My thoughts in writing
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25-11-2017, 02:44 PM
My thoughts in writing
On the advice of another member here with whom I've shared my thoughts already, I thought that I would start this thread and maybe give some insight into who I am and what I am writing, to include my religious history and other thoughts I have been having over the course of my deconversion. As I write more, this thread will be updated as well.

Names will be changed and locations generalized for privacy. I don't know if I will ever be done with it, as I have a lot to write. I have been working on it for a couple of months now, taking breaks and revising/editing as I go.

And so... here goes :

Having been raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, I find it difficult to question even the basics tenets of religion. I completely understand how hard it can be to doubt anything that one was taught by parents, religious leaders, mentors, and extended family who all share the same views. Religion was so ingrained into my early life that the guilt, deep depression and anxiety that I feel with even just the thoughts of doubt have overwhelmed me at times to the point where I can no longer function.

I hate it. I absolutely hate having doubt. I wish I could just be happy and believe but I adamantly do not and I hate the fact that I was raised to believe anything like this. I hate feeling that because I am even having doubt, I could potentially be eternally damned to hell. I hate that I am essentially committing social suicide, losing friends, mentors, and even family members by publicly showing that I have doubted that which I was taught to believe. I hate the fact that billions of people around the world for thousands of years have all believed in one of many religions that controls your life, in one form or another, with the strong likelihood that most, if not all, have believed in vain. I hate the hypocrisy of it all, and I hate the fear, wars and conflicts that have destroyed, and relationships that have been destroyed because of it.

But... I’m absolutely fascinated by it.

I am truly fascinated by religion. I am fascinated by its origins, its history and what got us to this point. I am fascinated by the art, the books, the ideas. I have passionately researched everything I can think of. Doubt has led me to look for anything historical that can remotely be an inspiration for stories, people and traditions. History is written by the victors. Real history, if you can find it (the kind they avoid teaching in church), has opened my eyes in ways I could never have imagined.

For the context of this writing, I will focus on the subject of Christianity, and the Judeo-Christian God Yahweh. Also, strongly criticized in this writing is the version of Christianity I grew up with, Mormonism. Some of the points can be attributed to all religions, but mostly this book will focus on the claims made by the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and the Book of Mormon of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

I did not start this by seeking to disprove anything. In fact, it was quite the contrary. I was looking to prove the stories right, the people as real, and the histories as legitimate. It was only in my search did things reveal themselves to be quite different than anything I was expecting. The deeper I went, the more it proved itself to be all madness.

Do not be afraid to question. Question everything. Question yourself and question me. Question what you find in this writing, even (please, I encourage it!). Research for yourself, and come to your own conclusions. Nothing is real except what you perceive and allow to be.

Religion is not off limits to questioning. Just as one were to value and debate their political beliefs and stance on certain issues, religion needs criticism and debate as well.

Dare to ask the questions that you know are difficult to answer. Research. Research like you mean it, as passionately as you’ve ever researched anything in your life. This road is not easy - that is how those in charge have designed it to be - to discourage your questions, your desires, and even your control over your own life. Do not let anyone have that control except you.

My Story

In 1983, I was born in northeast Ohio, USA. Both my first and middle names show a biblical origin. Every sibling in my family followed the same name pattern in some form or another. This fact is obviously not all-inclusive of religious ideas in my family, but it starts to show already how important religion was (and is) to my parents.

Every Sunday we were at church, with very rare exception. We attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; we were otherwise known as Mormons. Church consisted of a Sacrament meeting, followed by talks and testimonies in the first hour. The second and third hours were “Sunday School” where tenets of faith were discussed, church leadership and management were organized, and plans were made for any mid-week meetings. Church typically let out around 1:00 pm, and most of the time we were starving as we had fasted since Saturday night (what the family would have spent on food between Saturday night and Sunday morning meals was to be a “fast offering” and was to be donated to the church). We were not supposed to do anything else on Sundays except church-related things, so I never really could keep up with my friends when they talked about that amazing football game that I missed. Instead, my time was spent reading scriptures, watching religious movies, and listening to religious music. If there was anything else on Sunday evening, it was at church once again for a “fireside” or “devotional” hour to tell divinely inspired stories and further our dedication to church. It was made very clear that Sunday was the day of the Lord.

Mondays were designated as “Family Home Evening” nights. After the day ended with school and work, the family would sit down together and have another hour or so discussion on the church and faith, scripture reading, prayer, and various other things. This was usually right after dinner, and then dessert would be right after Family Home Evening was over. We had to make it through FHE to get dessert. Wednesday nights usually were for Young Men/Young Women youth groups and/or Boy Scouts, of which my church had a local chapter. After age 12, I was allowed (expected) to go to the temple to perform ritual ceremonies symbolically performing baptisms for the dead - those who did not have the opportunity to receive the restored gospel in this life. As a teenager, about once a month there would be a youth dance at a branch of the church in the stake, akin to a local diocese.

Probably the biggest and most intrusive part of the church in my life was early-morning seminary class. It would run with the school year, and it was from 9th-12th grade. The class would start at 5:45 am and run until 6:30 am, with barely enough time to drive back home and rush to prepare for regular school. This, like anything else I’ve mentioned above, was not “required” but strongly expected. If you missed a day of seminary, the guilt that followed was almost unbearable. Church was now in nearly every day of my life in some way or another. Scripture reading and prayer was to be performed every day, with the family and also individually. Even more interesting was when the family went on vacation, we were still reading scriptures and performing our own sacrament meetings in the car, at the campground, attending the local church branch in other places that we were visiting, etc. Every vehicle trip longer than a few minutes required a prayer for safety. Every meal eaten also required a prayer blessing. Before the start of every school year and the onset of every illness or injury was a blessing needed. There was even prayer before church basketball games.

We lived in northeast Ohio. Because a major part of my church’s history takes place in the area, we made frequent trips to the locations that the church originated. A few more hours’ drive to New York placed us in the area of several major church events and historical sites. In the summer of 1996, my family even participated in a pageant put on by the church in which the early history of the church and the story in which it is founded are presented for 2 weeks in a nightly play for the public. There were regular trips to church temples and historical sites in Illinois, Missouri, and to Washington D.C. (where, for a time, was the closest church temple) and of course to Utah, where the Mormon church headquarters are located. Almost every major trip we took had a religious lining to it somewhere.

In 1998, the President of the church made a visit to Ohio where he announced that there would be plans for a small temple to be built in the area. This temple was in Columbus, Ohio, and was about an hour’s drive from my parents’ house. We visited often, several times during the construction and when the temple was completed in 1999, we were part of the group of volunteers for the open house, welcoming in visitors and members alike. Once the temple was dedicated, it was members only. I spent many days there.

Every summer, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah would hold Church Education Week. This would typically be held at the beginning of August and run for two weeks. Especially in the years that I was in high school, these events would always seem to coincide with the start of marching band camp, of which I was also expected to attend. Because the church obviously came first, the band would have to take second, and I would have to constantly struggle to keep up, every year, with the two weeks that I had missed while the band was rehearsing new formations and music to be presented at football games. What every other band member had four weeks to learn, I had to make it up in two.

Before I go any further, and to be clear, I am not faulting my parents for living their life and teaching their children what they believe to be right. If it is important to the parents, it is only natural and expected that they would try to instill that in their children.

The Mission

At age 19, “every young man should serve a mission” for the church, as spoken by a past president of the church. A mission is a 2-year commitment to the church, paid for by the individual serving the church, to spread the message about the church to those who have not yet heard it. A church mission is one hundred percent dedication to the church, where every day is spent proselytizing and spreading the gospel message to anyone willing to hear it. It is for single males, and it is a tithe paying of your life thus far - just as a true tithe of your paycheck would be ten percent, so it is with a mission. Again, it is not required, but very strongly expected. Not serving a mission is looked down upon from members of the church, as it shows a lesser effort to adhere to the gospel and doctrines of the church. Successfully serving a mission proves you a worthy member of the church, able to be married in the temple to a worthy female and be sealed for time and all eternity. Remaining faithful may give you progression in the church, potentially in church leadership. (Females are able to serve missions as well, though neither required nor expected, and for a lesser time of eighteen months.)

Dad and Mom
My parents have both been life-long Mormons. They were both born into the faith. My dad served a mission in the Washington, D.C. area and returned there after his mission to work at the Mormon temple.

My mom's parents served as older missionaries and were assigned to the Mormon temple in Washington D.C. where my mom was also permitted as a temple worker. This is how my parents met.

My parents were later married in the same Mormon temple and have lived a devout, nearly perfect Mormon life. They currently work at the Mormon temple in Columbus, Ohio.

I had an older brother, Phil. Phil was four years my senior, and, being the oldest, was first to graduate, which immediately brought about the conversation of life after high school. The mounting pressure was placed on him to serve a mission. I’m not sure that he really wanted to go, but I do remember him being hesitant. Right after he graduated, the summer before he turned 19, he was involved in a very serious head-on collision car accident, giving him great injuries to the left side of his body that inhibited him from full movement for the rest of his life. After several weeks in the hospital, he was able to come back home, where he was reminded daily by my mother that he was only alive because God still had a mission for him, with emphasis on the “mission.” After several more weeks of rehabilitation and recovery, Phil began preparing for his mission. He left for the Fort Lauderdale, Florida mission, serving successfully for two years and returning home.

Upon returning home, Phil was not as faithful in the church. He stopped going to meetings, temple work, wearing the special undergarments that are required for worthy adult members, and becoming more distant from the church and family. He moved from my parents’ house to Columbus, Ohio, and eventually back to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando areas of Florida. Phil began using drugs and alcohol and turned to homosexuality, which absolutely shocked the family, as those are some of the worst sins possible after murder. Phil would live mostly in isolation from the family after this, popping in every now and again, but mostly keeping to drugs and alcohol and his newfound lifestyle and friends. He bounced around from Florida to California, to Ohio and back to Florida. He contracted some diseases, and never let go of the drugs. He died of a drug overdose on 21 December 2009.

My sister, Michelle, was one year ahead of me in school. She enlisted in the US Army, and while I was in my senior year of high school, she graduated from Basic Combat Training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. My parents made sure to attend, saying it was extremely important to ensure your children have the knowledge of parental support throughout life. I do not currently communicate with my sister, and out of respect, I will leave her story out of this writing.

As I approached the end of high school, I was having some doubts about the truthfulness of the church (explained later on) and I had no desire to serve a mission for the church. I would have had to pay for it myself, and I had no money or desire to spend that kind of money on something I wasn’t sure of. I instead enlisted in the US Army, signing up as a bandsman playing the French Horn. I was signed up for the Montgomery GI Bill, I was enlisting as a PFC, two ranks higher than most privates because I already had a skill, and I was making money. Not actually a lot, as I would come to find out, but a lot for me at the time. I would constantly tell my parents that I would serve my mission after my Army enlistment. While on my first phone call from basic training at Fort Benning, GA to my parents back in Ohio, I found out that my brother Phil had “come out,” finally telling my parents that he was homosexual.

My parents did not come to my graduation from Basic Combat Training (BCT). They were on a church-inspired trip to Mexico and Guatemala visiting supposed ancient church history sites. This caused extreme hardship for me in training, especially when they had emphasized their support for BCT graduation, and attending my sister’s. The fact that they were not there to see my graduation, plus the fact that my older brother had revealed he was gay, led to great depression and undue hardship through my first few months in the Army.

James was my younger brother, closest in age to me. He was the baby, the favorite, the neat freak, the best with money. I loved him and hated him at the same time. (I really only hated him because he made the rest of us look bad...) James took classes in the Russian language in high school and after, chose to serve a mission for the church. We all thought it was a great coincidence that he was called to serve in the Samara and Moscow areas of Russia. Mom said that he might not have known it at the time, but he was preparing himself for a mission to Russia by taking these Russian classes in high school.

James left for his mission in 2003. I was present at his farewell just like I was at Phil’s. He served a successful mission and returned home and went to college, but also stopped going to church, to the temple, began drinking, came out as homosexual, and seemingly threw away any testimony he had ever had about the church, just like Phil did.

In the Army
While in the Army, I served at Fort Benning, Georgia for Basic Combat Training (BCT), then to Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Virginia for Advanced Individual Training (AIT). While training at both bases, I sought out the church, as I was now in the real world, a world for which I was totally and unequivocally unprepared. The church was the only thing familiar to me entering the military, and I needed some comfort. I knew nobody, and I did not know enough about the world to really be a part of it yet. Basic training was rough, made all the more difficult that I had just found out that my older brother had come out as homosexual, and my parents did not see me graduate. My parents were still reminding me every time I would call home that I could still serve a mission after the Army. I always responded with “sure” or “maybe” even though I never really kept any desire to go. Instead, after my time in Virginia was up, I moved to my regular duty station in Arizona.

In Arizona, I had my first alcoholic drink. I could not even begin to describe the guilt and remorse that I felt afterwards. I had been taught my whole life never to touch alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, tea, tobacco, or anything that could potentially harm the body. Your body is a temple, I was told. Take care of the temple. Do not even get tattoos, it is like graffiti on the temple. I felt so much remorse for drinking alcohol that I “repented” of what I had done. I sought out the local branch of the church in Arizona. I felt a little better after repenting, but could not help wondering why it was so bad to drink in the first place? I could see getting impaired and plastered every night and developing alcoholism being a problem, but a little here and there?

Elena and I met on the internet. She was actually working as a food service manager at a base restaurant that I had frequented several times and had probably already talked to her once or twice. I honestly do not remember. We chatted on the internet and eventually met in person. We grew fond of each other quickly, and were already talking about a life together within only a couple weeks of dating. I was still telling my parents that I was going to serve a mission after my time in the Army. It would not happen.

We married on 1 July 2003. I was nineteen years old. I did not tell my parents. I knew what they would say. They would tell me I should not get married so soon, that I was too young, that I was supposed to serve a mission first. They would say that Elena was Filipino, not white like I was, and that the races should be kept pure. I did not want to hear that. All I knew was that I loved Elena, and I did not want to be without her. I obviously wanted to tell them about marrying Elena, but also felt that I should tell them in person, not over the phone or mail/email. That time came in October of 2003, when James was leaving for his mission to Russia. My parents had made the trip to Provo, Utah to personally drop him off at the Missionary Training Center (MTC), and since I was stationed in Arizona, the trip was only a few hours’ drive for me. I asked my parents if I could bring Elena, and they said that this was preferably family only. Little did they know that Elena was already family.

29 October 2003 was the worst day of my life. I had to tell my parents that I had gotten married to a non-white, non-Mormon girl, that I would be foregoing my mission call and that I had done all of this without their knowledge or support. Worst of all, I was doing this on the very day that my younger brother, “The Favorite,” was leaving for his mission. This day was supposed to be all about him, not me, and I was doing it at the doors of the MTC in Mormon-Country Utah. Not surprisingly, my parents did not take it well and there was not a whole lot of communication for the next few weeks.

Around Christmastime, 2003, I had made plans with my parents for them to visit in February 2004 to meet Elena. Their main concern seemed to be that she was not a member of our church, and asked if I had introduced her to New Member Discussions and the missionaries. I did not really have any desire to (and neither did she) but I knew that they had wanted my wife to be a church member, so I had asked Elena to take part in the Discussions, to facilitate her own introduction to membership in the church. I did this because that was what my parents wanted. I had the authority in the church priesthood to baptize Elena, so a week before, I had an interview with the bishop. He stated that I was in good standing and that all I needed in order to baptize was to be a full tithe payer. I wrote a check that I knew would bounce, but it would buy me enough time to make sure my parents got to see me baptize my wife. My parents came out and met Elena, I baptized Elena, and my parents went home. A short time later I received word that, indeed, the check had bounced, but it did not matter. My goal was accomplished. The guilt was again overwhelming, though. I had cheated the system, and the only person that knew about it was me (and God?). But what kind of person was I turning into? I was now a person who drank, lied, cheated, and got married outside of the church. The guilt turned into depression.

In March of 2004, I was now out of the Army, looking for work, and had just found out Elena was pregnant with our first baby. I had found a job in Arizona, and after the baby was born and about 2 more years of inactive church membership, we moved to Ohio to be closer to my parents. We actually moved in with my parents for a short time until I could find work. In living with my parents, it was again not required but strongly expected to attend church services. We were pregnant with baby #2 at the time of the move, and shortly after our arrival in Ohio, Elena went into early labor, twelve weeks too soon. The baby was born and kept in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for over a month. At this time, my mother said to me that the only reason the baby was still alive was because we had so many members of the church praying for the baby, guiding the doctors’ hands as they worked. The doctors and nurses who spent years in medical school did not seem to get any credit; it was all God’s workings. This same reasoning was explained for the third baby, also born premature. Around this time, I was hired as a new officer at the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in southern Ohio. We moved out of my parents’ house and started our lives again. Several years of this kind of work had me desperately seeking a change. However, many late night graveyard shifts at the prison will introduce stimulating conversations about the deepest subjects, including religion, and for that I am grateful for my time there.

I decided after about 7 years of working in prisons that I did not want to do that the rest of my life as a career, so in 2010 I decided to go back to school. I decided to pursue an education in physics and engineering. I could have picked anything I wanted, but I decided on physics and engineering because of my love of just finding out how things work. I loved taking things apart, seeing the design and intuition involved in building. I owe this inspiration to my high school physics teacher, who, above all, made the subject fun and interesting.

Some of the requisite courses for a college physics degree include math, geology, astronomy and philosophy and others that directly challenge certain ideas of religion. Again, my physics professors absolutely engaged my interest in the curriculum, and made me want more. After receiving an Associate of Science degree in Physics and Engineering, I looked forward to many more classes at a higher university, but was able to find a good, high-paying job that would have been foolish not to accept. In 2014, we moved from Ohio to California.
Life now continues, with the research into religious history still playing a major part in my life. I will continue with the higher education when possible, but, as it is not required for this job, or advancement within this job, I will do it later for my own satisfaction. If (when) I do continue with college, I will continue with the physics classes, but may add a minor in philosophy or religious studies. Until then, the research continues on the side as a hobby. A hobby that I throw as much energy and devotion to as arguably any religious person with their religion, and in some cases (even most cases, perhaps?) even moreso.

The First Seeds of Doubt
I remember starting to have doubts at an early age. They were not the kind of doubts listed later on here, but they were profound, and very significant. They were small, but they would change the course of my life. Other doubts came a bit later and delved into much deeper subjects and critical thinking. This list is not all-inclusive, these were just the first ones to get me to start thinking outside of the box.

More than one?
One of the first times I ever questioned religion was when I was in elementary school and I found out that some friends were of other faiths, proving there was more than just my religion. In fact, as I would come to find out, there were many, many more. And that was just Christianity! Why was there more than 30,000 different sects of Christianity - Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Protestant, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist... I was shocked at the number of Christian churches. But, what about Judaism? What about Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism? What about all the other ones that are not as well known?

Why did all these churches disagree? Focusing on Christianity, how could the Bible possibly have so many different interpretations? And what made each and every one of them (including mine) stake the claim that they were the only true church on the face of the earth today? And why did they all need money?

Greek Gods
I remember in 8th grade literature class learning about ancient Greek philosophy and gods that they believed in. One of my first thoughts on the subject was the fact that 2000 years later, those gods have all but disappeared. They used to be necessary for explanations of how the world works, but seemingly disappeared as science progressed. There used to be a god of the moon, a god of the sea, (and many, many more) most likely because the moon and the sea required explanations for why they moved the way that they moved. Once those objects had a reasonable, logical scientific explanation for their movements, the gods were not necessary anymore. The only reason they apparently still exist is for 8th grade literature students to have something to study. We look back now, seeing the Greek gods as ridiculous fairy tales and myths that were laughable at best to truly believe in, but what if, maybe 1000 years into the future, the future humans see the same with us still believing in god(s) at all, especially with all of the progress that we have made scientifically? People still use Yahweh as the God today because there are still unanswered questions, such as what sparked the first cells of life? What kicked off the Big Bang?

But what if, one day, we have answers to those questions? If we do have answers to those questions, what happens to Yahweh? As science has progressed over the centuries, “God did it” seems to become less and less necessary. God has gone from an all-powerful, omnipresent ruler of the universe to one that is less than a fraction of what He used to be. He gets smaller with every scientific discovery.

Fairy Tales vs Bible Tales
Quite simply, what if a few bible tales were replaced with folk fairy tales? Of the following bits, if one did not already know that some of these were fairy tales and some were supposedly true Biblical stories, would you ever be able to tell? If one had grown up being told that the fairy tales were true and the Biblical stories were the fairy tales, would they be as vehemently defended as they are today?
Jonah disobeyed God and was eaten by a fish. He survived by praying and repenting to God and was spit out on land after three days.
Jack disobeyed his mother and brought home beans which turned into a giant beanstalk which he climbed.
Balaam beat his donkey, the donkey turned and spoke and asked why?
Hansel and Gretel followed bread crumbs to a house in the woods and were almost eaten by a witch.
Elisha was mocked by children for his bald head. He cursed them in the name of the Lord and two she-bears came out of the woods to eat forty-two of the children. Elisha then continued on his way as if nothing happened.
Santa Claus visits every house on Christmas Eve, bringing presents. He knows if you have been bad or good. He receives your wish list through the mail but brings you what you deserve. He flies around with reindeer in a sleigh.
God hears every person on earth praying to him. He knows if you have been bad or good. He receives your wish list through prayer but gives you what you deserve. He sits in heaven with angels by his side.

Bigger, Deeper Doubts
I started thinking more critically about many issues which delved into deeper doctrines than simple questions. These next few thoughts are what caused my mind to truly question the tenets of religion.

Adam & Eve
I remember being taught in early-morning seminary class the story of Adam and Eve, and why it was forbidden, but necessary to eat of the sacred Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This story was taught as literal history. It really happened. It was confusing to me, not so much about the talking snake (somehow THAT made sense) but the fact that we as humans needed to come to Earth to gain a physical body, and that we could not do so in the status of the Garden of Eden because there was no death, and no procreation. [Adam fell that men might be...2 Nep 2:25] Thus, it was actually required that Eve eat of the fruit. But if it was required for God’s ultimate plan, why was it a sin for Eve, and then Adam, to eat of the fruit? If it was all required as part of God’s plan, why did he make it a sin for them to do so?

And on that note - Baptism
Why are we all born into sin? My church did not baptize babies as other churches do, but they did expect children to accept the church's teachings and be baptized at the age of eight. What eight-year-old truly knows the ways of God? What eight-year-old has truly committed sins that would condemn them to Hell, and needs to be baptized to wash those sins away? What eight-year-old truly knows if this particular religion is the ONE (if any) to which they want to commit the rest of their life, usually having never been exposed to any religion but this one? Why am I being baptized at eight years old for the sin of a man and woman from six thousand years ago, for reasons I still do not understand?

Phil and James
Without getting too judgmental, how is it possible that my two brothers, both in good standing in the “only true” church, served faithful, successful missions for the same church, only to come back and throw it all away for temptation of the absolute worst kind, and simply give in to that temptation?

Army Training
I remember seeking out the bishop of the local ward in Virginia for comfort and advice about my older brother. He had just come out as gay, and in what I was taught growing up, he had just committed the worst sin after murder. I told the bishop my story, and was confused and offended at the way he responded, asking very personal questions to me, asking if I was feeling a tendency towards homosexuality, asking if my brother had ever tried any acts with me. I was very confused and offended. It was none of his business about my personal life, and even if it was, this was about my older brother, not me. I was only there to seek counsel on how to respond to the news, and the bishop seemed like he was asking the deepest kinds of questions into my own personal life for no reason at all. Was this man really called upon by God Himself to lead a branch of his church? Or was he just a weird old man getting off on others’ stories?

Praying for the babies
I was told many times during the courses of my childrens’ premature births that the only reason they were alive was because of the many people around the world (in church temples on prayer lists, through email and the internet) that were praying mightily for them. This confused me, as I am sure that babies born prematurely since the beginning of humanity probably had parents and loved ones praying to (a) God(s) for them just as mightily and perhaps even more sincerely than those that prayed for mine. And yet, even just a few years ago, the infant mortality rate for premature babies was so much worse. How did God care more for my babies than for the millions of babies born before mine that were not so lucky? Could it not possibly be because modern medicine has gotten so much better that now we can save 12 week premature babies from all dying? What does that have to do with God? If God advanced (or allowed the advancement of) medicine to what it is today, why was this not done since the beginning of man? Why let so many babies suffer and die because God’s plan did not call for the rapid advancement of medicine until the 20th century, six thousand years since the supposed creation of man, and near the end of days? And MOST of all, why did my babies all survive when there were other parents’ babies even in the incubators and isolettes right next to ours that did not survive? Did God spare my babies only because of the church members of my faith praying for them? How does a loving God let other babies perish? If God is perfect, and created man in His image, then why were there flaws in His design? Why allow premature births in the first place, and for that matter, any other illness?

On that subject, while I was watching the doctors and nurses caring for my preemies in the NICU, not once did I actually pray for them. My emotions were all over the place, as expected, but not once did I turn to God. I trusted the medical staff and modern science. The boys are active and normal, healthy kids to this day.

The Young Earth Theory
As an individual with any sort of basic understanding of the laws of nature, it is completely illogical to presume that the earth is only 6,000 years old, that man and dinosaurs coexisted, and that a global flood wiped everything out. I will dedicate an entire section to this later on. What struck me initially as a young skeptic was the whole 2x2 of every animal fitting on one big boat. There are literally millions of species on the Earth today. How could every animal possibly fit on the ark in pairs? And yet, in the very next chapter, the clean animals are taken on by 7’s, only making the story even more implausible. How was the earth made in 6 days? How was the earth creation worth 5 days and the firmament (EVERYthing else - other stars, planets, galaxies) only in a day?

God’s Plan
I struggled with God’s Plan from early on. Everything happens as part of God’s Plan. Nothing happens without being a part of God’s Plan. God’s Plan cannot be changed. It is forever and eternal, there since the beginning.
Then why ask Him to bless your food you are about to eat?
Why ask Him to keep you safe on a car ride?
Why ask Him to heal a sick relative in the hospital?
If it was in God’s Plan, He is going to do what he wants to anyway.
If you ask for something and it is not part of God’s Plan, then the answer is no.
If you ask for something and it is part of God’s Plan then the answer is yes.

Logically speaking, whatever you are asking for is or is not already part of God’s Plan, so why bother asking about it in the first place? It is His Plan, and He is going to do what he wants to anyway, so what use is it to ask Him to change his Plan just for you?

How does prayer work? How does God answer prayer if the Plan has already been made? How does God allow for free will if the Plan has already been made? If He is omniscient, and knows what you are to do before you are to do it, then how does free will even exist?

How important are you in the history of humanity, several billions of people, that God would change His Plan just for you?

Science vs Religion
Why are the two so at odds with each other? Science has debunked many claims made by religion. “The problem religion encounters is that so many of its claims are well within the realm of scientific study, and as such, can be proven or disproven. To cling to faith in these areas, in lieu of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is not spiritual dedication, but willful ignorance.” (slightly edited - quote by Jeremy Runnells)

Probably the most influential part of my losing trust in faith was when I was young, and there are two instances specifically which stay in my memory.
I was very young, younger than ten years old if I remember correctly. Mom had cut a banana in half and eaten one half. The other half was left for later, and then it was missing. There were five other people in my family. Anybody could have eaten it. I did not. My parents did the usual thing by gathering the kids and asking “Who did it?” Of course nobody admitted to it. I do not know who did it or how it happened, I just know that I did not eat it. My parents went to a different room to pray about it, and they felt that they had received an answer. They felt that the answer showed them that it was me. I was punished for eating the banana, and for lying about it. I did neither.

Later on, I was in my early teens and there was something broken in the house growing up. My parents again did the usual thing by gathering the kids and asking “Who did it?” Of course nobody admitted to it. I do not know who did it or how it happened, I just know that I did not break it. My parents went to a different room to pray about it, and they felt that they had received an answer. They felt that the answer showed them that it was me. I was punished for breaking the object, and for lying about it. I did neither.

With the banana, I was punished by getting spanked on the bottom with an old wooden paddle, and then I was forced to eat the rest of the bananas (six more if I remember correctly). My siblings all made fun of me and jeered when my stomach became upset later. I can still remember the words clearly - “You ate ALL the bananas!”

With the broken object, I was too old for spanking, but I remember being grounded and being forced to do EVERYONE’s chores for the next two weeks. I went through a severe bout of depression that I kept hidden and bottled up. It affected me so much that I can still remember it very clearly, even more so than the bananas. I remember feeling that my parents did not get the right answer from God. If they did not get the right answer on these situations, how did He manifest the truth of religion to them? I do not remember much from my childhood anymore, but I clearly remember these instances. My parents did not find the right answer from God, they found the answer they seemingly wanted.

The Last Prayer
I remember very clearly the last time I ever prayed, the last time I truly opened my heart and begged for answers. This was a short while after my brother had died. I had done a lot of research on my own about religion and philosophy, and I had taken most of the classes so far in college. I remember coming home from class, and I had the rest of the night off. I helped my wife with the kids, and later, around midnight, I told her I was leaving for a little while and do not wait up for me. (I worked a night shift regularly, so it is not likely that I would have been able to sleep anyway.)

I drove out to a hidden country road in the middle of southern Ohio and came to a quiet spot, one that I knew well and was hidden and isolated from any distraction. I turned off my phone and all of the lights on the car. I spent about an hour just sitting, thinking, meditating about life and meaning. After a while, I opened the door and stepped out. I was greeted by the most brilliant full moon I had ever seen. I knelt down and poured my heart out to whoever was listening. I asked for something, anything, that would help me in my studies and my life. I asked for comfort and clarity about the church. I asked if there was a god, and if this god was anything like I had been taught or was completely different than anything I could expect or imagine. I prayed with sincerity, truly believing that if I asked with a pure heart, with real intent, I would see some sort of sign. Not a damn thing happened.

My church taught that if you pray with a pure heart with real intent, then the truth will be manifest unto you. They teach that it will be a burning of the bosom, that you will feel and just know that what you are praying for is right. My heart had never been more pure. I had never had more intention to find the truth.

I felt nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Defense of the Church
If you do not live in Mormon-country Utah, one of the things you must do as a Mormon is defend it to anybody who might have a question, query or insult that is directed to you or the church. The church teaches you, whether intentional or not, on how to deal with these issues. Probably 90% of the questions that were thrown my way were similar to this : “Mormons, that’s the church where you have more than one wife, right?” Most of my friends were religious in some way, Baptist, Born-Again Christian, etc. I remember that I was allowed to invite them to our church, but I was not allowed to go to theirs for the same experience.

It seems like every conversation I ever had with anyone outside the church was in defense of the church, with me spewing out the same absurd claims and defenses that I had been taught since birth, the first true sign of a controversial religion; the first true sign of a cult. Even today, with no wont or affiliation towards the church, I still find myself correcting errant thoughts or inquiries others might have about the Mormons.

Defense at Church
Even in the only true church, there are cliques and groups that assemble. This almost always happens whenever there is a regular group of unlike people with different backgrounds meeting for a common reason. This may actually be somewhat beneficial for certain people, for example, as you might not be popular in your local high school but very well could be the coolest Mormon in your age group. (Interestingly, the “coolest” Mormon was almost always the one furthest from the straight and narrow path of Mormonism.)

In school, I was in band and marching band as I had a natural talent for music. This, of course, did not make anyone popular in probably most high schools. Years’ worth of denigration caused me to shy away and be less social, of which I kept mostly the same personality at church. This, added to the desire to keep my parents’ wishes and maintain a perfect Mormon life caused me to be bullied, not just at school, but also at church. AT CHURCH!! Without hesitation, I firmly claim that I was more negatively impacted, bullied, and oppressed by my peers at church than I ever was at school. These were people that I had known since birth, with whom I had been baptized and participated in sacred church and temple ceremonies. These same people had gone with me to Especially For Youth (EFY) Mormon Summer Camp, and with whom I had prayed and sang church hymns. The same ones with whom I performed cultish temple rituals.

And yet, these were the same people that cornered me and threw basketballs at me as hard as they could for seemingly forever, to the point where I nearly blacked out from getting hit in the head multiple times. These were the same people who, during a Boy Scout camping trip, beat me and tied me up in a sleeping bag and tent so I could not escape, and then threw rocks at me, and then urinated on me. These were the same people who stole my scriptures (the scriptures!) and hid them so that I couldn’t find them when it was my turn to read aloud in class. And these were the same people that fought me outside, where four other guys jumped me after I defended myself and beat up their leader-friend - and it was his idea to fight!

While I am sure that there are many, many people that have had these or similar doubts at points in their life and remained faithful by just overlooking and accepting them, I chose to look a bit more closely and find out as much as I could about them. I am not saying, not in the least, that I have all the answers. I do not, for sure, but I am convinced no one does. People might have experience or knowledge that exceeds mine but they do not have magic mental powers that I do not also have. If there is a God (which is doubtful), I feel that God would be more of a collective higher intellect from all persons that, when combined, is greater than any individual. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as they say.

Religion is a complicated mess, no matter which religion you might follow. I only carry the desire to learn more. With that mindset, I decided that it was best to gather my thoughts and document what I could, so that there would be no confusion or forgetting key points that I may come across in my studies. If anyone else would like, they can also read what I have written. I promised myself that I would do my best to thoroughly research every point, and to keep an open mind about everything. I would try to place myself as an unobjective third party, one who would come in unbiased with nothing but the facts. If it still made sense, if it was still likely, if it was still reasonable and logical, then the answers of what to believe would become clear, whether that be on the side of religion, or not.

If you had lived in a world without religion, and one day, in your adult life, someone came to you and told fantastical stories about how they believed the world to be, how the Earth was created six thousand years ago over a six day period, how there was a global flood for which there is not a shred of evidence, how there was a God-man who died for your sins and rose again, and how there is a book which has every answer to any question you would ever have, would you believe it?
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04-02-2018, 12:31 PM
RE: My thoughts in writing
For anybody wondering, I take the view that a God likely does not exist due to a lack of evidence. I am of the position that the burden of proof is on the claimant; one cannot prove something does not exist without first proving something else, such as proving sun-gods do not ride across the sky in a chariot because the earth is the object actually moving.

Everything we have ever observed in the universe is consistent with the Big Bang Theory, Cosmology, Evolutionary Theory, Physics, Biology, Geology, and many others. There has never been anything observed or demonstrated to be beyond natural laws and limitations. If there is something that has not been explained as of yet, such as what caused the Big Bang to bang and what sparked the first forms of life, then this does not mean that there is not an answer that cannot be explained naturally. It only means that a suitable answer has not yet been determined. This is where some people still find God - which is described as a God-of-the-gaps position.

If, in the future, we actually do have answers for the origin of life and the Big Bang, then where is the need for God?

From where did all these ideas originate? What is true, and what is absolutely impossible? What is implausible, and what is most likely?
Is it possible that (a) God exists? I suppose it is possible, just as it is possible that fairies and leprechauns technically could exist, although, in my opinion it is very unlikely. There is no evidence for fairies, leprechauns, unicorns, etc. There is no evidence for God. The old, white-bearded man in the sky is a logical impossibility. The ancient Egyptian and Greek solar gods who rode with the sun in a chariot across the sky is a logical impossibility. We know how celestial mechanics work now. Back in ancient times, people did not have explanations for how this kind of movement occurred. Gods were created to explain such events as :
movements of the sun, moon and planets
movements of wind, sea, thunder, lightning
earthquakes, volcanoes, floods
Once science began to progress, Kepler's laws of planetary motion, Newton's theory of gravity, and, later, Einstein's theory of relativity explained celestial movements to a degree of accuracy so precise, that (a) God is no longer necessary to explain planetary motion. Meteorology and the gravitational pull of the moon can explain weather, winds, and tides (though one can opine about the accuracy of meteorologists' predictions!). Seismology and geology accurately explain major natural processes about the age of the earth, and how it is currently still changing.

People choose to accept the findings of certain scientific studies, so long as it does not compromise their position. For example, my parents accept DNA studies for verification of ancestry and ethnicity, but do not accept the same DNA for origin of the Native Americans (their religion believe the Native American populations to be a lost Israelite tribe, where the DNA overwhelmingly supports the claim that they came from East Asia through what is now Alaska and Canada, with some splinter groups from the Indonesian Islands). My parents truly believe in the Young Earth Theory, where the universe was created by God about 6,000 years ago. Modern science lines up overwhelmingly on a different view, where the universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old, the Earth 4.6 billion years old, with no need for a divine, supernatural creator. The facts which do not agree with the presupposed and biased YEC view that is already decided are dismissed.

How is this a good thing? Why is ignorance of established, peer-reviewed, scientifically accepted facts celebrated? This does not make sense to me. There are many creationist websites which outright state that if there are scientific facts which do not support the scriptural text, then the facts are thrown out. Even if these facts are supported by an overwhelming majority of scientists, backed up with mountains of evidence, and are testable, provable to certainty, they are simply dismissed because they contradict scripture.

That is not scientific, or even intellectually honest, in any capacity. If there is a claim, and the current theory (A) explains it but a different theory (B) does it better, then logic dictates that A must be replaced with B. If a second newer theory © comes and explains better than B, then C must be the accepted theory. There may be elements of former theories in newer ones; that is not a contradiction. An example :

How does the Earth fit in with the sun, moon, planets, solar system, etc?
Flat-Earth Theory - The Earth is a disc-shaped plane at the center of the universe represented as a firmament shaped as an upside-down bowl which holds the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, etc. Differing versions of this theory would have the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars rotating above and below the plane of the Earth, other versions have the objects maintaining circular paths above, with the Sun acting as a “spotlight” as it shines on the Earth’s surface. There are actually still people that subscribe to this theory.
Geocentric Theory - The Earth is the center of the universe, with the Sun, Moon and planets orbiting the Earth, all of which is contained within the Celestial Sphere which holds the distant stars, which also rotates around the Earth.
Heliocentric Theory - The Moon orbits the Earth, and the Earth is but one of many planets in the Solar System which orbits the Sun. The Sun is the center of the Solar System, but is not the center of the universe. This theory best explains modern cosmology as it relates to planetary motion, gravity, and celestial mechanics..

In this example, the traditional Flat-Earth Theory (A) was the best theory at the time to explain celestial mechanics. Later, Ptolemy revised this to the Geocentric Model (B), which used some elements of A but better explained the motion of planets. Elements of B were used for over 1000 years until the Heliocentric Model © was proposed by Copernicus (and later confirmed by Galileo) which incorporated some elements of B but overall replaced enough of B such that it was not relevant anymore. Modern cosmology uses C with the understanding that C relates to the solar system only, not the universe as a whole (or even the galaxy).

This is how science works. As better scientific testing and better equipment becomes available, giving us better facts and more data points, theories get refined and subsequently evolve to the point that the modern accepted theory may look completely unrelated to the original. In time, the collective information of scientists for centuries can be applied to our understanding of the universe, and theories can be provided which best explain what we see.

Is science perfect? Absolutely not. There are a great many things left undiscovered, many other things for which explanations are not adequate, and many more things for which we cannot or will not discover due to time and equipment constraints. But the scientific method is very good in its process. It is the best established practice of explanation and accepted science that is self-correcting. With religion, you basically get what ancient books tell you, and maybe a more modern interpretation of them from current religious leaders, but overall, the story never changes.

And yet, most surprisingly, many religions claim outright bias from the start. They proudly admit that they favor the Bible over anything else, and if something comes along WITH FACTS that is different than what the Bible says, those provable, demonstrable, evidence-based FACTS are thrown out because they contradict belief. Belief is superior to FACT.

The problem religion encounters is that so many of its claims are scientifically testable, and as such, can be proven or disproven. To stick to these claims, in lieu of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is not spiritual dedication, but willful ignorance.

“Ignorance is not what you don’t know. Rather, ignorance is what you won’t know.”

But now we come to the problem of religion. If it was not written in the specific holy book for that particular religion, then science is dismissed outright. Again, to my parents’ example, their holy books state that the American Indian population is a remnant of a lost Israelite tribe, leaving the Middle East area for the American continents at minimum 600 years BCE. An earlier group supposedly came to the Americas also from the Middle east about 2000 BCE. As this is just one of the many points of this holy book which I will address later, I will only address this point for now. The mainstream scientific consensus is that the Native American tribes migrated from Siberia about 20,000 years ago (which is older than the Earth, in my parents’ view). The scientific view matches expected archaeology, tools, linguistics, etc. of the Siberian population of the same time period. My parents dismiss this because their holy book tells them otherwise.

But why? Why do people feign ignorance when facts are presented? Why stick to religion if there is direct evidence to the contrary?

Sure, take the Bible, for instance. The Holy Bible claims to be infallible, yet there are so many contradictions it is absurd, The Bible claims to be the inerrant word of God, yet the only place to find such terminology supporting the Bible is within the Bible itself. The Bible claims scientific facts such as creation to explain why there is something rather than nothing, a global flood to explain... well, what, really? And the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel to explain why there are different peoples, cultures, and languages.

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.
--Mark Twain
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