Reason #126: A fictional account of losing faith in Mormonism
In the previous item on the “365 Reasons” blog I described the situation that caused me to lose faith in Mormonism. I have tried to describe this in a fictional account, too: my novel, Latter-day Cipher. In this passage, an LDS man who is a spokesman for the church is explaining how he will counter the criticisms of non-members in an upcoming press conference. But this man, Roger, does not know that his wife Eliza is beginning to have doubts about the LDS church:
“But don’t worry – the Church has people – many of them—who are fulltime researchers, who spend every day working on explanations that Gentiles would understand. And of course money is no object. BYU has a Web site, and scores of individuals do too, that make it their ministry to defend the Church.” He saw her eyebrows rise. “And they provide explanations for us, too! There are so many books out right now that dredge up old history, and try to make the Church look bad. And the Internet – it’s opened up all kinds of issues.”
Again the odd look on Eliza’s face. She seemed to struggle with something, began to speak, stopped herself, and then began again.
“What kinds of issues – I mean, what explanations are you talking about?”
He spread his arms out as if scooping up papers being blown away by a sudden wind. “Oh, my goodness. You know, sweet Eliza, so many things are being published right now. You don’t really need to worry about them.”
“I want to worry about them.” Her voice was uncharacteristically flat. He eyed her with a nascent uncertainty. Surely, surely she meant that she would worry on his behalf, about the press conference.
“Well, for instance, one of the aims of the press conference is to show that, although the Church certainly invented the Deseret Alphabet, that doesn’t mean that all uses of it are authorized by the Church. One of the things I was told to mention is that just because somebody wrote something in the Cherokee alphabet, that doesn’t reflect negatively on Sequoia. That will make sense, don’t you think?”
Eliza nodded. “What other issues will you be addressing?”
“Well, there’s the delicate matter of blood atonement – you know that whenever anybody is killed and Mormonism is involved, critics and oldtimers alike bring up that issue, too. I have to be ready to respond there, too.”
“What will you say about blood atonement?”
“The Apostle Bruce R. McConkie says there’s not a single historical instance of what people call blood atonement in the Church’s history.”
“Roger, you’ve not been a Mormon your whole life, like I am. Everybody knows—we were all taught – that there are certain sins you can commit that aren’t covered by the sacrifice of Christ. That you have to have your own blood shed in order to atone. Like if you murder an innocent person. Why do you think we had capital punishment by firing squad for so long in Utah? Haven’t you read Norman Mailer’s book, The Executioner’s Song?”
Roger did not know which astonished him more: what she was saying, or the fact that his Eliza of such few words was so passionately articulate. He felt like a heavy sack of grain that she was ripping open with her words. Part of him was rushing out the gap….
Eliza continued. “Don’t you know about the Danite “avenging angels” that Brigham Young would dispatch to people who left the Church? Why, there are even people you know – and know well – who are descendants of the very people who carried out blood atonements!”
She was swallowing, hard, but went on. “And what do you do with the findings of legitimate historians inside and outside the Church who would say that the Church’s denials of blood atonement in the 1800s is just bunk? Like Juanita Brooks, who wrote on the Mountain Meadows Massacre? She called blood atonement ‘a literal and terrible reality.’”
“You’ve been reading these books? Why?”
“Not just them. On the plane on the way to Egypt, I met a woman who was doing research for a theology degree. I had known about the old books, the Zane Grey and Arthur Conan Doyle books, and others that caricatured Mormonism and blood atonement. Those were books by outsiders. But I was up to the challenge, I thought. I knew I could defend the Church. So I wasn’t afraid to borrow some books she had, and I read them every evening. Some nights I didn’t sleep at all.”
She wrung her hands, distraught and spent. Her elbow knocked over her glass of water. They both jumped to sop the spill with kitchen towels. For the first time, Eliza seemed to notice the pile of newspapers that covered the books that Selonnah had left.
“Where did these come from?”
Roger stared at them as if they had been deposited by aliens, then watched with horror as Eliza picked one up and held it toward him.
“Selonnah left them…” he began.
“I’ve read this one,” Eliza said matter of factly. “There are issues here that have to be addressed, and not with “dodges” and self-protective hot oil over the battlements to quiet those who have questions.”
Roger was speechless. Eliza’s eyes softened.
“Roger, my precious Roger. I brought you into all of this Mormonism mess. I asked you to be part of a world I thought was good, and healthy, and sane and whole.” She sighed and leaned back into her chair.
“I guess it had to come out. I was just too tired to deal with it when I first got home. Coming back to Utah was like having been on a long sea voyage, adrift in a sea of turbulence and choppy waves, no light at all. I thought when I landed here I was returning to the island of peace I’d always known. I came back to my refuge and I found that the contours of this island are still familiar, but that it’s become overgrown with thorns and burrs and tangled vines. You’re here, and Maria is here, and I’m sure about you two– but of nothing else.”
Roger felt chivalry rising within himself. “Let me help you. I’ll get some explanations” — here her face seemed to harden, and he changed the words – “I’ll get you some information. I’ll make sure it’s the real stuff, original documents. I have access to all the areas of BYU’s library, even the sections where only professors and researchers can go. I’ll make copies. You won’t have to take anyone’s word for anything.”
“Some things you won’t find there, Roger. And those are the things that are breaking my heart.”
“What do you mean?”
“For instance, a geneticist, faithful Mormon bishop, released a book recently that demonstrated beyond doubt that Native Americans aren’t descended from people in the Book of Mormon. You do realize the implications of that for me, don’t you?
“That means that I’m not a Lamanite. I’m not descended from Jews. I have no Jewish DNA. All the heritage that I treasured, that I believed that I and other Native Americans had, all of it is a lie.”
He tried to process not only her words but the fact that those words were coming from the lips of his wife. The words wounded Roger. But as he looked at the pain in her face, he saw that she was not only wounded but bereft. She began to cry, and he put his arms around her.
“There’s more, Roger. You think you’ve been shielding me from all the intrigue at BYU, the stories about the September Six.”
She paused in deference to his astonished look, his mental disorientation. “It is I who have been shielding you,” she continued. “I’ve just kept putting aside any questions about why the Church deals so harshly with people who do the research, who bring things to light. I’ve put aside my questions about the way they just cover things over and ask you to just trust their versions of things.
“I shut my ears to anything that would hurt my testimony of the Church. I didn’t want to hear it, never even noticed when I was being fooled. I mean, years ago I read the most famous LDS book about The Pearl of Great Price scrolls — pages and pages of stories about how the scrolls were rediscovered and about how Joseph Smith had translated them and they became Scripture for us — and never, ever noticed that the author left out the most important thing: that the Egyptian on the scrolls doesn’t say what Joseph said it said!”
Words were spilling out of her, a stream of her own grain that was emptying her soul as well. Her sobs sounded as if they were coming from drowning lungs. Though Roger embraced her shivering body, he knew she was beyond comfort.
For more information, see The Mormon Mirage 3rd Edition: A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today(Zondervan, 2009). Also available as an audiobook and as an expanded-text E-book for Nook, Kindle and other reading devices.