Why Typical Exit Stories Don’t Bother My Faith (Much)

I have had the opportunity to read several exit stories of ex or disaffected church members in recent years.  While I am bothered by the pain the individuals appear to have gone through, and the pain they are causing others whom they share these stories with, I am not bothered by the content of these stories very much.

I expressed in a recent post how many of these exit stories sound almost exactly alike.  This post was viewed a lot without much comment.  What little comments there were did not deny the ‘template’ nature of these exit stories (the similarities are so complete that they really do seem like plagiarism), they merely point out that believers are often guilty of using templates themselves.  This has some truth to it, but it is somewhat beside the point.

Since these exit stories are so template-like they are fairly easy to categorize.  And after reading a couple of recent examples, I have observed that they follow a common argument:

P1 – If the church is true and lead by prophets it must be absolutely perfect in every respect.

P2 – There are examples (history, practices, teachings, etc.) that show imperfections.

C – The church is neither true nor lead by prophets.

My rejection of the argument is based on premise 1.  Why must prophets and apostles, or the church they lead, be absolutely perfect in every respect?  Any claim from scripture to this is a bizarre over interpretation and ignores scriptural examples to the contrary.  Holding such an impossible standard makes prophets into being much more than human beings, which is simply unreasonable.

These template exit stories make such a claim to reason, yet I find their basic argument fundamentally unreasonable.  To restate it – Any flaw, or set of flaws, or perceived flaws, associated with the church at all means that the church is neither true, nor lead by prophets.  This seems so unreasonable, unscriptural, and unoriginal, that the argument does not bother me much.

In fairness, this does beg the question of just how many flaws can there be and still maintain a credible claim to truth or authority?  I suppose what some would call a tipping point in the number or type of flaws might vary.  But I would say that much depends on where your faith/testimony lies.  I have faith in the existence of God, Christ as Savior, the Book of Mormon as an inspired text, and the restoration of priesthood authority.  None of this is based in the least on perfection from human beings, or an organization that they run.  So I feel my tipping point would be extremely high, and perhaps even non-existent.  Which is why the content of these templates does not bother me very much.

In What Way is the Gospel for Everyone?

In my participation in online gospel discussion I often come across the claim that the gospel is for everyone.  It is usually invoked in the context of criticizing the church or its’ members for not being inclusive enough in their acceptance of a wide enough range of beliefs and behaviors.  Taken to logical conclusions, this would lead to a doctrine of anything goes, where all beliefs and behaviors are equally valued and embraced.  While I do believe that the gospel is for everyone, I do not believe that a radical inclusion of any belief or behavior is what the Savior had in mind when he described his straight and narrow way that few will find.

To me, participation in the gospel is based on the individual being willing to change in order to follow its’ teachings.  This comes through faith, being born again, putting off the natural man, repentance, etc.  It does not come from demanding that the Savior change His teachings to include your erroneous beliefs and sinful behaviors.

Certainly the church and its’ members should be kind and welcoming to all.  We should also be patient as fellow saints and those who are considering becoming such work on their discipleship.  We should acknowledge that some people have unique circumstances that may make some aspects of gospel living difficult.  Our invitation to follow Christ should be universally extended to all.  And we should be sure the invitation is to follow Christ and his teachings, not to follow a radically inclusive wide and broad path.

Why Do So Many Exit Stories Sound Alike?

Like many, I have had the experience of reading a few exit story letters of people leaving the Mormon Church.  Most of these come from people I don’t know directly through social media and the like.  I am sure that there are folks who feel quite sincere, and are open and honest in their explanations.  It also seems reasonable that many people will have similar reasons for leaving the church.  But it seems suspiciously odd to me that so many of these stories sound exactly alike.  It is enough to make one wonder if there are sample letters or templates out there for individuals to base their letters on.

There are such templates – a simple google search reveals.  And unsurprisingly they read just like the few exit stories I have read.

Intellectual integrity is a common appeal in almost all such letters, which seems a tad ironic in a letter that borders on plagiarism.  And it is difficult to take the list of grievances seriously, when the list reads like many other lists containing the same old criticisms that have been addressed well and often.

Again, I am sure people have their reasons for wanting to leave, and I am also sure these reasons will overlap.  But it would be more interesting to read if these letters had some originality to them.  Following the templates takes the shine off whatever sincerity or integrity they would like to express.

Sheldon Cooper and the Immortality and Eternal Life of Man

I was recently watching a re-run of the television show ‘Big Bang Theory’.  In this episode, Sheldon Cooper (the genius theoretical physicist who likely has something like Asperger Syndrome), regrets that he will likely die before sheldonscientists figure out how to transfer his consciousness into a robot so that he can live forever.

Sheldon, among other things, is something of an atheist who frequently ridicules his mother’s devout Christian faith.  And while he has legitimate questions about some aspects of her fundamentalist (likely Southern Baptist) beliefs, he seems oblivious to his own version of faith in man’s science.

His hope is not significantly different from the Christian hope of immortality and eternal life.  He acknowledges that there is something real yet mysterious about our conscious self.  He assumes that this consciousness is eternal in its ‘ nature.  And he hopes that if this consciousness can be transferred to a permanent body, then immortality will be his to enjoy.

This hope is not unlike the Christian hope in a resurrection, where our spirits can be transferred to a permanent body.  And while Sheldon has faith that someday mankind will figure out how to pull this feat off, his mother, and Christians everywhere, has faith that there already is something of a master scientist who already has it figured out.

Taylor Petrey and the Boundaries of a Generous Orthodoxy

Through the wonders of the Mormon blog world I came across Taylor Petrey.  Taylor has recently landed a job at Harvard.  It is something like a visiting professor and research associate of Women’s Studies in Religion.  It really is a wonderful opportunity to have a fellow Mormon in such a position.

I would hope that someone in such a position would in many ways follow the example of one of my heroes, Truman Madsen.  Brother Madsen had serious Philosophical chops, yet I never felt that Brother Madsen was trying to steer the church in some new direction.  He seemed to take Mormonism as-is, and express its’ powerful ideas in positive ways.  I would hope that Brother Petrey would follow in such footsteps.

Yet after reviewing a couple of recent papers by Petrey, I am afraid that this may not be the case.  His articles, ‘Toward a Post Heterosexual Mormon Theology’, and ‘Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother’ are the stuff of advocating fundamental change to Mormonism’s doctrines and teachings.

In the first article, Petrey’s basic argument is:

P1  Heavenly Father does not need to have sexual intercourse to create spirit bodies.  (Edit-a way of saying spirit bodies are not offspring of eternal parents.)

P2  We already seal same-sex people together in our temples (fathers to sons for example)

P3. Gender is not an eternal purpose or characteristic

C.  There is no reason we cannot seal and exalt homosexuals as homosexuals

I feel that the basic argument is unsound and invalid since I do not accept any premise, and because the conclusion is not demanded by them even if they were accepted.

The second article seems to me to not be so much of an argument, as a call to action, since previous discussion on Heavenly Mother has not been inclusive enough for feminists and the LGBT community.

In the second article, Petrey expresses a desire to further the discussion within ‘the boundaries of a generous orthodoxy’.  This phrase seems to be an absurd paradox to me, and is likely the stuff of positive spin.  What one calls a generous orthoxy, another may call making stuff up to advance your cause.

I am sincere when I feel like congratulating Brother Petrey on his new gig.  It really is an amazing opportunity and an admirable accomplishment.  I hope that we can look back someday and see that Taylor has had a positive influence on the world.  But I do have a concern about what appears to me to be advocating for fundamental changes in the church, and drawing something of a following after himself.  Some people would suggest a term for that type of thing, and it is not ‘generous orthodoxy’.


Why Should We Trust Anything on Family Search?

In some recent playing around, I found that on Family Search there is a direct line all the way back to Adam and Eve.  I have also found that I am a descendant of Jesus Christ through one of his children.  I don’t really believe any of this.

I have long felt that the criteria for entering names into things like Family Search is a ridiculously low bar, and that people can submit ‘information’ based on almost nothing.  It also seems that Family Search and similar data bases are so open sourced (if that is the right term), that anyone can get in and do whatever they care to do.  This would seem to include sabotage, or just goofing around.

With these possibilities I wonder if any of us should trust anything on Family Search or similar sites.  Am I over reacting to this?  Should there be something done to verify what people submit?

Consciousness: I Think, Therefore God Exists

I have been struck recently by the phenomenon that we all experience called consciousness. It really is quite a remarkable thing. If all we are is matter and chemical reactions, then where does consciousness come from? Why should individual elements which have no consciousness combine in just such a way that consciousness emerges? This is a very curious thing which gets into the philosophy of the mind, and I feel it must stay in the realm of philosophy, since there is little if anything that any science can say about it. In the 1989 International Dictionary of Psychology Stuart Sutherland wrote “Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon; it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.”

I have felt that consciousness could be used as an argument for the existence of God. Perhaps instead of ‘I think therefore I am’ one might also say, ‘I think therefore God exists’. After doing a quick search I come to find out that there is an Argument From Consciousness. From the Wikipedia entry:

Genuinely nonphysical mental states exist.
There is an explanation for the existence of mental states.
Personal explanation (PE) is different from natural scientific explanation (NSE).
The explanation for the existence of mental states is either a PE or a NSE.
The explanation is not an NSE.
Therefore the explanation is a PE.
If the explanation is PE, it is theistic.
Therefore, the explanation is theistic.

This basic argument is that a theistic explanation is a better explanation for consciousness than a naturalistic one. This seems quite compelling to me, and it surprises me that I have not heard more of this argument. What do you think about the strength of this argument?


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