How a high ranking Mormon lost his faith

July 29, 2013 | By | 4 Replies More

How did this high ranking Mormon lose his faith? It wasn’t the result of someone getting in his face and telling him he was an idiot. The NYT tells the story:

When fellow believers in Sweden first began coming to him with information from the Internet that contradicted the church’s history and teachings, he dismissed it as “anti-Mormon propaganda,” the whisperings of Lucifer. He asked his superiors for help in responding to the members’ doubts, and when they seemed to only sidestep the questions, Mr. Mattsson began his own investigation.

But when he discovered credible evidence that the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, was a polygamist and that the Book of Mormon and other scriptures were rife with historical anomalies, Mr. Mattsson said he felt that the foundation on which he had built his life began to crumble.

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Category: Religion, Self Improvement, Skepticism, snake oil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Thanks for posting this Erich. I already had decided I had major philosophical problems with religion in general and Mormonism in particular and had therefore abandoned my Mormon “faith” soon after beginning college. I did so without the help of the internet resources that are available now. After I had already rejected the religion in which I was raised, I found references to the troubling items referenced in the New York Times story to which you link. It was much easier to accept that church leaders had lied and covered up such things once I had already accepted that the whole institution was inherently wrong.

    It’s a potent reminder to me of the power of the internet. It was still pretty nascent at the time I was losing my religion, but I have seen it become a powerful tool for those struggling with these issues. Entire forums have sprung up dedicated to helping those seeking to free themselves from a “religion” which clearly displays cult-like tendencies.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon lists some 9,700 “recovering mormon” subscribers, and there’s also a site with step-by-step instructions for those seeking a way out of the Mormon church at http://www.mormonnomore.com/

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Brynn: Good that you found your way. Interesting that you thought it through on your own without all of the information now available.

    I’m fascinated with the first step of such journeys. Do you remember anything that led you to reject your Mormon faith at the very beginning of that rejection? Did you have a friend that asked questions? Or, perhaps, did you simply struggle with it not adding up?

  3. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Yes, I remember it well. Mormons believe literally in prophecy and that God will communicate personal revelations if one sincerely asks through prayer etc… In fact, this revelatory power forms the basis for most Mormon missionary work. They ask that you read the Book of Mormon and then follow the script in another one of their books of scripture. Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-8 says

    “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”

    This “burning of the bosom” Mormons assert is the power of the Holy Ghost verifying to you that the church is true. A burning bosom is an extremely subjective thing. Is it emotional? Is it some other type of mystical experience? In any case, from the time I was about 8 (the normal age of baptism in the Mormon faith) until I was about 15 or so I took the scripture at its word. I studied, fasted, prayed… did everything I was supposed to do. I didn’t get my burning in the bosom.

    I thought it was something I was doing wrong. Like many religions, there is a heavy dose of guilt that comes with being mormon. Human fallibility, sin, evil thoughts, etc… were all explained as reasons why one might not get that all-important communication from the Holy Spirit. So, for the longest time I blamed myself. I tried even harder, prayed more, tried to be the best person I could (as defined by the church). Interestingly, reading “anti-mormon” materials could also be to blame, so I avoided those. I even gave up reading fiction that my dad suggested might invite the devil to interfere in my life.

    Mormons also regularly “bear their testimonies”, which is essentially a public proclamation of one’s faith in front of other church members. The pressure to conform and do so is (was?) intense, and so I began to fudge it. I would try to “fake it until you make it”. Fervently, I asserted how convinced I was of the truth and how wonderful it was. Still nothing.

    Beginning about the age of 12, mormon youth begin attending the “temple”, and perform baptisms for the dead. Essentially, the youth serve as a proxy “body” which can be baptized for someone who is deceased. Before one is allowed to enter the temple, one must pass a worthiness interview with the local bishop (equivalent to pastor or priest in most other christian religions). The higher the mormon hierarchy one goes, the more clearly one is supposed to be able to communicate through revelation with God, so there is a heavy presumption that one shouldn’t lie to the bishop because God will tip him off and then you’re caught.

    God didn’t tip him off that I was lying. I entered the temple, somewhat worried that a lightning bolt would strike me down for defiling this holy place with my sins and doubts. But, nothing happened.

    By now, my doubts were really piling up. I had all the intellectual doubts that came from studying the scriptures and doctrine. I had all the questions that I’d asked my local church leaders and teachers and never gotten satisfactory answers. God works in mysterious ways, and all that. But still, the church tends to be very insular. I mentioned in the other reply that the church is cult-like, and that’s about the nicest I can be. Spending all Sunday on religion, plus several nights throughout the week; several friends in my small town were mormon, all my family was, etc… I didn’t have a lot of people around that I could bounce my doubts off of and get impartial feedback.

    Once I got to college I found the intellectual freedom to think through religion top to bottom. Luckily, I decided against attending BYU, the Mormon university. My philosophy courses helped me immensely. Not only was it encouraged to use logic to think through one’s assumptions, but many philosophers had already taken their cracks at religion, either attacking or defending. I read everything I could that dealt with the subject– Aquinas, Pascal, Nietsche, Kierkegaard, etc… The atheist position just made more sense to me, and I’ve been a good person without religion ever since.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brynn: Thank you for detailing your experiences. I am repeatedly hearing stories of de-conversion, and most of them are similar in that doubts grow over time until the person reaches a tipping point. Rarely do I hear that “Someone got in my face and told me I had it all wrong.” I’m convinced that getting in the face of a believer makes the believer dig in. One exception, perhaps, is where there is a strong personal relationship between the believer and the non-believer, and anecdotal evidence does suggest that it can go both ways.

      Again, thank you.

      BTW, there’s a new article at Scientific American on how thinking styles affect whether one believes in God:

      [N]ew research suggests that whether we believe may also have to do with how much we rely on intuition versus analytical thinking. In 2011 Amitai Shenhav, David Rand and Joshua Greene of Harvard University published a paper showing that people who have a tendency to rely on their intuition are more likely to believe in God. They also showed that encouraging people to think intuitively increased people’s belief in God. Building on these findings, in a recent paper published in Science, Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia found that encouraging people to think analytically reduced their tendency to believe in God. Together these findings suggest that belief may at least partly stem from our thinking styles.”

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-critical-thinkers-lose-faith-god

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