria for brainwashing and "cult"-type practices. In the MTC, free thought and free debate are strongly condemned, and contact with outsiders is strictly regulated. These are all traits common to so-called "cults." Of course, since you know what the rules are before you go there, you should decide before you become a missionary whether or not you believe in the Church. Sure, it's a big decision for a 19-year-old, but life is all about big decisions. This is just another one of them.
Anyway, I was a eventually a missionary too, but I decided after about four months out that I didn't believe in it. My reasons had a lot to do with the epistemology behind the concept of testimony, and it took me a long time to take care of all the intellectual loose ends. Basically, my problem was that I kept having "spiritual experiences" toward obviously non-Mormon ideas. The irony is that most of the non-Mormon stuff I read had been assigned in BYU classes. Eventually, I figured out that spiritual experiences were a completely inaccurate way of determining truth, and so I left my mission (By the way, I was supposed to go to Portugal, but was waiting for my visa in Sacramento when I decided I didn't believe in it).
My mission president in Sacramento was quite nice about it all, and he helped to get me a really cheap airfare home. It was only some of the other missionaries who were visibly angry. I think the event that pushed them over the edge was when I gave away my garments to one of the missionaries I liked the most (he also happened to be about my size). I told the Elders that I wouldn't be needing the garments any more, since the Church wasn't true. That did not go over well.
Since then, I've helped a bunch of my BYU roommates out of the realm of belief, as well as a couple of friends at Berkeley who kindly give me some credit for their post-Mormon status.
Hope you find some of this to be new and interesting. If you'd like to use any of it, feel free to edit at will, though I would like to retain credit for the invention of the term "post-Mormon." I'm told that the phrase is catching on in the Berkeley LDS community, as well as on a couple of liberal LDS mailing lists. These intellectual property issues get so crazy nowadays....
Thanks for your fascinating web page.
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